Multi-generational Scrabble at the Board Room Cafe in Halifax by Helen Earley

My daughter and Granny playing Scrabble at the Board Room Cafe, Barrington st, Halifax/Photo: Helen Earley

This drizzly Saturday afternoon was the perfect opportunity to try our luck at the Board Room Game Cafe  – a place my 8-year daughter and I have been meaning to visit for ages. And who better to bring with us than our resident Scrabble expert: my dear Mum, a.k.a Granny!

When they opened their first location on Barrington St. four years ago, the Board Room Game Cafe was licensed as a Beverage Room, which meant that kids could only come for the purposes of a meal, and had to be out by 9:00 pm. With a change in government rules earlier this year, the Board Room Cafe now holds a less restrictive Eating Establishment license. This means that children no longer have to order have a meal; they can just come in and play games just like everyone else.

On our late afternoon visit, the cafe is already filling with players of all ages, from an energetic young family of five playing Labyrinth to a group of pre-teens celebrating a birthday (they are playing the game of LIFE) – and tons of students playing stuff I’ve never seen before.

Our game begins well. On my third turn, I place ENTAILED on a triple-letter, gaining an extra 50 points. Mum groans but my daughter doesn’t mind, as our server has just placed a bottle of root beer and enormous bowl of popcorn and candy on the table in front of her. The food at the cafe is really good, despite my mother’s misgivings:

“I can’t believe all these people are eating candy and playing games. Won’t everything get sticky?”

Multi-generational Scrabble at the Board Room Cafe in Halifax by Helen Earley

The Board Room Game Cafe offers a really amazing snack menu, and hearty mugs of tea, coffee, latte etc.

I chuckle because she’s right… but it would never had occurred to me on my own.

Lately, I have been turning to my parents for help: help with the kids, moral support, even money. At 42 years old, I feel ashamed at how unbalanced our relationship has become. I should be supporting them, taking them on holiday, cooking for them, but instead I am still the needy one, phoning up every few weeks in tears, recruiting sponsors for my latest crisis.

I realise that I am enjoying my mother’s company more this afternoon than in many weeks because here, my daughter, my Mum and I are simply friends – a group of three ladies, if you will, getting together for an afternoon game.

But the game itself is poor. Having started with a bang, the best I can offer now is BEE and WE combined for 10 points, and my daughter keeps putting back tiles that she’s not happy with. It’s a terrible strategy and I question it.

“She likes doing that,” says my Mum gently, “She doesn’t mind missing a turn.”

My Mum and my daughter play Scrabble together often. I had no idea that my daughter, who is now halfway through the bowl of candy, played this way.

“I think I must be the oldest person here,” remarks my Mum, out of the blue.

She is right.

I place LOVE on the top right hand corner, for a lousy 14 points.

Mum comes straight in, using the O to spell WOE.

“Next to love is woe” she says, rather dramatically, and tallies an equally lousy score of 12.

My Mum is a people-watcher, and the Board Room Game Cafe is intriguing her. “I’ve never seen so many people sitting around playing games,” she remarks, “you know, except at home.”

The family playing Labyrinth a few tables away is now totally animated, shouting “Oooohhh” and “Ahhhh” and “Yayyyy” in unison.

“It’s like being at Fireworks night,” says Mum.

The game continues. Without an official Scrabble dictionary or our trusty List of Acceptable Two Letter Words, Mum and my daughter do not allow me KIR, but on my next turn they permit DINK, which Mum swiftly transforms into DINKY.

“I didn’t really like your DINK,” Mum says, and I protest that she only let me have it so she could use her Y.

On her next turn, Mum places ODOUR.

“Odour, the proper English spelling of it.” she states emphatically. (Mum is British).

“Granny, you have an odour problem,” snickers my 8-year old daughter.

“No,” Granny replies, “you have an odour problem if you’re spelling it the American way with a U.”

I laugh again, and as I break the 200-point threshold with QI, I suddenly realize that the tightness in my chest that has been bothering me for the past two weeks has nearly disappeared. I encounter the obvious: that playing games with loved ones reduces stress.

But board games have other benefits. A 2013 french study reported in the British Medical Journal, reports that board game players have a 15% lower risk of developing dementia than non-players.

And in an article for Psychology Today, writer Jay Tiegel reports that following a game-playing experiment by a group of psychologists, it was discovered that “watching people play revealed a depth of information about them…that you would ordinarily expect only from months of official therapy”

So the feeling that I am getting to know my mother and my daughter better, simply by sharing a game of Scrabble, is really not that far off the mark, and the fact that my mother – a people-watcher – is getting good run for her money here, is no surprise.

Toward the end of the game, we spend several rounds dumping our tiles: IS, IN, TI, OR, ME. My daughter is left with a Z – beginner’s folly! The scores are truly dire. We all agree that it was because we each had a bad lot of tiles, although I secretly wonder whether, due to all the banter and candy-eating, none of us were really focused on play.

Finally we end the game. I am the “first winner” with 207 points. Granny is the “second winner” with 167, and my daughter is the “third winner” with 94.

Bad scores indeed, but today all three of us have triumphed, by spending valuable time together, just playing.