Sunday, June 15, 2008

Gaming Lessons Part I: Naval Intelligence

My son, at seven, is finally at the age where he can play board games, and it is chance for me to impart some fatherly wisdom.

We started with Battleship, the classic game of naval combat. But this requires sitting still, remembering things and counting – not the traditional strengths of little boys. We play a more active version, which probably better exemplifies war at sea.

When he has a friend over, they team up to take me on. They add a dimension of intelligence and counter-intelligence. One will distract me, while the other tries to learn the location of my ships by sneaking around the dining room table where we play. Crawling under the table is permitted if they still have a submarine, but aircraft carriers or not, aerial surveillance by climbing over the table is forbidden by international treaty, and by mom. When the spy reports back the wee Admirals gesticulate madly at the board and discuss their findings in a chatter that brings to mind monkeys trying to write Shakespeare. Their intelligence analysis needs some work. Unless I actually give them the coordinates, they only locate my ships by chance.

Sometimes, after a disputed call, we wrestle it out. How can there be a disputed call in so straightforward a game as “Battleship?” When one party can’t count or keep track of moves the game acquires a more subjective component. This is historically accurate. Classic naval engagements were frequently settled by boarding actions.

To compensate for their poor naval intelligence, I’ll give both my son and his friend a strike in one turn. My son’s comrade will announce “E9.” “Miss,” I sigh. Then after a several minutes of shrieks and grunts, my son will announce their second strike, “E9!”

“Guys, it was a miss two minutes ago, how can it be a hit now?”

More monkey chatter. “Guys. I’ve told you before, don’t move your ships.”

It is now my turn, the chimpanzee chatter increases as the commodores discuss maneuvers to counter my strike (my 15 second old admonition not to move their ships already forgotten). If I paid attention to their increasingly manic gestures, I could locate their fleet readily, but I will let the little Nelsons have their Trafalgar. Instead, I warn them with a phrase so familiar, but almost never used in context:

“Loose lips, sink ships.”

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