I rarely play board games anymore. But years ago, they were a primary way for me to set my mind free of the stress of grad school. Daily life was reading hundreds of pages of ethnography, analysis, theoretical writings, classes, and working on the assigned projects. From September to late May, there was no time for reading fiction; if I read it, it was professional literature. The main release from this was the active weekend party scene, but the truth is one can not always party, though I tried. The motto of my group was “Work hard, party harder.”
So when not working hard or partying, I found myself in my apartment with a massive wargame on the floor. It was a great way to get my frustrations out. Of course, in these pre-computer days, I played against myself. At least, I played against myself until my large grey cat Clancy, AKA the Grey Menace, took note of the game. One day, he started paying attention to the game when he grew bored with the sparrows and grackles that came to the feeder I had placed on the fire escape. Wandering over, he noticed I was moving small unit counters over the map, consulting charts, and throwing dice. What’s not to love for a cat? Small objects moving, dice, and father on the ground hunched over, playing with them. Add catnip, and who could blame a cat for positing that this was as nearly perfect as possible? Playing one of these games alone is doable, but it’s more fun with a partner, so I called Clancy over and explained the game to him. “you’ll be Napoleon, and this is your army. Where shall we move this unit?” He stretched out a paw and touched a unit of the Imperial Guard. “Great choice!” I began giving him tips on tactics. He glared at me seeming to say, ” I am the great Napoleon. You dare to teach me tactics?” He huffed. I said, “OK, go ahead and lose the game. ”
After a while, the beer I was drinking caught up with me, and I got up to go to the toilet. When I returned there, he sat looking smug. There was something different about the board, but I didn’t see it until Napoleon’s turn when an Imperial Guard unit flanked me and attacked. My unit was routed and lost combat effectiveness. I smelled a rat and glared at the Menace. My counterattack forced his headquarters to retreat. And so it went for five or so turns. I got up and went into the kitchen for another beer. Sneaking back into the living room, I spied him, nudging a piece off the map. It was one of mine! “You little turd! You’re cheating. I rushed in and started shouting at the cat. He merely sat there glaring at me and swatted me with a paw full of sharp weapons. He then swept the pieces off the map with one paw and stalked off to watch birds. His body language implied that our game was one more frippery for which the Great Napoleon had no more time.
I guess I never learned. I continued to play against the Great Napoleon but kept a closer eye on him. When they remodeled the apartment, I am sure they found hundreds of small gaming pieces under the moldings. I watched, but he always managed to stir things up.
Years later, I watched Bill and Ted’s Great Adventure. There is a scene in the movie where all the great men they’ve brought forward from history demonstrate their abilities. They introduce Napoleon and play a game of chess with him; frustrated and in a pique, he takes his baton and sweeps the board clean. I was reminded of a large grey cat who clearly was channeling the original Napoleon.
I now play games on the computer. And no subsequent cat has expressed any interest in playing a computer game with me—nothing to bat about, I presume.