There are only three of us in the games shop. The clerk is a little goth girl, hair all stringy black, eyes outlined thick and dark, and lips the color of brand-new tire rubber. I start when she appears at my side, hand jolting away from the dun-colored box. “Is everything OK?” My voice – unused today – rasps as I force air through dry vocal cords. She looks at my hand, still resting on the shelf, speaks again: “Axis & Allies? That’s a great game. Like Risk, except you can control bodies of water.” I nod silently. That her two sentence description short sold the game, that it was ludicrously off the mark – that didn’t matter. Dressed for colder weather, I would simply sweat under those burning yellow bulbs if I tried to explain. I can already imagine the sweat, each droplet an angry pimple of water, just waiting to erupt. I don’t want to say anything, so I turn and pull down the box from the shelf.
It’s heavier than I expected.
I turn it over, and over again. Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition. Unlike other games it does not boast of awards, claim to challenge you, or promise hours of exciting gameplay (though all these are certainly true). Instead, the cover art is understated – dark borders, pastel images – and it’s only the 2’ width that hints at the epic board inside. 2’ by 4’ – have you ever heard of a game board that large? The back promises 600 game pieces, new units, tweaked gameplay – and as I stare at the printed glyphs dusty memories surface: game days after class, grinding infantry assaults, punishing air raids, cheering, strategizing . . . I can no longer remember how I ended up with the 1984 Gamemaster version of Axis & Allies; cannot imagine how I convinced my Mom and sister that this was a game we’d play together. I suppose little boys can plead when they have to. Not that it mattered anyways – to them it was always a “boy’s game,” and they played it only rarely, reluctantly, and poorly. It was not until secondary school that I found others who loved it as much as I did.
The only other person in the store slides into my peripheral vision. 50’ish, graying, he watches me surreptitiously, and now I, him. His eyes shift to the game and mine drop downwards as well. This is, I think, the only chance we’ll have to command anything greater than ourselves. I wonder if it’s worth it. I wonder if this too will end up like my Gamemaster, stowed away in a basement somewhere, cover crushed in under a stack of board games, box giving off a slight suggestion of damp, the consequence of a decade of storage.
I slide my fingers over the shrink wrap again.
It really is beautiful . . .