Stacks of classic games hide in every cottage, bookshelf or basement and they can turn a blustery night indoors into the stuff of memories. So whip up a snack and rally the gang for some cabin classics—an evening of laughter and play awaits. With a little planning, you can turn a night into a tournament, and start a tradition all your own.


What the Game Is

This ancient game dates back to early Chinese history—that’s why in many old boxes of dominoes you find tiles with dragons carved on the back. The tiles probably evolved from regular playing dice and were originally carved from ivory or ebony. As with cards, there are many possible games using dominoes, but try one called Five Up, where players try to connect tiles in a row where total points are a multiple of five. If you can count, you can play.

Why It’s Fun

There’s always a box of dominoes around, and games can be basic enough to include small children, but are still strategic enough to keep adults interested. Also, if you give up on playing, there’s always the time-honored diversion of lining them up and knocking them down.

The Lingo

Dominoes, which used to be made from bone or ivory, are called bones or tiles. The pile from which players draw or add tiles is called a boneyard.

The Snack: Old-Fashioned Domino Fudge

You’ll need a candy thermometer for this one. In a large heavy pan, melt 1/4 cup butter over medium heat. Add 1 1/2 cups boiling water. Mix and stir into the hot mixture 3 cups sugar, 2/3 cup cocoa, 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar. Continue to stir until the mixture boils. Cover about 3 minutes to allow steam to wash down any crystals that may have formed on sides of pan. Uncover; lower heat and, without stirring, cook slowly to the “soft ball” stage. (When syrup dropped into chilled water turns into a ball, about 234º.) DO NOT STIR after removing candy from heat. When the mixture has cooled to 110º add 6 Tablespoons half-and-half and 1 Tablespoon vanilla. Beat until creamy. Fold in mini marshmallows. Pour into an 8”x8” buttered pan. When fudge becomes firm, cut into rectangles.


What the Game Is

The game of euchre has been traced to a game called jucker, from the Alsace region of Europe. Jucker made its way stateside in the late 1800s as euchre, and today it’s popular on the East Coast, in Ontario, and in the Midwest—especially Michigan, where it’s practically part of the school curriculum. Two possible reasons for this. One, the game was hugely popular in Cornwall, England, and plenty of Cornish miners settled in the U.P. The second explanation points to the Navy, where euchre has a strangely large following. Sailors passing through Great Lakes ports probably popularized the game.

Loosely, it goes like this: Four players, two teams, dealer deals hands of five cards. Players play off the remaining deck, depending on what suit is trump. At the end of each round of play, the player with the highest card “takes the trick.” The team whose members accumulate the most tricks, wins points. The first team to get ten points wins the game.In actuality, you’d better have a seasoned player lead the way. They’ll help you know that jacks are not jacks, but bowers, and tell you when to “order it up” or “get euchred.”

Why It’s Fun

Working with a teammate takes the pressure off the individual and keeps it fun and social. Also, once you learn, euchre is a fast-paced, no-brainer game that can be played while talking, having beers, waiting for water to boil.

The Lingo

Yikes. Let’s start with the basics. A suit is chosen to be trump, and the cards in that suit are the most powerful in the game. An off-suit is any suit but trump.Bowers are the jack of the trump suit and the jack of the suit that is the same color as trump. These are the two most powerful cards in any round. A round is when each player has played a card. When a person wins a round, his or her team gets one trick. Three tricks makes one point. Advanced lingo: jump the river, send a boy, have a dog from every county, and other totally improbable phrases.

The Snack: Cheddar Dip

Seed 2 pickled jalapeño chili peppers if desired and finely chop. In a blender, pulse 3 cups cheddar cheese, 2/3 cup beer, 1/2 cup sour cream, 2 Tablespoons mayonnaise, and 3/4 teaspoon caraway seeds, scraping down sides occasionally, until smooth and creamy. Transfer dip to a bowl and stir in jalapeños (or forgo chilis and use horseradish to taste). Serve dip with crudités or crackers. Makes about 2 cups.


What the Game Is

Cribbage was reputedly invented in the 17th century by a Sir John Suckling—a notorious scoundrel, womanizer and wit. Rumor has it he was an excellent player and cheater, fond of playing his highbrow companions with decks of marked cards and beating the pants off them. To this day, cribbage is the only card game that can be legally played for money in English pubs. Cribbage, in a nutshell, is a card game for two players where the object is to play cards that are pairs, runs or total 15 in face value. Score is kept with a pegboard. Each player has two pegs—one peg marks the current number of points, the other reflects the player’s previous score.

Players of the game are devoted: It’s been called the best two-hand card game on earth. The U.P.’s great writer John Voelker (a.k.a. Robert Traver, famous for his novel Anatomy of a Murder) was a passionate cribbage player and held the self-appointed title of U.P. cribbage champion.

Why It’s Fun

Cribbage is a pretty fair combo of both luck and skill. With a quick tutorial, the novice can pick the game up quickly, but it takes a while to really excel, so players tend to stick with it to perfect their game.

The Lingo

It seems the word “bilk,” meaning to cheat, came from cribbage. The discard pile in this game is called the crib, and the dealer keeps the points accumulated in the crib at the end of each round. Bilking (possibly derived from “balking”) is when the non-dealer deliberately fills the crib with low-value cards. Adding the face value of the cards in your hand gives you a number of “pips”—a ten and a five give you 15 pips; 15 pips equal two points. To earn points is to “peg.” Advanced lingo: If a player’s hand contains the jack of the same suit as the start card, you peg “one for his nob.”

The Snack: Soft Whole Wheat Pretzels

Thaw 2 16-ounce loaves frozen whole-wheat bread dough in the refrigerator overnight. From each loaf, shape 12 1 1/2” balls. Roll each ball into a rope approximately 14 inches long. Shape into pretzels by forming a knot and looping ends through. Arrange pretzels 1 inch apart on well-greased baking sheet. Let stand for 20 minutes. Brush with mixture of 1 egg white, slightly beaten, and 1 teaspoon water, then sprinkle with coarse salt. Place a shallow pan containing 1 inch of boiling water on a lower rack in the oven. Bake pretzels on a cookie sheet on a rack above the water at 350 for 20 minutes or till golden brown. Makes 3 dozen large pretzels. Dip in Bech’s mustard, made in Elk Rapids and available at local stores.

Game Books

  • The Biggest and Best Book of Party Games and Activities by Penny Warner, Meadowbrook Press, 1997. A classic, packed with descriptions of 180 parlor games to try.
  • The Book of Classic Board Games, Klutz Press, 1990. Contains the definitive rules for 15 classic games. The two-page spreads consist of a playing board on the right-hand page and the appropriate instructions on the left. Comes complete with everything you need to play the games.
  • According to Hoyle: Official Rules of More Than 200 Popular Games of Skill and Chance With Expert Advice on Winning Play by Richard L. Frey, Edmond Hoyle. Ballantine Books, 1996. The games rule bible, period.