This Board Game Helped Me Discover My Love of Houses When I Was a Kid

published Jan 26, 2021
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Credit: Kurt Bilis

Have you ever played the Game of Life? It’s a classic tabletop board game where you make your way through, well, life. When I was little, I was obsessed with Life.

In it, players choose a little plastic van to drive down the path on the board, all the way from college to retirement. While playing, you stop along the way to start a career, get married, buy a house, and have kids. The game also accounts for buying stocks, homeowners’ insurance, life insurance, and other adult-seeming things. Sure, playing during my formative years introduced me to some overly traditional life milestones, but there’s only one aspect of the game that I really made my priority: buying a cool house.

You see, there’s a selection of house cards, or deeds, in the game. They come in a range of architectural styles and price points, from a sunny yellow Dutch Colonial to a rustic log cabin. You can “live” in the house of your choice in the game — as long as you’ve “earned” enough money for it.

Credit: Kurt Bilis

I’m not here to identify the ways in which Life built up capitalist ideals in my young mind. I do want to discuss the house cards, because I was fascinated by those things.

After I was through playing the game, I’d shuffle through the house card deck, examining their cartoon features and ranking them from my most favorite (the pink Victorian, obviously) to least favorite (the shoddy split level). I remember being confused by the Tudor card and asking my mother what, in fact, a Tudor house was. We inspected the card together, did a little research, and voila, I understood which houses in my town were Tudor-style. I remember going for boat rides on the lake my grandparents live on and passing by an A-frame that looked exactly like the one on the Life card. I remember always looking out the car window to spot a brightly painted home on the ride to my cousins’ house — and correctly identifying it as a Victorian.

Credit: Kurt Bilis

The Game of Life effectively helped me discover my love of houses, which, like my love of board games, continues to this day. (I am a real estate editor, after all.)  I still look at that A-frame on my grandparents’ lake and think of the game. When I used to drive by a cluster of Tudor homes in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood, I’d think back to it. When I bought “A Field Guide to American Houses” by Virginia McAlester, a fabulous book about residential architecture, I recalled the styles I learned about from the game. And even now in my day-to-day, I browse home listings to write Apartment Therapy’s Property Crush column, featuring a range of styles and budgets, from fixer-uppers to Midwestern mansions.

Credit: Kurt Bilis

It’s a funny parallel to draw — 9-year-old me being hyper-focused on securing a cool house in a board game, to now, 27-year-old me being hyper-focused on writing about all the cool houses out there from the comfort of my own cozy little home. Marriage? Kids? Stocks? Who needs ‘em when you can work toward the best life perk of all: your dream home.