So we had a comment saying our “Top Five Board Games for Your Mom” list was tame. After all, some of us don’t have great relationships with our parents, so why not take advantage of this upcoming Mother’s Day to release some of that pent-up parental rage? Grab your Prozac and Xanax kids, ’cause we’re getting deep and dark with C. E. Weidman’s “Lunch Money.”
“Lunch Money” is the most disturbing card game I’ve ever played. I was first introduced to it by my old roommate who described it as “a card game where you play a kid stealing other kids’ lunch money.” I pictured something like a card game version of “Hey Arnold!”; a dark show that didn’t exactly side-step the violence of bullying but definitely tried to tone it down with cartoon graphics and dark humor. Instead this game tackles the subject matter head on. You don’t just play kids, you play little girls and each of you is trying desperately to be the last one standing.
Mechanically, the game is very simple. Each player starts with 15 pennies which represent (but are mercifully not referred to as) your life points. When you run out of pennies you are knocked unconscious and are out of the game. Each player gets five cards to start with and will redraw back up to five after every player’s turn. The cards represent attacks, blocks, and special actions and many of them can only be played as part of a combo, which is where the game gets really disturbing.
The card combinations mean you have no choice but to fight dirty and thus do an incredible job of immersing you in the imaginative experience of being in a fight to the death. You are afraid to attack the other girls because you might wind up in a choke hold or worse– you might become the target of her next big combo. But you can’t just let them beat you up because you will quickly run out of blocks. Most games begin with a few stilted rounds of passed turns and card cycling until finally someone gets the courage to strike and all hell breaks loose. If someone gets grabbed the other players will swarm on them like hobos on ham sandwiches. You are only safe if you are part of the mob beating up a helpless player. As soon as they are unconscious, it’s open season and you will either betray your former allies or they will betray you. It’s a brutal, brutal game.
So why am I telling you to play it? Because unlike it’s close cousin “Beer Money“, this game isn’t just about senseless violence. The chilling imagery and card text referencing religious and sexist ideology make “Lunch Money” a condemnation of institutionalized violence against women.
See there’s an element to disciplining children that we don’t really like to talk about. Gender is a constructed constellation of socially determined behavior and we don’t pop out of the womb curtsying and crossing our legs. Particularly in strict religious households, girls are held to much higher expectations at younger ages than their male counterparts. From the moment we put on a dress we are taught that we are unacceptable unless we perfectly exemplify femininity. Boys can be boys, but girls must be young ladies.
The sexism hidden in the Bible is worse. Anyone else remember the part where we come from Adam’s rib? Or the fact that sin exists because we got hungry and ate an apple? We teach this shit to preschoolers! We tell girls who just got potty trained that they are inherently bad and need to be punished in order to be forgiven.
It also highlights the tendency among women to cut down our peers for seemingly minor infractions. Ask any girl and almost all of us will admit we are more concerned with what our girlfriends think of our style than our boyfriends. We are so convinced our of inferiority that we have to constantly compare and criticize others to feel secure in our self-worth. Ever watch Girl Code?
“Lunch Money” is practically a thesis statement for feminism. It rips out all of your unacknowledged neuroses and uses them to freak you the hell out. Having grown up gender dysphoric in the Bible belt, this game is so cathartic. It terrifies me and brings up deeply suppressed rage and righteous fury – and that’s a great thing! It gives every person that plays it the experience of being young and vulnerable and then it gives them weapons to defend themselves. Every girl should play this game and then immediately burn it because you won’t sleep at night with it in the house.
At the very least, praise it for the sheer audacity of being a card game that reveals the hegemony of old-school American values. Because God knows that’s not something that happens everyday.
Oh, and call your mom this weekend and wish her a happy Mother’s Day. Tell her you love her and mean it, forgive her for what she did or didn’t do when you were young, and let this game remind you that your childhood could have been a lot worse.
Price: $14.99 ($10.93 for S&S)
Age Recommendation: 15+
Skip-A-Turn Variation: Age Regression Therapy Make up fancy names for your combos and explain in detail exactly how you take out your tiny child rage on each other. When playing the “Humiliation” or “Powerplay” cards, come up with actual little kid insults to hurl at your stupid victim, poop sniffer!