La Chouette

chouette (Fr.) — (informal adjective) cute, smashing, nice; (noun) owl

I wasn’t aware of the second definition, but it’s the one that best fits the term as it’s used in the game of kings. A chouette is a form of backgammon played by a group of people. On one side is the “box,” playing by herself. On the other is everyone else, headed up by the “captain.” The team is allowed to consult on their moves, and if they win, the box goes to the back of the line in the team and the captain becomes the box for the next game. If the box wins she stays the box and the captain goes to the back of the line. There are plenty of complications and variations that I won’t get into here.

The format always seemed interesting to me, so last weekend I wrangled up some friends to give a chouette a go. It turned out to be quite a bit of fun. The box is at a decided disadvantage since the team has a number of perspectives on the right move — at the very least, the team is never going to fail to make an obvious move because at least one person will always be paying enough attention. But that just makes it that much more thrilling to win when you’re the box. We played with each person making cube decisions individually, and I wouldn’t want to do it any other way — it made for all sorts of gloriously wacky situations. The games end up taking much longer with all the discussion, but in a way the discussion itself is the point. I was surprised to see how many differences of opinion and varieties of play style there were. There’s also a nice social dynamic to the whole thing: the box and the captain are usually focused on the game, but the other team members are standing around with half a mind on the game and the other half on swiggin’ beer and talkin’ trash. (Well, OK, the box and the captain are talkin’ trash too. Backgammon encourages a lot of trash talkin’. Or maybe it’s just us.)