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We Can't All Be Winners, But We Might As Well Try

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Cougar is no longer allowed to be banker, because he cheats. In fact, Cougar is no longer allowed to even sit next to the banker, because even though no on has ever caught him at it, Jensen and Pooch swear he sneaks money from the bank

Jensen isn't allowed to be banker, because halfway through a game he will start charging outrageous interest, compounded every turn. “It's for verisimilitude,” he claims. No one is amused.

Pooch refuses to be banker, on the grounds that he wants no part in “the crazy”, as he puts it.

Clay takes forever to count out change, which drives Roque insane.

These days, Roque is their default banker. He plays with a knife on the table, and says the first person to steal from the bank is losing fingers.

Jensen is pretty sure Cougar still manages it, somehow.



They're already halfway to drunk when they find the Taboo set. In retrospect, letting Jensen and Cougar play on the same team had probably been a bad idea.

“He puts the metal in your face hole,” Jensen says.

“Orthodontist,” Cougar replies without missing a beat, before Pooch has a chance to do much more than blink.

“You don't need this on the beach, you bastard-”


“Don't Panic, Hitchhikers!”


“If you murder someone-"


“I don't even know why I'm here,” Pooch says to the room at large.

“Pooch's faaaavorite thing,” Jensen says with a snort of laughter.


“Oh, come on, Jolene's not a thing! This is easy!”


Inside that.”


“There we go. And, um. Skittery, last safehouse was full-”


Jensen picks up the next card and says, “Ooooh, hot supervillainess, red hair, fights Batman-”

“Black Widow?”

“What?” Jensen asks, aghast, as Roque cheerfully calls time. “Cougar, the Black Widow isn't even DC! This is all my fault, isn't it? I didn't teach you well enough.” Jensen only stops whining when Clay picks up a card.

When it's Cougar's turn, he picks up a card, looks at in silence for almost three whole seconds (by the end of which Jensen is beginning to twitch) and then says, "Orthodox head lid."

"Yarmulke." Jensen whoops, and Roque groans.

They win seven cards on Cougar's turn.

Cougar and Jensen (and Pooch, though he almost never has a chance to speak) don't so much win handily as steam roll the opposing team (Roque, Clay, and some poor unsuspecting bastard Roque had hijacked to even up the numbers). Their victory is due to a combination of Jensen's creative word-vomit, Cougar's precisely targeted sentences and, as Pooch describes it, "their wack-ass telepathy."

After that, Jensen and Cougar are preemptively banned from playing team games together. Jensen whines, but Cougar just smiles and high-fives Pooch.

Turns out that should have been everyone's warning: the only thing more terrifying that Cougar and Jensen playing Taboo is Cougar and Pooch playing Pictionary

Apples to Apples

Jensen's niece introduced him to Apples to Apples, and it was the first game he forced the rest of the Losers to play. It's still their favorite. Their deck is a beloved Frankenstein's monster of a thing: a battered bundle of index cards, scrawled with standard Apples to Apples words, plus things like FUBAR, Clay's Latest Girlfriend, The Hat, and half the cast of Star Trek: The Original Series, because Roque is a closet Trekie.

Despite being the game they play with the greatest frequency, there is only one house rule, and it is very simple: don't ask Cougar to explain his card choices unless you're completely sure you want to know. The laconic exterior hides one of the dirtiest minds known to mankind, and the worst part is that Cougar can say filthy things with absolutely no sign of shame. (Jensen's hypothesis is that the Catholic upbringing burnt all of Cougar's shame out of him.) To date, Cougar has managed to make every single one of his teammates blush – the day he got Clay, he even punched the air in triumph – caused Roque to break down in tears of laughter on two occasions, made Jensen turn beet-red so many times everyone has lost count, and made Pooch leave the room in horror at least three times.

There is unanimous agreement that Cougar and Jolene must never, ever be allowed to play in the same game of Apples to Apples.

One of the reasons Apples to Apples has endured so well over the years is that it is a game that can be played equally well stone cold sober or roaring drunk. Drunk, Apples to Apples is a game of hilarity and ill-advised card choices. Sober, it's psychological warfare, and victory depends on how well you can put yourself in the mind of the judge that round. Things like Roque’s embarrassing man-crush on Captain Kirk become mission-critical information.

There is one game – when they were just from a successful mission, and Clay had only minutes before cracked open the Jack, so everyone is still mostly sober – that lives on as legend. Cougar is, as usual, beating everyone, Roque is a distant second, and Jensen is whining about not having any Green Apple cards yet, when Roque turns over Sexy.

“Awwwright,” he says, leaning back in his chair and lifting his beer in salute, “that's right, give it up to Papa Roque.”

“Jesus, that's so wrong,” Jensen says, shuffling through his hand and then slapping a card down on the table. “Not that I'm dissin' you, man, but daddy kink is so not my thing.”

Roque whoops with laughter and leans over to smack Jensen upside the head. Jensen dodges, still talking.

“Also, the rest of you might as well just give up now, I've got this one in the bag.”

Pooch rolls his eyes and grunts, dropping his card on top of Jensen's. “Talk all you want, J – You're what, the only one of us who hasn't won a single round yet?”

“Besides, you're both losing to me,” Clay says with satisfaction, setting his card down with great finality.

Cougar looks skeptical, shakes his head, and, leaning back in his chair and swinging his boots onto the table, flicks his card onto the growing pile.

Roque picks up the cards and fans them out. His eyebrows creep steadily higher as he silently reads them.

“You planned this,” he says, flat and accusatory, glaring at his teammates. He is met with incomprehension and denial. “No way this is just coincidence, you had to have stacked the deck or something.”

“Just read the damn cards already,” Clay says.

“For 'sexy', we have,” Roque starts, holding up the first card, “handcuffs. Okay, pretty good, but I've definitely been in situations where the handcuffs weren't sexy. Next, chocolate sauce. Chocolate sauce and handcuffs; sounds like the night is getting better. Okay, then we have friction. Think that one speaks for itself. And finally, Captain Kirk. Seriously, fuck you guys.” Roque runs a hand over his face. “Handcuffs, chocolate sauce, friction, and Captain Kirk.”

There's a moment of silence, and then everyone starts to laugh, until Jensen is quietly crying into the tabletop while choking out something mostly incomprehensible about 'first contact' and 'do no harm.'

“Alright, that's it,” Roque says, scooting his chair back and putting his hands up. “I'm done. I'm out, there's no way I can call that.”


Cards Against Humanity

Given their relationship with Apples to Apples, Cards Against Humanity is a natural progression. Cougar takes to the game like a duck to water, surprising absolutely no one – after all, it's is basically Apples to Apple for horrible people with no shame. It's for this reason that Cards Against Humanity gets nicknamed the “torture Pooch game,” because Pooch is a basically decent human being, and objects to answering questions like What will always get you laid? with Ethnic cleansing. (It only takes one game for them to decide that Ethnic Cleansing is an unfair card because it's too good.)

Cards Against Humanity, they soon decide, is a game best played drunk, when inhibitions are lowered.

One such night, Pooch draws a black card, and grimaces.

“Oh, this is bad. This is so bad. I don't – can I draw another one? Please?”

“Nope,” Clay says with an evil grin.

Pooch groans. “Alright, you guys are telling me – this is awful – you're telling me What are my parents hiding from me?

There's a bout of general laughter, with Cougar and Roque both grinning fit to put fear in the Devil's own heart.

When the cards are in, Pooch very gingerly picks them up, takes one look at them, and whimpers. He takes a deep breath, and starts, “My parents are hiding picking up girls at the abortion clinic. That is sick. Alright, next there's My parents are hiding MechaHitler - really, Jensen? You're slipping, man.”

“What? MechaHitler is totally-”

Pooch just shakes his head. “MechaHitler is totally outclassed, maybe. Okay,” he continues, taking a deep breath, “My parents are hiding firing a rifle into the air while balls deep in a squealing hog, and My parents are hiding jerking off into a pool of children's tears. There is something wrong with you guys. We're talkin' serious psychological disturbance, here.”

“In light of those delightful specimens of depravity, MechaHitler does seem pretty tame,” Jensen says sorrowfully, stealing the bottle of Jack from Clay.


After the Scrabble debacle, no one dares suggest Boggle. They don't figure out their mistake until much later, when Aisha picks a Boggle set up in an airport. It turns out word games are more fair when there's a time limit.

After the initial learning curve, as everyone learns to spell backwards and upside-down, and after they figure out to always look for plurals and anagram the corners, they settle into several distinct modes of play. Jensen and Pooch write down every word they can, pencils scratching furiously. Aisha frowns like she regrets ever suggesting the game, but she wins more often than not. Clay can go almost an entire game without writing down anything, and then come up with something like 'exquisite', or 'interlocution'. He still usually loses to one of the others, but not without inspiring groans of frustration.

Cougar - well, it's because of Cougar that the others invent the term 'defensive Boggle', which means writing down not only actual words, but anything that looks like it might be a word, just so Cougar can't score off it. He almost always loses, since he only writes down half as many words as Jensen or Pooch or Aisha, and they're not killers like Clay's words. Instead, Cougar finds things like 'fley', 'bight', 'narthex', 'hask', and 'inly', things that the other will swear aren't words, but which always are. Very frequently, they're obscure Scottish dialect, or antiquated terms for strangely specific things. Cougar just shrugs when quizzed about why he knows what a 'zarf' is.

It takes Jensen watching Cougar sit down with A History of Technology, in Five Volumes for them to realize that not only will Cougar read absolutely anything in his downtime, he will remember it, and then use the words to his advantage.

Candy Land

Jensen's niece Sarah's birthday party is a week after the fateful Petunias vs. Marigolds soccer game, and there's never any question that Jensen, at least, will be staying for it. Pooch quite understandably wants to spend time with Jolene and their new son, and so the entire team ends up sticking around.

Sarah's party is princess themed. Since she has been reading the Enchanted Forest Chronicles , this means that in addition to her very sensible princess gown (it has pockets) and requisite tiara, she has a foam saber and a NERF pistol. The decorations include rather a lot of dragons. After cake and ice cream, in a vain attempt to lower the energy levels a bit, the board games come out.

"Uncle Clay, will you play Candy Land with us?" Sarah asks, looking positively winsome with Cougar's hat tilted rakishly over one eye, tiara adorning the hatband.

For a moment, it looks like Clay might be able to resist, but then Sarah plays her trump.

"Please?" She says, wide blue eyes boring into Clay's very soul.

Clay, ever the sucker, assents, and is immediately surrounded by a horde of cheering eight-year-olds and dragged off to the living room.

Aisha looks thoughtfully after their retreating backs. "How badly is he going to lose?" She asks.

"So very, very badly," Jensen replies cheerfully. "If we go into the dining room we should have a great view through the glass door."

They arrive in time to see Clay seated awkwardly on the floor at the coffee table, looking thoroughly out of place next to Sarah and two other equally princessed girls - one Disney's Mulan and the other wearing what looks like part of an older relative's SCA gear over a violently pink and fluffy gown. Sarah shuffles the cards with an air of intense concentration, artfully fumbling them before offering the deck to Clay to cut. Grinning, he taps it, and Aisha shakes her head, hissing.

"What'd I miss?" Pooch asks, appearing at Jake's elbow with a bowl of popcorn.

"Clay didn't cut," Aisha says, nodding toward where two of the girls are bickering over game pieces.

Pooch looks at the game, and then at Jensen. "Hasn't your girl been hanging around Cougar this week?"

"Yup," Jensen replies, grinning.

"Aw, this is not gonna end good," Pooch says, shaking his head, sitting down to watch the carnage.

Candy Land should be a simple game of chance - players draw cards with colors on them, and then move their piece to the next corresponding square. Somehow, Clay still manages to lose every game. The one time he almost makes it to the end, the girl dressed as Mulan spills her glass of fizzy lemonade just before his turn. When the lemonade has been sopped up and gameplay resumes, Clay draws Mr. Mint - sending him back almost to the beginning of the board.

House rules dictate that the last player to the finish has to supply the winner with candy, and by the time Clay finally gives up, he's four coffee-chocolate-mint chip ice cream sundaes in debt.

Cougar drifts into the kitchen just as Clay begins to dish out the ice cream. He quirks an eyebrow at Sarah and murmurs, "¿Que pasa, chamaca?"

Sarah grins, and nods toward Clay, now applying liberal amounts of fudge sauce, marshmallow fluff, and maraschino cherries. When the two other princesses take off with their loot, Sarah turns to Cougar, solemnly shakes his hand, and hands him the extra sundae.

"You sneaky bas-" Clay starts, finally catching a clue.

Cougar very pointedly covers Sarah's ears, and Clay trails off, sighing in irritation. Sarah wriggles out of Cougar's grasp and runs off through the house, clutching her bowl of ice cream and shrieking something about ponies. "Wow," Jensen says, peering into the kitchen and surveying the wreckage left by sundae-making, "they're never gonna sleep after all that. I nominate Clay for kid-sitting duty!"