It did not take me long to realize that my understanding of the game "Optima" was emphatically at odds with my 76-year-old grandfather's idea of "Optima." Didn't see that coming, huh? We were speaking past each other, it seemed.
In fact, it took me thirty minutes to realize he had no idea about the computer game whose loss I was mourning.
Thirty minutes was just long enough to follow him upstairs, huffing and puffing (I thought the old guy was going to have a heart attack right there as he, red-faced, eyes bulging, heaved down the attic stairs), and to shadow him into the shadowy attic, and for him to search past all the destroyed computers up there, the boxes and crates (cussing all the while, dropping embers from his pipe to the floor) to find that one particular dusty cardboard box among many other cardboard boxes. This one was quite large, lidded, and taped tightly with duct tape, which he proceeded to cut through with his pocket knife.
He rifled through a bunch of loose leafs of graph paper and then thrusted a little packet into my hand along with a felt bag of what seemed to be stones or coins.
"Optima: A Game of Swords and Sorceries," he said, tapping the yellowed, spiral-bind packet I help in my hands. At first glance, it wasn't very impressive.
It looked like it had been typed up on a old type-writer with a spent ribbon and then carbon-copied. It was approximately sixty eight-and-a-half-by-eleven-inch pages, and mostly typed text with bad margins. It was illustrated with a dozen or so sketches, skillful though somewhat primitive in their style. I remember the front cover vividly: a smallish warrior with angular features, long black hair waving in the breeze, wearing a black tunic wielding a curving blade, splayed hand in the air as if working magic, forearm tattooed with a simple black triangle. He stood before a knife-like crag upon which was built a many-spired citadel around which swirled rings of writhing smoke. In the distance dragons or other avian reptiles flew and lightning flashed.
It was pretty cool. But it wasn't Optima Online.
I looked at the copyright date. 1972. And I looked at the by line: a table-top strategy, medieval military, and fantasy storytelling game designed and authored by Superior Hopewell.
Superior Hopewell. This intrigued me. If I wasn't mistaken, Superior was my great-grandfather. He died when I was very young. I'd met him only one time in my life, and he was living in a nursing home then, and he couldn't speak, just sat there, eyes glassy, drooling.
"Open up that little bag," said Monty. "Those is really nice. Probably precious. But they're sharp. Be careful you don't cut yerself."
I opened the bag with a drawstring and poured the contents into my hand.
They were small pieces of sharply cut glass or crystal with engraved numbers, many different colors, many different shapes, polyhedrons: a tetrahedron or pyramid, a cube, an octahedron (looked like two pyramids sutured together), a pentagonal trapezohedron (10-sider), a dodecahedron (12), and a glimmering icosahedron of twenty-sides.
For some reason, my hackles raised.
They were beautiful. In the hanging light of the attic, they shimmered like multi-colored gemstones. Compared to the brittle little booklet Monty had given me, they were eye-candy.
"What the hell are these, Monty?" I asked, too awestruck to censor my fifteen-year-old propensity to curse all the time.
"They is dice, son," he said, puffing his pipe, stroking his beard.