Posted by: sweeneyblog | December 10, 2011

For Holiday Gift Ideas, Think Beyond Parker Brothers

The wife and I with her parents and Bryon Powell

As I have written about before, Bryna and I are huge board game fans. We own over fifty different board games, and regularly play with friends, family or just ourselves on those cold grey nights of fall/winter/spring. A good board game is entertaining, has some challenge to it but isn’t so mentally consuming that you can still have conversations while you play.

A key part of that equation is the balance between chance and strategy. Think about Chess for a moment. That is a game of pure strategy, there are no random factors in the game. It is a contest solely on skill. This might be fascinating for some, but I find it tedious. It becomes an almost routine measure of ability, are you better than the other player? On the other hand, a game of pure chance can be infuriating. Yatzee is a good example of that. Yes there is a tiny bit of strategy in deciding what roll to count for what slot, but most of the games points are decided on whether or not your role well. There is so little skill involved, it is literally a toss of the dice as to who will win, and there is no way to get better at that. A good game shoots the difference, which measurable choices that the players can make that have risks and rewards, but a random factor to determine the outcome of those actions.

Okay, enough game theory, what does Parker Brothers have to do with this? Parker Brothers was the corporate power in the board game world for many many years. Most of the games you think of when someone says “Board Games” are probably Parker Brothers. Battleship, Clue, Trivial Pursuit, Candy Land, Risk and my all-time least favorite game, Monopoly. They were bought out by Hasbro (the toy company) in 1991 and to this day are the largest producer of board games. So why don’t I like them?

Their games are devoid of intellectual curiosity. They haven’t invented a single new game in years, all they do is repaint the old versions of monopoly or trivial pursuit. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with that, but if you are looking for a truly creative experience, you want to look beyond the old standbys. Stretch your wings and try something new.

So this holiday season, might I suggest you try one of the below games. As always, I would recommend you to buy local. There is an excellent board game store here in town, Eagles Games, on the corner of Holly and Bay St. that has a great selection. On to the games:

For the “Casual Game Night with Friends”: Quelf


Quelf is like Cranium taken up a notch. You and your friends play a gaggle of ridiculous tokens making there way through a simple board, with each roll of the dice requiring you to answer trivia, perform some action, or list objects that fit a category. Seems simple enough? The actions are hilariously bizarre. “Make a snorkle mask out of materials you can find in the room and wear it until the end of the game. If it falls off, you move back two spaces”, or “whenever someone rolls a 4, stand and pretend your a willow tree (the most mournful of trees) and make sad movie music until their turn is over”. The results are great icebreakers, and hilarious behaviors. The rules are pretty simple and easy to learn, and the game only lasts 30 minutes to an hour.

For the “Ready for a Challenge” Board Game Player: Last Night on Earth

Last Night on Earth

So you’ve won a few rounds of trivial pursuit and are ready to take it up a notch. Last Night on Earth is a perfect first step. Everyone is dropped right into the middle of a bad zombie movie. One player controls a handful of zombies while the others play stereotypical horror victims (the jock, the sheriff, the crazy drifter) trying to get out of town, or save their fellow townsfolk. The rules are pretty straight forward, and the rising tension as the zombies corner you is quite enjoyable. Also comes with its own soundtrack, weirdly enough. This game takes about an hour to play.

Mansions of Madness

For the “Crazy About Games, Let’s Do This!” Board Game Player: Mansions of Madness

Ready to explore a dark, creepy mansion? In this game, you play as a co-operative team slowly unraveling a mystery deep in a haunted mansion. Steeped in Cthulhu Mythos, this game truly has a cinematic quality to it. Each turn could bring you face to face with some horrible unspeakable evil as your fellow players try desperately to solve the mystery in time. This game is definitely complex, and will take a few tries to get the hang of, but is well worth the reward. It also will take a little time to set up and play. Bryna and I often playfully pass a couple hours exploring the Mansions of Madness.

However, if Gothic horror isn’t your cup of tea, might I recommend . . .

For the “Not really into games” Board Game Player: Drakon


The premise of this game is simple. You are stuck in a dungeon and trying to gather 10 gold coins before any of your fellow players do. The trick is that you are building the dungeon as you go along. Each player has a hand full of dungeon tiles and must place them before they move. Some tiles give you gold, yes, but others rotate your opponents tiles, steal their gold or even, summon the fearsome drakon to devore your enemies. A light-hearted game that is easy to learn, takes only 15-30 minutes to play and doesn’t involve corpses or singing in public.

I promise to get back to politics soon. The new County Council is sorting itself out into committees and it seems that no one wants to step into the role of Chair. The new administrations on a city and county level are arranging themselves, the opposition to the Cherry Point facility is preparing its next big step, and the redistricting committee might finally do something. But in the meantime, when everyone is doing their holiday shopping, consider a board game. They can lead to untold hours of fun and entertainment.



  1. Riley, thanks for this post… I know it is not politics, but quite frankly, some of us are burnt out anyway. 🙂
    I must say that this is the best suggestion for Christmas I have heard in a while. We need to get back to playing games with each other, instead of sitting in front of the TV with your family, barely conversing to each other. How often have I sat down with family, and not 5 words are spoken together for hours because all attention is glued to a TV. Besides, you only have to purchase a board game once, and then you have hours and hours of fun for no cost after that.
    Board games are win/win:
    -you can buy local
    -they are relatively inexpensive when compared to other entertainment
    -the work as icebreakers (as you mentioned) so you get to know each other more
    -good games make you use your brain

    I would also suggest some classics: Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, and Dominion (which a friend of a friend made).

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  3. […] Check out my condensed history of Comic Books, why John Carter the movie was terribly marketed, my recommendations for a fresh board game, a discussion about the future of television and my thoughts on cynicism in popular Science […]

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