The Annual Holiday Games Post

Oh, it's game season! For playing and giving. Money spent on a good game is money well spent, I think: the amount of play value is almost incalculable. As you may know, I’ve been recommending games for the holidays for a while now, so please allow me to refer you to this post, in which I link to all the other places where I’ve described games (and toys and books) in the past. There are also some holiday-gift recipes in the post. More game links are here, here, here, here, here, and here. Holiday books round-up here. For this year, let me start with the crazy gamer games and then move into the more conventional ones:Seafarers of Catanis another of those games (like Acquire or, kill me, Risk) that does something weird to me, and I can’t pretend it’s good. And by weird I mean testosterone. During a recent game, I got so mad at Michael that I had the humiliating experience of the kids saying, “Mama, Mama, he wasn’t trying to screw you. You have to get over it or it’s really not going to be fun for you.” Sigh. Still, I always want to play. And the kids, who are better sports than I am, love it. Please note that you need to get the original (and very excellent) basic Catan first; this is, as we gamers say, an “expansion.”

It is so not okay to use as the theme of your game the Colonial occupation of an island nation, especially given that the indigenous people who weren’t wiped out by violence and disease were enslaved by the same brutal plantations that this game celebrates. So. If you are up for doing a little thematic intervention about the terrible politics of the game, then Puerto Rico is an excellent game, from the standpoint of gaming: complex, strategic, always interesting. My children are willing to play even given that I have to speak constantly about how offensive it is, so you know it’s a good game.Chris Perry? Is that you?
I’ve mentioned Bohnanzabefore—the bean-trading game with bad art—but I’ve never mentioned it in the context of holiday gift-giving, for which it is excellent: easy to learn, fun to play, and not insanely expensive. Also, legumes! You won’t have the added pleasure of Ben’s thinking that the Soy Bean looks like a friend of ours, but you’ll still enjoy it.

It’s a total Chinese Checkers renaissance around here. We’ve been playing with  “super” version rules, which is insanely fun and, if you know the game, really eliminates that boring mid-game congestion that can sap your will to live. Do try to get the version of the game that comes with iridescent marbles. They’re so beautiful I always want to put them in my mouth (Maybe that’s not a selling point?). Our friend Ava, whose family has the same set as us, has named all the colors: Dragon, Gubble Bum, Mustard, Ocean, Fire, and, my favorite, Almond Bath Bubble.

Booby-Trap is also enjoying a renaissance. I once recommended a newfangled version of it on amazon, but look on ebay! 12 bucks will get you the exact version we have, which is both delightful and esthetically pleasing. But if your kids are the sort to argue over potential turn-ending nanovibrations during pick-up-sticks, this is not the game for them.

Wait, this isn't a video game? They told me it was a video game.This is Perplexus Epic. Do you need a large, clattery, and expensive ball of plastic in your house? Kind of! It’s a 3-D maze and, for us, it’s sort of a compromise—like a mechanical version of a video game, given that the kids don’t do a lot of screen stuff. It seems good for the old hand-eye coordination and logic-development, if you go in for those sorts of things. Plus, it’s great for odds and ends of time and, strangely, social: they watch each other play, even though you can’t begin to imagine why. If your kids are new to this large, clattery, expensive plastic phenomenon, then start with the original, less-epic Perlexus.

A total trip down candy-memory lane, right?If a large, fun jigsaw puzzle is in your holiday-vacation plans, please allow me to recommend Candy Wrappers. We did it with our friends Meg and Pete over the summer, and I can’t think of one I’ve liked better. Oooh, except for this one, which is delicious in more of a Frank Lloyd Wright kind of way.

Eye Can Art Kits.Full disclosure: the lovely Eye Can Art folks sent us the Layered Wax Drawing Kit to test out, and Birdy loved it. The other kit that’s really catching our eye is the Sumi-e Ink Painting Kit. Ooh, and the cut-paper kit. The quality is absolutely fantastic, and the project we did was very thoughtfully conceived and explained.

That said, it’s a little bit on the expensive side, and you wish there were a little more in the can—ours had enough material to complete two projects—but you could supplement easily with inexpensive stuff from Michael’s.
Can you see how lovely this is? It's got layers of paper and wax and cray-pas, and it's stunning.They’re offering a coupon code until December 17th: “HOLIDAYKITS12 may be used on our website for $5 off your order at Limit one discount per order.”

Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun Another full disclosure: the publishers sent us this book. But I like it a lot or, I promise, I wouldn’t be mentioning it. (For instance, have you heard me recommending an energy bar made entirely of whey? Or a cookbook filled entirely with meatloaf recipes? I didn’t think so.) It’s huge, illustrated, a little campy, a little retro. The kids made a vibrating tongue-depressor harmonica/kazoo from it. They play a game from it called “the game” that is a total mind fuck. They love that it’s not gender-specific. This is from the press release: “Most of its 352 full-color pages are dedicated to activities — the best of the old (crafts, bicycle repair, science experiments), and the new (geocaching, yarn bombing, LED “graffiti”) — for boys and girls to do on their own and with their parents. It's a hands-on, DIY book with contributions from three dozen talented experts in their various fields.” Please note Birdy’s classic sign of approval: the million post-it notes.

Ben modeling a sardine sandwich for ChopChop.
ChopChop: Full disclosure: I edit this kids’ cooking magazine! But it’s so, so great that if you haven’t subscribed, you should! Ben and Birdy cook us whole, entire meals from it. If that’s not worth the $14.95 subscription price, I don’t know what is.
Stripy jar sweater not included.
Cuppow. A final full disclosure: I was not famous enough for these people to bother sending me a press sample, and STILL I LOVE IT ANYWAY. It’s a BPA-free plastic lid that turns a mason jar into a hot or cold to-go cup. Brilliant. There’s a wide-mouth one and a regular mouth one, and I bought them both and plan to buy more as gifts. (Note: Will you feel, dorkily, like you're drinking coffee from a grown-up sippy cup? Yes. Will that stop you? No.)
Also for grown-ups:
 This book is perfect, as I know I've mentioned.
And this book is perfect too.
What are you guys playing, reading, making, giving? And should we do a give-away on Amazon? Of what?