Cyber Monday is for Board Game Gifts!

Cyber Monday is for Board Game Gifts!

Black Friday used to mean just the shopping day after Thanksgiving. Now, of course, it lasts for weeks, including Cyber Monday.
Tabletop Games are not left out of these holiday spending sprees, with millions of gamers anticipating great bargains. Board games are the perfect “gifts that keep on giving,” with the most play-time-per-dollar. They nurture deductive reasoning, real social interaction, and “families who play together, stay together.”

The board game market—which includes card games, dice games, and party games—has been growing by over a billion dollars each year since 2018! Games are for everyone and for every gift-giving occasion—family, friends, employees and co-workers, Secret Santas, and even party favors and door prizes. Thousands of new titles are published every year and can be found in local game stores as well as through online retailers.

NewVenture Games offers a collection of over 50 small, portable, fun, educational and very affordable games. They’re all made in Michigan of sustainable materials, too. Click here to view the games in the Peg Pastimes series!

“Be sure to play every day!”

Take It Personally

Take It Personally

When my kids were small, we played games (of course). But we generally played by our own house rules rather than the mundane exercise offered by the publisher. Rules were made to be bent, right?

So when the kids pulled out Candyland, we started at the basics. Draw a card, move your dude, suffer the consequences. Rinse and repeat.

Then we began to make it into a game.

  • Name your character. This is not just some soulless plastic standee… this is your avatar for the duration of this little adventure. This is Duke McLargehuge, or Silly Sally, or Sir Fartsalot. They have a serious stake in the outcome of this journey. We care about these characters and their dreams and aspirations. In fact, let’s use some minis from some other game to represent these characters. Keep a journal of who wins and loses, game after game.
  • Keep a secret, for a while. Draw a card from the stack and keep it hidden. This is your secret power. When the going gets tough, flip it down on the table with an “a-ha” and a prideful flourish, then cross that rainbow bridge with confidence!
  • Choose your own path. Missed the bridge? On your next move, go backwards! Sometimes a tactical retreat is the key to a later advantage!
  • Those creatures lurking in the shadows along the path… What are they really up to? Mr. Mint seems a helpful sort, and Lord Licorice looks a bit sinister, I think. That gal that lives in the Lollypop Woods scares me a little, and that thing in the Molasses Swamp looks like he might kill Tasha Yar just for the heck of it. Let’s make these characters part of the story, and grab a few more miscellaneous pawns out of some other game box.
  • Allies or enemies? Now we have non-player characters in the game, let’s give them some powers and let them be part of the story. Maybe they’re like familiars that do our bidding, or golems that wander mindlessly about, wreaking havoc on the countryside once they’ve been released.
  • All for won or won for all? Perhaps this can be a cooperative effort. Nobody wins unless everybody wins. “I have the Power of Greyskull, therefore I will fend off the evil Mrs. Nutt to allow you to pass safely through her dark domain!” “And I will rescue you from the clutches of the creepy Gumdrop Ghoul!”

It almost makes a game out of this box of plastic and cardboard.

Games for your Hallowe’en Party?

Games for your Hallowe’en Party?

Someone asked me, “What games would you recommend for a Hallowe’en party?”

My first question was “What KIND of Hallowe’en party?” Would it be a sit-down affair with room for a table-top game (or several)? A large gathering with room for dexterity or group games? A rambunctious fun time with families? A loud crowded kegger with silly costumes?

(These are fundamental questions for any themed gathering, of course.)

With the atmosphere of the party determined, I can begin to sift through my mental and physical collection to see if I can make a recommendation. But for Hallowe’en… hmmm. What do I have that would be thematic? I’m not into the horror genre, and how “scary” can a board game be anyway? I have a copy of “Nightmare on Elm Street” (a terrible game, barely playable).

“Which Witch” and “Goosebumps” and “13 Dead End Drive” and that glow-in-the-dark ghost game…these can be fun with the right crowd (usually under 10 years old). More modern monster-themed games include “Horrified” (classic movie monsters), a bevy of Cthulu-themed games and expansions, plus hundreds of games involving fantasy-style monsters.

Into the Hallowe’en Spirit

For some gatherings the “Werewolf”-style hidden role games are fun, but unless guests are into it, it can fall flat very easily. If there’s an enticing door prize for the winner(s), such social games can better maintain their momentum with a non-gamer crowd. Table-top hidden role games like “Dracula’s Feast” are great and very thematic, and there’s “Salem” and other witch-themed games of that type. They take a certain amount of concentration. Will that fit your party?

Zombies, of course, are everywhere in the game stores. Everything from “Zombie Dice” (a quick push-your-luck dice game like “Farkel”) to “Zombicide” or “Dead of Winter.” The more complex Zombie games border on role-playing and are hard to play in a party atmosphere. But again, it depends on the party.

Traditional dexterity games like Jenga, Bandu, cornhole, beer pong, washer toss, or even carroms can be holiday themed and take very little mental effort to make fun with friends. These are the defaults that everyone is familiar with, and often my final recommendation.

What’s YOUR favorite Hallowe’en-themed game?

Games Workshops

Games Workshops

Over the years I’ve provided many games workshops for audiences of all ages. In addition, I work with Boy Scouts who wish to earn the Game Design Merit Badge. (Yes, there is one!)

The workshops depend greatly on the audience, the setting, the materials at hand, and the expectations that have been set. So I tailor the content and the process for each session.

I generally start my presentation by trying to establish more of a conversation than a classroom atmosphere. I ask everyone what games they play, what games they like, and what games they “prefer not to play.”

Using a marker board (if one is available), I offer them a little analysis of these games—define the mechanisms they enjoy (or not) and describe others they might enjoy just as much. I help people see beyond the commercial package or colorful licensing, and how to find a game’s roots in the history of play.

With that vocabulary established, it’s time to make a game. I tell the story of sitting down with a group of bored kids at a gathering of some kind. “There’s nothing to do around here” is my favorite starting point. I prove them wrong.

For most workshops, I bring along a kit of components that often raise a few eyebrows: Cowry shells, popsicle sticks, Sharpie markers, bottle caps, and a handful of pebbles, a stick of chalk, maybe a piece of cardboard. (Depending on the setting, I might “plant” some of these components to emphasize their common availability.)

“So, let’s play a game!”

We usually start with a simple race game. We can draw a long line and divide it with cross-hatches into a track of intersections and spaces. Or we can draw a winding circuit of little circles meandering around the page. Or we can create a grid and zig-zag from point to point in some predetermined pattern.

“On this track,” I say, “let’s have a race. Go ahead now, and let me know who wins.”

“But what shall we use for game pieces?” to which I respond, “What do you have in your pockets, or on the ground, that you can use?” Talk about the materials at hand, and what they might represent in our race. (The player? An animal? A rocket? A robot? In the image above, you’ll note that it’s a race between a sports car, George Washington, and a rock.) Once everyone gets a token, I repeat the challenge: “Go ahead now, and let me know who wins.”

“But how do we know how to move? What shall we use for dice?” This gives me a chance to talk about chance. What are dice, or spinners, or tee-totums, or casting sticks? They are “randomizers”—methods of generating a range of unpredictable results within a certain range. After demonstrating a number of these options (including a deck of cards), I get the players to choose their own methods and materials. (Here’s a picture of some randomizers from my collection.)

Games workshop randomizersOK, it’s not rocket surgery, but it’s a start.

Finding meaning

Now we talk about common aspects of games with tracks—spaces that have meanings or consequences. Can these spaces provide decision points instead of random results?

As the race progresses, can the players interact with each other somehow, to help or hinder? And we talk about each player’s tokens — does each have a special advantage or handicap? These aspects might be randomly assigned or chosen.

In each case, we decide as a group if we add any of these features to the race. And we play a few turns together to see how they work.
Then we talk about themes; If this is a footrace, a car race, a horserace, or a contest between spaceships…how does that affect these choices? If this was a race between superheroes or cartoon characters or historical figures, how would that affect the rules of the game?

The objective is to inspire the group to think about things in a little more depth, and to be a little more analytical. But this is also a way to see how a few simple components can add up to make fun! Simplicity can be added to and embellished to make a game complex. Conversely, complexity in games can be broken down into simpler components.

Given time, we talk about non-race games. As an example, I tell the tale about eating at a favorite restaurant in my youth where they had checkered tablecloths. Yes—that’s a game board! We made up plenty of games with sugar packets and coins while we ate!
All this makes me wonder about the inspiration behind the games people play. What inspired these games, and what mechanisms work together to make them fun?

The possibilities are only limited by your imagination!