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Board Games: The Free, the Dull, and the Overpackaged

candylandWho says you have to be a caterer or a print-shop to make in-kind donations? Funagain, a board game retailer, gives away—what else?—board games, and a few $100 cash grants to be used for board games, to more than a dozen U.S. military servicemembers, schools, and libraries per month, based on a brief e-mailed essay about how potential recipients would use the games.

Although this is a small program in the grand scheme of philanthropy, and a brilliant PR move, I can’t help but be charmed. In a time when computer time seems to be the be-all-end-all of children’s “enrichment” planning (except when we’re desperately trying to get them away from a screen and moving around), it’s nice to hear about places that want to encourage the social interaction and skills that come with good old board games—following rules, taking turns, dealing with the frustration of random chance, developing strategic thinking, etc.

Yes, clearly I have some fond memories of family board games and card games. On the other hand, I’ve recently spent a lot of time playing Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders with my daughter and wow they are boring. It’s funny how in hindsight these games I remember playing are so clearly designed to introduce the concept of game playing itself and not much more. Our rounds of War were doing an OK job of that, but three-year-olds deserve diversity too, I suppose. Time to arrange for some board game playdates.

I also have to note that grants of board games would be less necessary—or go farther—if the basic message of the sadly in-hibernation CheapAss Games were taken to heart: The only unique parts of most games are the board, the cards, and the instructions. Play pieces, timers, pencils, pads of paper, dice, and money (a pile of loose change will do) can be interchangable, and it’s rather silly to keep shelling out for them over and over. If we all had one set of gaming paraphernalia (we use play pieces from a Monopoly game), getting new games could be a lot cheaper, a lot easier to store, and a lot less wasteful.

Unfortunately, the taste of CheapAss Games’ designers tended toward complex rules and not so young-child friendly themes, and of course for intellectual property reasons they couldn’t just make the pared down versions of the classic games. So I’m stuck, for now, with the full-sized Candy Land, complete with mostly empty box and four cheap plastic gingerbread people to move around, until I have kids ready to handle Unexploded Cow.

Photo CC NathanReed, via Flickr.

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