Monday, November 19, 2012

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, hereherehere, 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 Catan is 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 Bohnanza before—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 www.eyecanart.com. 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?
xo

52 comments:

  1. We bought Bohnanza at your recommendation last go round and ADORE IT. I cannot stress enough how awesome that stupid Bean Game is. I confess that when it arrived I read the directions and thought, "Oh, so this will never be played. How sad for the game!" But my children are far more resilient than I and forced my hand. We played the first time with the directions in hand and fell in love. My kids are 8 and 10, so a little young, but I promise, they get it, and have a tendency to kick my a$$ when we play.

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  2. My kids are only 2 and 4 but every time you do a post like this I end up adding things to my Amazon list. For when they're bigger.

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  3. Ha! Three gifts down, including the Cuppow, which will make a useful (and ironic) gift for my newlywed cousin -- who is still trying to find 1001 uses for the 100 mason jars we used for drinking glasses at the wedding. :) I will be making her some jar sweaters, too. Have some great ideas, thanks to a couple of books someone recommended...

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  4. Eleanor2:17 PM

    Great suggestions - we love games at our house, too.
    I also love Cuppow, and thought you might want to mention that right now, a portion of the proceeds go to Hurrican Sandy relief.

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  5. Thanks for the recommendations. I probably shouldn't mention this, but I will anyway. I tend to read things wrong the first time (maybe I'm going senile). Maybe it was because of the presence of the word, "Eye" on the can, but at first I read, "Layered Ear Wax Drawing Kit." That would certainly be an interesting toy.

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    1. Anonymous11:39 AM

      I chuckled outloud, and, knowing Catherine's sense of humor, I bet she will chuckle too, Babsiegirl.

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  6. What age range do you recommend for Chop Chop? My daughter is only six, but man does she love food. (This week? She ate raw cranberries. And then asked for more.)

    Also, full disclosure: My husband contributed to Unbored (that's my son getting blasted by the automatic Nerf water gun), and I asked the publisher to send you guys a copy! Glad your kids are enjoying it.

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    1. I think that ChopChop would be great for a six-year-old who's interested in food. She would need help making stuff, but she'd love looking at the magazine, I think.

      And NO WAY, about Unbored! How awesome is that???

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  7. Our hands-down favorite game ever is Cities and Knights of Catan (also an expansion). We can't wait until our kids are old enough to play it. They are finally old enough for old school Battleship and I can't wait until they open it at Christmas.

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  8. I just finished reading "When You Reach Me" by Rebecca Stead and I loved it! I got it at the library for my 9 year old, and then I couldn't put it down myself. I often love the book suggestions you give us, so I wanted to pass this along on the chance you haven't read it yet!

    Thanks for the game suggestions. We are loving Hunters and Gatherers that you suggested last year!!

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    1. When You Reach Me is one of my favorite books ever :) Just finished her new one, Liar & Spy -- also a good read!

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    2. Thanks for the reminder--that book fell off my to-read list, but I put it back on.

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  9. I just have to double-triple-quadruple-second The Orchardist. I did not have your restraint and finished it two nights (TWO NIGHTS.Late ones. I have a baby and a toddler. Sleep deprivation suicide, but it was so worth it!). Devastating, but in a good way. Great read. I'm buying it for at least one person for Christmas.

    I can't wait until my littles are big enough for games besides just stealing each other's toys and throwing the fridge letters on the floor in an effort to sprain their parents' ankles. These recommendations give me hope for the fun that is to come! It will also be nice when the littler one can use crayons and other art stuff without just eating them and making a mess, so we can do family crafts. Soon!!

    Anyone know a good set of doctor toys for a 3-year-old that aren't totally plastic and gross? That is what we are searching for this year for our doctor-obsessed older girl. (I guess we better start saving now for the med school, omg).

    Also, Cuppow? Awesome. I lost my one sippy-cup-to-go coffee thing recently and won't let myself replace the plastic... and I have a billion canning jars. Perfect! Now I can take my extra-second-oh-no cup of coffee with me on early daycare drop off mornings! if no one buys it for me I'm getting it for myself.

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    1. HABA makes a really sweet doctor kit that comes in a metal tin( kinda like an old fashion lunch box) with all wooden pieces and even a little pad of paper to take notes :) My kids have loved it for years. A couple things though, it doesn't come with a stethoscope, I would recommend just buying a real one. The cheap ones really are cheap and yet actually still really work. And some parts are definitely choking hazards. Hope this helps make your future doctors Christmas a happy one!

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    2. I was going to recommend the same set, although it's spendy. But it's so lovely. I was too cheap to get it, and wish I had. Love the real stethoscope advice!

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  10. dale in denver5:09 PM

    Cuppow! I ran across it the other day and thought it was brilliant and was going to send you a link. For those who are interested, the regular sized have a diamond shaped drink hole that would better fit a straw. For anyone interested in giving as gifts, you can buy wholesale quantities for a bit less than the retail prices. http://cuppow.com/collections/wholesale

    I ordered a dozen of each and am giving regular mouth and wide mouth jars with lids and cozies for presents to all the adults couples in my family. I'm going to create some worsted wool patchwork cozies for one (thank you, goodwill), and for the other I found this youtube video narrated by a woman with a lovely Australian accent where she is making a little purse shaped like the bodice of a ballarina with a tutu - it is just darling. I make no judgements about who will use which cozy for their Cuppowed jar. We've declared "homemade holidays" and as long as there is a homemade element - the cozy - it qualifies.

    I'm also making coffee cup cozies for all my kids teachers. I got fabric reminants from an office furniture supplier. Looking for a jar-o-buttons from the thrift store and some hair ties, and I'm set.

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    1. good advice! thank you.

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  11. @Meg: Haba makes two different doctor kits. Here's one:
    http://www.moolka.com/jzv/prod/391/Haba/Toys/Games/Mini+|+Tin+Games/Doctor%27s+Suitcase
    Google it and you'll find the other. It's soft, and frankly I"m not sure it would be a very satisfying toy, but you never know.

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  12. Just wanted to add my vote for "When You Reach Me" as a great book for kids 9 and up (and their parents). My daughter and I both read it last year--so good!

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  13. My 6 1/2 year old daughter and I have been reading and cooking with Chop Chop since she was five and I would definitely recommended it for kids starting at this age.

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    1. Thanks, Liz. I will order her a subscription!

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  14. Anonymous9:01 PM

    Catherine, my two older kids are 10 and 7, and I'm buying Ticket to Ride for sure, but also trying to decide between Settlers of Catan or Settlers of Catan, Jr. Thoughts?

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    1. My son and daughter are 9 & 10, respectively, and we love Settlers of Catan. I've never played the Jr. version but we do just fine with the regular version.

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    2. I was going to recommend the same thing. We've definitely been playing since ours were 10 and 7. . .

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  15. We love games in our house, too, and we play many of the same ones your family enjoys. If you haven't played them, I would recommend Lords of Waterdeep, Dominion, and Stone Age. Castle Panic is not a "crazy gamer game," but it is a fun one, because you work together against the game. Our kids also like Small World, but the many (MANY) tiny pieces drive me crazy.

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  16. Last Christmas I bought a bunch of the games you recommended. This is so exciting--a new list! We were too dumb to understand the Amish(?) trading game with the primary colors. But I am still happy to have it.

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  17. i think i want ALL of them. (i already have a cuppow.)

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  18. Kimberly10:14 AM

    I have mentioned this before, but there is a small card game called "Gub" that my kids have been addicted to for the past year, we play it almost every night, they are 8 and 10 and it is crazy fun, check it out -no, I'm not sponsored by Gamewright or anything, we just love to share it, when we meet other "Gub"-ers we get weirdly excited. And to Anonymous, we have had Settlers of Catan since my kids were 5 and 7 and the youngest child only really got into it now that she just turned 8. Hope that helps, I don't know how the Jr. version differs.

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    1. We LOVE LOVE LOVE Gubs too!!!! And we got the rest of our extended family hooked on it too. It says ages 10 and up, but our early-reader younger son was playing it this summer at age 5. I think you just have to be able to read, but otherwise, it would be for younger kids too. We love that it's fun for both grown-ups and kids!

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  19. Erin K.5:51 PM

    We love the perplexus epic too! And I always love your mega referral posts - they are super helpful and many a favorite game (hello Settlers of Catan!) and book has entered our home that way. Thanks!

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  20. one game we love: Rat-a-tat-cat. 6 year old loves it; we love to play with him.
    http://www.gamewright.com/gamewright/index.php?page=game&section=games&show=61

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    1. Rat-a-tat-cat is awesome. All the adults in our family love it too.

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  21. Another great gamewright game is LOOT. You really can't go wrong with their games, though get too many and they may start to be a bit repetitive. We've also enjoyed Sleeping Queens (for a younger age group). These mostly-card games travel very well.

    I'll add to the praise of Rebecca Stead -- When You Reach Me and Liar, Spy are both fantastic reads.

    Thanks for all the hints and suggestions!

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  22. Oh man, I met the Perplexus at the local children's museum recently. I played with it for about 30 seconds before I called bullshit. In my defense, I was trying to keep track of my 5 year old and balance my 1 year old in my lap, but still. It looked hard. Kudos to your smarter, more patient people for enjoying it.
    I'm off to Amazon to wish-list all of this year's games. Oh, and Cuppow?! Hello, brilliant. I want a whole set.

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  23. I have been taking the Perplexus in and out of my Amazon cart for weeks now. On the one hand, it looks like a great game! On the other, reviews indicate the workmanship is shoddy. Nothing more frustrating than a hard game which poorly rendered plastic makes impossible. I'm still not sure how to proceed.
    I also wanted to point you and (potentially) your readers to this holiday recipe: http://erinsullivanjones.blogspot.com/2012/11/swedish-coffee-rolls-in-21-steps.html
    I am not a food blogger, or really a blogger of any kind these days. But I have long wanted to publish this particular recipe of my grandmother's and share the deliciousness with one and all. I hope that's ok!

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    1. Thank you! Also, I read those reviews too, and believe them, but we did not have any problems with ours. Just to throw that into the hopper.

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  24. So you are one of THOSE Settlers players Catherine, I never would have guessed from your articles (although this is the first time I've read your blog so maybe you've revealed other personality traits that would have tipped me off.) Yaay for your family for supporting your Catan addiction and helping you through survival-instinct inspired reactions (we have several friends who fall into this category - actually it happens to even the most placid of us Catan players when a long-planned trade route is suddenly cut off by a ruthless husband). Thanks for all the game suggestions - we have such high standards now after our introduction to German games!

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  25. Oh Katherine! I finished The Orchardist today on a beach in Maui of all places. It was, as all your recommendations are, a gift. I love that I probably went to school with the author at Oregon AND that she currently lives in Portland, near me.

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  26. Catherine, this may have been asked before - but have all your lovely dalai mama blog posts been lost? I was slowly going back through all the recipe posts and printing and compiling into a binder ... until I noticed a few weeks ago that the links took me to a spoonful.com page with the recipe, but without your wonderful intros.

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    1. I saw that too, Sarah. It looks like a mix. Some are still up, some not. . . strange! I should DEAL and publish them some other way!

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  27. Hello there -
    I just read through your recent posts - I think I need: Chineese checkers, A layered wax drawing kit, and some salt and vinegar cabbage. It's really more about the butter and salt, right? But I'm BIG fan of vinegar - and an even BIGGER fan of salt and vinegar together!
    I'm all over that!
    breida

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  28. We love Euro games too. We haven't tried Settlers of Catan yet, but we love Puerto Rico and Dominion that someone else mentioned here. San Juan is a simpler card game version of Puerto Rico. I want to try Perplexus too! And am also loving the Cup Pow suggestion.

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  29. Catherine, you're so waldorfy in a non snobby way. I love it! I'm inspired to keep the t.v. off more and bring the games down to where the kids can reach them. Thanks for the great recommendations!

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  30. Can I make a request Catherine? Could you do a book post like this games post with links to all the previous posts where books were recommended? Pretty please?! :) I totally love the recommendations and often scroll around in your archives looking for more since I tend to hoard more titles then end up reading to do lack of current time in planning for future reading time! xooxoxo

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  31. Yippee! (standing up to cheer with marmoset toppling off of lap! or maybe it just looks like that in my post-partum state)

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