GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #3: Tabletop Games

Many geeks sure love their tabletop games. From family game night to weekend-long game fests to gaming conventions, tabletop games play a pretty big role in our lives. We’ve come a long way since the days of Monopoly and Sorry (though those games still have their uses). What are GeekMom’s favorite games this year? Check them out!

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GeekMom Secret Origins: Samantha Fisher’s Journey Started With The Doctor

I’ve been asked many times through the years how I became the big ole nerd that I am. It has been asked in many ways by many types of people and I choose to believe it is always asked out of jealousy of my awesomeness. I mean, how could anyone not want to be just like me, right? I usually laugh, make a joke, or will reply with my standard response of, “It just happened over time, there was no one thing or event.”

Over the last few days, as I prepared to join this wondrous team known as GeekMom, I’ve been actively thinking about this topic. No easy task for a busy gal with ADHD and a to-do list that would make a lesser person weep, but perhaps highly overdue. Why did I become a geek? Most people I know can attribute their geekiness to someone in their family who is also a geek. They picked up their love of this or their fascination with that by observing loved ones in their passionate undertakings. Alas, there is no one in my immediate family who has the same predilections as I.

How did this happen? I’m going to tell you my story. You tell me yours.  Continue reading GeekMom Secret Origins: Samantha Fisher’s Journey Started With The Doctor

Fun & Spooky Games Whatever Your Halloween Plans

Whether you’re throwing a big neighborhood party, or staying home with the drapes closed this Halloween, chances are there’s a game to suit both your tastes and this spookiest of seasons. To help you celebrate Halloween I’ve picked out six games in six different styles including board games, video games, and games to play with kids.

Continue reading Fun & Spooky Games Whatever Your Halloween Plans

Games! ‘Paperback’ and ‘Five Tribes’

Image By Rebecca Angel

One of my favorite things to do at a con is try new games. At ConnectiCon this year, my son and I played many and two stood out as the best: Paperback and Five Tribes.


My friend Tim brought Paperback with him to play with our group. He said, “It’s a deck-building game…” and my shoulder’s slumped since I rarely like those kind of games,  “…with letters to make words.” And I brightened since I love word games!

First off, the design and artwork is retro-mid-20th-century-pulp-fiction cool. Players buy letters to build a deck to make words. Letters have special abilities, and your goal for length or type of word varies on those abilities to help you win. Making words grew more challenging as the game progressed and fewer cards were in play, but the strategy to actual win is based on points and gaining paperback cards, and watching how everyone else is doing. It moved along well, and kept everyone’s interest. I lost because I wasn’t paying attention to the other players, too focused on making interesting words. Highly recommend for ages 12 and up.

You can watch a video of game play:

Five Tribes

“Crossing into the Land of 1001 Nights, your caravan arrives at the fabled Sultanate of Naqala. The old sultan just died and control of Naqala is up for grabs! The oracles foretold of strangers who would maneuver the Five Tribes to gain influence over the legendary city-state. Will you fulfill the prophecy?  Invoke the old Djinns, move the Tribes into position at the right time and the Sultanate may become yours!”

I like that fantasy description introducing Five Tribesa board game with mancala-based movement. My son and I play-tested this with a big fan of the game, who had his pre-teen daughter with him. Although it took some explaining, once we got going, everyone had a good time.

The game is brightly colored with fantastic artwork and tactile-satisfying pieces. Each round, turn order is determined by bidding. Then each player moves meeples around the board to land on a space they can gain influence. Like many modern games, there are many strategies to win. My son focused on gaining most of the land and specific color meeples, the gamer’s daughter collected resources and slaves, and I took as many djinn cards as I could. My son won.

We played it again the next day with our regular group of Con attendees and it was more fun now that I knew what I was doing. (Still didn’t win…)

And here’s a video of game play:

My son and I know what we want for Christmas this year…

Get Ready to Rock Family Game Night With ‘Rock On!’

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

A rock collection always sounds like a fun collection to start, but most kids invariably stop and ask, “But what do I do with it?” Rock On!, a board game developed by Melissa Weisner, has a new expansion that has the answer: Play with it!

Rock On! is both board game and rock collection in one. There are multiple levels of game play, appealing to kids that are pre-readers all the way through elementary age. The simplest level of game play is a matching game, as kids use the game cards to identify 15 types of rocks. As they play, they learn the rock’s name and properties.

The next levels include answering questions that increase in difficulty about geology. My six-year-old was able to answer the first two levels of questions without much trouble. (The ones with words she didn’t know became an opportunity to chat about science concepts we haven’t talked about before.) With only a relatively small number of questions, she was able to memorize some of the answers the more we played, but she doesn’t consider that a downside to the game. She asks to play time and time again.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

I can’t put my finger on the exact reason why, but every time we play Rock On!, my daughter dissolves into giggles. Whether it’s from hearing me trip over some of the rock’s names, or just the joy of playing a fun game together, Rock On! always gets her to smile. She also loves sorting through the 50+ polished rocks that come with the game, and after playing just two or three times, she was able to identify almost all of them.

The newly expanded Rock On! fits the bill of a fun educational game and will spark an interest in geology in every kid that plays it. While $30 may seem like a steep price for a board game, the included rock specimens and accompanying informational cards make it worth it. Pick it up for your next game night and get ready to rock out.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Kickstarter Games ‘Bane’ and ‘4 the Birds’ are 4 the Family

Kickstarter Logo Image: Kickstarter
Kickstarter logo. Image: Kickstarter.

I live in the Pacific Northwest. I live in a land of microbrews (yum), hipsters, and gourmet donuts (super yum). It is also the land of board game creation. So many great board games have hailed from the minds of Pacific Northwesterners that game stores are becoming as common as Starbucks (not a bad thing).

Two more games from the land of moss and rain are available to check out on Kickstarter now. Both games were made with families in mind.

Bane box art by Ryan Yee of Magic: The Gathering fame. Image: Gamesicle, LLC, on Kickstarter.

Bane is an expanded game of Rock-Paper-Scissors. Remember a couple of years ago, when I talked about the social card game at GameStorm that had the attention of all of the kids who were in attendance? The full board game is now on Kickstarter. Werewolves, humans, and vampires battle each other to see who is fastest and can reach the level of Master first. Luck and strategy are both used in this card game.

Werewolves eat vampires, vampires hunt humans, and humans are after werewolves. The highest number played gets to try and hunt first. In this case, the human 6 wins. Image: Cathe Post.

The artwork on the cards will give this game a 13+ rating, but if your younger child is used to the artwork on Magic: The Gathering cards, this is at about the same level. My kids (5 and 9 years old) have both seen the cards, and it was fine.

Bane will be lurking on Kickstarter until June 10. If you back at the $28 level, you will receive a copy of the game if the project is successfully funded.

4 the Birds box art. Image: Blackspot Games on Kickstarter.

4 the Birds is a dice-rolling, sneakily educational game. I previously wrote about this game after play-testing it at GameStorm in 2012. Roll the dice to find the point on the board and place one of six of your birds. Get four of your birds in a row or  square shape and you win. It’s deceptively simple. But, when you add crows, a hawk, and cards with special powers, it is either the start of a bad bar joke or the gateway to adding quite a bit of strategy to a fun—and pun heavy—game.

A group of us played through the prototype of 4 the Birds. (This is not what the final game will look like.) It’s simple enough for young players, but has plenty of room for adult-level complexity and strategy. Image: Jonathan Liu.

This game can be played by any player old enough to roll dice and recognize numbers. The game can be just that simple or much more complex, depending on how much planning you put into the hawk and crows who join the flock (and how the ability cards are used.

4 the Birds will be nesting on Kickstarter until June 18. Backing at the $29 (+$5 shipping) level will pre-order the game for you, since the game has funded. Even with shipping, it is a deal. Retail price for the game will be $40.

Math: All You Need Is Games

Image By Rebecca Angel

I was the kid that had to stay in at recess in second grade. Was I bad? No, I needed extra help in subtraction. Sister Brendan, a very nice old lady (who gave me snacks too) sat patiently with me each day to get my wee brain to learn the tools of taking away in an equation. I was a smart kid, and I could memorize how to do it, but I didn’t understand why and that made me second guess myself and screw up on tests. Eventually I got the concept, but I also learned another lesson: Math isn’t fun.

But it can be! My teen son loves to play board and card games with his young cousin. They both homeschool, so I suggested he come up with a math curriculum for her that incorporated games we already owned to teach the concepts she was supposed to learn in second grade (according to Common Core for a reference). Her parents thought that was great, and when she took a simple test at the end of the year, she aced it. No boring textbooks and worksheets!

Unlike most math curricula that teach one concept at a time, games utilize several skills at once in a fun atmosphere that keeps the challenges from getting overwhelming. Basically, instead of learning to do math on its own, the student is using math to play the game.

Granny Apples is a good example of multiple math skills at once. It is a simple game of tossing wooden apples on the ground and counting the different types to find a total score. However, it involves fractions, addition, subtraction, sets, and is all mental math in a visual setting. There is no writing involved, which is perfect for learning concepts without tripping over the writing/reading challenges. It is a fast game with tactile satisfaction with smooth wooden objects.

Bakugan is perfect for those writing/reading challenges, and so fun that kids will not care. Each sphere is tossed into a ring and pops open to reveal a monster. Each monster has a number printed on it for its “battle score.” But these scores are up to triple digits. The student must keep track of all the digits, keep their columns neat, and continually add and subtract to figure out if they win the battles.

Polyhedron Origami is not a game, but the best way to teach geometry of three dimensional shapes—by building them with paper. It is not difficult, but requires attention to detail, with a satisfying ending of something beautiful with math. Using this method, even the youngest students can make truncated octohedrons, and know what that means!

Phase 10 Card Game is all about sets, patterns, and reasoning.

Could there be a more entertaining way to learn graphing skills than Battleship?

The top half of the Yahtzee sheet is a fun introduction to multiplication. Rolling dice, counting, and writing. Over time, students will count the dice faster and faster based on the visual sets of dots on each die. This is learning sets and geometric reasoning for multiplication skills. Sounds complicated, but in this game, it’s just fun.

Games like Cathedral Chess, TangoesMancala, and Connect 4 are ways to teach spatial reasoning, patterns, shapes, strategy, structure, reasoning, and mental acuity. They range in complexity, but are able to be played by children as young as five in simple formats.

Check out some other posts about math games here and here and here and here.

What games does your family play that teach math concepts?

The Hare and The Tortoise: A Fast Family Favorite

Image: Courtesy of Dani Snell


Thank goodness for Wil Wheaton. Without Tabletop, I would still be in the barren wasteland that is life without Tokaido Season three of Tabletop continues to move along at a reliable clip. While I am mostly watching and realizing there are games I don’t want to play (I’m looking at you Forbidden Desert), I am pleased with the amount of new games we are experiencing. More than ever, this season has given us a chance to play more games with our family. The episode in which Wil played Catan Junior was interesting certainly, but it was the more recent episode featuring Tales and Games: The Hare and The Tortoise that we chose to share with the rest of our family and friends. So gathered around a table late one Friday night, four parents and four children played a team version of our new favorite game.

Image: Sarah Pinault.

The Hare and The Tortoise is a card-driven betting game for 2-5 players aged 8 and up. We played with four teams of two. Our youngest participant was three; he mostly just revealed my hand to everybody else. The five-year-olds present handled the game very well, and have played several times since then, without adults present. The company suggests that an average game takes 15 minutes. Ours took 45, but team play does make it a little more involved.

The point of the game is to bet on animals, loosely based on Aesop’s Fable of the same name, and race those animals down a track. The first three animals to cross the finishing line receive points, and the winner is the player with the highest number of points based on the animals they placed bets on.

At the beginning of the game, or race, each player receives an animal card chosen at random. There are five animals to pick from: turtle, hare, lamb, wolf, and fox. Each player then receives seven cards. From this seven, they choose another random animal. Both of these cards are placed face down and not revealed to the other players. These are the animals on which the player has bet. It is possible to bet on the same animal twice; you do not re-draw.

Image: Sarah Pinault.

Players will then take turns laying down between one and four cards of the same animal. You refill your hand to six cards before the next player lays down. The turn is over when four cards of any one animal have been played, or when there are eight cards played on the table at once. Yes this does have to be eight. If at seven cards down, someone decided to play two more and so nine cards are in play, you keep going until four are the same animal. Then, it is time for the animals to move or not.

The race track consists of 11 road cards, two of which contain water; configuration is at the player’s discretion upon setup. Each of the animals in play have distinct characteristics that determines how they move down the board. Kids and adults alike had fun getting into the mood of their characters. The animals always move in the same order.

  • The Turtle: Always moves one space, even if no turtle cards have been played. May move two spaces if four of its cards were played.
  • The Hare: Always moves two spaces, but only if a hare card is in play. If four hare cards are played and the hare is currently in the lead, then the hare takes a nap and does not move.
  • The Fox: Always moves as many spaces as the number of fox cards played.
  • The Lamb: Always moves one more space than the number of lamb cards played. If the lamb reaches water mid-move, it must stop and take a drink, regardless of how many moves are left. The lamb cannot move again until it’s next turn.
  • The Wolf: Moves one space if 1-2 cards are played, and moves one less space than the number of cards if three or more are played. The game also includes three howling wolf cards. If a howler is played, no one but the wolf moves. The wolf moves one space if one to two cards are played, and one less space than the number of cards if more are played. The wolf also has three cards with a howl; if one of these is played, no one but the wolf moves. (The track consists of 11 road cards, two covered with water.) If playing with kids, prepare for a lot of howling around the game table.
Image: Sarah Pinault.

Once all animals have moved, or not, a new round begins. The game ends when three of the five animals reach the finish line. Players receive points based on the ranking of the animals they bet on. The player with the most points wins.

The kids loved racing the animals down the track by choosing which cards to play, though it took a few turns for them to understand that we were betting on animals and weren’t actually the animals themselves. But this isn’t just a kids’ game. The dynamic and gameplay certainly lends itself to a family game, but it is thoroughly enjoyable without the kids around too.

The links in this post are to Amazon, but I would encourage you to seek out your local board game store. We purchased our copy from Weekend Anime. We love giving them our business and being part of a larger gaming community through the people we meet there.

The Tabletop episode shows the game off really well, but do not watch with the kids. The language isn’t as age-appropriate as the game.

Global Game Jam 2015

Image by Global Game Jam, Inc.

Innovation, experimentation, collaboration. That’s Global Game Jam. For 48 hours teams around the world will be given a theme to create video, board, and card games. For what? For fun!

It’s not a competition, and teams are formed by on-site participants (not beforehand). It’s a way to meet people who like to game, design, create, and enjoy using their imaginations. In 2014 there were 488 locations, and 72 countries that created over 4000 games! Many of these quick weekend game developments have continued to become fully realized versions afterwards.

Here are groups around the world saying hello:

Want to participate? Go here to find a location. Kids and adults are welcome to join in the fun, but you have to register; go for it!

GeekMom Cathe’s 14 Best of 2014

bio with titles

We four geeks of Washington are,

thinking hard to make list of par…

—Oh! I guess I need to put the holiday away and look back on the year. Each of my family members is interested in different geeky avenues. It is exciting to me when my kids, or husband, find something new that the rest of us missed. For instance, when I go to a convention with my daughter, if I don’t know what a costume is in the crowd, most of the time my daughter can fill me in.

Because each of my family members gets excited about different geeky things, I received quite a bit of input from my family members as to what were the best geeky things this year. Pictures indicate which family members voted for what favorites.

Skull and Shackles
Skull & Shackles. Image: Paizo

Skull and Shackles: This one is a biggy for me personally. I have had a BLAST playing through Pathfinder ACG with GeekDad Jonathan, and we recently started the next installment: Skull & Shackles. To memorialize the occasion, he gave each of the players a miniature of their character for Christmas. My husband in turn agreed to paint the miniatures. I’m so freakin’ excited to start up playing again in 2015 with a trick’d out mini—complete with peg leg and hook hand (I’m playing Ranzak the jerk-face goblin who avoids fights and loves loot)! Also starting in 2015, my husband and I are playing through the Skull and Shackles Pathfinder scenario with the Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition mechanics (also playing Ranzak—can’t go wrong with a jerk-face that I can roleplay the crap out of). #MindBlown #GeekyRPGMashUp

Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition. Image: Wizards of the Coast

Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition: AKA, D&D 5e, keeps sneaking into our lives. We play-tested D&D Next which was recently released as 5e. I am a true believer that any game, especially RPGs, are only as good as the group you play with, so we have been very lucky to have excellent players and GMs in our groups. Besides the Skull and Shackles/5e mashup, we will be playing in a standard campaign with another set of friends. I’m excited for this campaign because my daughter will also play with us.

GeekGirlCon. Image: GeekGirlCon

GeekGirlCon: All of the fan-girl is right here. It was a girls’ weekend out, I met more of the GeekMom writers I have worked with for over four years, there was science, cos-playing, games, cool stuff…the list goes on and on. Next time, no cos-play, and I will probably drive rather than take the bus. The next GeekGirlCon will be October 10 & 11, 2015.

Guardians of the Galaxy. Image: Marvel

Guardians of the Galaxy: Yet another mother/daughter connection this year. After my husband and I saw this movie in the theater, my daughter saw the dancing Groot bit on the internet. She does a good job of handling violence/language so I warned her of all of these points, and off we went to the movie. Soon after, plans were made for us to cosplay as Rocket and Dancing Baby Groot for GeekGirlCon and Halloween. It was such a neat and geeky way for my daughter and I to bond.

Rocket Raccoon Comic
Rocket Raccoon Comic. Image: Marvel

Rocket Raccoon Comic: When a comic book has this much fun with sound effects and story lines (including an entire book dedicated to Groot telling a story), it was a no-brainer to add to our subscription list.

Lego Research Institute. Image: Lego

Lego Research Institute: After the limited edition set sold out, fans were surprised when the popular female-scientist-themed Lego brick set came back for a second run before Christmas. I’m being a little selfish: This Lego, along with Groot and Rocket, are being kept on my desk so they are not lost to the depths of the Lego collection of miscellaneous bricks in the toy bins…

Angry Birds Comic
Angry Birds Comic. Image: IDW

Angry Bird Comic: I think this one is all for my son. It is inspiring him to learn to read, and he loves the characters.

Super Smash Bros Wii U. Image: Nintendo

Super Smash Bros. Wii U: New characters, amiibo miniatures, and the promise of more new things to unlock have made the newest Smash Bros. chapter an instant favorite among all of my family members. All four of us can play together, there are things easy enough for my five-year-old son to do, and events complicated enough to keep my husband’s and my interest.

the flash rate
The Flash. Image: CW

The Flash (show): It’s silly. It isn’t going to win any awards. Yet, The Flash has quickly become our go-to show for evening family entertainment. My kids love that the main character is a science geek. I really like that there isn’t quite as much sex/violence as other shows of the same genre (like Arrow).

Mostly Walking. Image: Day[9]TV
Day[9]TV Mostly Walking: My husband and I are mostly loving this YouTube series hosted Sean Bouchard, Bill Graner, and Day[9]TV’s Sean Plott. The trio plays through old school PC adventure games, drinks, and makes comments. It is interesting and entertaining. The series airs on Twitch on Monday evenings, and then is divided into two-or-three episodes and put out on Day[9]’s YouTube channel for after-the-fact viewing.

Don’t Starve. Image: Klei Entertainment

Don’t Starve: The game came to my attention after watching an episode of Games With Hank on YouTube. It soon after was on sale over at Good Old Games. Every game has something new that I’ve never seen before. The wiki is really helpful. Even though it is a challenging game, it is still possible to progress in the game and unlock new characters who have different abilities.

Borderlands. Image: Gearbox Software

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!: This well written, quirky, FPS video game ended up being a birthday present for me this year. The holidays quickly followed, so I haven’t had much time to have in-home-date-night-game-play with my husband, but it is sure to have some GeekMom Plays episodes sometime this year.

The Lego Movie. Image: Lego

The Lego Movie: Holy cow. My husband and I saw this movie the week it came out, because there was nothing else in the theater we wanted to see, and we had free tickets, and hey—Lego! Of course, we instantly fell in love with the movie. We took the kids to see it as soon as it hit the cheap theater. It came out on disc a couple of days later. This movie came out at the perfect time. My son graduated to the normal-size Lego bricks this year and builds between four and eight hours a day. This movie was such a huge inspiration for him, and so much fun for the rest of us. Where Guardians of the Galaxy was a bonding experience for my daughter and I, The Lego Movie was a bonding experience for my son and his parents.

Kickstarter Success Stories. Image: Cathe Post

Kickstarted Board Games: Most of the games that we backed on Kickstarter in the last 20 months showed up in the few weeks leading up to Christmas 2014. There some games that have already been played multiple times (like Machine of Death), and others that are certain to become favorites (like Yardmaster). So. Many. Board games. #TooMuchFunFor1GameRoom

Gamin’ Up New Year’s Eve

Image by Rebecca Angel.

Family game night is a nice thought, but usually in our house, we just don’t have time for more than a quick Fluxx after dinner. But New Year’s Eve? Oh, there is time! No matter the ages of your children, if you are home or at a party, New Year’s Eve is a great excuse to break out the looooong games as we wait for the ball to drop. Here is my list of games that you probably already have—and ones that you should pick up before the 31st:

Monopoly: I never liked this game growing up, but everyone seemed to have it in their house. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I ever finished a game (and won!). No matter where you are, this game is sitting in a closet somewhere. The fun is hearing the random “house rules” people have. Tip for Monopoly fun: no mercy. Be as bloodthirsty as possible. If everyone agrees to this, then it is ridiculous—and makes for a quicker game too.

War: Yup, the traditional card game. This can go on for hours, with lots of people, especially if you have multiple decks of cards combined. It’s easy enough for the youngest to play, and handing off your deck to someone else to continue in your place is simple.

Chess Tournament: Although one game of chess can certainly go on for awhile, a tournament stretches play time in an exciting way. Most people probably have at least one board in their house (often more). You could even find online versions to play each other, if no physical board is available. Most adults are familiar with the basics and New Year’s Eve is a perfect time to finally learn. If everyone tries to play the first round, they’ll all be invested in who wins overall.

Phase 10: This is a really easy game to learn based on pairs and sets. It also takes a long time to play to the end. It’s more luck than strategy, so it’s great for sitting around chatting or watching the entertainment on TV at the same time. I highly recommend this one for New Year’s Eve, especially if you have multi-generations in your house. Grandmas and grandpas will love it.

Balderdash: This is a hilarious party game. It’s creative and silly and takes awhile to finish. Each round is based on a strange law, word definition, movie synopsis, or initial, with players trying to fake each other out to win points and move up on the board. For example, the Dasher would roll the dice, pick a card, and read out, “The initials are A.D.R.C.” Then, each player writes on a paper what they think it could be. I usually go for silly and may write, “Arsenic Diletantes of Rochester Corporation.” Everyone hands their paper secretly to the Dasher, who mixes them up and reads them out loud. Then the players choose which they think is the real one, and points are distributed. (The real one in this case was: American Dutch Rabbit Club.) Trust me, it’s a good game for non-gamers and gamers alike. Kids who aren’t deft at reading and writing can pair up with an adult.

The Settlers of Catan: As gamers, we know it and love it. You’ve told your friends and family about it, but it’s hard to get them to sit down and just play it. New Year’s Eve is the time! Warning: I know you’re excited, but don’t do the expansion sets. Just stick with the original to introduce it to others. Once they’re hooked, you can break everything out when they finally start coming to your gaming nights :)

StarCraft: The Board Game: Just kidding. But if you happen to have this in your house (sigh…we do) and your son has been begging you to play it more than just that couple of times he wrangled you over, and you never finished either time because setup alone took about 20 minutes, then you should probably be a good parent and finally play a full session of it on New Year’s Eve. Maybe.

MMOs: I mention this because my son had a great experience one year playing StarCraft on New Year’s. As he played with random people from all over the world, each hour someone would mention it was New Year’s for them. He thought it was very cool to realize how much of an international community he was part of.

So what other games do you already have or played once at a Con that would be perfect for New Year’s Eve?

GeekMom TableTop Games Quiz

TableTop Games Quiz © Sophie Brown
TableTop Games Quiz © Sophie Brown

Christmas is rapidly approaching, and here at GeekMom we’re big fans of giving tabletop games as presents. There are tabletop games to suit everyone from preschoolers to grandma, and although many of them are expensive, there’s plenty available for under $20, too. To inspire you to think about giving games this holiday season, I’ve put together a quiz featuring some of the most popular games on the geek circuit. How many of them can you identify?

[playbuzz-game game=””]

Geek Parenting: You’re Doing It Right (Yes, YOU!)

Doing It Right. Photo: Cathé Post
Doing It Right. Photo: Cathé Post

Each time I have the privilege to sit on a “raising geek kids” panel at a convention, I look out at the attendees and I wonder what brought them into the conference room. It’s certainly not to be regaled with tales of the latest cute thing my five-year-old said, and it’s not just to win a door prize. (Well, okay, maybe it’s the door prize.)

But I’m pretty sure they’re there for the same reason I also attend panels about parenting, that lingering question in my head, “Am I doing this right?”

I want to assure each of them, yes, you are. You gave up your time at a convention—often precious alone time, if you’re lucky enough to have found a sitter—to listen to other parents share their tales from the trenches and offer up advice about raising the next generation of geeks. Usually anyone willing to give their time to thinking about being a better parent is already a good parent.

We all need some reassurance once in a while, especially in those moments where we stare at our kids and wonder if we’re doing this whole parenting thing right. So here’s a handy list to remind yourself once in a while that yes, you’ve got this.

Geek Parenting: 14 Signs You’re Doing It Right

• You read GeekMom. (Bonus points if you also read GeekDad.) You could be trolling Pinterest for Chris Hemsworth photos, but instead you’re reading blog posts about doing stuff with your kids.

• You work just as hard on your kids’ cosplay as you do your own. You know that amazing feeling when you adore what you’re wearing, and you want your kids to feel that, too.

• You share your favorite things from your childhood (She-Ra marathon, anyone?) but you also give your kids the freedom have their own childhoods—not relive yours.

• You don’t hold yourself to perfect Pinterest Parenting standards and embrace the lovely chaos of childhood.

One small section of the game room. Image: Nicole Wakelin
One small section of the game room. Image: Nicole Wakelin

• The family that games together… (Video games count, too!)

• You let them break apart that 665-piece LEGO Guardians of the Galaxy set you just spent two hours building together.

• You consider GeekDad’s classic 67 Books Every Geek Should Read to Their Kids Before Age 10 a challenge to accept.

• You encourage your kids to explore the world (and moon) around them.

• You know how to build a decent blanket fort.

• You know when it’s time to put away the screen. That means the times you switch off your iPhone to play LEGO or My Little Pony (or both) with your kids.

• You cried during The Force Awakens trailer because, not only is it all the nostalgia feels for you, you know your kids will also get to marvel at new Star Wars movies at the theater during their childhoods.

• You laugh at your kids’ corny jokes.

• When your kids geek-out about something, you don’t mock or laugh—you know the feeling.

• You’ve stood in line for more than 30 minutes for an Iron Man made out of balloons or Frozen face painting that your kid just has to have.

Basically, if you give your time, attention, and love to your kids, you’re doing it right.

What would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments below!


Unbored Games: Serious Fun for Everyone

Photo on 11-19-14 at 9.39 PM
Image By Rebecca Angel

My 8-year-old niece and I were sitting for a few minutes waiting for her sister to finish up. Before she could sigh in frustration, I handed her Unbored Games and told her to open it to a random page. Now this was taking a huge chance. The book is chock full of instructions, illustrations, and easy to follow guides to over 70 games, but they aren’t all indoors, under ten minutes, and for two people to play. Luckily, she opened up to a page detailing a few hand-clapping games. Perfect! We learned some silly rhymes, and tried to keep a rhythm together with snaps and claps. By the time her sister was ready, we were both laughing.

Unbored Games by Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen begins with a rundown of why games are important. That’s right! Games aren’t just something to fill the time, or only do at parties. All their reasons are legit, but I like these three the best:

“Gaming encourages you to develop skills and expertise, by practicing something over and over. More importantly, gaming challenges you to teach yourself how to do something.”

“Gaming teaches you that your environment is modifiable. You realize that everyday life is a puzzle to be solved: the more difficult the obstacles, the more fun you’ll have figuring out how to beat them.”

“Jumping in and making mistakes is the fastest way to learn how to play a game. Not worrying about being perfect, and just trying your best, is known as ‘fun failure.'”

The book is divided into four chapters:

PWNAGE: This is what most people think of as games, like board games, back-of-the-classroom fun, and dice and card rules. But there are also “secret rules” games, app recommendations, and more.

HOMEGAMES: Whether for a simple family night or a big party, there is entertainment in these pages. There are even games for the car. I especially enjoyed the section on croquet. My family plays croquet often (really!), and the variations mentioned look intriguing.

GAME CHANGERS: These aren’t your typical ones. Online activities to fight climate change, “guerrilla kindness” in your neighborhood, and a list of cooperative board games to mention a few. I really liked the outdoor, big group game “Survive! Predator and Prey.”

ADVENTURE GAMES: The final section has plenty of ideas to create your own fun indoors or out. There are photographic instructions on how to build a rocket, for example. And a whole section on LARP (Live Action Role Playing).

Within each chapter of the book are short histories of gaming, and suggestions on how to modify, vary, or hack any and all the games presented. The illustrations are in a likable, quirky style, and all the instructions are clear.

Regardless of age, there are games in the book that will interest anyone. Whether you work with kids, have kids, or are a kid yourself, I recommend Unbored Games!

Geekmom received a copy for review purposes.

GeekMom’s 2014 Table Top and Board Game Gift Guide

board game gide
GeekMom’s 2014 Table Top Game Gift Guide. Collage: Cathe Post

With hits like Wil Wheaton’s YouTube show TableTop, and major retail chains like Target and Amazon featuring games from the show, it is no surprise that board games are prime gifts to give during the holiday season.

I wanted to add all of the games from last year’s gift guide (as I played several of them—like Pathfinder ACG—multiple times throughout the year), but instead I will just say that the games from last year are still highly recommended, along with new games GeekMom writers have played this year.

20 Express. Image: Blue Orange Games

20 Express  Great for the teacher on your list, 20 Express is a fun large-group guessing game that sneaks in number-line and math facts. $16.59

Gravity Maze. Image: Thinkfun

Gravity Maze This award winning game, from the makers of Laser Maze, is marked as a single-player game but would be great to keep one or many players entertained and puzzling for hours. Who would have thought a marble run could make your brain hurt…in a good way! $23.99

Krosmaster Arena. Image: Kickstarter

Krosmaster Arena This game is worth the price tag. Made for family gaming, the rules are mini-game boards that prove as a learn-while-you-play tutorial. With miniatures and cute cartoon cardboard cut-outs, this game feels like a table top version of a turn-based RPG video game. Once mastered, there are expansions available, too. $54.18

Image: Crash Games
Image: Crash Games

Council of Verona Backstab your foes and try to get ahead in this fantastic card game set in Romeo and Juliet‘s Verona, Italy. Will the lovers be united? Will the families betray each other? It is within your power to affect the outcome. $14.99

Damage Report. Image: Break From Reality Games

Damage Report You and your friends are the crew on a heavily-damaged spaceship. Can you repair it before the life-support gives out or the enemy craft blows you to pieces? This real-time strategy game is an exciting adventure for two to six players. There are several missions of varying degrees of difficulty and lots of fun little bits to pass around. $52.31

Gravwell. Image: Renegade Games

Gravwell In this game, which loosely (okay, not really) follows the laws of gravitational pull, use periodic table elements (again, not quite accurate) to boost your way out of the black hole. $31.50

Happy Birthday. Image: North Star Games

Happy Birthday In the same vein as Apples to Apples and Dixit, Happy Birthday is a great game for kids in a small or large group to judge their favorite and least favorite white-elephant type gifts. This would also make a great stocking stuffer. $12.17

machi-koro IDW Games
Machi Koro. Image: IDW Games

Machi Koro  Enhance your city in this nail-biter of a resource collecting game. $23.20

Machine of Death. Image: Machine of Death

Machine of Death This morbid, cooperative party game places you and your friends in the role of a group of assassins who need to creatively use the tools you are given to make sure your target dies in the manner fate has determined. If you need more reason to add this to your gift list, I can give you eight. $39.99

Paizo Publishing, LLC
Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Skull & Shackles Base Set. Image: Paizo

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Skull & Shackles Base Set The second game in the Pathfinder ACG series offers more characters and more difficulty as your party of adventurers travels the seas in search of booty and trouble. $38.48

Game Salute
Pixel Lincoln. Image: Game Solute


Pixel Lincoln You are an 8-bit time-travelling President Lincoln in this retro-video game style deck builder. Since the game offers different level cards, difficulty can be set easier for family gaming or harder for experienced players. $30.00
Rampage. Image:

Rampage (Terror in Meeple City)  Agility and reflex control is the basis of the game Rampage. Flick, drop, and blow buildings full of meeples to the ground so you can get them in your monster-belly! $39.53

ROFL. Image: Renegade Games

ROFL Illustrated by the amazing and talented John Kovalic, this game challenges you to encode phrases with the shortest number of characters possible, and then decode those phrases made by others. It’s trickier than it sounds! $20.66

TMNT Monopoly
TMNT Monopoly. Image: Dakster Sullivan

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Monopoly The makers of TMNT Monopoly did a great job putting everything turtle fans love about the show into the game. $27.00

SJ Games
Zombie Dice Expansions. Images: Steve Jackson Games/Collage: Cathe Post


Zombie Dice Expansions If you have the award-winning insanely-popular Zombie Dice, try adding Zombie Dice 2 – Double Feature and Zombie Dice 3 School Bus Game to the stockings this year. $7-10

Our Epic Family Road Trip to GenCon

Helping build Cardhalla. Image: Nicole Wakelin

We’ve been to GenCon for the last five years, but it has always just been me and my husband. We’ve flown out and driven out and decided that driving is more fun. Flying can be a hassle and I love road trips, so we always stop at fun places along the way. World’s largest ball of twine? I’m in!

This year, we did the whole trip a little differently because we decided to bring our two girls for the first time. They’re 12 and 10 and have been to local conventions, just nothing this big and all consuming. It’s one thing to drive into Boston for the day to attend PAX East, but an entirely different thing to drive 14 hours and then spend four days straight at a convention.

We thought about this, a lot, before we actually decided to bring them on the trip. It’s not just the distance, but the whole intensity of the thing. We wondered, as much as they love to play games, would The Best Four Days in Gaming be too much? Would they stay up late and be so tired that by day three they’d be little wrecks? Would this somehow make them hate gaming and never want to go near a board game again for the rest of their lives? We had concerns.

Image: Nicole Wakelin

In the end, we decided that we’d make the trip with the girls and just play it by ear. We didn’t plan to attend a lot of events. We didn’t have a crowded schedule of games to play. We didn’t even plan our exact drive route. Instead, we figured we’d see the sights on the way and take it easy once we arrived at the convention.

Lots of people make the drive from New Hampshire to Indianapolis in one day, but we broke it into two, stopping in Buffalo, New York, at the Staybridge Suites so we could have Buffalo wings for dinner. It’s what you have to do when you’re in Buffalo, right? Last year when we made the trip on our own we stopped there, too, and tried Anchor Bar. This year, we went with Duff’s Famous Wings because we were told that these are the places you go to in Buffalo for wings.

Although we liked Anchor Bar, Duff’s won our hearts for their super hot wings and giant bowls of french fries. If you want great hot wings and plenty of fries and giant pitchers of soda at a price that won’t break the bank, then try Duff’s. Also, there are two locations and though you might be tempted to go to the original, the one near the airport is not far and way less crowded with no wait when the other location is packed.

Paula’s Donuts. Omnomnom! Image: Nicole Wakelin

We also found a great stop for breakfast at Paula’s Donuts. This and Duff’s are all within just a few minutes of the hotel which really makes this a great pit stop. Sure, donuts aren’t the healthiest breakfast but I’m choosing to channel my inner Bill Cosby and his famous chocolate cake bit. If you go, try the cheese donut. I know, sounds odd, but think cheese danish. Everyone local suggested we try it, and they did not steer us wrong.

We arrived at GenCon on Wednesday night, the day before the convention started, and the kids had plenty of time to unwind in our room at the JW Marriott. This is where we stay every year. The staff handles the crazy of everyone checking in at once as though it was no big deal. They’re friendly, helpful, always professional, and never frazzled.

There are lots of places to eat in Indy, but the hotel offers a little break from the mobs of gamers. Their restaurant, Osteria Pronto, offers a wonderful breakfast buffet and a selection of upscale meals for dinner. It is on the pricey side, but the food is worth it, and the wait is never as long as you’ll find at less expensive restaurants in the area.

Ready for GenCon! Image: Nicole Wakelin

First thing Thursday, they were ready, and when I say ready, I mean ready like it was Christmas morning! There was no plan to get there the minute it all opened, but the kids wanted to see the crazy.

It was packed, and they were totally fine with the mob. They held our hands through the initial rush through the doors and happily wandered the show floor with us, checking out games and dice and stuffed animals and t-shirts and hats and, it was a lot of stuff. This is a big convention and it hit a record number of attendees this year at nearly 60,000 people, but the crowd was still manageable.

The girls loved every minute. They tried out some demos, had fun looking at the cosplayers, discovered the joy of eating at food trucks, and my oldest narrowly avoided being thrown in jail by a Stormtrooper. Hey, it happens at GenCon.

A little Imperial entanglement. Image: Nicole Wakelin

This was a GenCon unlike any other for me and my husband. We still went out and gamed, but we ended up splitting up with the girls so we could show them each the things they wanted to see. One night, the three of them played a new game at some chairs in the hotel lobby and the girls thought it was the best thing ever.

During GenCon, gamers take up every square inch of space in the local hotels. There are games being played everywhere you look at all hours of the day and night. This small moment, simply playing a game with my husband in the hotel lobby, made them feel like they were a part of it all and it was wonderful.

They even helped us at at our panel, where we recorded an episode of The D6 Generation with a live audience. Let me tell you, if you’re trying to get a room of unruly gamers to behave, nothing works as well as having two little girls give them all sad puppy dog eyes.

Cosplayer: @meaghanslottje Image: Nicole Wakelin

At the end of it all, we were all exhausted, but in the best way possible. We stayed up too late playing games. We walked around all day long hardly stopping to rest for fear of missing something good. And we all ate like we were on vacation.

But what made it perfect was going with the kids. We shared something we love and they loved it, too. It wasn’t the same as going on our own, but in the end, this GenCon was so much better. The last day, my youngest was very sad and said, “That went too fast. I don’t want it to be over.”

I know exactly how she feels.

Gaming for Kids: Dragon Con Kaleidoscope Track Game Tips for Families

Image credit:

Since 2011, the Kaleidoscope track at Dragon Con has added a special place for kids 9-13 and their parents at a convention that can sometimes otherwise have a more adult feel (especially at night!).

One of the best things about the track is that it offers those families a place to meet each other and talk about the great geekery that they find they don’t have in common with most of the other people on the playground or PTA meeting. This year I attended one of these, “Gaming for Kids,” which brought together Jodi Black of Beautiful Brains, dads Bryan Young and Jonathan McFarland, and 12-year-old Sam Rittwage.

The panel had a lot to say about video games, especially, of course, Minecraft. It served as a perfect example of a game to use to teach your kids about online interactions, as well as a way to give them a safe space for their first online gaming by using servers to which only they and their friends have access. Through this method, the panel encourages teaching them proper behavior in online gaming, including saying only things to one another that you would say if you were with them in person.

“If you’re the parent of a young boy, talk to them about the rules, and make sure they know,” McFarland said. “My son said something that would be common for adolescent boys, and I asked him if he knew what it meant.”

Kids easily pick up language from other players in games as well as from other kids at school, but they often don’t realize the nature or severity of the language, particularly the violent imagery often brought into online gaming chat. The panel recommended playing with your kids or first playing through the games they want to play, even if they’re not particularly appealing to you. It will give you the opportunity to both understand the content as well as to lead them in appropriate online interaction.

The range of games recommended for kids varied somewhat with age but ranged from the distinctly kid-friendly Skylanders and Disney Infinity to M-rated games like Assassin’s Creed. Young noted that he chooses games not by the rating but by the actual content. For example, slaughtering zombies is different from Grand Theft Auto, where the focus is entirely on real-life illegal activities.

In the second half of the panel’s time, they moved on to tabletop gaming, largely with a long list of recommendations for all ages and interests. Many were old favorites for us, but some where new. I suspect our family’s new favorite (which we picked up in the dealers’ room after this panel) will be Call of Catthulhu! If you’re looking for something new to try out, here are the rest of their suggestions:

For pre-readers

We all know how hard it can be to find a game that’s interesting for you but easy enough for your little ones who can’t read yet. For that problem, try:

Iota: The Great Big Game in The Teeny-Weeny Tin
Rory’s Story Cubes
Hey That’s My Fish
Tsuro: The Game of the Path

For older kids and the whole family

⚫ Get them started on RPGs. It doesn’t have to be Dungeons & Dragons. Find a game that interests them and is at the right level of complication. You could try Doctor Who Adventures in Time and Space, Toon, Buggin’, or The Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men. There’s even an older game, Fuzzy Heroes: The Game of Conflict For Stuffed Animals and Toys, that pits your kids’ stuffed animals in battle, but it can be hard to come by. Conveniently, the second edition is available at Drive-Thru RPG in PDF format. (This is also a great site to surf through for other RPG ideas!)

⚫ Cooperative games like Flash Point Fire Rescue, Pandemic, and Castle Panic. The latter also has a zombie version, Dead Panic Board Game, and a forthcoming mashup with Munchkin, Munchkin Panic.

Telestrations is a mashup of Telephone and Pictionary. (Of course, you can also play this with a notebook and your own list of words without buying the box.)

Finally, the panel had two great suggestions for your general family game play enjoyment:

⚫ Institute the 20-minute rule. You can play anything for 20 minutes. After that, check to see if everyone’s still having fun. No? Time to move on.

⚫ Make old games new again. Create your own rules. Young suggested the example of adding dice and action figures to Candyland, calling it “Siege of Candy Castle.” Make the kids figure out the mechanics and why the pieces are there, which also gives them insight into why rules exist in games and how they can change the outcome.

Board Game Hacks: Games to Play in a Classroom

Classroom Board Game Hacks
Need a game to play with your classroom full of kids? Try hacking rules to these favorites! Image: Cathe Post

When asked to break up a high-energy classroom the day before a big vacation, I take games. But sometimes it is difficult to find games that can be played with more than ten players. Hacks need to be made to the rules. I taught art in four different second-grade classrooms last year, and all of them asked me to bring in games on multiple occasions. The teachers would dread that final day before spring break/winter break/summer vacation. Teachers appreciated the educational choices that could be played with 20+ students at a time. The kids liked most of the games, with a few exceptions. The ratings below represent how many classes liked the game.

Happy Birthday cards are silly! Photo: Cathe Post
Happy Birthday cards are silly! Kids will take the time to read the text of these fun gifts. Image: Cathe Post

Happy Birthday: Happy Birthday is a game similar to Apples to Apples. The game revolves around the idea that you are going to a birthday party and only have some crazy, strange gifts in your closet to take. The judge (or the birthday person) picks their favorite and least favorite gift. The players who brought those gifts to the party get points. Classroom Rule Adjustments: The kids already sit in groups of 3-5. I had each table be a “team.” Each team would get a set of cards and would have to work together to pick the gifts they thought the judge would think was awesome and awful. This was great for building teamwork skills. It also allowed kids who played the judge/birthday person to read the gift cards aloud in front of the class, which they enjoyed. Additional games of the same type would work: Dixit, Apples to Apples, or Apples to Apples Junior Grade: A+ (All four classes loved it and wanted my copy to keep in their classroom. Adults probably will not enjoy this game as much as the kids.)

With an overhead projector, 20 Express cubes can be easily seen by an entire class. Image: Cathe Post

20 Express: This is a math and number-line game disguised as a guessing and party game. Classroom Rule Adjustments: None needed to be made. Grade: C- (One of the four classes tolerated this game. Since they had been working on their number line during the year, it felt like I was teaching them instead of playing a game. Of course the teachers LOVED this game.)

Using all three sets of Story Cubes in a class means there are enough for 27 people to play. Image: Cathe Post

Rory’s Story Cubes: These cubes have been written about extensively by GeekMom Jenny. Basically, these dice have little pictures on them. When you roll the dice, you can make up stories using the pictures as prompts. Classroom Rule Adjustments: If you only have one set of cubes, you can split the kids into groups and have each group take turns rolling a die and come up with a story in their little group. If you have enough cubes to give one to every student in the class, the kids have time to come up with possibilities of what their cube’s function could be in a large story. Additional games of the same type would work: Rory’s Voyages Cubes and Rory’s Actions Cubes Grade: A- (The kids liked this game, however, the story often turned into who ever the “character” was picking up a bunch of items or finding them, and then blowing up or dying.) Honorable Mention: Bane! (which isn’t on Kickstarter yet, but would be a great start-of-year game to play) The social game is basically Rock, Paper, Scissors played with cards instead of hands. Look for the Kickstarter hopefully in November.

Late to the Game: Carcassonne

Carcassonne © Z-Man Games/Coding Monkeys
Carcassonne © Z-Man Games/Coding Monkeys

One of four games described by Tabletop host Wil Wheaton as the “pillars of classic European-style board games,” Carcassonne is a modern classic released back in 2000. The aim of the game is to collect points while building towns, monasteries, roads, and farms in the French countryside. It is a simple game to introduce with a wide and varied range of available expansions, the first of which (“The River”) is generally packaged with the base game. Carcassonne is now also available as an app for iOS and Android, so I took a look at both to compare their pros and cons.

Carcassonne © Z-Man Games/Coding Monkeys
Carcassonne © Z-Man Games/Coding Monkeys

The App Game

1. For those new to the game, a tutorial mode teaches you how to play. Newbies might also benefit from the ability to switch off fields/farming (Carcassonne‘s most complex scoring mechanic) at least for their first few games.

2. The app keeps track of the remaining tiles. This not only means that you get a handy countdown in the corner that lets you know just how many tiles are left in the virtual stack, but it also introduces another useful feature. Because the game knows exactly which tiles are remaining in the stack, when you place your current tile on the table, it automatically looks at the layout. If you have created a space in which no remaining tile can possibly be played, an X is scratched into the table surface. This happens before you commit to laying down your tile, so you can see if, for example, placing that tile will mean a city can never be completed and choose to place it elsewhere. If you’d rather play without this feature, it can be switched off.

3. The app also shows you all of your options for placing a tile by shading each available location. This makes it much faster to check your possibilities on a large map, rather than spending time figuring out where you can play on this turn.

4. When placing tiles, the app shows you the different options you have for placing meeples. This stops farmers accidentally being placed in occupied fields where boundaries are difficult to follow.

5. One of the biggest headaches of Carcassonne comes at the very end of the game, when farmers are being counted. Working out the boundaries of each farm can be very time-consuming, depending on the layout of the final “board.” The app automatically calculates the value of each farm, including splitting points when multiple farmers share fields.

6. The app has several modes to play. You can choose to play against computer opponents who vary in difficulty and tactics, or you can go online and play against friends or complete strangers. There’s always someone to play against, even if it’s only a bot.

7. The app also introduces a brand-new game-play mode: Solitaire. Unlike traditional Carcassonne, the Solitaire variant asks you to build a settlement on a budget of 1,000 victory points. The settlement must have cities and roads in every size, from two to six tiles, built in consecutive order. Placing tiles costs points based on their location.

8. One of the biggest bonuses to the app is its price. The basic game costs $9.99/£6.99, with expansions ranging from $0.99/69p to  $1.99/£1.49. Meanwhile, the physical base game stands at $25/£20, with expansions costing around $15/£13 each.

1. By the end of the game, Carcassonne can become a sprawling mass of tiles. Because of the limited screen size (and shape), this means it’s difficult to see the whole “board” at once, which can lead to either a lot of scrolling or reducing the tiles down to microscopic size. This is especially true when playing on an iPhone or iTouch.

2. There are significantly fewer expansions available than for the board game. However, the numbers are rapidly increasing (a new expansion—“The Phantom”—was launched just a few days ago), meaning this could soon become a moot point.

Carcassonne Board Game © Z-Man Games
Carcassonne board game © Z-Man Games

The Tabletop/Board Game

1. The board game generally comes with “The River” expansion as part of the standard base game (it is a paid expansion on the app), meaning instant variety is included for your first purchase.

2. The range of expansions is much wider: bridges, princesses and dragons, inns, abbeys, traders, and more are all available to turn your Carcassonne from a small settlement to a mighty civilization.

3. Playing on a tabletop makes it much easier to see entire board at once.

4. The big draw of a physical game is the ability to play with a group of friends; it’s kind of what the whole resurgence of tabletop gaming is about, after all. Taking the game along to play with friends and family or to public gaming days allows you to connect with people in a way an app never could.

1. The biggest issue with the tabletop game is simply its cost. At more than double the cost of the app for the base game and with some expansions costing over seven times more in physical form than as in-app purchases, it is difficult to justify the additional cost—especially for those of us on a budget. There is also the issue of storage, a pain known well to those of us with large board game collections and small houses.

2. As much as the nature of a tabletop game lends itself to community and playing with others, for those of us who live apart from friends and family, this can be a drawback, meaning we can only play on rare occasions.


As usual, there is no “best” option because different options will suit different people best. With a much cheaper price tag, a flexible range of options to change your game-play depending on how you want to play, and simplified game-play, the app is a robust addition to your app library.  Indeed Carcassonne is a rare case where the benefits of the app vastly outnumber those of the physical game. However, there will be many cases where the physical game is a better option, especially for those who play regularly in groups. Hopefully, this will help you decide which option is best for you.

GeekMom received these items for review purposes. 

Evolution Card Game Review

Evolution by North Star Games. image used with permission
Evolution by North Star Games. Image used with permission.

If a game in its nuts-and-bolts prototype phase can pull elementary school kids to the game table, any final art and shiny design is just wrapping on the package. This has been my experience with Evolution. Though I played a prototype with some friends, the mechanics and freedom in the game play kept all ages engaged in playing.

What You Get:

  • 1 Watering Hole Board
  • 1 Start Player Marker
  • 117 Traits Cards
  • 22 Species Boards
  • 44 Wooden Markers
  • 175 Food Tokens
  • 5 Food Token Bags
  • 1 Rulebook
  • 5 Player Aids

Game Play: Rounds break down into four phases: deal cards, decide on how much food there will be, play cards, and feed the species. The general playing of the rounds is simple enough for the youngest and newest game players with room to build on the strategy.

What Can Happen: When cards are played, they give traits to a species. Each species can have three traits. This is where your species can be a plant eater or a carnivore. We found carnivores took some setting up and some practice, but added a spicy element to the game.

There were two schools of thought during game play: Build up a single species to full population and size before getting another species or having a bunch of species at the smallest population and size. Obviously, it was easier to knock off the smaller populated species into extinction, but when there were several species to chose from, the player didn’t suffer.

One player shared that he appreciated the theme carrying through the game play and the option of playing either an omnivore or carnivore. Another player commented on the “arms race” of nature, where long necks eat first and having to evolve into a carnivore when there was no more plant matter was an interesting twist.

The kids who played enjoyed the different traits they could apply to their species. One even just kept collecting species so she could use all of the traits instead of growing their populations. It wasn’t a winning strategy—but she didn’t outright lose the game either.

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The traits that were available to choose from made for some interesting word problem-type situations for players of carnivorous species. If the carnivore has X or Y traits, then it can attack this other species. If doesn’t, it can’t attack. If the species is bigger than the attacking species, it can’t be attacked. Some of the examples can be seen in the slideshow above.

What Age Range?: I played with an 8-year-old in one game and an 11-year-old in another. Both kids had fun and were able to understand the basics of the game. If you are looking for using more strategy in a game, play with older kids.

Evolution is fun, with the ability to be easy for beginning gamers or complicated for those who are seasoned strategy game players. The theme works well with the mechanic and would be a great addition or introduction to a family game.

Evolution is available for backing on Kickstarter for another couple of weeks. The print-and-play version is $5 or the hard print game is around $50.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Review: Wordsearch!

Wordsearch, board game, Goliath Games, GeekMom review
Image by Julie Tiu.

My kids and I had plenty of time this past winter to play indoors and try new games, like Wordsearch! by Goliath Games. This is a fun game in which, as the name suggests, players search for words.

The age range is appropriate at 7 and over, and seems well-played with three or four people. Two players worked, but it wasn’t as fun.  The game includes 20 cards (10 double-sided) and small, colorful game pieces that are definitely not appropriate for small children. The pieces also pose a threat to your vacuum cleaner if your kids aren’t good at putting things away. Geek that I am, I enjoy the packaging and the efficient container design.

Wordsearch, board game, Goliath Games, GeekMom review
Image by Julie Tiu.

The object of the game is to find the most words. The hidden words on the themed cards (i.e. school, home, cities, etc.) are in all directions: horizontal, vertical, diagonal, from left to right, and right to left.

Players take turns revealing the next word by spinning the disc. An opening in the ring reveals the word. The first player to find the word reaches for the totem—a squeeze toy that looks like the exclamation point in the name of the game. I think you could play the game without it, but it adds a level of competition. I was constantly wondering if the kids would accidentally knock over the board trying to get their hands on the totem. But, if you happen to grab the totem and don’t find the word right away, you lose your turn until the next word.

Wordsearch, board game, Goliath Games, GeekMom review
Image by Julie Tiu.

When you find the word, you use the colored pieces that look like contact lenses to mark it. The game gets competitive when markers are removed by other players finding words that intersect words-in-play. The only way to avoid this is if the markers are the same color as the previously found word.

We found that the downside to the board is that it can’t be read right-side up by everyone. The person reading upside down is at a disadvantage, especially if he or she is younger. Some fighting and nudging occurred.

After some rounds of play, you begin to remember where words are hidden. So, what do you do when you run out of cards? Perhaps an expansion set? Another alternative to the game rules: A single player could play a timed game.

Check out the giant Wordsearch! board pictured at the Chicago Toy and Game Fair last November!

Wordsearch! is available online at, Kmart, Target, and Walmart. It retails for $24.99.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Journaling with Tweets: GameStorm Day 4

Dear Internet Diary,

We came back for the last day of GameStorm. We are tired, but don’t want to miss gaming—plus we want to sign up for next year!

Since our daughter came back with us today, we ended up visiting the Pixel Art Paradise booth. If Bane cards were the hottest game at the convention, then pony clip ears were the hottest accessory. My daughter ended up with purple for Twilight Sparkle and my son ended up with blue ones for Rainbow Dash. I figure at the very least they can come in handy at Halloween or for cosplay.

Yet another Gamesicle game: Junkyard King is a game that is already available. Considering my love of small, quick games, I was very happy to find another game I could just throw in my purse that my kids can play.

By the time we got to mid-day, we had enough energy left for one “big” game. Sarah Sharp (of Bonsai Games) really wanted to learn how to play Agricola, so we did! For a farming game with a ton of pieces that took quite a bit of time to set up, it was an interesting farming game (and worth all of the little pieces). My daughter probably would have really liked this game too, but she was asleep on the floor (under the table). She had a very busy weekend!

While we were waiting for Agricola to start (and before my daughter finally hit the fun wall and hibernated for the rest of the day), we played Buccaneer Bones. Though a game of chance, it was another one of those quick/small games I tend to gravitate toward. Sarah had won the game earlier in the weekend. This is another thing I like about this convention: there are so many games to check out, buy, win, or earn (by running games).

Gamestorm has come to a close. My family is registered for next year. There is more gaming and live tweeting tomorrow (playtesting a new RPG). Is it all too much? No. There are never enough games.

Journaling With Tweets: GameStorm Day 3

Dear Internet Diary,

Today my husband and I get a full day of gaming without kids! I’m a little excited. The only thing I hope happens today is lots of new games getting played…and maybe figuring out how to play the My Little Pony TCG. After the last two days of gaming, today has a lot to live up to.

Success! I convinced Tim to go over the rules for the My Little Pony TCG. This sight of seeing someone with their nose in a rule book is common place at a convention like this. Bonus: We figured out how to play the game!

It was nice to play Lords of Waterdeep again. The last time was at PAX over four years ago. This time we had the added bonus of the expansion.

I sometimes need to remind myself that I play games because they are fun, not because of winning, though those times are few and far between since becoming a parent. Most of the people I play games with play for fun; winning is just an added bonus or a forgotten addition to the act of playing.

Arena is a game that has been on my list since last GameStorm. So cute. So feisty. So…much like Final Fantasy Tactics and Pokemon Conquest which my husband and I both really enjoy. The idea of putting tutorials in the rules so the game can be learned in stages is an amazing idea.


Even playing with more difficult rules, this game failed to offer much in the way of challenge. It wasn’t very interesting. For the first time at the con, I said, “meh” about a game.


…and then came Gravwell. There is bluffing and card play similar to Love Letter and Eggs and Empires we previously played, except there are numbers and Periodic Table elements used to determine gravitational pull on ships. I was surprised how easy and kid-friendly the game was since the game is packaged to look like it is either for hardcore gamers or engineers.

Gravwell was popular enough we played it more than once. This was a game that was fun to lose. That doesn’t happen often.

Yes, flinging little meeples onto a card to score points is an excellent use for the little wooden characters. The game would take awhile to master…or would make an interesting drinking game.

One area that I have always visited (until this year) was the Cryptozoic area. Cryptozoic wasn’t there this year, but the guy who normally represents Cryptozoic started his own gaming company and had his own game, Event Horizon, to playtest in the GameLab. It was a miniatures game in the same vein as Warhammer, but with a space element. Considering part of the development input was done by an engineer, it should be no surprise that there is a lot of physics to take into account when playing this game: When a ship is in motion it stays in motion going the same direction as the previous turn. It was a difficult game, but still fun (I do like the miniatures).

This was a great day of gaming. Tomorrow is the last day. I’ll be glad to catch up on sleep, but sad this gaming extravaganza will be over.

Journaling with Tweets: GameStorm Day 1

Dear Internet Diary, Thursday, March 20 was the first day of GameStorm 16, a local tabletop gaming convention. I had the privilege of attending with my family. I am excited to live tweet games as I play them—provided my internet connection doesn’t disappear or my phone battery doesn’t die.

Pitch Car: Pitch Car gets players to flick their cars around the track. This game is simple with lots of room for strategy (as long as you can aim correctly) and seems to be a good family game. It gained my son’s attention for long enough that I looked it up on Amazon to purchase. Including shipping, the price would be well over $100 and far out of my price range for a game—even one that promises fun for my entire family.

Eggs and Empires: This game will be on Kickstarter soon. Eggs and Empires is a game that has your characters finding dragon eggs by bluffing with the value and ability their played card provides (much in the same vein as Love Letter lets players get a letter to the Princess). This game was quite interesting to play with a wide age range, since there is a bit of bluffing involved. My eight-year-old played and did well, despite grinning every time she played a good card.


UpTown Esspresso: This game is played as fast as baristas serving caffeinated goodness in a busy coffee shop. This is another game that will soon be on Kickstarter. The goal is to be the first to complete $50 worth of orders. Players do this by getting the right ingredients in the right places to match the orders. Considering how fast-paced it is, I can see some of the rules being for “expert players” when the game is Kickstarted. I also look forward to a peg board system of keeping track of scores, instead of tokens that are hard to count in the middle of a 15-second turn.


Bane: Yet another game to look for on Kickstarter in the near future. This game is set up like Rock Paper Scissors, but instead it’s humans, werewolves, and vampires. There are also banes that allow you to win automatically, timing to take advantage of, and a couple of wild cards, which spice things up. I’ll share more about this game tomorrow.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf: Just one of the games that can be played with the Kickstarter rewards from the Emperor’s New Clothes. It’s a real game—not a ROOS. Sadly, dad and I were tired and ready to rest our brains before the kids were. We are all happy to come back tomorrow and play as many games as our brains can handle.

The Return of Robot Turtles

© ThinkFun

Robot Turtles is back!

With an unbelievable run on Kickstarter as the highest funded board game in the site’s history—and over 20,000 games shipped to backers—it only makes sense that Robot Turtles would find its way to a mass market. ThinkFun is now taking pre-orders on the preschooler board game, which is planned for release this June.

Robot Turtles creator Dan Shapiro talked a little about the release of the game in a note to the game’s original backers:

This summer, [ThinkFun owner Bill Ritchie] will be putting Dot, Beep, Pangle, and Pi on store shelves, with all the gameplay of the original plus some cool enhancements. I’ve seen previews of the graphics and they’re seriously snazzy–the same turtles, but with brighter backgrounds and shinier colors (including gold foil!). The box will hold the pieces better; no dump-and-sort. The rulebook will not fall apart when you open it. And content of the rulebook will be completely redone, making it waaaay easier to get started.

The game now retails at $24.99. Pre-order bonuses include a free Special Edition Expansion Pack that doubles game play and features new challenges, game tokens, and accessories. Once Robot Turtles is released in June, you’ll be able to find it at and neighborhood toy stores across the country.

So if you missed your chance to get in the original Kickstarter, this is your opportunity to get your young learners on the path to programming!

Destination: Downton Abbey

Destination Downton Abbey © Destination Board Games
Destination Downton Abbey © Destination Board Games

Downton Abbey is one of the most popular shows on television right now and so it was only natural that a spin-off board game would be in the works somewhere. Unfortunately, many licensed games are rushed onto the market with little playtesting, making them somewhat weak and forgettable.

Luckily for Downton fans, British games manufacturer Destination have secured the rights to the series and produced another in their series of popular, fun-to-play family games.

The gameplay of Downton Abbey: The Board Game is obviously similar to the other Destination games, some of which have been reviewed previously on GeekMom. In Downton you take on the role of either a maid or a footman (sorry, you can only play as a downstairs member of the household) and begin working through your list of chores.

Each player starts with three destination cards, each one worth a number of “Downton Bells.” To collect your bells you must visit the appropriate room on the board such as the Dining Room (“serve dinner to the family and guests”) or Lady Cora’s Sitting Room (“take a telegram that has arrived for Lady Cora”). Once there you discard the card, collect the stated number of bells and take the next destination card from the pile, keeping your hand at three cards. Once there are no more destination cards available, players must visit their final destinations then race back to the Servant’s Hall by exact count. The first player to enter wins themselves an extra ten bells. Players then count up their total bells and whoever collected the most is declared the winner.

The board and cards © Destination Board Games
The board and cards © Destination Board Games

As you travel around the house you might land on two different card spaces. Carson Cards can be both helpful or hindrances; they can force you to move to a certain location on the board, grant extra turns, or force you to miss turns. The cards can also grant or remove bells depending on your character’s actions. My maid “let slip a secret of the family” losing herself four bells however she also gained two bells by locating “the missing Snuff Box.”

The other kind of card you might pick up are letter cards. These cards are some of the most well-themed parts of the game; the reverse looks like a handwritten envelope with a stamp addressed to the Servant’s Quarters, and each card features a short letter. These cards work almost exactly like Carson Cards with the same sorts of benefits and risks from picking them up.

Downton Abbey is a simple board game that will work well for a family to play together. There is enough potential for strategy to keep adults entertained but children will be able to play easily too as soon as they are able to read the cards. If you need a gift for a Downton fan then you really can’t go wrong with this. (P.S., I’m still waiting for that sci-fi franchise edition—Supernatural perhaps?!)

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

“Mmm, it’s got new game smell!” or The Joy Of Raising Gamer Girls

One small section of the game room. Image: Nicole Wakelin

My husband is an avid gamer and I’ve become a bit of one myself over the years, so it was only natural that my kids would become gamers, too. It wasn’t something we tried to do, more something that just sort of happened.

Every family starts off planning things that are born from what Mom and Dad enjoy. It’s not that we don’t want our kids to find their own paths, but that we naturally want to share the things we find interesting.

If you were big into the outdoors before the kids, likely your kids were hiking before they could walk via those snazzy kid-carrying backpacks. If you’re a bookworm, you likely read to your kids a lot and they’ll be dying to learn how to read on their own. And if you’re a gamer, then pulling out a board game is the perfect way to spend time together.

My husband with all the games, GenCon 2013, Image: Nicole Wakelin
My husband with all of the games, GenCon 2013, Image: Nicole Wakelin

My family falls into that last category. I blame my husband because he is a hardcore gamer. Really, the man eats, sleeps, and breathes games. He hosts The D6 Generation podcast which reviews games and interviews game designers. He has so many games that they spill out of his man cave like lava and there are always a half-dozen work-in-progress minis being painted in his game room.

I didn’t start off a gamer, but became one because of my husband. Gaming is one of those things that, once it gets you, sucks you in for good. Kind of like the mafia, but without the guns and cannoli. Although, I bet there’s a game out there with guns and cannoli that we just haven’t found yet.

So, when my girls were born, they were playing games right from the start. They started with the games that all the kids play like Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders. We happened to have a Dora the Explorer Candy Land and let me go on record here saying that I played that more times than is sane and I have PTSD issues related to that perky little child.

My daughter made this for a school project! Image: Nicole Wakelin

We moved on, as quickly as possible, to other games that you couldn’t find in the average big box toy store. These were the games you could only find in an honest-to-goodness local game store. Now, my kids ask to go to the game store every weekend and who are we to say no?

They’ve also experienced the joy of opening games and the New-Game-Smell that accompanies the event. If you’re a gamer, you understand, but if not, you are confused. Let me try to explain.

New Game Smell is that first whiff of untouched goodness that emanates from the box the second you remove the lid. It’s a combination of cardboard and ink and if you hold the board up to your nose it can make a gamer giddy.

Sometimes there’s a hint of plastic, but only a hint, and if you’re lucky there’s also a good dose of freshly cut wood. This would come from the meeples or other tokens rolling around the box. This is New-Game-Smell. In fact, I can smell it now as my husband sets up Rampage, freshly un-boxed, which we will be playing later today.

Rampage, freshly unboxed. Image: Nicole Wakelin
Rampage, freshly unboxed. Image: Nicole Wakelin

The other day we had dinner at a restaurant that we’ve been to many times and they handed us new menus. You could tell because they were super shiny and had none of the creases or sticky spots that eventually end up on every menu. These were pristine.

My eleven-year-old opened up her menu, looked at it for a second, and then held it right up to her nose saying, “Mmm, it’s got new game smell!” This led to all of us holding the menus up to our noses to get a good whiff. She was totally right, and despite the odd looks from the surrounding tables, it was a proud moment.

My daughter the gamer. Your training is now complete.

Favorite Christmas Present: Roll & Play Game

Image via ThinkFun

As the first grandchild to come along in several years, our two-year-old got a lot of presents this year. So far, one of our favorites is this Roll & Play game from Thinkfun. (Retail price $19.99.)

The game is wonderfully simple, and can be started and stopped at almost any time. We take turns throwing the die, which is big and soft and plush and just about as big as our toddler’s head. He loves throwing it. We name the color that comes up on top, and then pick a matching color card. Then we act out whatever the card says, and move on to the next turn. No need to keep score, just something fun to do together.

There are six categories of cards, and each color has a specialty. The blue cards have you look for colors in your surroundings (“Find something orange”); others have you make face (“Make a surprised face”—just about the cutest thing ever), count (“Clap your hands six times”), make animal noises (“Gobble like a turkey”), or act (“Do a silly dance”).

Our son has started asking us to play “the dice game,” and it’s easy to throw the cube around a few times after dinner. And since the “set-up” is so easy, especially since the plush cube has a pocket to store the cards, you don’t feel cheated when your toddler’s attention finally wanders off.

My favorite part is that it’s teaching him to take turns along with the basic mechanic of drawing cards. My husband and I are both enthusiastic board gamers, and we’ve both remarked that our son’s enthusiasm for this game bodes well for future family game nights.

Late to the Game: Formula D

Formula D © Asmodee
Formula D Image: © Asmodee.

It’s been a few weeks since the sound of engines stopped roaring through my living room on Sundays. If your household is anything like mine, you or someone you live with is missing the thrill of regular motor racing. While Formula One has never quite taken off in the U.S., here in Europe it’s enormously popular. Even the smallest teams fielding cars destined to spend the season as back markers invest millions on development each year*.

Formula D attempts to recreate the thrill of Formula One racing in a board game, and I was keen to see how well it did.

The Formula D board is absolutely enormous and covers most of my dining room table (this is not a travel game). The board is two-sided, allowing for F1 racing or an illegal street race. Each one has slightly different rules, both of which could be applied to either track. The F1 circuit is based on the famous Monaco track and follows it faithfully with accurate corners given their correct names. Each corner is assigned a number; players must stop that many times as they pass through the corner to avoid damaging their cars by driving too fast through them.

Formula D Gearbox & Damage Points © Sophie Brown
Formula D Gearbox & Damage Points. Image: © Sophie Brown.

The speed of the car is determined by the gearbox, which assigns die rolls. In first gear, only ones and twos can be rolled. Second gear allows rolls of two to four and so on up to sixth gear, where the die rolls range from 20 to 30.

Clearly, the lower gear you are in, the easier it will be to stop the required number of times in a corner. However, driving too slowly will allow opponents to pass you and win the race.

This is a game of intense strategy and thought, as gears can only be shifted up incrementally and engine braking (shifting down more than one gear at a time) costs damage points—just as in real life such heavy braking would damage your car. You need to constantly look ahead and plan your speed many moves in advance to avoid being caught out.

Damage points are one of the major ways in which the beginners’ game differs from standard Formula D games. In the beginners’ game, damage is assigned unspecifically. Each car begins with 18 points; failing to stop the correct number of times in corners or driving too closely to other cars can result in damage and your points are reduced accordingly. Lose all 18 points and your car is out of the race.

In standard games, however, damage is assigned to specific parts of the car including the tires, brakes and engine, with each area having just a few available points. This removes an issue in the beginners’ game where it is too easy to think, “I’ve got 18 points and can afford to run this corner and take the damage.” Instead, it makes the game much more realistic, although I’ve seen plenty of F1 races where the drivers seem to make equally risky decisions!

A Street Race Character from Formula D © Sophie Brown
A street race character from Formula D. Image: © Sophie Brown.

The standard game also allows for much more detail to be added into the race, including tire choices and weather conditions both during “qualifying” and the race itself. You can also choose to play races with multiple laps, bringing in pit stops to repair damage points.

These all add up to a game that, in your imagination at least, is very similar to a real F1 race with a lot of the same decision-making required that would also be made by real drivers and team bosses. Football manager-style games have been popular for decades and Formula D does a good job of bringing that kind of play to motor racing. In the street race, each character has different abilities, which can benefit them during the race. However, there are also new issues to contend with, including dangerous road surfaces and locals taking pot shots at the cars as they race past.

You do not need to be an F1 fan, or even a fan of motor racing, in order to enjoy Formula D, although those familiar with the circuit and style will certainly get more out of the theming. I am not a sports fan in any way, but even with my basic knowledge of F1, I was able to appreciate the game’s accuracy. Formula D streamlines the experience so that avid racing fans will be able to enjoy it without feeling talked down to, but players who have never even seen a race will be able to pick it up easily, too.

The basic game mechanics are incredibly simple to learn, so the difficulty lies in planning a good strategy around the track. Here, some knowledge of racing strategy can be very useful, but is still non-essential. The game can accommodate up to 10 players, making it great for a busy night when games with limited player numbers could force people to sit out. If you appreciate strategy paired with a great theme, Formula D will be another great game for your collection.

GeekMom received this game for review purposes.

*In 2012, the budget for Marussia F1 was just under $100 million. This year, they finished the season on zero team points.

Late to the Game: An Ingenious Family Game for Christmas

Ingenious Board © Reiner Knizia
Ingenious Board © Reiner Knizia

If your family is anything like mine, then after the morning rush of present opening comes the post-turkey Christmas Day slump. The kids are playing with their new toys, one of which has probably already been broken and the adults are descending into an alcohol- and food-induced haze. That is until somebody pipes up “let’s play a board game.” The choice of game is always slightly treacherous ground, nothing too complicated (half the players are probably over the legal limit by lunchtime), nothing too noisy (you might wake grandma), and nothing that has sent people into a semi-murderous rage in previous years. In short, we’re always on the lookout for a new family game.

Ingenious isn’t actually all that “new”—it was originally published in 2004—but the chances are you’ve never heard of it. Designed by Reiner Knizia it has won a slew of awards over the years and has also been adapted for iPhone and Android apps. It is a strategy game with incredibly simple rules; place tiles shaped as two conjoined hexagons onto a hex board. Each tile contains two of a possible seven symbols and must be connected to another tile or starting space showing one of the symbols. The more straight line connections you can make, the more points you score in that color.

Ingenious Scoring © Reiner Knizia
Ingenious Scoring © Reiner Knizia

The interesting part of the game is the scoring and winning techniques. Placing tiles to create lines of matching color symbols scores you points; these are tracked using a scoreboard with peg markers to represent each color. However you must work to gain points evenly across all seven color-symbols because once the board is full, each player checks his scoreboard to see which color scored the least; the winner is the player with the most points in their least-scored color. This technique forces players to keep the board more open. You can run away with red tiles and score highly but if your blue peg is still down at the bottom of the scoreboard, that’s the one that will lose you the game. Along with standard gameplay instructions, the game also comes with solitaire and team play rules.

Ingenious is a simple game but one that will go down well with the family. It requires thought but doesn’t require deep strategizing or long turns, plus the kids will be able to play too (the suggested age is eight and above). If you’re looking for a new family game this Christmas, I suggest putting this one on your list for Santa.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.