The times call for a board game like Pandemic: It’s a cooperative game, where you and your team rush to save humanity from a rapidly spreading virus. But if that seems a bit…on-the-nose for a self-distancing game night, perhaps you might enjoy a spot of Candy Land?
Candy Land was invented in 1948 by Eleanor Abbott, a teacher who had been diagnosed with polio and wanted to give children with the disease something fun and diverting. The game also “gave immobilized patients a liberating fantasy of movement,” Alexander B. Joy writes in an entertaining history of Candy Land.
“It’s probably one of my least favorite board games,” says Kathleen Donahue, the owner of the Capitol Hill game shop Labyrinth. It’s cool that a woman designed it, she says, and it has some educational attributes, like teaching very young kids about colors. But Donahue’s beefs with Candy Land go deeper than pattern recognition.
“It doesn’t have any decision making at all,” Donahue says. “It’s all predetermined based on the shuffling of the cards or the deck. There’s no kind of strategy.” The candy cards, she says, are particularly stressful: “Because you could be sent ahead or behind. In some very grim view, it teaches kids about luck and life.”
Wouldn’t that be perfect for these times? Donahue says she’ll happily sell anyone a copy of Candy Land, but she also has some games that let kids make decisions. Kingdomino, for instance. I asked for some more recommendations for people stuck at home with their kids. She immediately rattled off a few games that are fun and can reinforce academic skills: Sushi Go uses math, while Periodic is inspired by the table of elements,
What about games that can last a long time? “We’ve sold a ton of D&D lately,” Donahue says. Lots of players are getting together over Skype. If you want to get kids into role-playing games, Donahue suggests No Thank You, Evil!, which uses role-playing and creativity to solve problems. As for Pandemic, Donahue says it’s a terrific game, but “I’m definitely not recommending it for people who are super-stressed out about the situation.”
Like everywhere, Labyrinth is challenged by the Washington area’s coronavirus crisis. Labyrinth puts on more than 700 events a year, many in schools. The Smithsonian just canceled its “Evolve or Perish Game Night,” which Labyrinth was slated to support and which Donahue says had 250 ticket holders. Sales inside the shop have been going well, though. The shop has instituted a “latex glove” service for people who don’t want to come inside: call ahead and buy your game on the phone, and a be-nitriled employee will carry your purchase out to your car. They’re going to try delivery next week. And maybe they’ll try some virtual role-playing game meetups.
Business at the moment is still happening, Donahue says: Lots of people need diversion as they hunker down. Something that’s been selling in unusual quantities? Jigsaw puzzles. “Last night was absolutely insane with jigsaw puzzles.” Don’t worry: She’s got two more huge shipments coming.