VIDEO - Pop Culture Comfort Food: Roll The Dice On These Board Games : NPR

NPR's Scott Simon gets recommendations from the owner of Labyrinth Games in Washington, D.C., on what to play when all you need is something to get through winter's long nights.


'Tis the season to just, you know, stay put. Maybe watch your favorite TV show, a series, a podcast. Curl up with a book or a game. Last week we asked you, what's your pop culture comfort food?


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I find it the audio CDs of Alvin and the Chipmunks with their holiday Christmas music.


ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: (Singing) Christmas, Christmastime is here.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: My go-to pop culture fix is any book by Nora Roberts.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Looking up on the Internet old "Space: 1999" episodes.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: My favorite comfort-food podcasts are "Gardeners' Question Time" on BBC Radio 4...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: "Harry Potter" audio books.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: A Twitter account, Thoughts of a Dog, will brighten anyone's day.


SIMON: To talk about the games that get her through long, forbidding winter nights is Kathleen Donahue. She owns Labyrinth Games and Puzzles in Washington, D.C., joins us from her store. Thanks so much for being with us.

KATHLEEN DONAHUE: Thank you so much for having me.

SIMON: What makes a good comfort-food game?

DONAHUE: Wow. I think a good game is something that everybody enjoys, that's not too hard to learn and that brings people together to laugh and have fun.

SIMON: Give us some for-instances, if you could, please.

DONAHUE: Well, one of our bestselling party games right now is called Codenames. And it's a really wonderful kind of word game where everybody gets to team up, and two people are spymasters and try and get all the rest of their team to guess all of the correct words without giving any hints to the other team. But this year's hottest game is called Azul, and in it, you play Portuguese tile layers, trying to pick just the perfect tile to build a wall without having any of them fall on the floor and break.

SIMON: I want to ask you about a game that some members of our staff have clued me about. I'm, (laughter), uncomfortable with the title. Secret Hitler?

DONAHUE: Secret Hitler is currently very, very popular. And it was really funny 'cause when it first came out, they sent free copies to every member of Congress so it's very, very popular on Capitol Hill because it got a lot of exposure and publicity through that publicity stunt.

SIMON: What makes something called Secret Hitler a game? By the way, I want to point out, the original made no secret, but, go ahead. Yeah.

DONAHUE: This is true. But in this game, there are different sides. One person is secretly Hitler. Nobody knows who he is. And then there are different sides that are trying to find him. And it's basically called a hidden role game because nobody knows who is who, and using deductive reasoning, you're trying to figure out who Hitler is and get rid of him. (Laughter). It's the perfect game for Capitol Hill, right?

SIMON: Perhaps I shouldn't say.

DONAHUE: (Laughter).

SIMON: What about multigenerational games?

DONAHUE: I think one of our most popular is Ticket To Ride. It's a game about building train routes all over the United States. It plays from two to five players, and it usually plays in under an hour. And generally, everybody I know pretty much enjoys it.

SIMON: That sounds great. Are there games that at which children can excel maybe more than adults?

DONAHUE: For sure. For very young children, I love games that have a memory component. Very young children generally tend to be better at them than their adult parents or guardians. There's also a large collection of cooperative games that are really wonderful to play with kids because everyone is playing together to try and beat the game. And it's really great, especially if you have someone who has a hard time winning or losing. They get to practice winning and losing, but as a group, not one against the other. So cooperative games, especially games by Peaceable Kingdom, are really fantastic.

SIMON: I must say, you've got me kind of looking forward to a big snow where our family will have to stay indoors, save for maybe going out for snacks, and playing a board game with each other.

DONAHUE: Yeah. For sure. I love board games at the holidays. It's a really wonderful time to spend time with other people.

SIMON: Kathleen Donahue owns Labyrinth Games and Puzzles on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Thanks so much.

DONAHUE: Thank you. Thank you so much.

SIMON: And we are recommending pop culture comfort food every week this holiday season. We'd love to hear from you. What's your pop culture comfort food? Movie, a book, game - anything. You can call and leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9217. Please tell us your name, where you live, your credit card number - no. That was a joke. (Laughter). You might hear your recommendation on the air.


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