One of the hallowed traditions of this blog is the annual collaboration post with Naty from Naty’s Bookshelf (see for example this one with bookish board game recommendations). This year, we’ve given some thought on how individuals, couples, families, and friends can spend days over the holidays when leaving the house is not really an option.
The idea is to spend a full day, or a big chunk of your day, immersed in the theme of your choice, exploring it through different media and different points-of-view. You can choose to do it in a more light and entertaining way (Whodunits! Italian Food! Wine!) or in a more cultural/educational sense (Victorian Times! Ancient Rome! Jane Austen!). The beauty of this is that all you need is creativity: you can choose to go all in and wear costumes, prepare special food, perhaps decorate a room, convince your partner/friends/family (do remember to be pandemic-responsible!) or you can simply sit down by yourself and spend the day having nerdy fun.
The premise is simple: choose a game, a movie, and a book (or several, if you do it with another person), and spend a day playing, watching, and reading! This works especially well if you have someone at home with you, but also works if you live alone, or if you can get some friends to make this an online thing. We are focusing here on board games (because it’s called Clio’s Board Games, not Whatever Games), but you can of course choose a videogame or whatever you like, plus we’re giving two book ideas. We have selected three ideas to inspire you, and if you like this post, we can give more ideas on future posts (we know you’re wondering about the Italian Food theme). We’re all stuck at home this Christmas, might as well have fun with it!
Space travel is one of the most exciting things to happen in real life and it captures people’s imaginations for a good reason: it’s beautiful, mysterious and full of possibility. To add a little something extra to a space-themed day, you can check out Pinterest for food ideas, download a star-gazing app (like this one) and attempt to spot the ISS, do a virtual tour on space museums (like this one), plus choose whether to focus more on science fiction or non-fiction. It’s such a fascinating and versatile theme!
2-4 Players / 30-60min
In Race for the Galaxy, you are competing against your friends to gather as many victory points as possible by conquering worlds, producing and consuming goods. This is one of the best games for people who are just getting into board games as the rules are straightforward, the game itself is quick and although you are not playing to directly interfere with your competitors’ games, you can still do a bit of scheming and outwit them by predicting what they’re going to do next and plan your moves to your advantage instead!
A big-budget movie with a star cast (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) set in space – and yet no simple, visual effects-heavy blockbuster. Gravity is about two astronauts struggling to get to safety after their space shuttle has been damaged by space debris. As they match adversity with ingenuity and tenacity, they are palpably human. A space movie also for people who normally don’t like space movies.
The Space Race by Deborah Cadbury
“Space” sounds like the future, but it is also our past. From the mid-20th century on, humans built rockets which went to space – to deliver death to the enemies of their country, to explore the great unknown, and, maybe most of all, to show that they could. Cadbury tells this story along the lives of two men: Sergey Korolev, Chief Designer of the Soviet space program, and Wernher von Braun, first head of Nazi Germany’s V2 program and then of the American rocket design program. Their personalities – and their fates – could not be more different, and yet, they were united by an almost monomaniacal passion for rockets to go to space.
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
This is a prize-winning novella about a corporate-dominated world in the future, where missions must be approved by the Company and accompanied by security androids. A group of scientists goes on a planetary mission with an android – but little do they know that 1) the mission is going to be far more dangerous than they knew, and 2) the android has hacked itself and is now self-aware, calling itself “Murderbot”. All Murderbot wants is to be left alone and watch his soap operas in peace. This is both adventurous and hilarious and just a really, really fun read!
Ah, Scotland! It’s very easy to make your Scotland day an immersive experience: We wouldn’t wear a kilt or speak in a faux Scottish accent (that would feel more like mockery than homage to us), but you do what you feel comfortable with. Obviously, the cuisine is key: Haggis has an adventurous reputation, but is in fact delicious (not taking questions on this one). In case you can’t get any traditional haggis (it is illegal in the US as it contains sheep’s lungs), consider vegetarian haggis, or go into another direction with some nice tea and shortbread. And a wee dram of whisky.
2-5 players, 30-50min
Isle of Skye has you build a Scottish island kingdom from quadratic tiles – meadows border on meadows, mountains on mountains, and so on. How do you get these tiles? – The players sell them off, trying to set the price just right – too low, and another player will make a bargain, too high, and you will not find a buyer and have to pay for the tile yourself. The opportunities to score points range from having certain kinds of livestock on your tiles to the shape of your puzzle kingdom and can be varied from game to game, ensuring that it’s a bit different every time you play.
Calibre is a dark, moody thriller about two friends who go on a hunting weekend in a small village the Highlands, where they their trip quickly turns dark and dangerous. They must try to survive it and get away… if they can. This was absolutely intense, dramatic and what makes it great is how you don’t always cheer for the protagonists – you’re left unsure of how you even feel. It’s incredibly atmospheric and perfect for discussing it after watching.
Macbeth by William Shakespeare
One of Shakespeare’s most evocative plays, and thus also widely read, staged, referred to, and quoted – “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” and “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes” are maybe the most famous bits. This tale of ambition, insanity, and doom is not only rather short and relatively accessible for a Shakespeare play, it’s also wildly entertaining. If you do your theme day with several people, you can assign everybody one or several roles and do a dramatic reading.
The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
A group of friends has a tradition of celebrating every New Year together, no matter how much their lives have changed since the days they went to university together. This year, they’re going to a secluded hunting lodge in the Highlands, where a blizzard hits and they see themselves suddenly isolated from the world. As tensions that have been simmering for ten years start to boil over and secrets are spilled, a body is found just two days later. This is an atmospheric mystery, full of twists and you turn pages so fast it hardly feels like 400 pages.
Germany… but make it late Cold War. Slip into the divided city of Berlin for daring espionage missions, patrol the Iron Curtain, and maybe relax from all these stressful deeds with a nice beer, some sausages, and a pretzel. For an iconic appearance, 1980s fashion is not hard to come by. If you are two people doing this day, assign one of the German states to each of you, and whatever you do, try to one-up each other.
2 players, 60-120min
Okay, this game begins in the 1940s already, but it will take you the 1980s eventually. Over these four decades, the two of you will be pitted against each other at the helm of East and West Germany each, rebuilding factories and roads, gaining international prestige, and keeping your people happy and relaxed. For if they start rioting, your little country might be at its end soon. Can the East use the ideological mobilization of socialism and the state security apparatus to its advantage? Or will the West’s powerful economy prevail?
The Life of Others (2006)
It’s 1984 and the Stasi officer Wiesler is tasked with spying on the playwright Georg Dreyman and his lover, the famous actor Christa-Maria Sieland. Dreyman’s apartment is then bugged and Wiesler listens in methodically – but finds himself increasingly moved by their lives and questioning his own morality. This was an incredible movie that showcases the surveillance that so many people were subjected to in East Germany and also executes the high-stakes drama of Wiesler’s (and other characters’) moral dilemma wonderfully.
The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy
In 1988, a young, narcissistic historian is invited to go to East Berlin for his research and must write a positive essay about his experience. As he is taking a photo in the famous Abbey Road crosswalk as a gift for the family he will stay with, he is hit by a car. As a result, his life changes forever. This has a very unreliable narrator who challenges gender norms, and it’s about how we don’t fully understand other people. It’s both a literary accomplishment and a look into life in East Berlin in the 80s, before the Wall came down.
The Collapse by Mary Elise Sarotte
The opening of the Berlin Wall was one of the crucial events of the 20th century. Also, it was an accident. That combination makes for dramatic reading, and Sarotte weaves together the strands masterfully – from the protest on the streets to the nightly conferences of the political leadership in East Germany, and everything in between. Speaking of in-betweens: Many of the most fateful decisions were made by mid-level executives with no directions from above (or against those directions). There is no better book to understand the open-ended contingency of history.
Would you try something like this – or have you done so already? Which themes do you find most fascinating? Let us know in the comments!