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Page last updated at 10:34 GMT, Friday, 28 November 2003

A + N x D = perfect family Christmas?

By Brian Wheeler
BBC News Online Magazine

Playing games
If you have ever spent Boxing Day picking Scrabble tiles out of the ceiling, or had to barricade yourself behind the sofa after your purchase of an electricity works in Monopoly went sour, you will know what board games can do to a family. Especially at Christmas.

It always seems like a good idea at the time.

After days cut off from the outside world, with nothing but Quality Street and re-runs of the Great Escape to relieve the tedium, anything seems like a good idea.

But the chances of a board game soothing the simmering tensions that inevitably come with every family Christmas are not high.

More often than not a simple game of Monopoly, Scrabble or Cluedo quickly degenerates into all into all-out internecine warfare.

If only there was a sure-fire formula for guaranteed family fun. No arguments. No sulking. No spirit-crushing tedium. No crawling back to the TV in shame.

Calmer Christmas

According to toy expert Barry Eldridge there is. And it is this:

0.22a + 0.17f + 0.153n + (0.12c - 0.1g) + 0.1s + 0.09e + 0.06d + 0.054l + 0.05m + 0.011c = pfg

Where pfg equals "perfect family game".

A = age range
F = fun factor
N = number of people
C = competitive factor
G - argumentative factor
S = stimulation
E = engagement
D = duration
L = longevity
M = mobility
C = complexity

Mr Eldridge claims the formula will help families choose the perfect game, which, in turn, will lead to the perfect stress-free Christmas.

"This exercise was undertaken in order to solve the perennial problem that families confront when they are suddenly faced with being indoors together for several days on end.

"It aims to help people have a calmer and less stressful Christmas, allowing families and friends to get together and enjoy each other's company, without sinking into conflict or having to resort to the television," Mr Eldridge says.

The formula takes into account age range, difficulty, duration, complexity and other factors, giving each a different weight based upon "expert opinion" in the toy industry, Mr Eldridge says.


Age range and the "fun factor" are the most important, because a good game must "be accessible to all the family".

1. Cards
2. Monopoly Simpsons
3. Bop It Extreme II
4. Super Plexus Game
5. 3000 games compendium
6. Simpsons Cluedo
7. Twister Moves
8. Boggle
9. Jenga
10. Scrabble

Source: The Entertainer

Mr Eldridge, who is the "creative manager" for toy shop chain The Entertainer, says he based his calculations around the sort of questions customers ask when they are looking for a board game.

He says the formula has been handed out to managers at The Entertainers' stores. But he admits it might be a be bit much to ask them to memorise it. Why did it have to be so complicated?

"When we started doing this we thought it would be nice and simple, but there are so many factors to take into account.

"It will help staff think about what it is that makes a perfect game."

Playing cards

So - when all the numbers have been crunched, the factors weighed and the wind speed taken into account - which game comes out on top?

"A pack of cards," says Mr Eldridge, with a pfg rating of 98%.

Monopoly game
Ruthless and destructive?

"There was some debate about whether cards should be allowed.

"But when we spoke to people, they all said they enjoyed playing cards with their families at Christmas. Nobody takes it too seriously. They are not playing poker."

He also admits that - at 1.50 - there is little commercial incentive to The Entertainer.

"All age ranges are able to play and many people can join in the games or play on an individual basis.

"Competition is high with fewer arguments occurring around card games as they seem to be taken less seriously than other games," says Mr Eldridge.

'Air of comedy'

The next best game, according to Mr Eldridge, is Monopoly Simpsons edition, which "lends an air of comedy" that is missing from the original.

But is Monopoly the best game to promote family harmony?

"I suppose the whole point of monopoly is that you have to be ruthless and destroy people. It is sometimes difficult to have fun with it, to smile while you are re-mortgaging your parents' house."

In third place is something called Bop-It Extreme II, a batwing shaped device that challenges players to twist, pound and shake it in ever more complex sequences.

Other old favourites such as Cluedo, Scrabble and Twister flesh out the top ten.


Illustrator and board game fanatic Peter Gray, who has spent the past two years developing a game based around the film industry, is impressed by Mr Eldridge's formula.

He believes it was right to concentrate on age range and fun.

But he adds: "There has to be some wild card element, an element of chance, to shake things up and turn the tables, so that Dad cannot be smug and think he is going to win from the start."

"Players also have to feel they have worked for it a little, that they are having a challenge."

And Mr Eldridge's final word of advice for anyone looking for the ideal Yuletide board game?

"It's only a game. You have to fun with it. If it does lead to arguments and people throwing the board across the room, it's not worth it."

Be careful out there.


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