Gift List for Political Scientists, 2010

Mind Your Decisions has done an annual gift list for economists for the last few years, and Presh just put together his 2010 list.  Using his list as inspiration, I have compiled my own list of possible gifts for Political Scientists. Given my proclivity for strategic leisure, I believe I can construct this with some authority on the matter.


Board Games – We attempt to host a fortnightly game night, sometimes the evening is started with an appropriate movie, but often the board game will be the center of it all.  As political scientists, we have tried a few different ones, and I have a few suggestions based on what you are looking for:

  • Settlers of Catan (Amazon) – This is a gateway board game.  The rules are simple and feature a Euro-style board that changes with each game and enables or disables particular strategies.  The main components of the game are about development, production, and trade.  The base game suits 2-4 players, and there is a 5-6 player expansion that can be bought. If you have grown beyond the base game, then expanding the game's scope can be done.  Being political scientists, we have favored the Cities and Knights expansion that involves collective action problems and defense.  Finally, if you are a Catan veteran and want to up your game, there is the nearly $500 version, 3d Catan.
  • Carcassonne (Amazon, itunes) – A tile based game that, again, has simple rules, but offers some deep strategy components.  The game is based around producing cities, farms, and roads – and claiming such objects using "Followers" or "meeples".  There are several expansions to the game and even has an iphone/ipod version that can be played online.
  • Civilization (Amazon) – based on the popular video game (see below for that suggestion), up to four players compete to construct a civilization and win the game through one of four victory paths (military domination, culture, economics, or science).  While I have yet to play the game, I did pick it up on Black Friday and expect to enjoy it.

Card Games

  • Saboteur (Boardgamegeek)A card game where up to 10 players are dwarves mining for gold.  A percentage of the players are potential Saboteur who, secretly, want to prevent the dwarves from getting the gold.  A game of strategy and incomplete information leaves player guessing who they should stop and who they should enable.
  • Bang (Amazon) – An Italian game that is also based on incomplete information.  One individual is known to be the sheriff, 1-3 people are deputies (unknown), 1-3 people are bandits (unknown) and 1-2 people are renegades (unknown).  The object of the game for the sheriff and the deputies is to kill all the bandits and renegades, the bandits just want to just the sheriff (though killing deputies does have benefits during the course of the game), and the renegade wants to be the last person(s) standing.  Half the game is figuring out who is on your side and who should be a target for your guns.  Quite a fun game that can be played by multiple ages and groups of people.  Michael Flynn reminded that I should have this up here as well.

Video Games

  • Civilization 5 (Amazon – PC) – Following a long line of civilization games, this has simplified some of the extensive rules and development paths that were found in civilization 3 and 4.  This has made it more penetrable for the new user or casual player.  A game of Civilization starts in 4000 BC and you progress, controlling one of the major civilizations it offers (list here).  While offering a form of simulation, it is a game and the object is often to win.  It offers multiple paths to victories as the players control construction, expansion, civic policy, economic policy, science policy and progression, diplomacy, and military strategy.  I can and have lost hours playing this game as it has tremendous replay value.  While the game does offer multiplayer, the speed at which the game is played makes it less than ideal unless both players have a day or two to kill.
  • Bioshock (Amazon) – Recommended by Michael Flynn, a dystopian Randian future sets the stage for this first person shooter.  Likewise, I would consider picking up the new Fallout (Amazon) game. 
  • Starcraft II (Amazon) – A real time strategy game that is conducting from the perspective of humans versus the Protoss and the Zerg.  This is the first of a series of three games in the Starcraft II line. 


  • An e-reader (Kindle) – While still not ideal for textbooks, the amount of time I can now read while traveling or just througout the day without lugging large books has improved tremendously.  I am partial to the kindle given that it was my first and I sync it across my iPhone and computer in case I do not have it with me.  
  • The Workflow of Data Analysis Using Stata (Amazon) – My .do files are messier than they should be and I have been slowly going through Long's book to try improve my work for replication.  
  • The Black Swan (Amazon) – Another recommendation by Michael Flynn, a book based on probability in real life and the fixation on outliers.



  • The Dark Knight (Amazon- Blu-ray/Special Edition normal DVD) – Perhaps an obvious choice.
  • The Princess Bride (Amazon – Blu-ray) – Another movie filled with game theory and appropriate for viewing with your academic peers. 
  • Dr. Strangelove (Amazon – Blu-ray) – This section might as well be called "Game Theory Movies" as this serves as a classic for the use of game theory, especially the grim trigger strategy. Julie VanDusky-Allen reminded me to add this to the list.
  • The Watchmen (Amazon – Ultimate Cut, Normal DVD) – The implications of a world where a super hero is America's deterrent to aggression and nuclear confrontation paints a dramatically different universe.  In this alternate universe of the 1980s, Nixon is elected to a third term, the United States won Vietnam, and masked vigilantes have been banned from fighting crime after a series of police riots.  The conclusion of the movie and the motivation of the main villain can fill a class period or two with discussion (which I won't spoil on this post).



  • The West Wing (Amazon)A must see for anyone vaguely interested in the political process.  I have forced this upon a few political scientists myself and have yet to hear anything but glee from watching the series.
  • The Wire (Amazon) – I have yet to see this series, but it was recommended by Matt DiGiuseppe as a great show that seems to be enjoyed by political scientists.  It, apparently, contains many instances of suboptimal policy outcomes that are trumped by individual's ambition as well as many cases of Realism-esque behavior between gang members.

Clothing– I own most of these already, but perhaps others would derive similar enjoyment out of them that I already do.

  • Want to play a game? (Thinkgeek) – An anti-nuclear weapon message with game theoretic implications can be found in the 1980s movie of Wargames. You can live your nostalgia, or your frustration with tic-tac-toe, with this shirt!
  • Stand back (Thinkgeek)Science does not always have to be the last resort.
  • e by the numbers (Thinkgeek) – Just in case your forget exactly what you are exponentiating by when deriving the predicted probabilities of your log regression.


  • Albert Einstein Action Figure (Thinkgeek) – He watches over my desk from afar.
  • Levitating Desktop Globe (Thinkgeek)
  • USB Laser Guided Missile Launcher (Thinkgeek) – Show your power in the office so you can demand more in your bargains over space.


  •  A second monitor – Another recommendation by Matt, multiple screens allows for more virtual workspace or procrastination.
  • Camtasia – Software used to record Powerpoint and other documents as movies with a narration.  I plan on picking up this or similar software for teaching my online, winter class in January.
  • Presentation Remote (Amazon) – Those of us who are active on the conference scene, given job talks, or even teaching will benefit from having a laser pointer as well as a remote to advance slides during a lecture.  My Logitech pointer has treated me well for several years and was worth the investment.

If you have more to add to the list, please do contribute.  I will likely add inspired suggestions, especially for the underdeveloped categories.

About Michael A. Allen

Michael is an Assistant Professor in Political Science at Boise State University with a focus in International Relations, Comparative Politics, and Methodology (quantitative and formal). His work includes issues related to military basing abroad, asymmetric relations, cooperation, and conflict. He received his Ph.D from Binghamton University in 2011.

One Reply to “Gift List for Political Scientists, 2010”

  1. Pingback: Star Wars as Civil War | The Quantitative Peace

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