Gifts for Political Scientists, 2013

It is a week before the American tradition of "Black Friday" starting on Thursday, and I have not done an updated list on "Gifts for Political Scientists" since 2010, so here is my proposed list for 2013.  Trying to find gifts for that special poltiical scientist in your life can be quite difficult.  Given the existing list from 2010 (that is, I am avoiding repeats) and inspiration from the source I originally stole the idea from, here is the supplement to the 2010 list

Board Games

The games on my 2010 list are still my go-to suggestions for people considering games for political scientists. However, for this year, I am adding a few to the list.

  • Ticket to Ride (Amazon) – This game is relatively simplistic in its presentation and offers a variety of strategies based on hidden information that each player has.  There are two shared goals for all of the players, and at least two hidden goals for each player.  This game is fantastically appropriate for all age groups and allows some complexity even when there are a bunch of game theorists all playing the game.  I would strongly recommend this board game over something like Monopoly if you are looking for a game for the family.
  • Mafia/Werewolf (Wikipedia) – This game is free and there are multiple versions of it available across the web. If you must buy the game, there are some options on Amazon.  I recommend this free game as it is similar to Bang! (see the 2010 list) in that it is a game of private information in which palyers are trying to determine other people's roles and take actions based on their evaluation of that information. In both versions of the game (Mafia or werewolf), the majority of the players are normal citizens who are trying to determine who the non-citizens are that are harming the town.  In Mafia, you are looking to determine who in your town is part of the mob. In Werewolf, you are rooting out werewolves that are destroying your community.  The citizens are attempting to identify and eliminate the mobsters/werewolves while the other party attempts to remain hidden and elminate citizens until they control a majority of the vote and win the game.  

This is a go-to game for large parties and is best played with seven or more people.

Card Games

  • Dominion (Amazon) – Dominion is the top of my list for card games.  It is a "Deck-Building Game" that makes building a deck part of the game. For people who normally play collectible card games, deck-building is part of the pre-game strategy. Dominion makes this aspect front and center as many of your actions are built around creating your deck.  Dominion is flexible and boasts eight different expansions that allow you to engage in different settings, strategies, and fundamentally alter some of the rules of the game.

Video Games 

  • Civilization V: Brave New World (Amazon/Metacritic Reviews) – Okay, this is slightly cheating on the no repeats rule, but it is cheating I can live with. The second expansion to the 2010 recommended item adds in a few important facets to growing a civilization and dealing with international relations. The biggest game-play addition for International Relations folk is the introduction of the World Congress. The ability to sanction belligerents, ban particular goods, encourage international festivals, and devote resources to science makes this expansion a necessary tool in international discourse.  Quite a long game, but solo play has improved dramatically. If you can find 2-5 people to sit and play competitively for hours at a time, then the experience of the game improves dramatically. To enjoy Brave New World, you do need the base game and I recommend also picking up the first expansion. 
  • Bioshock: Infinite (Amazon/Metacritic Reviews) – In my 2010 list, I included Bioshock on the recommendation of Michael Flynn without my own exposure.  Now, I have played through Bioshock, Bioshock 2, and Bioshock Infinite.  The last in the series of games is a standalone game that you can play without having exposure to the previous games.  The setting is the city of Columbia in 1912; a city built in the sky.  Bioshock played upon Ayn Randian themes of an alternative societal structure during collapse.  Bioshock Infinite engages a mix of patriotism, jingoism, and racism.  Columbia is more patriotic and pro-America than America itself and ends up seceding from the Union. The game takes place after this secession.  There is much more to this game and the political themes are worth discussing for political scientists; however, I will not spoil much more of the story here. You can find a trailer for the game here on Youtube
  • Tropico 4 (Amazon/Metacritic Reviews)- A simulation where you play the leader of a small Latin American Island and lead your country through economic, political, and social decisions. The setting of the game takes place during the Cold War, so you are balancing out trying to appease American and Soviet interests (the closer you move to either country, the more aid they give you) as well as dealing with other international factors.  You have elections every six years and you can make them free and fair, use election trickery, make false promises, or engage in outright assassination.  The choice is yours in creating your island government. This game is great if you are a builder, a planner, or into running your own country.



  • Game of Thrones (Amazon/Audible) – I am late on this particular bandwagon.  I have yet to see the show as I am making my way through the books first. Most of my book consumption happens through Audible as I can listen to the audiobooks during my daily commute via bike.  This fantasy series has a decent mix of intrigue and politicking that has made many of a political scientist happy thus far.  My favorite moment from the series thus far is when one of my students wrote a reaction paper that tied a concept discussed by Robert Bates into the book and used it to explain the set of relationships between the various actors.  
  • The Foundation (Amazon/Audible) – this foundational science fiction book by Asimov creates the social science theory of "Psycho-History"; a study of groups of people and has the ability to predict their behavior.  Psycho-history cannot predict individuals, but can predict the movement of large bodies as if they were unitary actors.  The parallels between Asimov's fictional social science and what we do should be obvious. This seven part series is a must-read for any political scientists interested in science fiction.


  • Brazil (Amazon/Wikipedia Entry) – One classic in addition to the contemporary blockbuster: Terry Gilliam's dark comedy Brazil.  This movie also lends itself to themes about dictatorship, repression, and resistance with a heavy backdrop of bureaucratic nightmares.  

For the Office

  • Tardis Door cover (ThinkGeek) – In case you want to make your office seem bigger on the inside.
  • Independents' Flag (ThinkGeek) – For the Firefly lover who wants to express their preferred political affiliation. 


The list is a bit truncated this year as I plan to make this an annual post. As such, there are plenty of other items that can make political scientists happy.  Of course, if you are an editor, then the simple word "accept" is more than enough. 

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.

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