Dreidel is an awful game. Every Jewish game designer knows that they’re doomed, come the 25th of Kislev, to bite our tongues or be branded the enemy of fun — fun that, for some reason, the adults all decline to participate in.
Chanukah has amazing themes. It’s about the fallout from Alexander the Great’s attempt at a world empire. It’s about an ethnic minority fighting both assimilationist social forces within its own society and military forces from without. It’s about a bronze age civilization reaching into its next phase. Also, it’s about a miracle, though the pshat and drash on what that miracle is (and, therefore, what any miracle is) disagree wildly.
We light lights on these dark days for the same reasons so many cultures do: because it’s so dark. We need to see the light of each other to reassure ourselves that the sun will, in fact, come back. To give us an opportunity for joy and hope, even in the winters of our lives, of the life of our people, and of the lives of all peoples as they face the brutality of hegemony.
To celebrate that, we light the candles of the chanukiah, under which we do absolutely no work. We eat candy, we drink tea and coffee and wine, we talk, and we play a dismal little game that, at best, everyone gives up on before one cousin gets all the candy.
Let’s fix Dreidel.
Jewish game designers, let’s get on this!
What if you’re not Jewish? If you’re not confident of your grasp on the halachah and minhagim regarding the chagim and Chanukah in particular, please sit this one out and watch how it goes. If you must participate, please do so in the traditional mode of asking an open question, expecting a question in return, including when the answer looks like a definitive statement.
The game must:
- Have Dreidl in the name and feature it centrally, if not entirely.
- Be playable with a reasonable number of dreidels, from one to, I dunno, a dozen or something. The number you might have in your box of Chanukah stuff.
- Obey all mitzvot and minhagim regarding the chag. I, of course, want to hear your reasoning and drash on this! Particularly the drash. Let’s hear how Antiochus was wowed by this game!
- Use only items a family is likely to have around for Chanukah: gelt, the already-burning candles/oil lamps, and the drunk adults are all valid components, for instance.
- Be playable by all children old enough to clumsily spin a dreidel.
- Be playable by mature kids who can develop strategies, weigh risks, and do other mature, adult-like behaviors.
- Be playable by adults, who have a much shorter attention span than kids and need to be entertained with systems like deal-making, ribald puns, cost-benefit analysis, and drinking.
- Be completely open and released explicitly into the Public Domain. You may reserve no rights to any element, including but not limited to the rules, the title of the game, or the design of any components.
1st Prize: In retrospect, centuries from now, this will be how everyone has always played Dreidel! It will be an obvious minhag that every child learns.
2nd Prize: In retrospect, centuries from now, this will be how everyone has always played Dreidel, but everyone knows that lots of people play it wrong.
Directions I’d like to see explored
- Coöperative play.
- Team play.
- Incentives for adults and mature kids to help young kids.
- Ability to drop in and out of the game from turn to turn.
Post your games in the comments here, either by pasting in the whole rule text or with a link to a download site. Share with us your reasoning along the way, of course! This is as much a Jewish cultural discussion as a game design discussion!