With school closed for the holidays and family outings hampered by obstructive mounds of snow, winter break is the perfect time to break out some board games.
From the classic chess and backgammon to newfangled Blokus and Scene It?, board games are great ways for families to spend time together without having to resort to meaningful conversation.
Ironically, this time of year isn't a break for the people who play baseball, a professional game.
Some teams are trying to better themselves before the 2010 season, while others are trying to deal with the expensive mistakes they made last season. And still more clubs are simply standing pat and hoping their fans can find something else to worry about until Spring Training.
Here's a look at how some teams' off-season strategies compare to the board games we all know and love.
Undoubtedly one of the loudest children's games of all time, the gameplay of Hungry Hungry Hippos consists of repeatedly smashing a lever to open one of the colorful hippopotamuses' mouths. The goal of the game is to swallow as many of the tiny marbles that scatter around the platform as possible.
They might not be the first team you'd think of when it comes to big spending, but the Seattle Mariners have been doing their best to gobble up every possible impact player on the market.
Jack Zduriencik kicked off the offseason by signing Chone Figgins—a longtime anchor of the rival Angels' lineup and perhaps the most sought-after free agent of the year.
The Mariners then traded for Cliff Lee (now the best number-two starter in baseball) and Milton Bradley (just one season removed from leading the AL in OPS) without giving up anyone they will really miss in 2010.
If that's not enough, Seattle is reportedly still considering bringing back Adrian Beltre and Russell Branyan.
It's pretty clear which team has eaten the most marbles this winter.
Perhaps the quintessential roll-and-move dice game, Monopoly is the best-selling game in American history. Represented by a cadre of silver pieces that look far too cute to engage in predatory financial practices, players buy and sell houses, hotels, and railroads as they romp around a two-dimensional Atlantic City.
Less than two months after winning the World Series, the New York Yankees have made it clear that they will not rest on their laurels this off-season, and they're willing to pony up for prime real estate.
In addition to re-signing Andy Pettitte and bring back Nick Johnson, Brian Cashman acquired Curtis Granderson in the first blockbuster trade of the winter.
The Yankees aren't done yet; they are reportedly close to a trade for Atlanta Braves ace Javier Vazquez, and have been linked to several more marquee free agents, including Aroldis Chapman, Mark DeRosa, and Matt Holliday.
Monopoly is more of a description of the team as a whole than this off-season, but the Yankees have certainly demonstrated a willingness to mortgage a few properties to buy Boardwalk.
One of the longest board games in the world, Risk is the classic game of world domination. Up to six players and their colorful plastic soldiers battle with dice across a stylized map of the world.
Similarly, the Boston Red Sox' goal this winter is to stop the Yankees from taking over the league.
After being knocked out in the first round of the playoffs while the Bombers cruised to the championship, Red Sox Nation is expecting Theo Epstein to prepare for a counterattack in 2010.
Boston has demonstrated a willingness to break out the heavy artillery, as evidenced by the $82.5 million they threw at John Lackey.
But, at the same time, the Red Sox realize that the game lasts more than one turn. They won't trade in all their Risk cards and jeopardize future seasons.
One of the first board games many kids learn is Candy Land, which Forbes retroactively declared the most popular toy of the 1940s. Players stroll through Gumdrop Mountain and the Candy Cane Forest in search of the missing King Kandy.
While new GM Alex Anthropoulos has more important things to worry about than Gloppy the Molasses Monster, his strategy for the Toronto Blue Jays has something in common with this colorful world of sweets.
In addition to sitting in the shadow of his unpopular predecessor, Anthropoulos inherited a restless fan base and a team ready for a mutiny against its manager. His most important task was not to improve the team, but to improve the team's image.
His efforts seem to be paying off, so far; the Jays may be a couple years away from contending, but at least the wait has become tasty and colorful.
In the classic card game Old Maid, players randomly pick cards from each other's hands, hoping to get matches. Meanwhile, they try to avoid or get rid of the lone, unmatchable card in the deck; whoever holds it at game's end is the loser.
This is a perfect allegory for the Chicago Cubs, who spent the first two months their off-season focusing on nothing but trading Milton Bradley.
It was no secret that the Cubs wanted Bradley out. On top of the injuries and decline in production he suffered after signing a $30 million contract last winter, he frequently butted heads with manager Lou Piniella and made several disparaging public statements about the city of Chicago.
Of course, trading an expensive player with a reputation as a clubhouse cancer wasn't easy, and not knowing who the Cubs would get in return meant there was uncertainty about what else they needed to do this winter and how much money they would have to do it.
The Cubs can be glad that they are no longer stuck with the Old Maid, but who knows how many opportunities they missed while they were busy trying to get rid of her?
In Pictionary, one player is given a word that he must get his teammates to say by depicting it with a sketch (sort of like Charades, except with drawing instead of acting). If you are playing with someone who lacks artistic talent, it can be very frustrating to try and figure out what's going on.
It's a feeling that New York Mets' fans are probably quite used to by now.
After an incredibly disappointing season was made worse when their crosstown rivals won the World Series, the Mets are expected to make a sizable splash this winter. John Lackey, Matt Holliday, and Adrian Gonzalez have been thrown around as examples of impact players who they intended to pursue.
Two months into the off-season, the Mets have done, well, nothing.
As far as free agents go, Omar Minaya (who is under a lot of pressure this winter) has made generous offers to Jason Bay and Bengie Molina, and it is becoming increasingly clear that the Mets are bidding against themselves.
On the trade front, the Luis Castillo's name has come up quite often, as someone has apparently decided that $12 million is way too much to pay for two years of a speedy second baseman who had a .387 OBP last year.
What is going on in that front office? Surely Mets fans are hoping that, next turn, they get a GM who can draw.
A military-themed cross between chess and Capture the Flag, Stratego has been a favorite family board game for generations. While the obvious challenge in the game is to bypass the opposing soldiers and avoid the land mines en route to taking the other player's banner, the kicker is that you have no idea what your opponent's pieces are until you attack them.
Unfortunately for new GM Jed Hoyer, the other teams have already identified the San Diego Padres' flag: Adrian Gonzalez.
The challenge facing Hoyer is to stop opposing teams from getting A-Gon until he can find another way to win.
With an anemic offense that plays half its games in the worst hitter's park in baseball, the stud first baseman means a lot to his team. But Hoyer has said he will listen to offers—he has to—and wealthier teams are willing to pony up for such a great hitter.
Of course, we can't know what's going to happen; not all of Hoyer's pieces have been revealed.
For those fortunate few who have never played The Game of Life, players drive around a wiggly road buying houses, collecting paychecks, and inserting plastic pegs into the backseat to represent kids. It puts the "bored" in "board games."
So it's sort of like the Cleveland Indians' winter plans, which consist of a couple bottom-of-the-barrel free agent signings and maybe trading some of the few remaining players over the age of 25.
We'll be contenders in a couple years, they tell us, and it's true. There were only three bad seasons between the end of the Tribe's glory years in 2001 and the Indians' resurgence in 2005.
You can't compete every year without a nine-digit payroll. But hey, that's Life.