“A dreidel is a four-sided die that spins,” said Flaster Siskin, sounding very much like the board game designer he is.
Siskin grew up playing classic games like “Monopoly,” strategic war board games like “Risk,” and that quintessentially geeky role-playing game, “Dungeons & Dragons,” which involves dice of many different shapes.
But starting when he was five years old, when Chanukah would roll around, he would set up a formation of small army action figures, pick up a dreidel and try to knock them down with carefully directed spins.
“I thought it was cool, I thought it was fun,” Siskin said, recalling his childhood in Chattanooga, Tenn. Now based in Long Beach, Siskin has incorporated his innovation into his newest Jewish-themed board game, “Operation: Maccabee.”
Like many board games, “Operation: Maccabee” has a back-story. Set in the late years of World War II, each of the four players represents one of the Allied powers. Through a combination of spinning and tossing the dreidel, players work to avoid and defeat Nazi patrols, liberate death camps and save European Jews.
It’s the fifth board game Siskin has designed for his company, Flasterventure (Flaster is Siskin’s middle name; his first name is Dan), and the fourth involving dreidels.
But unlike the prior three—“Maccabees,” “Queen Esther,” and “Matzakoman—which are all tied to Jewish holidays, played on a Star of David-shaped game board and have, according to Siskin, been adopted by some Hebrew schools as teaching tools, “Operation: Maccabee” has been something of a breakout hit within the gaming community.
In September, when Siskin demonstrated the game at Strategicon, a convention in Los Angeles dedicated to strategy games, there were lines of people waiting to play.
“If the game geeks love it, that’s a real compliment,” he said.
Later that month, the game received a favorable review from Marco Arnaudo, an associate professor of Italian at Indiana University who posts reviews of board games on his youTube channel, marcowargamer.
“It is a competitive game, but often as you play the game you forget about it,” Arnaudo said in his 10-minute-long video review of the game. “Maybe it is because everybody is on the same side. Yes we’re trying to do better than other players, but we are liberating concentration camps, if you do it instead of me, that’s okay, that’s still such a good thing.”
“He’s very well respected,” Siskin said of Arnaudo. “He really got the gist of the game.”
Siskin’s games are available for purchase in some stores—Bed, Bath & Beyond is selling his first game, “Maccabees,” in some of their stores, including five in the Los Angeles area—but most of them are being bought from online retailers like ModernTribe, OyToys.com, and Jewishsource.com.
Siskin, who worked in the film and video game industries before launching into board game design full-time. His first game, “Pirate King”—“No dreidels, not Jewish, just pirates”—came out in 2006. Since then, he’s been aiming at Jewish consumers.
“I’m definitely going after a niche market, for sure,” he said.
But he said sales of his company’s five board games are good. His first, “Maccabees,” came out in 2009, and he sold out the first run of 3,000 games in “two Chanukahs.”
And Siskin is hopeful about “Operation: Maccabee,” in part because the game is not tied to a particular seasonal holiday, and so could be sold year-round.
And he’s always thinking about new Jewish-themed game possibilities.
“Maybe I’ll do a Jewish ‘Dungeons & Dragons,’” Siskin said.