Product Review: olelo board game

By: Tanya Pai

When it comes to playing games, it often feels like our Wii-centric culture doesn’t put a high premium on face-to-face interaction. But Mary Ann Cyr of Norwell-based Little Squash Productions has developed a board game that’s literally a conversation starter. Olelo, named for the Hawaiian verb meaning to talk or tell, is appropriate for any age, and encourages families and friends to share stories and develop listening skills.

Players roll dice to move along the brightly colored board and choose a card (there are separate decks for adults and children) bearing questions such as, “What is the easiest thing you have ever learned?” or “Who is your best friend at school?” Players have the option to skip a question if they’re uncomfortable answering or can’t think of a response, and the first person to answer all of his or her questions is the winner.

It’s a simple concept, but one with a surprising number of applications. “Our initial vision was a grandchild and a grandparent playing the game,” explains Cyr. “We test-drove it and got rave reviews…. Then people started to offer other ways to play.” Cyr has been approached by teachers wanting to bring Olelo to their classrooms; by social workers interested in its potential as a therapy exercise; and by business leaders who see it as a team-building tool. But the shining moment, Cyr says, is when she was contacted by a woman who explained that her mother was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, and she wanted to play the game to record her family history before it was too late.

Cyr found inspiration in her own family: The idea for the game was hatched during a road trip with her mother, and now her husband, two sons, and daughter-in-law all work at the company. In addition to the game itself, Little Squash also manufactures olelo Story Maps, which have pages with spaces to record each participant’s answers while the game is played. Because of the game’s straightforward format, it’s easily customizable for every stage and age. “Everyone who plays it will have a unique experience,” says Cyr.

Olelo is available at Storybook Cove and the Toy Box, both in Hanover; Rhyme ’n’ Reason in Hanson; or through the Little Squash online store.