“Parks and Recreation,” over its seven seasons, has given us many gifts. Chris Pratt. Treat Yo Self Day. Waffles. “Literally.” But the thing that might outlast them all is one of its most random running jokes.
Nerdy Ben Wyatt’s (Adam Scott) love of board games was a well-established thing well before the sixth season episode “The Cones of Dunshire” (they played Settlers of Catan at his bachelor party). But when Ben invents his own extremely complicated game — a perfect combination of strategy and luck — the show ascended to a new level of nerdity.
The joke of the bit is clearly that the rules of the game are so convoluted no actual human being could play it — but then Mayfair Games got involved. The board game company behind Settlers of Catan debuted the first public game of Cones of Dunshire during Gen Con 2014, with 33 players paying $100 (donated to an Indiana food bank) for the opportunity to be a Wizard or Arbiter. Adam Scott (and a special guest) recorded a video message for the event, which sounded pretty damn fun: From the official event invite: “Will you brave the Doom deck? Will you sheathe or unsheathe the Cone of Decision? Will your resource gems rule the day, or will the dreaded Teuber spell strike?”
Again, it’s ridiculous, but now, Mayfair Games (under the moniker “Cone Hiill Games”) is running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the full release of the game, seeking a $300,000 goal. With 53 days to go, they’ve so far raised almost $40,000, though it’s not cheap. To actually get a deluxe edition of the game, you have to pledge $500, and there is no standard edition. (Although with your $500 pledge, you also get the Ledgerman Hat, the Wooden Cone of Decision, a replica of the official “Parks and Recreation” “Cones of Dunshire” show script, and a poster, pin, shirt and baseball hat).
Sure, that’s a lot of money — but look how much fun they had making the Kickstarter video!
“Cone Hiill Games has never done a game like this before, and we still don’t quite understand what’s going on,” the Kickstarter campaign page says. “Our Knock the Post Down game seems much less confusing than The Cones of Dunshire; nevertheless, if you give us your money, we’ll make this game.”
The exact business relationship between NBC and Mayfair Games is not clear. According to the Kickstarter video fine print, Mayfair Games is the business entity behind the Kickstarter. But the credits do say that it was “approved by the Architect” (aka Ben Wyatt) and an NBC spokesperson told Indiewire via email that “we love how invested the fans get in this series.” That sentiment extends to the creative team behind “Parks and Recreation.” At the very least, it applies to creator Michael Schur.
Schur, when asked about the Cones of Dunshire Kickstarter campaign during the TCA winter press tour last week, said “It’s great, and I am going to definitely donate to it… Cones of Dunshire is very, very important to me personally.”
It was a message passed along in production, Schur went on to say: “We told the director of the episode [Julie Anne Robinson], two-thirds jokingly: ‘This is the single most important thing we’ve ever done on the show.’ She kind of took it to heart in a very nice way, and she spent four hours shooting the first incarnation of it.”
It was a moment that inspired a lot of laughter during the panel. In part because, as it turns out, Cones of Dunshire’s biggest anti-fan is star Amy Poehler. “It’s the most annoyed Poehler’s ever been, I think,” Schur said. Poehler did not argue the point.
“I hate Cones of Dunshire,” she told critics. “It gives me a headache. It’s really cool that people are raising money for it, but I mean, it’s just that it’s so many rules. And Ben explaining it to me, to Leslie, is really—”
“Super-condescending,” Schur interjected.
And that was by design, according to Scott: “Dave King, who was the writer on set that day, had just a stack of alternate jokes and alternate rules for the game. We kept shooting all these different rules and scenarios in the game. Amy was just like, ‘Why? Can we just stop?’”
“We spent so much time on the Cones of Dunshire,” Scott added. “And it was all worth it.”
We’re inclined to agree. How often does an ephermal joke become a physical reality? Not often enough in this world. And if, as Mayfair Games pledges, the Cones of Dunshire is “miraculously playable” for 2-12 players, it might move beyond nerdy collectable to a legitimately enjoyable game.
(Dibs on Ledgerman.)