Pa. state policy staffer is board-game expert, too
HARRISBURG - By day, Erik Arneson is a top legislative staffer, mulling over politics and policy. By night, he is an expert gamer for the online information source About.com, battling Imperial stormtroopers. He spends evenings, weekends and even vacations playing games and writing reviews and articles for the Web site.
HARRISBURG - By day, Erik Arneson is a top legislative staffer, mulling over politics and policy.
By night, he is an expert gamer for the online information source About.com, battling Imperial stormtroopers. He spends evenings, weekends and even vacations playing games and writing reviews and articles for the Web site.
Not just any games, but the kind played on boards with dice.
Arneson, 37, acknowledges that his dual roles sometimes earn him a "nerd" label. As chief policy director for Senate Republicans, Arneson works behind the scenes crafting legislation.
But, he says, "I'm completely comfortable with my geekiness. The bottom line is, it's fun."
Arneson, a graduate of Temple University, said that he always enjoyed playing board games growing up in Lancaster County but that it wasn't until May 1999 that he turned it into a second job.
He and his wife had already been writing for About.com, reviewing bed-and-breakfasts, when he saw a posting for the board-game opening.
Now, Arneson attends conferences and events across Pennsylvania and in surrounding states to try new games, meet publishers, and banter with fellow enthusiasts.
He estimates he plays games at least 100 days a year and posts his analyses on About.com at least once a week.
In the age of computer and video games, Arneson's love of board games may seem like a throwback to a bygone era. He disagrees.
"People spend so much time at work interacting with computers and machines that some quality, low-tech entertainment often hits the sweet spot when they get home," he said.
The Internet has helped boost board-game sales by making it easier for small and mid-size publishers to find an audience, Arneson said. And there is still a market for longtime favorites.
Board-game sales in 2007 totaled $1.07 billion, up from $1.01 billion in 2005, said Anita Frazier, a toy and game analyst with NPD Group, an independent research firm in Port Washington, N.Y.
"The big, classic, mass-market games still represent a huge dollar value," said John Kaufeld, spokesman for the Game Manufacturers Association. "Monopoly is not going away any time soon."
Arneson reviews everything from Monopoly's latest offering to Elemento, a chemistry-theme card game, and the latest in the popular board-game series that started with Settlers of Catan, in which players compete to build roads and cities on an island.
He has also offered his thoughts on Hannah Montana Girl Talk.
His Senate work often conflicts with the annual, invitation-only Gathering of Friends board-game event in Ohio. (Yes, there is such a thing.)
That means Arneson can attend only a few days of the 10-day gaming marathon. But when there, he makes the most of his time.
"I go play games and only break for eating and sleeping until it's time to leave," he said.
Then there are those rare times that he can combine his two loves. This summer, he and another political staffer will present a seminar on political games at the World Boardgaming Championships in Lancaster.
He will have to do so while juggling one of the busiest staff jobs in the Senate.
As the man tasked not only with crafting legislation - but also explaining it to reporters and other legislators - Arneson plays a key role in shaping state policy.
He began working for the Senate in November 1996, when a former Senate majority leader recruited him from his job as a reporter at the Lebanon Daily News.
Arneson became policy director and spokesman in 2007 for State Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware), the majority leader.
"I think he's well-respected by all the people he deals with," said Steve MacNett, chief counsel to Senate Republicans and a friend of Arneson's.
Some Democrats agree, although they see it as an opportunity for ribbing.
"On the professional side, he's obviously in the right position since we all know the Senate Republicans just like to play games," teased Johnna Pro, spokeswoman for State Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.).
Gov. Rendell, however, has not been always been so complimentary.
Angry at Senate Republicans over protracted debate on transportation issues last summer, Rendell slammed Arneson at a June 2007 news conference.
"This particular gentleman never gets off his ass in Harrisburg," the governor fumed.
So which subject does Arneson know more about - board games or state policy?
The jury's still out.
"Oh, board games," Pro said. "His knowledge of board games is encyclopedic."
"I guess I'd have to say Pennsylvania policy," Arneson's wife, Elizabeth, said. "I've seen him compete in trivia events at board-game conventions and there are so many people who are geekier than he is."
Arneson himself said he had to go with state policy, though he adds, "I know more about games than probably 99 percent of the public, but there's a lot more that I don't know than I do."
Erik Arneson's Best and Worst Board Games
Settlers of Catan
Ticket to Ride
I'm the Boss
Battle of the Sexes
Quidditch: The Board Game
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1960: The Making of the President