Play-doh has AMAZING play value for The Boy and even though I was less than thrilled about the idea of introducing that messy nightmare, it was SO worth it.
We used a place mat on the floor. We used one color at a time at first (the package came with red, yellow, blue, and white). He enjoyed squishing it, putting pieces in the containers and taking them out, stacking the containers, and watching Mommy put it on her nose.
Grandma suggested it because it would encourage him to use his fingers more and develop manual dexterity.
Just for reference, parents, baby-led weaning (finger food at the table; no mush) does the same thing. And it doesn't matter if food gets eaten.