Category: board games

Bringing Board Games to the Library

When I was down at ALA this summer, I attended a session focused on board gaming and libraries. As an academic librarian, I’ve often looked with envy at the fun activities public libraries get to run from time to time. Movie nights. Festivals. Board games. So much of what I do is focused purely on the academic side of reading. Research. Information evaluation, etc. We do a few things more slanted toward fun, but I’d never really considered board games as a good fit for the library.

But while I was at that session, I suddenly found myself questioning that assumption. Why wouldn’t board games fit with the rest of my offerings? We have space where people could play games. College students love games. We do activities from time to time focused on stress relief. What was stopping me? What’s the point in being the director of a library if you can’t bring board games into the fold?

While that thought was still fresh in my head, I went with a friend to a board game cafe. (Thirsty Dice in Philadelphia.) It’s such a great set up. You’ve got all these games waiting to be played, arranged by type of game, number of players, difficulty, length of time to play it, etc. There are “board game baristas” waiting to give game recommendations and teach people how to play if they’re not sure. You can go in and spend hours playing old favorites or learning new ones.

Wouldn’t it be great to bring that to my institution?

I’ve decided to go ahead and give it a shot. There are a couple of issues that I’m not 100% sure won’t cause problems, of course. My plan is to have the games stay in the library (non-circulating), but I’m also planning to just have them out in the general area where people can see them and use them as they wish. I debated putting them back behind the circulation desk, but in the end I thought that would make it less likely that the games get used. Of course, with them out in the open, we run the risk of the games being “permanently borrowed” or of pieces wandering off. I want to believe that won’t be a huge issue, however. It’s been my experience that board gamers want to play games. If they have a game they love, they want to own it. If they want to own it, they want a fresh, pristine game to own, and not one that’s been communally used.

In the end, I decided I’d just try it out and see how it went. I have some games I’m donating to the collection to start things off, and I might buy a few more core games to get the ball rolling. From there . . . we’ll see. See if the games get used. See if the pieces go missing. See what the response is from students. At the very least, it’ll be a fun experiment. In an ideal world, I’ll start to offer some programming around the games. Have game nights. Work with some student clubs to run activities. Foster more gaming events. If things go well, it could be a really fun addition to our offerings.

Wish me luck!


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Five Holiday Board Game Recommendations

It’s that time of year. The time when you start to scramble to come up with gift ideas for people. If you’re an avid gamer, I’m probably not going to have any suggestions here that you haven’t already heard. But if you’re more casual, then I’d like to think there might be some things here that are worth your while.

These are games that are great for families. They’re not overly complex. I find myself drawn more and more these days to games that don’t need thick rule books. Nothing you have to keep checking again and again. They’re games I can play with my kids and have a great time.

Note that each link will take you to the Amazon page for the product. If you buy it, I receive a kickback from Amazon, but the games themselves haven’t paid for my endorsement or anything like that. (I wish!)

First up has got to be Splendor. It’s a fantastic board game that takes less than a half hour to play. It’s easy enough to grasp that my nine year old can compete with the rest of us and have a great time. You play the role of a gem trader, trying to leverage your wealth to get fame and fortune. It’s got quality components and basic rules that have enough nuance to give some deep strategy to the game. I would get this for just about anyone. Great stuff.

Hanabi is a cooperative card game where you play with your hand facing away from you. Other people can see what you have, but you can’t. You are all trying to make a fantastic fireworks display. Once again, it’s straightforward, easy to learn, and fun to play. Kids can do well with it too. Better yet, it’s small, so it’s really easy to pack for a trip. You need someplace quiet to play it, but other than that, you’re good to go anywhere.

Seven Wonders has been out for quite some time. It’s more complex than the others. More fiddly bits. It’s a drafting game, which means you’re dealt cards at the beginning of each round. You pick one, then pass the rest on to the next person, who does the same, so you’re making a series of decisions, picking the cards you think will let you build the best empire. Fun, and fairly straightforward once you learn how to play.

Tomas got this during the holidays last year. Sushi Go! looks deceptively cutesy, which is its really only downside. He wasn’t convinced he wanted it at first, but after we’d played a few rounds, he could easily see the appeal. You’re trying to make the best sushi meal you can over three rounds, using the drafting mechanic. Way easy to learn, fast to play, and surprisingly strategic. Plus, it’s cheap.

In Codenames, a bunch of cards are dealt out face up in a grid at the start of the game. Each card has a word or two written on it. You then have to give single word clues to get your team to guess only the cards you want them to. I’ve only played this twice so far, but it falls right in the sweet spot for easy to learn and fun to play.

Board Game Review: Betrayal at House on the Hill

For Christmas, I got the family a few board games. (Yes, even though I already have about 2 closets’ worth. You can never have too many board games, folks. Just don’t ask my wife.) But of course, since we’re all busy, it’s taken some time to actually getting around to playing them. Sunday evening, we corrected that. First up? Betrayal at House on the Hill.

So it’s got a bit of a strange name. It scoffs at things like simple grammar. I bought this one because I’d heard it was a classic in the cooperative/competitive vein: you start out the game all being on the same side, and then at some point, one of you betrays the other, and from then on, it’s everyone vs. the traitor to see who wins. It’s a mechanic I loved in Battlestar Galactica, and this was supposed to be a sleeked down, simpler version of that.

Sign me up.

Our first game was a five player version–TRC, DC, Denisa, me, and a friend. I read over the rules ahead of time, and then of course it took a fair bit of time to teach the rules and learn the game. In total, the first session probably took around 2 hours. DC dropped out as an active player a bit of the way through. It might be a tad long for 8 year olds. But the rest of us soldiered on, and we really enjoyed ourselves.

The game plays out fairly simply, once you get the hang of it. You start out in the entryway of a large haunted house, the door locked behind you. You’re not sure what’s going on with the house, but you know you want to get out. If only you knew how . . . So you start exploring, witnessing creepy events, stumbling over haunted artifacts and weapons, and trying to find an escape. The house grows as you uncover room after room. (Each game, the house is different, ala Settlers of Catan.) At last, something triggers the haunting to manifest fully.

At that point, you find out who the traitor is, and you  play one of 50 different haunting scenarios.

For us, the first game involved a long exploration phase. We’d seen most of the house before the haunting began. In our case, it involved me turning out to be Dorian Gray, essentially. I had an evil painting that was granting me eternal life, and the others found out about it and decided to paint over it to kill me. That couldn’t happen, of course. I couldn’t let them do something like that. It was a mad scramble across the house we’d uncovered, with them searching for materials to destroy the painting and me trying to stop them. In the end, I prevailed, but it was pretty close for a long while.

I loved it. Better yet, TRC and DC loved it too. (DC had hung around, watching it all unfold even if she didn’t want to actually play.) Denisa is typically lukewarm to games the first time through, but she enjoyed it well enough. The best sign of a good game? The kids asked to play it again the next night. And the night after that.

We’ve gone through it three times now, and the other games have been much quicker. Probably about an hour each. The rules are fairly straightforward, and I love the storytelling aspect to the game. Better yet, each haunting we’ve done has given each game a very distinct feel to it which, coupled with the ever changing house, adds loads to the replayability factor, it seems. True, the initially creepiness of the first session is blunted some, since we’ve already seen a lot of what the house has to offer, but it still feels like each session is new and who knows what horrors await?

Hard to give the game a final rating just yet, but I’d say right now it’s an easy 4/5, with the potential for a real 5/5 on my hands. I definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a fun way to spend an evening telling a story as a group. There’s a bit of a learning curve, but in the end it’s easy to get the hang of, and a lot of fun to play out. Give it a shot!

New Geek Badge Unlocked!

I’ve been playing Magic: the Gathering long enough now that I’ve started to accumulate a fair number of cards. Lots and lots of cards.

Thousands of cards.

Denisa, being the keen observer of all things in our home, has noticed these cards. They have a tendency to accumulate and have little card parties all over the place. On bookshelves, under dressers, under chairs, on tables, in rooms, under the bed. You name it. They’re organized (because I’m me), but they do tend to sprawl.

So this week, I took a major step in my life. I had Denisa pick me up an old card catalog.

For my Magic: the Gathering collection.

That’s right, people. I store all those cards in an old-school librarian storage container. Let that sink in for a moment. The cool thing? I’m not the only one who does this. I learned it from friends. You might think it’s the epitome of nerdiness. I think it’s pretty much awesome. It only has six drawers, but the thing drinks in cards like a sponge. I only have half the drawers filled, which means I probably have a good 2-3 more years at least before I need to get a second one.

Unless TRC wants to use some of my storage space. He’s got his own collection . . .

But for now, the card menace has been stopped. Denisa’s happy. I’m happy. Life is good, peoples.

Learning to Lose

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that TRC and I have gone to play Magic at our local store a fair bit. He drafts along with everyone else, and we have a good time doing it. A few months ago, I noticed he wasn’t really engaging in the games anymore. He’d play, lose, and shrug off the loss and go play 3DS or something as he waited for the next round. I wanted to get him more invested, so I thought about ways to do that. In the end, I settled on letting him keep any prizes he wins for himself. (When you draft, you buy 3 packs of new cards to open. Depending on how well you do, you can win extra packs.)

That worked wonders. TRC was suddenly very motivated to win.

Maybe a little too motivated.

The thing is, he’s started to have some success. He’s doing better, playing better, and having fun. For the most part. But I’ve also seen him start to care too much about winning. This last Friday, he was doing really well. He’d won two matches and tied a third, and with one more win, he could take first place, potentially, and win up to 8 packs in the process. He lost some close games, and he ended up taking 5th, only winning 1 pack.

He was pretty crushed. To the point that I wondered if this was a good thing for him or not. But we had a nice long discussion about playing and winning and losing, and the importance of being grateful for what you’ve got. (There were 17 players there, after all. For a 10 year old to take fifth place against a group of people all college-aged and up? I think that’s quite remarkable.) I also told him that I’d be happy to help him improve his game for the future. He makes some consistent mistakes that if he cleaned up, he’d be doing even better.

Of course, as soon as we started playing and I was pointing out the consistent mistakes he was making, he was less than enthused about this help. He wants to do well, but he wants to do well on his own. The thing is, you can’t have it both ways. In my spare time, I read up on strategy and different approaches to the game. (I’ve settled on Magic as my game of choice because it’s very deep and is always changing and evolving. Learn the rules once, and you can play. But they keep changing the rules, so you’re forced to always relearn. I like that process.) To get better at something all on your own just doesn’t make sense to me. Why not learn from the experience of others?

In any case, as I’ve watched TRC go through this process, I can’t help thinking it’s helping him in the long run. The fact is, there are winners and losers in many situations in life. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Sometimes through no fault (or credit) of your own. Learning how to lose is an important life skill. Knowing that it will happen from time to time and picking yourself up when it does . . . that’s hard to do. I still have trouble with it myself, and I’ve got a 25 year head start on TRC . . .

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