Board Games in the Library

When the average person thinks of board games, they likely think of games like Sorry, Monopoly, and Risk.  While Risk certainly has some strategic elements, and it could be argued that Monopoly has a few as well, the central theme of these games is luck.  Luck is a common theme in many popular American board games, but when you play a game for two hours and land on Boardwalk with a hotel because of a bad dice roll, one may be excused if they get a bit upset with grandma for building up the property so quickly while you just built your first house on Baltic.

Not that I’m bitter or anything.

In any case, luck-based board games are no longer all that is available.  For many years, strategic, story-telling, and incredibly engaging games have been created mainly by European game designers such as Uwe Rosenberg (Agricola, At The Gates of Loyang), Alan R. Moon (Ticket to Ride), and Klaus Teuber (Settlers of Catan).  These games often have themes such as building railway routes across the United States, struggling to survive or thrive on a deserted island, or becoming a psychic and receiving dreams from a ghost to figure out a murder mystery.  Over the last ten years ‘eurogames’ have become popular in the United States and are becoming more mainstream.  Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, and Settlers of Catan can often be found at a local Barnes & Noble and have been featured on popular shows such as The Big Bang Theory.  Actors like Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day have created web series showing playthroughs and reviews of board games.

With the growing popularity of board games of all types (story-telling, worker placement, economic, bluffing, and more – much more), adding them to a library collection seems to be a no brainer.  Board games “promote collaboration, inquiry, and critical thinking” (Crews, 2011, p. 10) and can help promote the mission of your library. Board games provide entertainment, promote creative problem solving skills, and allow teens to practice story-telling and utilize strategy to achieve their goals.  Cooperative games (such as Forbidden Desert and Pandemic) promote teamwork and can foster friendships.  Theycan be short enough to fit into a high school lunchtime (such as Niya and Spot It!) or fill an entire afternoon.  Board games fit in perfectly with the Collaborative Summer Library Program’s Summer Reading Program theme as well, allowing for some easy summer programming.

However, these games can come with lots of pieces and some can be fairly expensive.  How do you know which games to buy?  What if you don’t have funds in an already strained budget to add yet another collection?  Also, what do you do if a piece goes missing?

These are all questions my co-workers and I asked each other before getting into this.  Luckily, “all this has happened before and all of it will happen again”.  Many libraries and librarians have come to embrace board games, and the League of Librarian Gamers Facebook group was instrumental in assisting us in building our collection.  The group has a list of nearly every board game publisher on its page, complete with the publisher’s typical response to requests for board games.  You’d be amazed at how many board game publishers love to donate to libraries, and nearly all of our board games were acquired for free through publishers.  Requesting specific titles from publishers can be hit or miss but is worth a shot if there are particular ones you are looking to add to your collection.  Some of the games were acquired through the Gretna Friends of the Library donations, like those more popular games that are less likely to be donated.

There are a plethora of board game review websites, such as Shut Up and Sit Down (http://www.shutupandsitdown.com/), Dice Tower (http://www.dicetower.com/), and Board Game Geek (https://boardgamegeek.com/).  Great places to start for collection ideas are usually Top 10 or Top 100 lists on these websites, but keep in mind that some games may have a limited number of plays (such as the Legacy format recently introduced to board games).  You can watch groups play these games in episodes of Tabletop (http://geekandsundry.com/shows/tabletop/) so that you have an easier time explaining it to your teens, but I encourage you to read through rulebooks and play them with a group of friends.  Just like reader’s advisory, board game advisory will become part of what you do!

With a huge amount of assistance from our cataloger, our board game collection officially launched in November and was a huge hit with the teens, despite most of them never having heard of a ‘eurogame’ before.  All the teens needed was an introduction to the game and an overview of the rules and they were off!  Every teen gaming event is a board game event now, from Pandemic (a favorite) to Sheriff of Nottingham (a great bluffing game) to Galaxy Truckers.  I haven’t heard one request for the Wii to be brought out since we launched the board game collection.  Right now the collection is for in-house circulation only, but we plan on opening it up for general circulation soon.

Missing pieces was initially a huge concern of mine.  All of our board game boxes are on a shelf for display while the individual pieces for each game are stored in bags with itemized labels attached.  These bags are stored in separate plastic containers behind our circulation desk for easy retrieval for checkouts, and patrons are reminded to ensure that all pieces are returned to their original bags before checking the game back in.  When our board games start circulating outside of the library it is more likely that we will lose pieces, but patrons will be warned that losing vital pieces of a game may result in severe fines, up to and including the cost of replacing the game itself.  Other librarians have reported few problems with missing pieces if patrons are given these warnings and have even had game publishers ship them free replacement pieces if something does go missing.  Additionally, a small weight scale can be used to check the weight of the game on check-in to ensure that all pieces are present and accounted for – cutting down on the amount of counting circulation staff will need to do.

Below is a link to a resource about gaming in the library that my classmates and I created for a class and submitted to MOspace, the institutional repository for the University of Missouri – Columbia.  I mentioned some of the included resources above, but the summaries in this resource are more complete.  Feel free to use this resource to assist you in building your own collection, and happy gaming!

https://mospace.umsystem.edu/xmlui/handle/10355/47486

Crews, A. (2011). Using games to support the curriculum: Getting teachers on “board”.  Knowledge Quest, 40(1), 10-13.

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