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Find more Board Game Starter Kit
The term gaming is thought of by many to mean video or computer gaming, but there is a long history of gaming in libraries through board and card games. Bridge, Scrabble, and chess have been played in libraries for decades; in fact, the oldest chess club in the U.S. was started in a library in the 1850s and still meets there! Board games are less expensive, can be played in more places, and create a space for face-to-face social engagement more effectively than many digital games. In addition, board games are great tools for bringing families together and encouraging patrons to cross traditional generational boundaries.
While classic commercial board games, such as Monopoly and Risk, are still played by many, there is a world of board games, developed in the last 20 years, which offer shorter, more engaging game experiences. Just as libraries offer other forms of media created recently, libraries should add modern board games to their collections of classics. Here are seven tabletop games that are engaging and easy to learn, can be played and completed quickly, and will draw patrons in with queries of “What is that?” and “Can I try?”
Tsuro. Calliope Games, $24.99. 15 min. 2 to 8 players, ages 8 and up.
Tsuro is a light strategy game where players attempt to stay alive on a rapidly growing maze of twisty paths. As players start, the board is empty until each player puts a marker somewhere on the perimeter. On a turn, a player chooses one tile from a hand of three with a variety of paths to place in front of his playing figure. He then moves his marker to the end of the path he is currently on. If another player’s tile extends his path, he immediately moves his piece to the end of the path. If his piece goes off the board, he is eliminated, and if two pieces collide, both are eliminated. The player with the last piece still on the board after all of his opponents are eliminated wins this addictive and attractive game.
Gaming Experience: This game creates tension and panic as the paths get longer and longer, which releases into laughter as one piece after another is eliminated from the game. There is a heavy dose of luck, and players are typically left guessing about which option is the best.
Hey! That’s My Fish! Mayfair Games, $40. 20 min. 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up.
This strategy game about penguins eating fish may appear to be a children’s game but has quite a bit of hidden strategy and some nasty surprises for adults. The board is made up of many six-sided tiles arranged in a grid. On a player’s turn, she chooses one of her penguins, “eats” the tile the penguin is currently standing on (collecting one to three points for the number of fish on the tile), and then moves as far as she wants in a straight line without running into another penguin or to an empty space. As the game continues, the tiles disappear, leaving penguins stranded as the ice breaks apart into smaller and smaller sections. When all penguins have eaten their last fish, the player whose penguins ate the most fish wins. This game plays just as well with children as it plays with adults.
Gaming Experience: Players are forced to make difficult choices that typically advance one penguin while putting others in a more vulnerable state. Players can be aggressive in cutting off other players, and have to decide how much risk to take, as there is typically a safer choice that offers fewer tiles or a riskier path that can be blocked by other players.
Heroscape (various versions). Hasbro, $29.99 to $39.99. 30 min. 2 or more players or teams, ages 8 and up.
Of the games on this list, Heroscape, with three-dimensional, attractively colored terrain and miniature figures, is the quickest way to draw children and teen males away from video games. The original Heroscape concept was to pit Roman legions, modern armies, ninjas, giant robots, and fantasy monsters against each other in a fight for domination of a battlefield. Since that time, versions of Heroscape have come out that are aligned with Marvel superheroes and Dungeons & Dragons. There are two sets of rules for different ages of players, and younger players can just enjoy building dioramas out of the terrain and figures, too; built in a display cabinet, these could be a very attractive advertisement for gaming programs. These games are a bargain for their eye appeal, and, as they are a system, allow players to create as well as play games.
Gaming Experience: While the game comes with predesigned worlds, the ability for the players to first create their own game board and then use it to battle makes for a dynamic experience. Direct conflict between players will attract some players while deterring others.
Word on the Street. Out of the Box, $24.99. 30 min. 2 players or teams, ages 12 and up.Word on the Street Junior. Out of the Box, $19.99. 30 min. 2 players or teams, ages 8 and up.
In this word game, two teams battle over control of letters, trying to move them several steps from their middle positions to one side of the street. Categories such as Types of Cheese and Metals have teams working together to select a single word with a variety of letters and then spell that word, moving the consonants in the word toward their side of the street as they go. They have to do this before the timer runs out and under the barrage of “helpful suggestions” that the opposing team is allowed to offer. Once a letter has moved off the street, it is locked in for that team, and eight locked-in letters ends the game. The junior version has categories more appropriate for children and includes vowels.
Gaming Experience: This noisy game has brief, timed moments of chaos as players rapidly think of words in a category. At some point, a team idea or leader will emerge, and since time is short, teams sometimes make suboptimal decisions. The heckling rule allows players on the other team to always be engaged in the game if they so choose and can produce quite a bit of laughter.
Bananagrams. Bananagrams International, $14.95. 15 min. 1 to 8 players or teams, ages 7 and up.
This game comes in a small banana-shaped cloth bag and consists of small plastic tiles with letters on them. As many players as can fit around the table all take the same number of tiles and simultaneously work with the tiles to use them in a series of crossed words. Once one player has used all of his tiles, he cries “Peel,” and each player takes two more tiles from the middle and must integrate those new tiles into their word cross. This continues until there are not enough tiles for all players to draw two new tiles. At that point, the player who uses all of their tiles in crossed words wins the game. Additional copies can be used to make this game work for as many players as desired. Conversely, it can be used as a team event where multiple players work together to use an entire set of the game in the shortest period of time.
Gaming Experience: The tension can be high as players are competing directly against each other. While there is no timer, the knowledge that the goal is to be faster than the other players makes this a game that some will love and others will hate. The direct competition can be frustrating or exhilarating.Sorry Sliders. Hasbro, $24.95. 15 min. 2 to 4 players, ages 6 and up.
Hasbro has been taking classic board-game licenses and creating new games that have little to do with the original game other than the look and feel. Sorry Sliders is a dexterity game where up to four players sit at the ends of an X-shaped board. In the middle of the board are a set of concentric rings. Much like in shuffleboard, players take turns sliding large plastic pawns with steel marbles in the bottom toward the middle of the X. Players can knock each other out of the way and off the board. After each player has slid four pieces, the scores are tallied, using the scoring position of each pawn to advance one of each player’s own scoring pawns on a personal scoring board. The first player to get all of their scoring pawns to home wins the game. As with many dexterity games, this a great game for intergenerational gaming events.
Gaming Experience: While most of the focus is on the dexterity of sliding pawns into high-scoring areas and knocking out opponents, there is a little strategy in deciding how far to move each scoring pawn. The head-to-head nature can make the game very confrontational as players can choose to go after the pawns of other players instead of simply trying to score well with their own. Shrewd players do both.Wits and Wagers. North Star, $29.99. 20 min. 3 to 7 players or teams, ages 10 and up.Wits and Wagers, Family Edition. North Star, $19.99. 20 min. 3 to 7 players or teams, ages 8 and up.
Wits and Wagers can be thought of as Trivial Pursuit 2.0, which takes the traditional question-asking model and adds a social layer to the game. Players, alone or in teams, are asked a question with a numerical answer. They write their best guess on a placard and toss it into the middle of the table. The answers are then arranged in numerical order to create a series of choices. In the second part of each round, players then place wagers on which answer is closest without going over. While players get a few points for providing the best answer, more points are awarded for correct wagers. Therefore, players can do well by either knowing the answers or knowing who might know the answer. The family edition is a simplified version of Wits and Wagers, with questions more appropriate for children; however, there are only 300 questions in the family version, some of which come from current popular culture, and, therefore, the family version will not age as well as the basic edition.
Gaming Experience: Since all players are guessing and placing wagers simultaneously, the pressure that is typically experienced during a trivia game where one player answers the question is gone. Instead, everyone is playing, thinking, laughing, and talking in this social experience.
Tips for a Board Gaming Program
Patrons are more likely to be interested in a board game if it is laid out and ready to play; if they just see boxes, they will look at the boxes but will most likely not open them.
Invite People to Play
A personal invitation of “Would you like to try a game that’s like playing in a game show?” will be more successful than an announcement of “A Wits and Wagers game is starting.”
Be Ready to Teach the Game
Don’t expect patrons to read the rules and teach themselves how to play. These games are best when the introduction, rules, and first few turns are facilitated. It is easier to facilitate board-game programs by not playing in the games but, rather, moving from table to table to help players along.
Suggest Games with Similar Appeal
As one game ends, ask the group if they would like to try a different game that has some similarities to the one they just finished. Ask players what they like and don’t like about the game, and use that information to select another one.
Keep the Pieces
If pieces go missing, contact the publisher of the game. Many publishers will be able to supply replacement pieces if the game is still in print.
Scott Nicholson is Associate Professor at the School of Information Studies, Syracuse University, and runs the Library Game Lab of Syracuse. He also reviews games at Board Games with Scott.
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