Most board games are explicitly designed to encourage social interaction. At a time when many parents and educators are worried about the passive, isolated consumption of digital media, board games get people of different backgrounds engaging with each other across a table, solving problems, improving a number of practical skills, and having a good time. When looked at from this perspective, board games cannot be dismissed as mere diversions but are instead critical to the library’s mission to foster community and lifelong learning.
As with any collection, damage and loss is inevitable, but many pieces in tabletop games are replaceable or can use an alternative stand-in. To build a collection, you can solicit donations and reach out to publishers as many of them are often very excited to work with libraries. Publishers may donate games or provide a reasonable discount. Also publishers will often work with you to provide replacement parts if your games end up losing pieces. Another option when a copy loses pieces is to replace that copy and make the old one a parts copy for new games.
Games that are quick to learn and language-independent, such as Qwirkle, Tsuro, and Ubongo, can help bring together players who speak different languages. Many board games, especially cooperative games, are great at bringing together people of different backgrounds - that’s why they fit so well into a library’s mission!
- International Games Week - An annual initiative of the American Library Association to reconnect communities through their libraries around the educational, recreational, and social value of all types of games. It’s a great opportunity for families to get out of the house and play together in the one community institution that welcomes everyone.
- International Tabletop Day - A Geek & Sundry initiative that “brings us back to the table to remind us why we play and to give thanks to those who make every roll of the dice exciting.”
- Pokémon League - Libraries can apply to become “club leagues” and host official Pokémon League meetups.
- Aligned to common core standards and 21st Century Learning
- Using games for creative writing, by To Play is Human
- Designing board games about climate change (you can modify for other topics), by To Play is Human
Collection Development Recommendations
- Blue Orange Games - Attractive, easy-to-learn, inexpensive games for children and families. The Spot It! series contains matching games that are tailored to toddlers and preschoolers, while the original Spot It! works for kids and adults. Tell Tale is a great storytelling game that can be played without rules and for the sheer fun of building a story.
- Brain Games - Brain Games focuses on kids, family, and party games that are generally easy to learn and feature bright, colorful art. ICECOOL is an award winning game from their catalog and other fun games include Doodle Rush, Game of Trains, and Farm Rescue.
- HABA USA - HABA games, in their signature yellow box, are well-designed and sturdy kids games. You wouldn’t go wrong with any of them, but some of the best are Animal upon Animal, Dancing Eggs, Rhino Hero, and Secret Code 13+4
- Peaceable Kingdom - Cooperative games for young children, with simple rules sets and beautiful artwork and design.
- Classics like Candy Land and Guess Who that early skills like colors, progressive movement, taking turns, and pattern recognition.
- Flashlights & Fireflies - “Get ready for a backyard dash-through-the-dark in this game of firefly-powered flashlight freeze tag! First, catch fireflies to power up your flashlight, then shine it on other players before they sneak back to home base. All along, watch out for bats, raccoons, and other nighttime critters that are out to trip up your tracks.”
- Memory games - several publishers have variations on the Original Memory game and refer to them as “matching games” instead of Memory.
- Yeti in My Spaghetti - “No one knows why, but a yeti is sitting on the spaghetti. Spaghetti is laid across a bowl and the yeti is placed on top. Players take turns taking spaghetti from the bowl using a single hand and the player who knocks the yeti into the bowl loses.”
King of Tokyo - “Play mutant monsters, gigantic robots, and strange aliens—all of whom are destroying Tokyo and whacking each other in order to become the one and only King of Tokyo.”
Munchkin (this also comes in various themed expansions, including zombies, steampunk, Axe Cop, and Adventure Time) - A card game with loose rules that encourages players to turn on one another. “You and your friends compete to kill monsters and grab magic items.”
Fluxx - “The card game with ever changing rules! It starts out simple: draw one card and play one card – but New Rule cards quickly make things chaotic.”
Social Deduction Games (The Resistance, One Night Ultimate Werewolf, Two Rooms and a Boom) - These games have shorter rules sets that encourages social literacy, persuasive language, and a lot of laughter.
Stonemaier Games - Publishers of popular games like Wingspan, Between Two Cities, and Euphoria.
Uwe Rosenberg - prolific game designer who designed hits like Agricola, Caverna, and Cottage Garden.
Acquire - This classic real estate game is a great replacement for Monopoly.
Power Grid - A more modern step up from Monopoly. An economic game that has a host of expansions that add variety to the game.
Bananagrams: For those who like SCRABBLE, but want something fast paced and adaptive to a variety of player numbers. In Bananagrams, players are trying to use all of their letters to make a criss-cross of words. Once someone has used their letters, they call “Peel”, and everybody takes two more letters and re-works their puzzles.
Cat Lady - “You and your fellow cat ladies will draft cards three at a time, collecting toys, food, catnip, costumes, and of course lovable cats. But watch out! Make sure you have enough food for all of your feline friends or your hungry cats will subtract points from your score.”
Patchwork - “Two players compete to build the most aesthetic (and high-scoring) patchwork quilt on a personal 9x9 game board.”
Qwirkle - A straightforward abstract game with chunky wooden tiles and large, colorful symbols. It plays like Scrabble but without the letters and the cutthroat tactics.
Popular gateway games - Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, and Catan.
ICECOOL - A dexterity game where players flick penguin pawns around the board (a penguin school) to collect fish and evade the hall monitor!
Splendor - The is Spiel des Jahres Nominee is soon to join the ranks of the trilogy, making it a tetralogy. Very simple gameplay and mechanics, but great choices and engine building and the components are an excellent draw too. Works remarkably well with adults and kids playing together.
Going, Going, GONE! - This is a 30-minute auction game for 2-6 players that is easy to teach and draws people over.
Tsuro - In Tsuro, players are trying to stay alive in a rapidly growing maze of twisty pathways. Each turn, players add tiles to make their pathways longer while avoiding running in to anyone else or going off the board.
Chess - Classic strategy. Chess classes, competitions and events can still draw a crowd.
Go - Easy to learn, hard to master, and tends to equalize players across age gaps (adults and children compete at identical levels in the early stages of learning Go). Check out the American Go Foundation for a free starter set: http://agfgo.org/pages/starter-set.php.
Selecting games is like selecting any other resources for your library. Knowing your audience, their temperaments and tastes, goes a long way to helping you select the right resources. Having patron driven advisory committees can give good insight to the interests and aversions of your communities and help you make better selections.
Consider carefully the length of the program and how much time your attendees are willing to spend playing a game. While you may enjoy a 2-hour game of Catan, it might not be appropriate for a setting where games are only played for 15 minutes.
Also consider the need to have someone teach and/or facilitate a game. At a gaming program, most attendees are not willing to take the time to read the rules to a game. If something is too complex, then a volunteer will have to spend a significant amount of time teaching a game.
How can I reduce loss?
- Hold a library card at the desk and ask that one player take responsibility for the set
- Have access to a 3D printer? Print replacement pieces!
- Purchase games that can be played even if some pieces go missing (Dixit, Word on the Street, Set, Timeline, Spot It!, Wits & Wagers).
- Purchase games that have pieces that could be replaced (colored pawns, dice, cubes, etc.).
- Purchase games that are inexpensive enough that they could be replaced for less than the cost of a paperback (Love Letter, Zombie Dice, Bananagrams, Set, Hanabi, Coloretto, Fluxx).
- Cannibalize donated or damaged games for their parts to use as replacements
- Do not allow games to be returned via book drops - require returns at service desks.
- Once you have a collection of games ready to circulate, establish a policy on how you will charge for missing pieces and damage (Small charge for missing essential pieces? No charge unless game is unplayable?).
- From the world of library science
- Board in the Library - blog with game reviews, game info sheets, and MARC records
- Bucks County Free Library - a set of informative pages on various board games set up by the Bucks County Free Library. Great for figuring out what to play next, as well as for zooming in on the skills various games teach.
- Four Bored Gamers - YouTube channel with game reviews and convention updates
- Inverse Genius - podcast and blog about games in schools and libraries
- League of Librarian Gamers - ALA GameRT Facebook Group
- To Play is Human - blog with game reviews, program plans, and game lists
- BoardGameGeek - “A board game database - a collection or catalog of data and information on traditional board games. The game information recorded here is intended for posterity, historical research, and user-contributed ratings.”
- Dice Tower podcasts & videos
- Inside Voices Network - “Inside Voices is more than a podcast network. We're a community of artists and listeners. We're dedicated to bringing people together over tables and couches, and celebrating analog hobbies in this digital world.”
- Shut Up & Sit Down video reviews of board games
- TableTop web series on Youtube (for understanding what might be popular with people dipping into the hobby)
- How to Play Tutorial Videos
Books, Journal Articles, & Webinars
Copeland, T., Henderson, B., Mayer, B., & Nicholson, S. (2013). Three Different Paths for Tabletop Gaming in School Libraries. Library Trends, 61(4), 825-835. doi:10.1353/lib.2013.0018
Hays, L., McNair, K. (Presenter). (2017, April 27). The Name of the Game: Playing Tabletop Games to Build 21st Century Skills . Retrieved from https://www.webjunction.org/events/webjunction/name-of-the-game.html.
Heron, M. J., Belford, P. H., Reid, H., & Crabb, M. (2018). Meeple Centred Design: A Heuristic Toolkit for Evaluating the Accessibility of Tabletop Games. The Computer Games Journal. doi:10.1007/s40869-018-0057-8.
Mayer, B., & Harris, C. (2010). Libraries got game: Aligned learning through modern board games. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.
Nicholson, S. (2010). Everyone plays at the library: Creating great gaming experiences for all ages. Medford, NJ: Information Today.
Robson, D., Phillips, J., & Guerrero, S. (2018). Don’t Just Roll the Dice: Simple Solutions for Circulating Tabletop Game Collections Effectively in Your Library. Library Resources & Technical Services, 62(2), 80–90. doi: 10.5860/lrts.62n2.80
Stubbs, J. (2014). Traditional Board Games: From Ameritrash to Eurogames. In Teen Games Rule!: A Librarian’s Guide to Platforms and Programs (65-88). Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.