Thursday, June 27, 2013

Boarding Pass, episode 2: The Hobbit card game

For this second entry in my Boarding Pass series, I’m inaugurating a little faceted analysis of the games reviewed.  These represent my initial effort at breaking down some key facts about every game, developed after not a little bit of research through sources like Board Game Geek and by playing and playing and thinking and playing.  I want to capture both the traditional game-y info that people would want to know for the purposes of actually playing, as well as the more--dare I say--artistic considerations, such as board games’ very own versions of genre and medium.  Am I missing anything key?  Is something I have included superfluous?  Are any of those listed here unclear in purpose to you? Please do let me know! Now, on to the post...

  • Game medium: Card game
  • Game genre: Unknown! Any thoughts?*
  • Context genre: High fantasy (Tolkien’s Middle-Earth and The Hobbit)
  • Mechanic type(s): Trick-taking
  • Player role: Prosaic (literary characters)
  • Number of players: 2-5
  • Time for setup: Quick
  • Time for play: 10 minutes - infinity

*Two typical genres listed by some experts are Ameritrash--super complex, super thematic games--and wargames, which are somewhat self explanatory.  I’m open to making up new genres!  What could we call subtle, mildly thematic, engaging yet low-key gameslike this?  British-style Games? ;-)

Picture from


In a game that expands and contracts for the number of players around the table, the forces of light and shadow face off in a war that brings together orcs, elves, spiders, wargs and all the rest of the races of Middle-Earth.  A simple bid and trick mechanic dressed up in the trappings of The Hobbit makes for an engaging entree into themed gaming.

Play as Thorin, Bilbo and Gandalf on the side of goodness or as Smaug and Bolg from the seedier side of Tolkiana.  Each card has a value, and the higher bid wins the trick--allowing the player to assign damage, health, or bonus draws where it will be most helpful to his cause, whether pure or nefarious.

My thoughts

This game is simple, but it borders on addictive.  It was my first experience with the trick-taking mechanic, and The Hobbit card game demonstrates that it is effective outside the realm of faux-economics or casino lite games; it’s simply a fast-moving inroad to a lot of subtle strategy.  It’s not so easy as to just always assign damage to your foe and health to yourself, as health for one faction doubles as damage for the other, and vice versa; you have to weigh your strikes against the hits you think you can sustain safely.

Things are nicely balanced and play out in such a way that each faction, and even each character, approaches the game in a different way.  Smaug is a powerhouse, absorbing loads of damage while dishing out even more, as well as discarding threats to himself and help for his foes.  The good guys, meanwhile, perhaps in token of their more benevolent nature, are unable to discard at all, leading to situations where you have no choice but to hurt yourself or help your enemy.  This makes for interesting choices and delicate expressions of power: you might choose to lose a trick now and then rather inflict pain on yourself (even though, yeah, I know, the baddies will just do it to you then, but hey, there’s a psychological factor here).

There really isn’t too, too much here that screams “Hobbit!” in the actual gameplay; yeah, each character’s unique rules for disposing of won tricks sort of broadly reflect their literary personalities, but not in any kind of quintessential way.  The theme is light but effective enough in mirroring the literary modus operandi of the characters to lend a bit of impetus to in-game choices.  What really marries the theme into the game is the beautiful artwork on each card, delightfully reminiscent of the classic art in the Middle-Earth canon.  It makes perfect sense, for example, that “Dragonfire” would be a devastating attack, so placing it as a high-value card depicting Smaug’s desolation (sorry) makes great sense.

If you’re familiar with the card game Crazy Eights, this is essentially a souped-up version of that.  It satisfies and it’s compulsive.  It’s not the most complex marriage of theme and mechanic, but it’s a good starter game for fantasy enthusiasts interested in getting into the gaming artform.

Library Use

  • Good simple game for beginners; neither too long nor too quick
  • Opportunity to connect novice players to the more experienced who can talk them through the rules
  • Illustrates a mild but effective marriage of theme and mechanics to enhance gameplay--works to illustrate this principle of modern gaming to novices
  • With the second of three Hobbit movies due this holiday season, this game might provide extra pull to your library for game programming!

Thursday, June 20, 2013


It's just about a week until that holiest of weekends, the American Library Association Annual Conference.  This year it will be held in Chicago, Illinois (for fun and profit) and, as I believe I mentioned in my inaugural post, I'll be attending with three other freshly-hatched librarians from the UB LIS program!  We're all very excited, especially as this year's theme is Science-Fiction and Fantasy: The Factual and the Counterfactual.  Oh no, wait, it's Experimentation and Innovation in Libraries: What We Can Learn from Startups. No, that's not it! My mistake.  It's Introduction to RDA and Ontologies for the Semantic Web.

Not really.  In fact, the conference doesn't actually have a theme; the three that I listed above are merely the names of three of the many programs happening across the four days librarians take over the Windy City.  The many, many programs.  I mean, unless the tagline on the ALA Annual website--"Transforming our libraries, ourselves"--is meant to be a theme, in which case it's so general as to be not really very useful, and, based on my very thorough survey of all those programs, not particularly binding of presenters' focus--which, we can all agree, rather defeats the purpose of having a theme at all.

Now, I don't really mind this, myself.  We have a varied field and we all approach our corners of it in our own way.  I would rather give all my librarian buddies full range in which to develop presentations and poster sessions and so forth than force them all into any particular thematic cubbyhole for the year, however expansive a cubbyhole it may be. (And, again, expansiveness of theme has a certain limit beyond which it starts to get self-defeating.)

But I did run across a peer voicing concern with this tendency toward sprawl on a social network group the other day.  He worries that the breadth of offerings at ALA Annual bespeak a certain lack of coherence and discipline on the part of our profession.  And despite my above approbation, I think he has a point.

You can't take my approval of sprawl as evidence that everything is dandy--I am, after all, lacking in coherence and discipline myself.  My ALA schedule runs the gamut from graphic novels to Deaf culture to LGBTQ support to late-night programming and LITERALLY EVERYTHING in between.  If I could tame my own incoherence I might be happier, but I would almost certainly have less fun.

So is that it--is our profession undisciplined?  Are we less of a single body than, say, dentists?  (A dangerous force, dentists.)  Are we the professional equivalent of the over-involved college student, desperate for a snatch of everything campus life has to offer--drama club, newspaper, debate team, track and field--taking part in a little bit of everything but excelling at nothing? When the Meta-Librarian gets together with the Ur-Dentist and the Quintessential CPA and all the other Professionals Up In The Sky, are we the guy whose face everybody knows but whose name they can't place?  Is that the source of our under-appreciation and our embattlement in society at large?

We are very good at some specialized things, and I would never give up our engagement in the cultural, intellectual, and academic lives of our patrons.  And I still believe that's a good thing.  But is it possible there is a better thing? A leaner, meaner librarian? Slam, bam, reference interview, thank you, ma'am?

I think it bears some questioning.  As long as we keep all the extra-curriculars I'm interested in; I'll work on my self-discipline later.  Meanwhile, I think my dentist would REALLY like to hear about my Deaf LGBTQ overnight treasure hunt program idea.

UPDATE: "Transforming our libraries, ourselves" is, in fact, the conference theme.  I guess that's cool!

Friday, June 14, 2013

The David A. Howe Public Library

How about a picture essay! Let's take a virtual swing around the David A. Howe Public Library in Wellsville, Allegany County, New York--my mother's hometown library and social and intellectual incubator.  (Hi, Mom.)

The 76-year-old building is full of beautiful architectural touches and accessories.

The spacious reading room and research area is studded with helpful little pamphlets, like this one spelling out the library system's online catalog...
...and this one about the Dewey Decimal System. I haven't seen a resource in quite this user-friendly format before!  Maybe in academic libraries, but not public, in my experience.
A lot of nice 'soft programming' (I just made that up, I think)--

--invitations to the community to interact with the collection and intellectual material in self-directed, meaningful ways.

The children's room is the heart of the building.  Those chairs, that table, the toys and posters...all original from the 30s.  What an amazing place to learn to read.

Nice touches of local flavor abound, like this painting in a meeting room showing the famous Wellsville Balloon Rally.

There are lots of things that make this a perfectly fabulous library.  It seems distinctly suited to serving the needs of its community--quiet yet active, with a lot of focus on its sizable print collection (the above photo underscoring the collection of photo books, for instance, or a daily-shifting author birthday display near the front door that shakes occasionally-dusty classics to the top of browsers' considerations).  On the other side of things, the Howe seems dedicated to ensuring its patrons come along with its 21st-century advancements through its handy pamphlets and guides to technology.  All in all, the building carries a sedate, weighty presence appropriate to its position as a local landmark; and yet there's a vibrancy to the proceedings as well, between its sprightly children's room complete with Batman action figure and the full-size theatre in the basement.  My grandmother once staged a full-scale production of an original kids' play there--my earliest experience with some seriously non-traditional library service. (Perhaps I have her and the David A. Howe Library to thank for my interest in such things!)

If you find yourself in the southern Tier, consider taking a look around this great institution.  And if that's not in the plan, why not poke around the library website instead?

Friday, June 7, 2013

Bonus Post

Just wanted to highlight this comment on an article found here, continuing the interminable conversation on what to call the people who use our institutions:

scades  Mollie  7 days ago
"Client" is exactly right. Librarians, like faculty members, have a body of knowledge and skills that they can bring to bear to assist those who seek their services, not as commodities, but as valuable to each individual, dependent on unique needs. Just as accountants, lawyers, etc., we, as professionals, offer services that users may seek, or not. But our users do not seek one-size-fits-all mass-produced products, as do "customers." So let's convince our colleagues and administrators that "client" is the appropriate word.

Personally I'm not into the word 'client,' but I love this person's definition of who our, er, clients are and why they make use of us.

Or to go in another direction, maybe we should start referring to our customers as 'library pets.'

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Shoulder to Shoulder

The NYPL notes that this particular branch of their system, the Chatham Square Library, has been serving the Chinese-American population of its neighborhood since the early 20th century--just about exactly when there started to be a Chinese-American population to serve.  It has evidently adapted well to the context it has found itself in.

Our libraries stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the other facets of the communities we live in, as this photo reminds us in beautifully concrete terms.  Whether you're talking the urgent needs of a new immigrant group or the comfortable wants of an entrenched subculture, the library has got it.

Or rather, it should.  Remember that we are here to represent you, in a truer way than any politician or pop culture figure can or wants to.  If there is a need you do not feel is being addressed by your library, tell the librarians!  It is our ambition to do everything in our power to serve you.

And if your home library (because they are, after all, a kind of home for all of us) has suffered cutbacks in recent years--or decades--or is under threat now, step up to the line with them, brush shoulders, mingle your greatness, and refuse to take the cut without a fight.

Here's a neat way you can do that. It's a start, at least. If you decide to share your story over there, let me know in a comment!