Sunday, August 4, 2013


Just a quick post today as I prepare (mostly mentally) to fly to Aspen and see my boyfriend at his summer gig as an orchestra librarian at the Aspen Music Festival...

If you’ve read through most of my dozen or so blog posts so far, you may have noticed that I have a thing for ‘modern’ board games.  Unlike most of the gamers of this type out there, I am a relatively recent convert, so I’ve dived in headlong and am trying to learn about the medium on several levels at once--its fundamentals, its pedagogical value, its library value, etc--while simultaneously trying to sample as much of it as I can.  

I just wanted to write briefly about another aspect of the whole thing I’m pretty jazzed about--not merely consuming board games, but producing them.

It’s a really cool, rigorous mental exercise, and it’s fun too.  You can make a board game out of anything--go ahead, pick your favorite novel and try it.  The puzzle is in how to express the source material or domain’s flavor thematically, what game mechanisms to use that will be fun and play into the chosen theme, the ever-confounding matter of game balance, the object of the game, scoring, and how to trigger the end--it’s really hours and hours of the most fun labor you’ll have.

I’m currently working on my own little board game based on one of my favorite fantasy literature properties, the Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson.  Okay, so it’s huge and sprawling and will probably take 20 hours to play (once I decide HOW to win the game, anyway, rather than my current play-into-infinity model--which is actually kinda thematically appropriate...).  

That’s the thing--in the world of modern board games, epic is okay.  And in this case, I didn’t want to ape the tendency other amateur designers have had to make a Wheel of Time territory control game (think “Risk” or my previously-reviewed “Game of Thrones: The Board Game.”)  Yeah, armies marching and nations falling are very important in these books, but there’s a human and interpersonal element that trumps all that.  The modern board game is a great medium to explore these more literary concerns, and actually put living human beings in the position of enacting them--getting them to think more deeply about the events of a book, and the conventions of a genre, as they do so.

But I’ve just had a ball deciding such things as whom, exactly, each player is playing; how to represent the world’s unique magic system, which is described like a kind of metaphysical weaving of five different materials into beautiful and destructive patterns; and just as important, how to represent the books’ pervasive theme of mistrust and intrigue and hidden danger alongside the rewards of all-too-infrequent collaboration.

I guess you could say it’s sort of like “Guess Who?” meets “Battleship” with, yes, a hint of “Risk” in there.  It’ll all take place on a giant map, after all.

Board game design would make an awesome library program, one that I intend to experiment with as soon as some nice library decides to hire me.  The games that our patrons create needn’t be as complex as the one  I describe and the ones that board game enthusiasts love to dig into; but of course, they needn’t not be, either.  Who knows what our patrons might come up with when we let them loose with some knowledge of game design?

To make a program even more library-relevant, if a little less free-wheeling, make it a challenge for participants to design a board game based on a classic work of literature that they choose.  Deciding how to represent Wuthering Heights on a piece of cardboard with a plastic “Sorry!” pawn representing Heathcliff might teach young adults more about the novel than any SparkNote could.

(And thank you, Wikipedia gods, for informing me that there actually is a Wuthering Heights role-playing game, which I did not know when I wrote that paragraph.  But--point proved!)

I would like to base my next game design venture on another topic very near and dear to me: librarianship.  Dear readers, what do you think some critical elements of a good library board game would be?

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