This is re-blogged from a School Library Journal blog entry. Zulama students in the Games Through the Ages Video Game Academy course should find this particularly interesting!
Liz Danforth February 2, 2011
Library users, particularly teens and tweens, love game consoles and the Wii, but board games are also consistently popular in libraries nationwide. A recent study by Scott Nicholson, a game-focused professor from the Syracuse University iSchool, recommends that libraries offer a variety of formats to serve their increasingly diverse audiences. You probably know what electronic games to offer, but you also need to hunt up good board games as well.
What Should I Buy?
Which board games should you add to your collection? There are so many out there! Despite unfamiliar names and unusual mechanics, take the time to explore today’s Eurogames, which are sometimes called designer games, since many of them bear the name of their ‘creator. In general, the handle “Eurogame” includes a broad class of tabletop games that have simple rules, short to medium playing times, indirect player interaction, and physical components, such as wooden tokens or markers. In contrast to the old standards like Clue, Monopoly, and Sorry, these newer games emphasize strategy, downplay luck and conflict, lean toward economic rather than military themes, and usually keep all the players in the game until it ends.
But keep in mind, there’s not a single list of designer games that’s going to be “The One List.” The games listed below offer options for teen and tween players. (For a list of recommended games for beginning players, see my article “Gateway, or ‘Bait’ Games,” and for more complex games, see “Gateway Games: Up a Level“—both appeared in Library Journal.)
Remember Your Audience
Games typically say “for age N and up,” where N is often a single digit number. This gives the appearance that the game is aimed at young kids, whereas many modern games are really intended for a somewhat more sophisticated audience. If your eight year olds read well and have the reasoning power and attention spans of middle schoolers, they’ll do fine. These games expect players to think through stipulations and rules, form strategies, and envision alternative outcomes. For teenagers, the serious hobby games start to kick in but usually not until the late teens unless an older sibling, parent, or friend initiates them into the hobby. For the uninitiated, hobby games include role-playing games, collectible card games, miniatures games, and war games.
A Few Suggestions
Ticket to Ride. Many “must-have” lists start with this classic gateway game. (Gateway games represent the lighter, easier segment of hobby games.) Presented with a map of North America (for the original 2004 game), players draw cards and secretly assign them to connect various major destinations by rail. This is accomplished by playing the right number and color of train cards on the available routes. Strategic planning starts early, well before your opponents’ moves start limiting the more obvious options.
It usually takes less than an hour to play this game and it works equally well for three to five players, ages eight and older. Adults get full enjoyment from the game’s challenges. The game is easy to teach and learn, and high school and academic librarians will find it has the added allure of supporting geography and history curricula. Aside from the North American map, there are variants featuring the Nordic countries or Europe. The Märklin edition focuses on Germany and the Märklin line of model trains, and there is also a 1910 North America variant.
Settlers of Catan. I have to tip my hat to one of the most popular modern board games. Players take the role of colonists settling virgin territory, and there’s a map built of tiles laid in new patterns for every game. Quintessentially about resource management, players construct roads, settlements, and cities from their own materials or by vigorous horse-trading with other players. Random elements from cards and dice introduce uncertainties to be strategically exploited, keeping everyone involved to the very end.
The game plays best with three to four people, ages 10 and up. I usually see older teens and adults playing because most games take about an hour and a half to wrap up, and the strategies can be complex. It helps to have someone familiar with it to explain the rules the first time around. The popularity of the game means you should easily find someone to fulfill this requirement, and the game is well worth the trouble if you cannot.
Ra. What library isn’t familiar with school projects about ancient Egypt? This is the game to capture the imagination of those who can tell Isis from Osiris. The game is visually appealing and easy to learn, and it has a familiar theme. Players bid on tiles to advance their position in the game, seeking to makes sets that will improve their culture and technology, build monuments, and influence the great powers. At the end of three rounds (or “epochs”), the tiles are scored and the winner is revealed.
The publisher recommends ages 12 and up, reflecting the need to assess the relative values of tiles and when to push ahead or to wait. It’s a tricky balance, but the simple mechanics and elegance of the rules make it an engaging game that can be completed in an hour. Although it’s recommended for three to four players, as many as five can take part. Note that while the official website is in German, the designer’s native language, information in English can be found at Boardgamegeek.com.
Puerto Rico. Players are cast as Spanish grandees in colonial times, running their estates as businesses in competition with other plantation owners. Strategic decisions revolve around growing crops that are desired back home, building up factories in San Juan, selling finished goods or shipping raw materials at the most propitious times, and supporting the colonials. Set in a colorful period of history, the economic management of production and distribution makes this another game with a leg up for high school and academic librarians. This game for teens and older folks takes around an hour and half to play, and is perfect for three to five players.
If your gamers insist on electronic games, all the games mentioned above have online multiplayer versions. Most versions are free; some are pay to play.
In addition, you can find many more board games playable online at sites like YourTurnMyTurn or Pogo. Pogo features many of the classics, such as Scrabble, Monopoly, Yahtzee, andRisk. I’ve recently discovered the online solitaire gameEntanglement, which is similar to one of my favorite (and very simple) library board games, Tsuro. Make it a competitive tournament in your laptop mobile lab by recording high scores, with leader boards and double elimination.
This article originally appeared in School Library Journal‘s enewsletterSLJTeen. Subscribe here.