Days of a Game Librarian

I work as the curator of a board game bar and café. This is just a place that I hope to put out some musings of what my job is, reflections on games, my average day to day and other things that I love about my job.

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Spirit Island

Evan Welsh
United States
Tempe
Arizona
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October 24th 2021
Saturday was kinda rough, I got into work and it was pretty slow for the first few hours and then it felt like all of a sudden we just got hit. One of the first tables I got to talk to was wanting to play Spirit Island. Starting off the day right. What a treat that game is to share with new players. My table did really well which is something I was thankful for. When it gets to Saturday night and we get busy sometimes it feels like there is no way that I can be there all the time. So I set them up and ran them through all the concepts and then I had to just let them go. There were questions that they asked but for the most part they were on their own and really succeeded with that. Which means all the honors go to them, well done guys.
For those readers who don’t know Spirit Island is a co-op where each player gets to control their own unique island spirit. You work together playing cards to manage the board, scaring off or killing the invaders' towns and cities while they try to build and blight your island. I think I have a soft spot for Spirit Island. For a co-operative game it gives a really great sense of individualism. Quarterbacking, or having someone who knows the game tell you what you should be doing, is a problem I think in all games. Co-operative games however take that to a new level where it can go really wrong since you’re working together. Looking at Spirit Island this problem is alleviated by a complex enough game where players are unable to quarterback because they have so many of their own problems and abilities to manage. I can’t tell everyone else what to play while concentrating on myself. Plus, Spirit Island has just a beautiful merging of mechanics and themes I can’t help but appreciate. One day I want to make my own game and I think Spirit Island will definitely serve as inspiration for how well the world building ties into the construction of the game. It feels like every card is unique and shows the narrative elements that in the world of the game would create the mechanical effects. One example of which I can give is a card called “Gold’s Allure” You get to gather an explorer and a town into the targeted land, and you also add a strife. The explorer and town belong to the invaders and they flock to the area that has the gold. Strife is basically a token that represents infighting between the invaders. All of the actions taken on the card are really well surmised by “Gold’s Allure.” It creates a miniature gold rush and then the invaders are gonna be focused on gathering gold and staking their claim that they aren’t able to focus on the island spirits. I am sure there are plenty of games that do this but Spirit Island I think stands head and shoulders above everything else with just how well it does it. I would really like to do something like that one day, but am well aware of the work that would entail. So for now I will just appreciate all of the work the Spirit Island team did.
I would love to talk to the designers about it and learn how they went about structuring and creating the incredible world that Spirit Island takes place in. Where do you start, how do you balance things, how do you assign the elemental markers? What ideas got rejected for cards because they might be too complex or too easy? You just know that the development process must have been such an incredible learning experience. I would love to peek behind the curtain to see what they got to experience.
Well writing this has made me want to play a lot more Spirit Island, I know what I am doing tomorrow.

As always thank you for reading,
Ev
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Sun Oct 24, 2021 8:59 pm
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October 23rd: Stacked, On Tour, and Rulebooks

Evan Welsh
United States
Tempe
Arizona
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What is so good about dexterity games? Anyone who knows me will testify that I love dexterity games. The silly ones, the serious ones, all of them. I love the careful or frantic manipulation of pieces. And my love of dexterity games is multifaceted because I think they have a lot more going for them than a lot of people give the credit for. I got to teach Stacked last night and man, it’s a hit! It is such an incredibly simple game in terms of concept and rules. I was with a table that was looking to have people who could jump in and jump out without really any problems. Stacked really fit that bill. Yeah you might lose some points with individual rounds getting scored and then someone walks away for a bit but their group had like sixty people in it. That means it was going to be the Wild Wild West in terms of player count. A game that locked them in would have just resulted in them losing interest in playing. We got them all set up and they played for easily two hours. What a great time! And as I was thinking about Stacked I was thinking about how easy it is to house rule. I never get to the point with a lot of games that I feel the need to modify stuff to keep it new and interesting, there are always more games to play resulting in me feeling like I never really have played a game to completion (man that’s a topic to talk about later) but with Stacked every round can be harder or easier because it is a game that is so easy to tweak. I have added a rule that no piece can touch another piece of the same color, pieces cannot touch more than two other pieces, and every piece must have an overhang. All of these speed along the game a little bit and I like that feeling. I think that the game needs a little bit of aggression. I haven't messed around and played the trick taking style of the game or the solo version but I think I have about as much game as I want from Stacked.

I also taught On Tour last night. I have always found it strangely complex to give to tables even though it has one of the shortest rulebooks ever. It is always strange to watch tales flounder after they have looked over the rulebook for that one. I guess it just does a lot of things differently that a lot of first time players are not necessarily expecting out of a game. The easiest way to teach it seems to be strongarming people through the first two rounds of it and then moving on to let them go from there. It is kinda strange though to think about games that have incredibly short rule books yet seem to be a lot bigger than they initially appear. But the inverse is also true, there are some games that I find having large rulebooks that are actually mostly fluff and filler, with a really simple and straightforward game on them than the rulebook leads you to beleive.

Santorini for example (a personal favorite of mine) the game has like a one page rule book for the basic version. But then why is it that people become overwhelmed with it so easily. I want to make it clear that I am placing no blame on the people who are struggling with it, for heaven knows I have been in that situation many times before. I think that one of the things I see with that is the language and the specific wording of the games. Santorini and On Tour have very specific and well chosen words in their rules. With that it allows their rulebooks to have all the answers in there but you might not necessarily see them because they are almost hidden within the words. Whereas other games will have bullet points and whole sections that tell you what could have been communicated in just one well crafted sentence. With some games I understand why they do it though, like Betrayal at House on the Hill, which has a massive nineteen page rulebook wants to include all the potential edge cases and judgement calls. I rewrote it once for a friend into four pages, (granted I was in Microsoft Word and working on 8 ½ by 11 while they're pages are a little bit smaller) but still I think that the idea of writing the game rules in such an intimidating way is so disappointing for publishers to do. I realize they want to cover everything and I get that writing the rulebook is not as fun as making the game but there needs to be someone out there who finds a better way to write these important parts of games. Leder games, for one example, have great rulebooks. They’re well constructed to guide you through the game. I should get on the rewriting game again, I really liked doing that. I think that if game publishers made more of an effort into making their rulebooks accessible to audiences in terms of organization they would help fight the stigma against big board games being too hard and complex for casual gamers. It would also put me out of the job in a way, having unhelpful rulebooks helps me teach more games to people who can’t learn the games themselves. Maybe it just means that I should be the one rewriting them, I have enough experience teaching their games for one thing.
Once again I am running late to work, thank you for reading
Ev
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Sat Oct 23, 2021 11:45 pm
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October 21st: Superfight, Terra, and When I Dream

Evan Welsh
United States
Tempe
Arizona
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I got to teach some great games yesterday. I got to work and went about cleaning and prepping some games. And then we had a party of like ten people come in. They had some kids with them but most of them were teens and adults. They were looking for something for the adults that would be fun but not gonna be too hard or raunchy. We talked about a few options and decided on Superfight. I only teach one version of Superfight, which for a game so flexible I know there are different ways to play. I think the best way is the Super Villain version of it however. One person makes a super villain by playing a character card and an attribute card from their hand, and then draws a random attribute card. Everyone else makes a superhero, playing a character and an attribute card from their hands facedown but also getting to play an attribute card onto the hero to their right. I love this system because if you have bad cards, they still help you by making someone else's life worse and your hand is never going to fill with garbage like other games in that genre. Then everyone reveals their cards, arguing that their hero is better than everyone else's.

Round one’s super villain : A Polar bear with acid blood and a bow with unlimited arrows.
The first hero revealed. A snake with hands instead of feet and throws bears.

This couldn’t have gone better setting them all up and having that reveal. I had to get going before they resolved the round but having the card “throws bears” seems like it makes the snake a strong contender. I am not sure how I should have ruled the throwing bear mechanic, but it’s Superfight so the rule of cool i guess takes the cake. And I would like to give mad props to the lady who played the snake because it was a perfect performative reveal.

We have been trying to buff our trivia section, finding some better titles to include in there. We were able to get a copy of Terra by Friedemann Friese (I was not expecting to see his name on a trivia game) but I was a little surprised by how much I loved it. I got to teach it last night as well. I think when it comes to trivia games balancing things can often be really difficult, writing good trivia questions is challenging. I grew up playing my parents copy of Trivial Pursuit a couple times and learned that trivia games age poorly. Their copy had questions that were out dated and went in one ear and out the other. I’ve learned that the impact of a question is important. If you know it, that’s great. If you don’t know it, the question needs to be interesting enough for you to still know it tomorrow (Wits and Wagers, you get a pass). I think that Terra does an incredible job with this, in making questions that are impactful and memorable. I have noticed a typo on one of the cards but I am not gonna be picky. If you have a good trivia game that I just gotta have for the library please let me know.

I ended the night by having another big group (this time nine players) roll in and say,

“Hey, you taught us this game last time and we want to play it again.”

Man, there is no better feeling that hearing someone say that. Music to my ears!

“Cool, what game”

Then they go on to say, “I don’t know what it was called but” This is. My. Favorite. Game. It’s a trivia question about board games. I know the answer, but just how quickly can I get to the game they are referring to and with how little information?

“But it had one player who is asleep-” “

“Oh, you mean When I Dream?”

“Yes!”

Like I said, I love that game. Anyway we get it going over at the table, some of them have played before so that is always nice from a teaching perspective. I really like When I Dream. Amazing card art, mirrored with a really simple game that focuses on fun more than mechanics. I did have some problems with it however and I wonder if there is a solution that I haven’t thought about. The table they were sitting at was long and thin and with nine of them seeing the card was challenging. They elected to pass the card around the table but I still think that there has gotta be a better way. The fast-paced nature of the game was almost hindered by the cards. Also, eventually they elected to not use scoring. I honestly do this too, I think that When I Dream falls into the category of games that are more fun to play than it is to win. The scoring is there just so that someone can win, but I think that it isn’t really all that important. But I was really happy to get that one out, I haven’t gotten to teach it in a while, it kinda fell into the couch cushions of my mind.

That’s all I have for today, I am currently running late to work because I want to write this so…
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Fri Oct 22, 2021 11:35 pm
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Oct. 21st. MonsDRAWsity

Evan Welsh
United States
Tempe
Arizona
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This is my first ever post for something like this. So I guess I should set some precedents on who I am and what I do? My name is Evan and I am the curator of Snakes & Lattes Tempe. We are a board game cafe and bar in Arizona. My role in the business is all games all the time. From placing orders, prepping new games, overseeing our library, and most importantly I teach a lot of games. And I love that. I love the interaction that my job allows me to have with guests. I think that the role of being a game librarian allows me to open the world of board games and invite people in to share our world.

I was not a gamer before I really got into this job. I knew Catan, Betrayal at House on the Hill, Mysterium, Smallworld, and a good collection of party games but I was not getting out and being able to experience the crazy world. But I was a theatre kid. Performance was something that I put a lot of work into. And I thank my boss for giving me the confidence to go for it. Since then I have been with Snakes & Lattes as a game librarian for three years and I have had so many experiences that I want to share.

As a gamer, I like a lot of different types of games. I am well known for my love of dexterity games, such as Crokinole, Menara, Flying Goblins, Ice Cool, and Pitch Car. I love anything fast paced like Ghost Blitz, Monikers, and Word Slam. And for strategy games right now I am in love with games like Spirit Island, Root (although I’ve never won it) , Hadara, and Chinatown to name a few. I like to think that I give everything a decent chance but I will say I do like easier games more than heavy games in my job. While I have played Lost Ruins of Arnak and some games of that weight, I find that they are harder for me to enjoy with the longer teaching and play times.

Right now though, I have been in love with MonsDRAWsity. I find it just a really well designed game with how it all is wrapped together. I will admit bias with the fact that I like drawing games however this one does stand out of that crowd. With drawing games it sometimes feels very repeated. They have to do something different than other drawing games or else they’re just a cheap knock off and sometimes that feels silly. If you play Pictionary, Pictomania, Kontour, Cave Paintings, Telestrations, or Scrawl they all give you a word and they have you draw the word. I think that is a limitation for them. They have variance, don’t get me wrong. But at the end of the day, if I took cards from one game and put them in another game, for the most part the games would work. MonsDRAWsity does not do that, it gives you the image of a monster. You get to look at it for twenty seconds, and then you have to put it down and describe it while everyone else draws it. But you can’t look at the card while you are describing. And people can ask questions and seek clarifications. But it is that the concept you are trying to communicate is an image that sets it apart from other games in that genre.

I think what I really love about this game is the way that you sit around the table and reveal your drawings and they're bad, they’re all bad. Someone might have the right teeth, someone might have the right nose, or legs, or wings. Then you laugh and poke fun at each other's drawings. No one is perfect, they can’t be, you use dry erase markers and have two minutes to make this drawing. A lot of the tables I have given this game to have someone who likes to draw or is good at drawing, but it isn't a game where you do better than others because of your artistic skill thanks to the moron on the other end of the table who could not remember how many legs the guy had, or that he had buck teeth. And that also means that for those people who think they are bad at drawing, it is ok. You are not going to be alone with the creation of a monstrosity, everyone else will be right there besides you.

Thank you for reading,

I don’t know where this is going to go. I want to write more of this, I want to engage more with people. I don’t have a design plan as it is. I am just gonna write and we will see where it leads. I want to talk about shuffling, I want to talk about kickstarter games, I want to talk about missing pieces and trying to hold games together as they get played hundreds of times. Well, that's for another day.
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4 Comments
Fri Oct 22, 2021 12:11 am
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