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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October 23rd: Stacked, On Tour, and Rulebooks

Evan Welsh
United States
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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
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