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But Won't the Pieces Get Lost?

Published on Jan 27, 2016

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But Won't the Pieces Get Lost?

Adding a board game collection to your library

Why board games?

Photo by wili_hybrid

Games you should know

and what makes them tick
I want to take a moment and introduce you to come games and the mechanics that drive the way the game works. Mechanics are often used to describe a game and how it works. Think of it in terms of a game being a car. The mechanics are the engine, the tires, the brakes, etc. They're what makes the game work and function, but just like your Ford has an engine, and my Subaru has an engine, mechanics are not always unique to just one game. The way they're used and added to a game, especially when it comes to how the theme of a game comes into play, can alter the way each game acts and plays even if they have similar mechanics.
Photo by qisur

Settlers of Catan

resource management
First up is the classic game the Settlers of Catan, or just Catan anymore. This was the game that got me started with board games over 10 years ago. At its core, Catan is a resource management game. You'll be collecting resources like wood and stone in order to build settlements, cities, roads, and buy developments. How you manage those resources through spending, trading, and even loss will effect how well you can advance in the game.


tile laying
Carcassonne is another classic and one of my favorite games. It's a game of tile laying. See this game begins with just one tile on the table. That's your board. You'll begin by drawing tiles and laying them out to create the board itself. As you do you'll be creating roads, cities, monasteries, and farms in order to win points, but you can only do that by changing the board through placing more tiles out.
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worker placement
Agricola is a big game that is the most exciting time you'll have being a 17th century farmer. It's a worker placement game. They're also called action selection sometimes. What this means is that you have a limited supply of workers that can do one thing each from a collection of available actions. In this game it could be planting crops in a field, gaining a cow, building fences, or expanding your house. The actions you select with your limited amount of workers will shape the game in the way you want it and provide a decent challenge as you'll always have the feeling of never quite having enough workers for what you want to do at any given time.
Photo by Harlequeen

ticket to ride

route building
Ticket to Ride is a wildly popular train game. In this game you'll be taking your little plastic trains and building routs across the country trying to get from one place to another. Each player has a set of destinations they're trying to reach, and will be collecting cards in order to build these train routes from city to city in order to reach their destination.
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Codenames is the also wildly popular #1 party game of last year. In it, teams will be divided into two with spymasters issuing clues to operatives in the field trying to make contact with the hidden spies. They'll be trying to give their team the best clues they can so they can make sure they make contact with just their spies and not the other teams. Or worse, the assassin which means they lose the game automatically.
Photo by Fringer


Pandemic is a cooperative game. That was something that took some getting used to the first time I heard it. Cooperative. This means everyone plays the game together. You win together and you lose together. You're playing against the board, and in this game, the board is a set of four diseases running rampant across the world and it's up to you to stop them. Through clever play, good teamwork, and a bit of luck, you'll either cure them all and save the world, or watch as everyone dies to a horrible new plague you couldn't control.
Photo by jessamyn

wits and wagers

The problem with trivia games is, if you're not good at trivia, you usually hate trivia games. Wits and Wagers works to fix this by making the game less about who does know the answer, and more about who you think knows the answer. The answer to every question in the game is a number, and each player will write down their answer on their board. Then they're all laid out in numerical order, and you bet who got the closest without going over. Whoever bets correctly will earn points needed to win the game.
Photo by migdus


social deduction
Coup is a game where it's OK to lie to your friends. In fact it's a part of the game. Here you're playing a social deduction game where you want to decrease your opponent's influence with the council by catching them in the act of being suspicious. Sure you could maybe win by telling the truth the entire time. Or you could lie and say you're the Duke and take 3 coins, or maybe you're feeling like the Assassin this time and want to take someone out. But just be careful because if they catch you're lying, you could be out of the game.
Photo by atduskgreg


deck building
Concordia is a game about trading in the Mediterranean. Each turn you'll play a card from your deck to perform an action. Along the way you're able to get new cards from a market. This method of building your deck to suit your goals puts this game into the deck building. This genre is a little different than a card game a lot of people know, Magic the Gathering. There you construct a deck of cards and then begin playing. Deck building games have you constructing that deck while you play the game. It's less thought out ahead of time, and more in the moment adaption and planning.

five tribes

modular board
Five Tribes is a wonderful example of the modular board mechanic. Like Catan before, Five Tribes has a board made of various tiles you lay out at the start of the game in a random order. This makes every game different from the last. While you can kind of go with the same general strategy of how you want to play, because the board doesn't line up the way it did before, you'll have to adapt and adjust your strategy each game and maybe try something new as well. It increases the replayability of the game by having no two games be exactly alike.

Our collection

So the backstory. Years ago I was interviewing for a reference position and on the spot was asked what new thing I would like to do if I got the position. Without a real plan I suggested board games as a collection. I didn't get the job and I never moved on with the idea. Then I saw on Twitter a librarian mentioned their board games. I then began thinking about it again and asked my manager about it who told me to talk to someone else about it. I put together a big proposal on why board games are great and such, to be greeted with, "I don't see why not."

Granted we already have video games at the library so it's not unheard of to have collections outside the scope of books. But from there we began working to define the policies and procedures with the new collection. And we'll cover these policies in just a little bit.

But after that meeting we had a couple more and I put together a list of games to buy for the library.
Photo by Strocchi

Launched Feb. '15

containing 22 games at launch
In February of 2015 we launched the collection with 22 games originally, but then a few months later we upped the amount to 38 unique games and 3 second copies. I had honestly no idea what we would be looking at for use, and after the first couple weeks, 21 games had gone out. At one point we had nothing left on the cart since everything was checked out. I was floored with the reaction.
Photo by Strocchi

587 check outs

Over the course of the first year we had the games check out and renew 587 times. That comes out to about 14 times per game. Some games have been more popular than others. For example, Ticket to Ride has been checked out more times that that on each of the two copies we have, while Jaipur has been checked out twice. Not every game matches every player so some games will be received better than others.
Photo by Strocchi

news and social media

Two days after our collection launched, I was suddenly incredibly busy on social media. Our local news papers had picked up the story because we sent out a press release about the games. From there, one of our patrons posted the article to the board games subreddit and it grew from there. I was on there that afternoon introducing myself to people, answering questions, talking board games in general. While I was doing that I was also doing damage control on a local board game club's Facebook page. Apparently word hit them too, and they were claiming the library having games for free would put their paid membership club to rest for good. I went on to do damage control and found out only really one person was claiming the sky was falling, and several of our patrons who are members thought it was a great idea.

Later that week and over the last year I've had calls from all over the country
Photo by Strocchi

Untitled Slide

Here you can see the seven libraries who have directly contacted me about our board game collection, though I've talked to other libraries throughout the last year either on my own or in common groups. The big wow moment for me was when the New York Public Library emailed my director about our games and I ended up on a Hangout with them advising them on how to do a collection. It was a bit surreal. This is still new enough that libraries will be looking for people who have come before, and you could be one of those libraries.

Looking ahead

This year we're expanding the collection to a second branch. We're adding extra copies of our most popular games, and new games. This year I hope to order fewer games at a time, but more often. I also have some ideas for promotional materials to brag about some of our lesser played games.

We also have a comic con coming up in the fall that I'll be a part of where I've got some versions of giant board games we'll be playing, on top of some tournaments and general open play. I also hope to bring back the failed attempt at doing a monthly gaming group. That's still under investigation.
Photo by Strocchi

Your collection

you can do it too!
So what do you need to do to start a board game collection? It's not enough to just know about games, you need to have a plan for them.

policy decisions

So there are some significant policy decisions you need to consider when adding a board game collection.
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in house or Circ?

The first question you need to ask is will your collection be in house or circulating? This should be first because it will influence all your other decisions. Originally our collection was going to be in house, so some of the games I bought reflected that decision. After we bought the games we decided to make them circulate, which means there are a couple games I probably wouldn't have bothered buying had we sent them home in the first place. That said, even those games have proved me wrong and been popular, so it might not matter as much as I think it does, but I still thing this should be the first thing you decide on.
Photo by Thema1 GmbH

Missing pieces

Speaking of which, missing pieces. You will lose pieces. I'll repeat that, pieces will go missing. It's inevitable, but not the end of the world.

When a game comes back, we count everything. We check that all the pieces are there. If they're not, we call the patron and ask them to return them. I'll be honest, that doesn't work all that often. 9 times out of 10, if a game comes back missing a piece, that piece doesn't come back. Sometimes that's because it wasn't there when they checked it out and we missed it the time before. That unfortunately does happen, and led to a strongly worded letter on our internal blog about procedure. But I will say that missing pieces are rare, usually a game comes back just fine.

But this does lead to a decision you need to make. Will you charge your patrons for missing pieces or not? We decided to charge patrons for damaged games like we would for any other item, but not for missing pieces. I knew that they would go missing from time to time, and I didn't want to punish our patrons for that accident. I also had a hard time determining how to charge them. Game bits are cheap, but inconsistent with pricing. I had a hard time coming up with a fair price. I was around $.25 for each piece, but you could come up with whatever you feel is appropriate.
Photo by Thema1 GmbH

how many/how long

You'll want to decide how many games and for how long. Our video games check out for 2 weeks at a time and you can have 3 at a time. I love the idea of getting 3 games, but when we started it would take only 7 patrons checking out that many to wipe our our collection. We decided on 1 game for 2 weeks. We also don't charge fines on our board games. The only things our library charges fines on are movies and video games, but ours are $2/day.

I've got looser with that to unofficially say 2 games at a time. We're working on getting rid of the rest of the fines in our library, which means once we do I can set a hard limit of 3 games, video or board in any combination. This is because of the way our ILS is built, there's no way I can have a hard limit on the number and not charge fines on the games. Your ILS might be different so the technical side of things might not limit your decisions as much as they do for us.
Photo by Thema1 GmbH

written policy

The most important thing is to write it down. Once you have a plan, write it down and stick to it. Doesn't mean you can't revise it later, but having it on paper is vital if you're dealing with a patron who insists they don't need to pay for something that was damaged.
Photo by Thema1 GmbH

Things to consider

Lets look at some extra things you need to consider when starting a collection.
Photo by derekbruff

point person

You need to have a point person. Whether or not that's you is another story, but you need someone on staff who knows the games. If a piece goes missing, they can know whether it's vital or not. You want someone who consistently reaches out to publishers and someone who can answer questions from both patrons and staff.
Photo by derekbruff


For those of you that know board game geek, you know it can be daunting to navigate, even for veteran users. They're working on an update which is incredibly promising, but still not there yet. When we started our collection I knew I wanted something where our patrons could learn about the games we have and find similar games. But sending them to BGG will either lead them down a road they'll go insane from, or they'll get turned off from information overload. So I turned to Google Sites where I created a mini wiki database. It's based off of my previous attempt at using MediaWiki to do this. That project became Library Game Shelf which is a side project of mine that is having a little bit of growing pains at the moment.
Photo by derekbruff

Untitled Slide

But you can see here, this is a game page we have for each game. There is an infobox on the side that gives basic information of the game, the objective, an elevator pitch of the game, an inventory list, and a video teaching you how to play the game. I wanted this to be super easy to use and be a helpful instructional tool for patrons and staff alike. I have no idea how much it gets used, we just installed a tracking number on it so I can see how many hits it gets on it, but the information on that hasn't quite come back yet.

Untitled Slide

promotional materials

You're going to want to promote your collection. The biggest thing I can say is to put them where you can see them. We started with them on a cart behind the desk where patrons could ask to see the games. That worked at the start, but then they stopped being asked for and we weren't getting patrons. I moved the games over to another shelf that patrons can walk to and look at without asking for assistance but still within eyesight of the desk. This led to a massive increase in checkouts, and has been consistently growing each month since.

We also have signs in the library talking about them. From signs on the desk, to a slide on our TV at the entrance to the library, we put up signs to both introduce patrons that we have games, but also where they're located.

Lastly, just like we did, I encourage you to put out a press release. Brag about it to the public. You did the work of adding a new game collection, show it off. If your library has a PR person, they likely have a contact with local newspapers anyway, so take advantage of it. I included a copy of ours in your packet so you can see the idea.

In a side note, if you have a library blog, write up about it and put it on there. We did that for each time we add more games, and I always try and do something to talk about something new with the games, whether it's adding kids games specifically, improving the wiki, changing the loan rules, etc. Something besides we've added new games. I also like to give a highlight to a couple of the games to get patrons intersted.
Photo by derekbruff

selection criteria

You're going to want to define your criteria for selecting games. For me, I wanted to highlight the new and exciting hobby board games, and ignore the mass market games. That's not to say if 100 patrons requested Monopoly I wouldn't consider adding it, but our patrons are so familiar with those games, I wanted to introduce to them games you can't necessarily find for $10 at WalMart, but games that might be harder to acquire for their budget.

But that doesn't mean you can't have a collection of games that are Monopoly, Sorry, and Risk. If you want to do that, that works, and go for it. Some libraries have the classics, and some don't. Others have a mix, some go straight hobby. Part of it is knowing your patrons, and knowing where you want to take the collection.

I also advise you to write this down just like you did with your policy decisions. Make sure someone else knows about the criteria, and you have something that's flexible enough for you to work with. I also included our copy with your packet.
Photo by derekbruff

Staff Buy-In

Lastly, you need staff buy in. We count all of our pieces when they come back. Which means there are some games that I'll never buy for our library. Not because they aren't great games, but because there are so many parts I couldn't put my coworkers through that without them revolting. Trains has around 490 cards in the box and Agriocla has over 200 wooden pieces plus over 200 cards. They're both games I love and recommend people to play, but I don't think I've earned enough favor with them. Maybe one day, but until then, I can't get these. Because without staff buy in, your collection will fall flat. People still associate libraries with books so much that other new collections need bragging about and encouragement at times. If your staff aren't excited or at least capable of pretending to be excited, your collection won't do as well.
Photo by derekbruff


So you know what games you'll get, you know how you'll use them, you know the rules for them, and you've wrote it all down. What do you need to do to get them physically ready for to hit the shelf?
Photo by Mark Sardella

Untitled Slide

Inside the lid is a label that has every piece in the game inventoried. This is for patrons and staff to double check all of the parts. This I feel is important to have because I keep this one up to date. If a piece does go missing that we can't replace for whatever reason, I alter this list. The instructions usually have a list, but I like to make sure this one is the one staff uses to keep track of the parts in the game. Once again, if the pieces don't match the list, we contact them to make sure they don't have it.

Untitled Slide

For this we're going to look at Mr. Jack a 2 player deduction game. Inside the box itself you can see the way I prep games. Bits are put in small baggies and usually separated by type, or player, or material. In this case the player pieces that are wooden discs go in one bag, then the cardboard obstacles go in a separate bag. Then cards get rubber banded together. Some people use bags for their cards also, and in a case like this you could. But some games have customized inserts that provide a place for everything to go, and usually bags don't work as well to fit back in place. Then the boards just sit on top with the instructions. Other games have small player boards and those usually get just set inside the box on their own as long as they don't rattle around too much.

Untitled Slide

Because patrons can be charged if a game gets damaged, I put this sticker on the front of every box. I hope the neon green catches peoples eyes not to put the games in the book drops, but this one in particular I've found in there before. It hasn't happened all that often. But this reminder outlines a little of the policy. Return it to the desk, don't use the book drops, you can be charged for damages to the box. While I was preparing this presentation I noticed the line about lost parts on the slip. I made these labels before I decided not to charge patrons for missing pieces. I haven't decided if I'm going to change the labels or not.

Untitled Slide

Lastly, you put all the things in the box, got it all set up, and it's ready to go. The last thing I suggest you do is put a big H band on the box. We used these for our book bundles and they work really well for keeping games togehter. The last thing I wanted was for one of these to open up in someone's car and pieces to everywhere. This keeps them all together. They do go missing more often than anything else, so I keep a box of them on my desk for my coworkers to use. Some of the smaller games don't fit these. For those I just use thicker regular size rubber bands. If you really like these, a company called the Broken Token does sell these h bands in three sizes and the small ones are designed for small box games. They're not super cheap, but it is an option.

Untitled Slide

Because without rules you can't play the game, I have copies of all the rules instead of using the originals. Those I keep nicely tucked away in my desk. Most publishers will give you the rules in PDF online, a few I've had to make copies of. Once the copies were made, we laminated them all and stapled them together. They've held up surprisingly well. I assumed I'd have to rotate a new copy out after a few uses, but they're pretty sturdy. Occasionally a paper comes off and i have to restaple them together, but otherwise they've worked great.

Maintenance and repair

Speaking of replacing rubber bands, let's talk about maintenance and repair of games. This is something you'll have to do from time to time. Some of this is preventative that you can do ahead of time, others is in response to damage.
Photo by Sam Howzit

label lockers

Label lockers are a clear sticker that are extremely durable. Chances are your tech services department already has them. They usually are used to keep call numbers on books. We use these in various sizes to strengthen boxes. Each corner gets one tacked onto it, and sometimes if a box feels particularly flimsy, it just gets covered with them. These have helped the games withstand a lot of beating around. I also use them after we get them back if a corner starts peeling away. You can cut them carefully to get them to line up over a corner to keep them in good shape.

I also use these on the rules. When pages started coming off, the corners were getting torn so that I couldn't restaple them easily. I put one over the top corner on the front and back pages then restaple. They hold up so well that new games get this treatment right away.
Photo by Sam Howzit

Sleeves and Varnish

These are two kinds of preventative maintenance. The first option is card sleeves. These are thin plastic covers for cards to keep them in good shape. You can get these in a variety of sizes and thicknesses. Once again, I considered this more work than it was worth for our collection, but for a game like Trains that has 490 cards, I would probably consider it for that. The three common places to get sleeves from are UltraPro, Fantasy Flight, and Mayday Games.

The other is clear varnish can be used on tiles boards to give them a little extra durability. This isn't something I've done, I thought I'd wait to see if they need it before I spend a lot of money doing extra unnecessary work. But I do know some places that do this. If you do, I suggest Testor's Dullcote. It's on the pricer side, but it has a matte finish that doesn't make things slippery. I have used it in one case with our collection and that was for a set of dice.
Photo by Sam Howzit

Untitled Slide

These are the dice for Memoir 44. The top two are the original copy we've had for over a year, the bottom is new from our brand new copy. You can see the difference. I hadn't considered how much the painted on sides of the dice would wear off, but in some cases the sides were pretty hard to see. I've used sharpie to color in the sides of these so you can see them again, then I sprayed them with a few light layers of varnish to hopefully keep them from wearing off again. I also sprayed the new dice right away to keep them looking that good in the future.

bits are cheaper

Lastly, I want to emphasize that you will buy new parts and it will not be fun to do, but bits are much cheaper than a new game. We have a copy of Super Mario 3D World for Wii U that has decided it doesn't work anymore. I can't see any scratches on it and it looks fine, but it just stops working as soon as you get to the menu. We're now out a $60 game because it doesn't want to work. On the other hand, our $45 copy of Catan lost a road, a piece needed to play the game. And I bought a new one for $.07. While I was at it, I ordered extra bits for a bunch of games that cost me $24 shipped. I'm now set to replace pieces for 7 different games and keep them in working order.
Photo by Sam Howzit