Every Thursday I play boardgames at Google, we manage and own a library with about 80 games. Always available for everyone inside the office and on Thursday all sort of Googlers stop by to take a look or join us playing some of them. Its a great way to connect with people, spend time, socialize and for introverted people a really good way to connect. I believe a boardgame collection should be in every office. But how to pick them? And how expensive is that?
I will share with you how I learned picking and buying board games.
I learned a lot by replacing the old collection which is now in Zürich. I knew the collection will leave us (owner moved to another office) and I started managing the transition between old and new collection. At first I took a good look what kind of games are popular and which mechanics are preffered. I rate boardgames by a couple of facts:
- Length (How long it takes)
- Player number, playability and downtime (is it fun for 3 people only?)
- Game mechanics (Workerplacement, dice mechanics, deck draft…)
- Topic, theme, design + Language (How beautiful is it?)
- Replay, campaign games(How nice is a replay, more mechanics to discover?)
- Rule weight (How difficult is it to catch on to experienced players)
- Game author (thats sometimes an indicator for buying games)
Imagine a room full of games, a bunch of people and now you have to decide which games to play. It is save to say that we prefer a long game in the beginning and a short game, fun or people games afterwards. I cannot recommend super long games for a public library because they take too much time to play for one evening (We play those on weekends as event). And we have to find groups. You can split 9 people by 3 or 2 which is making two groups (5 and 4). Do you have good games for 5 and 4 players? The more players you have in one game the longer it will take.
Fact learned: own a few long games (2–3 hours ) and a bunch of short ones (0–1 hours)
Fact learned: Games up to 5 people are flexible and good to have.
example: Firefly is not a short game…its too long (3–5 hours)/ Zombiecide is a long game (1–3 hours) / Loveletter is a short game (10 minutes… x Player)
Player number plus downtime
Sometimes a game is great to play for two people and the box says 4. But if you try it with 4 it will suck. That depends on the mechanic. A good game for a library is playable up to what is on the box. And if the game has downtime (time you have to wait until its your turn and you cannot do anything) it will of course add up. Downtime is a negative attribute you don’t want to have.
Example: Through the Ages is a great game for 2 and 3…with 4 players it takes ages and 3 is enough for interesting mechanics (e.g. declaring war). Agricola or its brother Caverna is pretty much playable in any constellation. Turns are short and while the others play you are busy thinking!
Fact learned: Good games are playable in various constellations. Its not neccessary to have the ultimate playable game but when you start you library its better to have a flexible one.
Thats the most interesting part of a game. And also attached to game authors. Because certain authors publish certain mechanics we can take a look and see what other games an author published. Thats a way to discover new games you could like. Game mechanics are classified. For an example deckbuilder games such as dominion or a dungeon crawlers such as Decent. Boardgamegeek defined over 50 mechanics and some of them are very important. This is how they look:
- Area Controll, hints this game has a strategic component
- Dice rolling, A randomized number will influence the game
- Point to Point Movement, you have to move meeples to get somewhere
- Workerplacement, You have to place meeples to produce an manage something
- Deckbuilding, each player has a deck of cards which will grow and being played through out the game
- Co-operative , play against the boardgame with your fellow players. (thats a good mechanic to invite newbies because they don’t feel excluded and have time to catch up with the rules)
- and so on…
While some of the mechanics are very clear, dice rolling is not. Engineers hate dice rolling games usually because its taking away their power to think in order to win. But that doesn’t mean the mechanic cannot be used differently. Games such as Alien frontiers or Pulsar 2849 use a set of rolled dice to randomize the game. Low dice are not neccessarily bad. They just trigger different mechanics. So be careful about judging mechanics before you know them.
Fact learned: Certain people like certain mechanics. Worker placements for example are popular in our group. But also a hard for newbies to catch on. Because the more you play a mechanic the easier it gets to exploid it. Having a few cooperative games such as Dead of Winter is a good starter for every library. I prefer deckbuilders.
Topic, Theme, Design
Thats maybe just me but boardgames are a pure joy of userexperience and visual design. Sometimes I annoy my fellow players by ranting how aweful a game is made or how much I love it. Language independency can be beneficial because you can print the rules in your fellow players language.
Other than that, don’t buy cheap copies. I know from colleagues that you are able to get really cheap counterfit copies but thats just not worth the money. Bad materials will always annoy you while playing and you are suppose to support the game author. Games such as Scythe are pure joy to play because the materials are beautiful.
Needless to say your games should be replayable. Some are not. If you buy campaign games they will provide you with a story and once you have played it, its over. I cannot recommend campaign games for a shared library or boardgame night. It will exclude one group from playing with others and you want to have games you can play again and again. Thats about how much you like the game and how rich the mechanics are.
Fact learned: Some games provide one way to win and some provide various ways to win. Good games offer various mechanics to discover.
Some games look fairly small and innocent with a big rulebook and some are looking impressivly big with a fair amount of rules. Firefly is a big and impressive looking game with a simple set of actions and rules to learn. 51st State is about the same complexity and a much smaller game.
You can easily onboard new players with simpler games. Some games have good mechanics to level the field and some games can be exploided for experts so they will win anyway which can be a little frustrating. RoboRally for example is a game about programming a little robot. being a good programmer doesn’t make you a good RoboRally player because you have a certain amount of time and you don’t know how other players will influence you. This makes the game funny and enjoyable for everyone.
fact learned: Owning a few games which are not winnable by being an expert is good for the community.
I already said that game authors can be a good hint for other games. They are. Here is an example. Rainer Knizia is a game author always playing with the idea of numbers. His games use this mechanic to gain or loose something if you manage to get certain combinations. I loved Keltis which is a fairly simple game, It is part of our boardgame collection at the office. Rainer Knizia published Schottentotten, a 2 player game and this suits his mechanic a lot. We played Schottentotten so often I cannot say how much. Both games are based on hand management.
So, How to choose and decide about buying particular games?
Of course I look at boardgamegeek and what people write about it. I look out for the attributes I just wrote about. If the price is okay compared to the attributes I buy it. I also search old award lists, fleamarkets and watch youtube channels.
Everyone has to figure out for themselves what to buy and how. Learning how the mechanics are working can help.
Managing your library
For the games currently in our Boardgame library I have made a google spead sheet (surprise). The sheet contains facts e.g. owner, mechanics, notes on how to play it or who knows the rules.
I have a tab for new candidates to buy. Sometimes when people ask me what to buy I just tell them to look it up maybe they find something they like. I use it as bookmark service too and if games are not suitable for the library I make a note why.
Enjoy starting your own office boardgame library!
A Boardgame library can be a wonderful social element of office culture and I believe a cheap one too. How much money is a company spending on offsites or retreats? A boardgame library stays and its a good way to engage with your colleages. Provides an excellent athmosphere. To proove how cheap this is compared to a weekend in a fancy hotel let me provide you with a good list to start. A Boardgamenight is probably 6 up to 10 people. Lets use this and make a 500 € budget and buy games.
- Hanabi (6€) cooperative
- Loveletter (17€) social deduction, Hand management
- Dead of Winter (60 €) cooperative
- Caverna (50 €) workerplacement
- Dungeon Rush(20 €) Real-Time, Card game
- Scythe (70€) Terretorry controll + Workerplacements
- Imperial settlers (35€) Card drafting, Hand management
- RoboRally (36€) Action / Movement programming
- Through the Ages (43€) Strategy, Card drafting
- Clans of Caledonia (42€) Workerplacement
Total 379 € based on german pricing, shipping not included. And I know so much more games! There is Pandemic, Terraforming Mars, Alien Frontiers, Race for the Galaxy, Concept, Dixit…etc and so on.
Tell your office manager thats very cheap for the benefit and culture they can get out of it. Double the budget and you have a decent collection of boardgames for everyone.