The Board in the Library blog was spawned after he was invited to write a series of posts on board gaming and libraries for Webjunction. That series served as an introduction to modern board games and how they can have a productive presence in the library space.
Harvest is a fantasy themed farming game for 2-4 players which plays in about 45 minutes. Players take the role of a character with unique abilities (or beginners can take a standard, dull old peon farmer) and need to get to work early to plant, nurture and harvest their crops. Additionally, you can construct buildings and expand your fields. This is a small box but pleasantly chunky game with minimal rules overhead with its tongue placed firmly in cheek. While seemingly lite at first glance, players are provided with a comfortable decision place and beginners may want a play or two to get into the flow of the game.
Harvest, at it’s core, is a standard farming game with an additional layer of fantasy applied on top. For me, this fantasy wash doesn’t add or detract from the play experience – it is just window dressing. While beginners are recommended to play the “standard” character – Wil Plantsomdill, the peasant – to start, there are nine other characters that provide a variety of starting resources, special abilities, and game end scoring modifications. It is worth mentioning that there is a nice variety of body, gender, and cultural options. I also appreciate that the “standard” character – Wil – has a victory point “subsidy” at the end of the game which makes it accessible to new players.
The game is played over five rounds. During set-up there is a market of Initiative Cards. Each card has a number and provides a bonus. At the beginning of a round, players, in turn order, pick an initiative card. Players take the bonus and the turn order is established for the upcoming round.
Each round, players will place two workers in order to gain (sometimes with a cost) seeds and various items (poo and elixirs), plant/tend/harvest crops, expand their farm, or plow fields to ready them for planting. The Town Board houses most of these action and is divided into three sections – Labor Market to harvest, plant, or tend; General Store to gain or purchase seeds and items; and the Land Office to expand your farm, plow fields and build. The first players to place in a section can pick two actions/items with subsequent placement only gaining one action/item. Additionally, there are buildings and action cards that provide some variety of those actions at once but often with a cost of stars.
Each seed has a star value which determines the amount of fertilizer needed to plant it. When the appropriate amount of poo is paid, the seed tiles are flipped to their crop side and placed on an open field space. Each crop also has a star value which determines the amount of water needed to tend the crop tile and add another of the same crop to the field. Each field has four spaces and can only hold one type of crop at a time. Players then need to harvest crops, removing the crop tile from the field.
The star value of the harvested crops can be used as points for the end of the game or as an in-game currency to gain fancier seeds, build new buildings, and take special actions. This is one element of Harvest I found particularly engaging. In order to grow your farm and gain more specialized abilities, you need to spend your hard earned victory points.
Harvest is a tight little game. With only 2 actions per round and 5 rounds, players have a measly 10 actions to make their farm prosper. So each action has to *really* count. For a worker-placement, the placement part is fairly relaxed. Most spots can’t be blocked and every turn will have a variety of possible placements.
While the core of the mechanisms are basic; the random action cards revealed each round, the variable initiative cards, and having victory points serve as the only in-game currency, your overarching strategy tends to change abruptly. It is all about the tactics. The initiative cards provide a nice balance between larger bonuses and getting that coveted first placement. Several times, when playing, I’ve succumbed to the temptation of a huge bonus and altered my plans to grab a higher initiative card and let my strategy unfold while literally rolling in poo. The choice of initiative cards at the start of each round is easily the most exciting part of the game.
Without this system of initiative, Harvest would be lackluster. In most games with a variable turn order, there is a cost associated with going first. You may bid or pay outright in order to go first. Or it is determined by your score, allowing people in the back a chance to catch-up. But Harvest is different. By balancing out the bonus with going initiative, players always get something. It always feels like you are getting something extra. Maybe a burst of plenty with a veritable cornucopia of resources or maybe it is JUST THE THING (TM) you needed and that plus going first is just perfect. Either way, it is a great way of redistributing resources, providing incentive to change up a strategy, and changes the turn order in a thematic and engaging way. Also it feels good. It is the literal opposite of how Agricola makes you feel.
One thing that really became apparent after a few plays was the double-edged nature of the building market. Intuitively, one thinks that new buildings would always be the way to go but I’ve found that the payoff for those buildings, unless they really mesh with your strategy, is low. The pacing of the game doesn’t vary at all. With only 10 actions during the game there is very little time to build an engine. Instead it is a mad rush to efficiently use each one of those turns.
The play experience of Harvest is simple. Do you stay steady and toil through or do you call an audible and change everything due to the sudden appearance of a new card? It provides plenty of decisions within a short playing time. I didn’t want to like Harvest after playing Harbor (which I didn’t enjoy) but Harvest did a good job of provided a large amount of variability within a 30-45 minute game. Unique player characters, each with special abilities and starting resources, revealed action cards, and a varied initiative turn order ensures a different game for multiple plays.
Today I’m going to discuss the unpopular topic of collection maintenance. How, when, and why does my library remove board games from our collection.
Space is always limited in a library. While I hope nontraditional collections in the library have an opportunity to grow and expand, I understand that eventually it’ll butt up against available space and other collections. When that happens we have to start culling. Your standard collection development policy may help with this. My original collection development policy (you can see a bit of it in my post on CAH) didn’t originally include information on how I would weed and deaccession items from the board game collection because I never expected it to grow to the size it is. However, here we are.
Nontraditional collections tend to fade over time due to lack of interest and reduced investment. At first, when grant money is plentiful and everything is shiny and new the collection is maintained. But three years later you end up with 50+ dinged up cake pans choking up the 600s because no-one wants them or knows what to do with them. No-one is willing to develop the collection to the current need. To avoid this and keep the circulating board game collection new and relevant, I allocate around $100 a month from my general materials budget on purchasing new board games. This is just enough to keep new material floating in, allowing me to experiment on new and emerging game styles, add duplicates of popular games, and stay open to patron requests. All without blowing out what little space I have.
My dedicated space is limited to about 25 games on a gridwork mobile display originally used for VHS tapes. With half of my collection of 50 games circulating at any one time, it means that I’m coming close to my first culling of non-performing items. In order to do this, I determine a “rating score” for each game and check the circulation statistics quarterly. Any game that is new (defined by less than six months in circulation) is exempt from culling. They are still finding their audience. They are safe.
Others, however, have the arbitrary metric of averaging one circulation a month to remain relevant in the eyes of the law. Each game has a lending period of one week with one renewal, so this reflects the pace of how our board game collection moves. A longer circulation period of three weeks would not use the same metric. With my collection, one circ a month ensures that majority of the games are performing fine, a small percentage is performing amazingly well (we’ll look at those later) and some are just not making it. If they are averaging less than one circulation a for two straight quarters, they are removed from the collection. I need to move material off the of the shelf to make room for more material and I never want an empty shelf where the board game collection is housed. It ends up being a strange titration. Having only popular games which are constantly circulating ends up with an empty display.
So, an average performing game will have a score of somewhere between 1 and 2. Less than 1 is under-performing (and maybe up for culling) while over 2 is doing great and is barely on the shelf (which helps me determine where the community’s gaming interest lies).
Small World (.88) – area control, fantasy themed game from Days of Wonder
Happy Pigs (.8) – Farming game from Iello
Kokoro: Avenue of the Kodama (.75) – Retheme of the Roll and Write game Avenue from Indie Boards and Cards
Smash Up (.5) – crappy card game from AEG (I have opinions)
Codenames: Disney Edition (.4) – Disney version of the popular word game Codenames
Now that I see which games aren’t circulating well. I also take into consideration individual plays at our board game nights so a game that doesn’t circulate but gets good in-house play will likely remain. For each of these titles, I ask a few questions. First, does the game do something unique within the scope of our current collection development policies. A good example is Kokoro which is a “roll and write” game and the only roll and write game we have in our collection. Since removing this game would remove an entire (arguably, popular) mechanism from the collection, I kept it. However, if I purchase other roll and writes in the future, and Kokoro continues to under-perform, I will likely remove it.
Does the game duplicate mechanisms or themes already held within the collection? Is it a an exact duplicate of another game or within the same family of games (i.e. Ticket to Ride family of games) information already held here or elsewhere in another format? A good example of this is Codenames: Disney Edition. Codenames is, not surprisingly, very popular and circulates well. I included Codenames: Disney Edition thinking that families with younger children would be interested. However, that has not materialized. Since the Codenames: Disney Edition is within the same family of games (Codenames and Codenames: Marvel are already in the collection) and we have other word games (Wordsy, Scrabble, and Bananagrams) which circulate well, Codenames: Disney Edition is out.
Was the item donated? How was it donated? If the game was from a publisher donation or donation from the general public, I’ll remove. If it was donated by members of our gaming group or through our “Adopt A Game” program, then it will be retained. Happy Pigs was an anonymously donated game and is under-performing. It doesn’t really do anything new or add anything to the collection so it will be removed.
Would the item be useful at a different location? I’m part of a four library township system. If a game would potentially be beneficial for another library, I’ll ask if they would be interested in it.
What is the physical condition of the game? If a popular game is getting well loved, I may deaccession it and then retain it for public gaming nights or for spare parts and order a replacement copy. If the game is getting worn and isn’t performing then I am likely to remove it entirely. I am very superficial and appearance of the collection is important. Small World is not circulating well at .88 and I would retain it except for the fact that the box is getting torn, split at the sides, and the area control mechanism is duplicated in other games.
So there we go…I’ll hold on to Kokoro but the rest are going away and making room for new games.
But what were the high performers? Oh, I’m glad you asked. By the way, Ticket to Ride and Codenames were both moved to another branch which is why you don’t see them.
Monza (1.9) – a racing game for kids from Haba.
Clank! (2) – deck-building dungeon crawling press your luck from Renegade Games.
Pandemic (2.25) – classic Cooperative game from Z-man Games (currently missing pieces).
Biblios (2.7) – SUPER popular small card game from Iello.
Bob Ross: The Art of Chill (2.75) – I SWEAR this circulates because of Bob Ross’s face.
Sushi Go Party (2.875) – Its a pass and play party from Gamewright!
You are the paparazzi of medieval Japan — painters. Hiding behind bushing, sneaking around tree, jostling for position to get a quick sketch maybe even a watercolor study of someone famous. As you lay in wait behind the garden gates you hear the clink of an easel. The soft scrape of a gentle brushstroke. The deep husky breathing of an artist. You aren’t alone. Other painters have been tipped off as well. It’s Spring and the emperor is taking a walk. It’s time to get physical. In Sakura, players are painters hoping to get the best viewpoint of the emperor while he strolls through his garden admiring the cherry blossoms. Move too fast and you may accidentally bump into the Emperor and be sent packing in disgrace. Move too conservatively and you’ll be left in the dust when he strikes a stunning pose.
The goal of Sakura is to get as close as possible to the Emperor when he stops to admire one of three sakura trees on the board. At these spots, the closest player will score three points, the next player will score two points, the third scores one point. In 5 or 6 player games the fourth in line scores one point as well. After scoring, players queue up in a straight line behind the leader and start again. At the last tree, the person with the most points win. It would be simple except for one thing. If you land on the same space as the Emperor or dare pass him, you lose a point and get sent back three spaces.
Players have a hand of five cards. Each player secretly chooses one card and places it face down in front of them. Cards are then revealed and resolved by initiative order. Each card is numbered with the lowest going first. The cards have two actions to resolve: the top number (Garden Action) moves the Emperor or other players forward or backwards on the path. The bottom number (Painter Action) will move the player’s pawn forward or backwards on the path. Painters are territorial and never share a space. So when moving, you only count empty spaces towards your movement – and not those spaces occupied by other painters. So player position can change drastically over a turn.
Sakura is a silly push your luck game that manages to maintain its dignity. It is simple and easy to teach. The decisions are limited and with players restarting after every scoring space, no-one gets left behind. You need to and succeeds with its simplicity. I was concerned after playing Osprey Games’ Star Cartel. Star Cartel was also simple but wasn’t much of a game. It felt instead like a solid mechanism in desperate need of a game to use it. But Sakura provides an experience with all it’s simplicity. You will spend 20 minutes jostling around, making hilarious mistakes that are completely unavoidable, and then line it up to go again. Luck can change quickly but you will have enough fun that you won’t care too much about the outcome.
Decrypto is quick word game where teams attempt to relay information out loud to each other using coded clues without allowing the opposing team to “intercept” or figure out their message.
Setup and Gameplay
Each team has an upright dashboard with four red-screened windows numbered 1-4. In each window they tuck a card so that it reveals a word. Everyone on the team can see the four words displayed on the dashboard each corresponding to a numbered window. One player is designated the clue giver and they take a card showing a three digit code (for example, 3-2-1) using numbers 1-4. These will refer to the words in each of the numbered windows. Then they give a coded message of clues to relay the correct sequence to their teammates.
Clues can be nearly anything: words, phrases, lyrics, etc. But they must relate specifically to the meaning of the word revealed in the window. For example, if a revealed word is “beach” you could use “sand,” “summer,” “ball,” or “ocean” as clues. Clues can’t be too obvious and, at the same time, clues too obscure will make it difficult for the guessing team. You need to be sly and moderately obfuscating, just like in professional life.
During the first round, both teams take turns giving and listening to the clues. If the clue giving team is unable to successfully guess the code, they get a black mark denoting their failure. Starting with the next round and all subsequent rounds, each team makes attempts to guess (intercept) the opposing team’s code. If the intercepting team can guess the code correctly, they earn a white mark of success. At the conclusion of a round, a team wins if they have two white tokens or loses if they have two black tokens. As the rounds progress, each team will be tallying notes and gaining a firmer resolution of the opposing team’s keywords.
Code Cards for each team plus the success and failure tokens
First of all let me be perfectly clear: Decrypto is not a Codenames “killer.” Decrypto adds an element of deduction and obfuscation into the formula creating an experience as tense as Codenames but without the simplicity and elegance. Part of what makes Decrypto feels more like a race. Eventually, someone’s code will be broken but how long will it take?
While Decrypto won’t replace Codenames, I have found to be a good replacement for social deduction games at the library. Social deduction games like Werewolf or Coup are easy to learn and play well in large groups. However, they do require a significant amount of social investment for new players. And nothing scares away new players like additional social investment. You are expected to perform within the constraints of the game and this performance can lead to anxiety. Just do the math: New Player plus Large Group plus Mandated Performance equals Anxiety. A LOT OF IT. Decrypto provides the deduction and bluffing but with known teams and simple roles so you still get those discovery moments without the social anxiety of outing another player or messing up your roll.
Game rounds move quickly and it works well as a large group warm-up game. There is a dearth of quick, easy-to-learn, team games and Decrypto fits that niche nicely. More people means more collaboration and discussion which means trickier clues. While some word games can be quiet (such as Codenames), the discussions in Decrypto tend to be louder and more animated. If Codenames is a bunch of spies skulking about, Decrypto is a group of opposing hackers screaming at their computer screens.