Collection Development

I had a chance to talk with Giles Pritchard and Donald Dennis of the Games in School and Libraries Podcast a bit about my work and the value of games in education. Episode number 19.


Collection development was one of my favorite parts when I was in the school and public libraries. It meant I got to buy stuff, though not just any stuff….. I had to know my stuff first. In addition, I had to make sure that the stuff I  wanted to buy met my selection criteria, my libraries guidelines for buying stuff.

I have already shared my selection criteria for modern board games earlier but to recap:

  1. Find good games!
  2. Find ways in which they support the curriculum
  3. Look at how they fit into the timeframe of your school or gaming program
  4. Determine their “Return on Investment” based on the sum of 1-3

One of the toughest parts of building a game collection is finding good games. In libraries, when purchasing materials we have review journals to help. Even beyond that

to our own personal lives, we look to the advice and experience of others to help guide us in our purchasing decisions. From Amazon to your Aunt Agnes, feedback from experts and your peers is invaluable especially when you are unsure or unfamiliar with what you are looking to acquire.

I have already mentioned one source of information on modern board games in previous posts, Board Game Geek. A user-driven database of every board game know to man,

the Geek has: reviews, rules, variants and images to help you become familiar with and decide if a game is right for you. That being said, there is a “New Kid on the Block”, Spielbox. Actually, Spielbox is celebrating its 30th year in publication so it’s not that new. Originally a German publication released in Europe and only available as an import. This year they have begun publishing their magazine in English and it is a welcome addition to the other review magazine that we have available for library resources.

The magazine comes out seven times a year, a week or so after the German version is published and is a faithful rendition of the original. Full color, glossy pages highlight the beauty and splendor of the games within. Each magazine contains articles relating to the board game hobby, discussing upcoming releases, publishers, conventions, designers and more. They also often contain unique expansions for popular games as well as games designed specifically for the magazine. Most importantly though, they contain reviews. They have several writers, each adding to the reviews, highlighting if and why they differ if their opinion of a particular game. The reviews themselves are thoughtful and well written, examining multiple aspects of the game including: mechanics, theme and the overall game experience.

Similar to the trend of technology trickling down to us from the Asian market, a number of the games discussed in the magazine will not have been released in the US market yet. They are an insight into the hot and upcoming games that may be picked up and released by US publishers such as Rio Grande Games and Z-Man Games. One thing to note, part of what makes a gaming program successful is the experience we are able to provide with the program. Having the newest games, not available in the US can be a big bump on the “cool” factor. Because a large majority of these games are language independent, the import version can be picked up and played without much problem, I recommend with their 14 Euro flat rate shipping. Being a European release, they will often have multiple languages in their rules set or the rules are often posted on the game’s entry on Board Game Geek.

The magazine is available here at an annual subscription rate of 56 Euros for 7 issues. While this comes to a little over $10 an issue, it is a good invest in a unique resource that provides insight into the world of modern board games.

Many schools have chess clubs… and many more have students who enjoy playing Collectible Card Games (CCG). School chess clubs have enjoyed a long and  prosperous life because of the skills they teach and the build towards mastery that can be so rewarding. At my old school, we had a chess club that the students initiated and I gladly volunteered to oversee. They created levels for ascension as players grew in experience and modeled tournaments after another passion of theirs, Magic the Gathering.

If you are unfamiliar with Magic the Gathering, it is another game that has been enjoying a long a prosperous life for the same reasons, though not as LONG of a life as Chess of course. I played Magic when I was in high school, now in my mid-thirties and it is still thriving. If you are unfamiliar with Magic the Gathering, it is a CCG in which players build or draft their own personal deck of cards that they use to play against another player. There are land cards that are used to generate “mana” that is the currency used to summon creatures, cast spells and create powerful artifacts. Creatures and spells serve as both the offensive tools to chisel their opponents life down to zero as well as a defense against the actions of the other player.

While chess requires you to think ahead within the confines of the game, Magic has you thinking and planning without knowing what your opponent is bringing to the table. Ideally, what you are doing in Magic is building an “engine” that quickly comes together and allows you to claim victory. The beauty in magic is crafting a deck that is balanced and effective. Having the correct proportion of cards that work together and trigger “combos” is very rewarding.

The downside with CCGs in schools is the collectible aspect of the game. Cards come in varying degrees of rarity, with some being exceptionally rare and valuable. This can cause issues with theft, damage and liability. A viable alternative are games that utilize similar mechanics but have closed sets of cards. Here there is no collectible aspect to the game which removes many of the potential problems with CCG’s. There are generally two categories of games that fall into this category, the standalone and the living card games (LCG). LCGs usually come with a base set of cards which are then updated somewhat frequently with small updates or “boosters”. The major difference between CCG’s and these types of games is that with LCGs the boosters are the same set of cards rather than a random assortment of cards so the rarity element is removed. When you buy a particular booster pack you will be getting the same exact cards as everyone else who buys one. Loose a card? Buy a new booster pack. Examples of these living card games include: Call of Cthulhu LCG and A Game of Thrones LCG.

Standalone game comes also come with everything you need to play and enjoy the game but are updated infrequently compared to their LCG counterparts. Rather than several small incremental updates they are usually updated by larger expansions that include many additions and modifications to game play. Some examples include: Race for the Galaxy, Thunderstone and Dominion.

Either style is a welcome addition to game clubs who are focused on providing opportunities for critical thinking, agile inquiry, and the development of a flexible strategy for problem solving. Choosing a game really depends on the finding a theme that works with your students and a buying model that matches your style (bi-annual vs every year or two).

Picking a game resource for your school library is not an easy task. There are several factors to consider when deciding if a game is right for your library.

  • Is it an authentic games?
  • Does it tie in with the curriculum?
  • How will the game will work with your school’s time schedule?

Another important, and often overlooked, consideration is a game’s Return on Investment. How much do you need to invest introducing, setting up and teaching the game to your students and what return are they going to get from their gaming experience?

Board games can provide a variety of direct educational benefits for students. From enriching curricular units on ancient civilizations or American history, to reinforcing content specific skills such as division with remainders or concepts like the idea of diminishing returns. Games enrich the learning experience. Unfortunately, the return on some games are not worth the time needed to guide the students through a successful gaming experience. (more…)