International Games Week October 29 – November 4

International Games Week

Sponsor profile: SimplyFun

Posted on September 15, 2014

This month's sponsors, SimplyFun, are focused on games for children and families. Here's their own blurb on what they do:

SimplyFun is THE parental resource for using play to build smarter kids. Our award-winning games and activities promote child success by helping parents focus on social and emotional skill development while practicing academic fortitude. For ages 3 to 103 we keep families connected while helping children learn the value of play & creating memories that will last a lifetime.

For a relatively young company, SimplyFun has been pretty prolific, with over 100 games currently available having won nearly 100 awards in just the last few years! (More precisely, 98 awards as of the end of August, starting from 2012.) Their ethos is similar to that of a combined publisher and bookstore, and will not be unfamiliar to librarians: to "recommend the right game, for the right moment and the right reason". To this end, they have a Personal Shopper to help people find the perfect game for their particular needs at

Keenly conscious of the educational and skill-development dimensions to their products, SimplyFun are also very well aware that a game nobody wants to play can't educate or develop anyone. They pay equally close attention to the enjoyability of their games and to the extrinsic benefits of play; they have had their games:

The story behind this last point is particularly touching. A number of years ago a mother of two children, one severely autistic and one without those challenges, contacted SimplyFun to say that their game Walk the Dogs (one of their donations - see below!) allowed her to experience something she thought would never be possible in her life… to see her two children laughing and enjoying a game together. Though she had modified the rules to make the game accessible to both kids, that didn’t lessen the joy of their play - or detract from the emotion the folks at SimplyFun felt at realizing the difference their game made in this mother's family. Her story remains a legend in the company, and powers their belief that - through games and play - they could and should provide help to other parents just like her.

[Editor's aside: Yet another instance of the amazing ways in which games and play can connect people across quite considerable barriers!]

Walk the Dogs

Unleash 63 miniature dogs that won't 'flea' from your table!

Grab a leash and get ready to Walk the Dogs! Each player collects dogs from the front or back of a long line by drawing and playing cards. But beware of the dog catcher, who may steal some of your favorite dogs. To win, collect five of the same breed in a row, or have the most dog points in your own line. Woof!

What breeds come in the game?

Poodle, Pug, Brittany Spaniel, Shitzu, Scottish Terrier, Golden Retriever, and Pomeranian...

...and they're all rescue dogs!


The game of earth, air, water, and fire.

Matter is a game of hierarchy, where each of the four elements has a counter-element that reduces its power. Boost your elementals by connecting matching tiles, and avoid tiles that will weaken them. The winner is the player who masters the elements!

Thank you to SimplyFun for donating copies of both these games to IGD participants in the USA! There may still be a few left if you register now...

Talking Points: Play, happiness and health

Posted on July 14, 2014

Hello folks! Welcome to the third in our series about the very real value that play brings to the lives of the playful. Click here to start the discussion from scratch, and here for a discussion of games in libraries!

You wouldn’t know it to look at our arts or health or archival policies – or even, to a lesser extent, education – but a tremendous amount of research has been undertaken on play and health in numerous dimensions: physical, mental, emotional, social. There are numerous practitioners in each of these disciplines battling away to get better recognition of play and games, but the policy framework – and particularly the funding framework – for the playful arts is still negligible. (There’s an interesting post on why this is to be had… another time!) Changing this and enabling the community to better tap into and explore the world of play is one of my key objectives in writing for and editing this blog, in volunteering on IGD, and indeed in the work that I do generally.

I could cite numerous papers on the health effects of play for body (strength, health, flexibility, dexterity, speed, senses, reflexes), mind (memory, perception, comprehension, analysis, intuition), soul (motivation, happiness/pleasure/joy, creativity, assumptions that problems can be solved, capacity for reflection-in-action, drive to learn, ability to centre oneself), and what you might call intersoul – the part of us that inhabits and thrives in our connection to others – and at some point I’ll do that. But this is just a Talking Point and I’m short of time, so I’m going to argue from first principles instead and leave you to seek out the evidence yourself.

It follows logically from the previous discussion about the nature of play as a concept (that it is fundamentally about acting according to one’s nature) that play promotes activity. Given that we know that all of our faculties grow in response to moderate, unforced exercise – and dwindle with neglect – it makes sense that play in and of itself tends to be (though as always, subject to the complex interaction of specific activities and circumstances) a force for health in whichever elements of ourselves we allow to play.

The obverse is also true. Where people – and indeed mammals – are actively restricted from play, there are immediate effects on their health in all the above dimensions. Indeed, and this is one of the studies I’d link to if I had time, some experimental animals completely deprived of play became terminally miserable and died.

(The parallels to the links between freedom and health should, of course, be obvious.)

These findings have been behind the efforts of numerous educators to see play reinstated as central to education, but just as I believe that learning needs to be lifelong, I think play needs to be as well. An adult life deprived of play – whether actively or through passive exclusion – leads to that adult being less happy and healthy, and therefore – counterintuitively, if you’re a beancounter who insists that only the readily quantifiable should inform decisionmaking – more of a burden both to themselves and to others. This has ramifications that go beyond the cultural and medical, and include the political, economic, and industrial.

Still think play is fundamentally trivial?


(Click here for the next post in this Talking Points series - "Play and learning".)

Games folks on libraries: Wolfgang Baur

Posted on May 15, 2014

Hi everyone! This year, we're planning on expanding the blog with interesting new series*, and this is the first installment of one of them: we're inviting folks from the world of games to share their stories about libraries. Each of these posts will follow a simple format: a brief bio, and then an outline of the interviewee's history with libraries, their sense of where we are now, and their thoughts on the future of libraries, particularly as it pertains to games.

It's a real pleasure to open with Wolfgang Baur, not only a well-known name in the field of tabletop role-playing games, but a firm devotee of the library - as you'll see! (Full disclosure: my first paid writing job in the RPG industry was an Open Design project about four years ago.)

Wolfgang Baur is the founder and publisher of Kobold Press, a small press based near Seattle and focussing on tabletop games and fantasy worldbuilding how-to guides. Baur is the author of the Midgard Campaign Setting, co-author of the Dark•Matter setting and large portions of the celebrated Planescape campaign setting, as well as the Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding, other Kobold Guides to Game Design, and a hundred other roleplaying titles and magazine articles based on Dungeons & Dragons, Call of Cthulhu, and similar games.

Baur is one of the first games publishers to adopt a crowdfunding model for publishing (starting in 2006, before Kickstarter made the process much more accessible). The "Open Design" crowdfunding model of his company's early period also experimented with collaboration in design, inviting the project backers to brainstorm, pitch, and (in some cases) write material to be included in the companies fantasy adventures.

[Editor's note: My own experience of this process was overwhelmingly positive. The ideas for the work are discussed among the subscribers; backers at a certain level get to pitch their angle on various aspects of the work, and the group as a whole votes on which concept to incorporate; then the writer can invite readers' thoughts on their work as they go. It's something like collaborating on telling a story with your audience, and simultaneously being the audience to different parts of the same story; it's perhaps not surprising that an idea this polyglottal came from the tabletop role-playing game sector!]

Welcome, Wolfgang! Thanks for being our first interviewee. Let's begin with our first question: how have libraries figured in your past? What have they meant to you?

My history with libraries is pretty straightforward and also rather conspiratorial: my mother was a professional librarian, I was raised with a lot of books around the house, and I had a library card by the time I was 10. I started reading my way through the elementary school library and (later) found ways to balance a very large number of books on a bicycle without crashing too often.

My mother made it clear to me that librarians are heroic figures, because as a librarian at the Sächsische Landesbibliothek (Saxon State Library), my mother was one of a handful of people who knew that the Dresden Codex was part of the library's collection--and that it was hidden by the Germans before the end of WW2, to prevent it being looted by the Soviet army. She kept that secret for years, even from my father, and was quite relieved when the Berlin Wall fell and she could, at last, spill the beans about a volume she had surely not seen since she emigrated to the United States 30 years prior.

For me, libraries are where people keep their greatest treasures hidden, their knowledge, and their history.

Very true, and well put! How do you see libraries right now?

Right now, libraries are undergoing titanic shifts, though they are also staying right at the forefront of knowledge, archives, media, and culture. My children go to story time at the local lending library, which I always think of as one of the last bastions of the oral tradition. And students and the homeless alike use the Kirkland library computers, and I'm personally grateful for the University of Washington archives and collections.

It will not come as a surprise to anyone reading that libraries are re-inventing themselves at the same time: the lending library has comic books and manga that my daughter devours, but that were not collected in my youth (how sad for me, how good for her!). They are keeping up with the culture, and graphic novels and manga are just a part of that. And the ability to borrow ebooks makes me giddy; I know it's complex and Seattle's system has some real technical advantages (such as a whole tech industry to draw from, and fairly proficient readers). But it's interesting to see it happen.

Indeed. And how do you see libraries evolving into the future? What role do you see games playing in that?

In future, I expect some of these trends to continue, as library collections grow more complex, retain both digital and physical assets, and continue to offer community connections, research tools, and (my very favorite) help to targeted communities such as the very young, researchers, or reading circles and gaming groups. I remember fondly that the library where I grew up let us take over a table and sometimes a study room to run our games of Dungeons & Dragons and Risk and Gettysburg. I think that board games such as Settlers of Catan and Apples to Apples are both huge fun, and could be the foundation of a family game night at some libraries--or they might offer a game design night based around a title like the Kobold Guide to Board Game Design (a book that educators in the US seem very happy to see). Games remain a powerful and sometimes underappreciated tool for learning math, strategy, and logic, among other subjects.

At the same time, libraries make it easier than ever to access and understand the vast array of digital resources out there: the tutoring nights at my local Kirkland branch are always popular, and the tables are usually covered with both books and tablets. In that sense, libraries are continuing exactly the same mission they've always had, using new tools: connecting people and information, informing and educating, and letting patrons explore their world.

Thanks again to Wolfgang for inaugurating this series - and doing so with such an amazing tale of custodianship!

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