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...

Game Profile: Qwirkle

Posted on August 25, 2014

The prolific Hannah Tracy is back again! She brings us another profile of a game that works well for audiences of all ages, such as those likely to attend your International Games Day event... 

Qwirkle is a board game created by MindWare which has won numerous awards. It is designed for two to four players and play time is usually about a half hour to forty-five minutes.  I like to describe it as sudoku meets dominoes meets Scrabble.

The game is made up of 108 wooden blocks with a color and a shape on each. Each tile is one of six different shapes in one of six color options (so 36 different possibilities, and 3 copies of each).

To play, each player builds in a Scrabble-style grid off what is already on the board, to make lines of either matching shape or color. So it might be six squares, all of different colors; or one of each shape, all in the color blue. Each block that is added to a line scores points, and if they can make a complete line it is called a qwirkle and scores an extra 6 points. The player at the end of the game with the most points wins. For a fuller description of the rules, and to see some actual game play, check out the TableTop episode.

This game has become a favorite at my library. It is easy to pick up, and is pretty quick to play, so it is easy to squeeze in a game at the end of the day before I have to kick all the teens out. The actual play is pretty basic, but the strategy can become quite involved. There are any number of choices you can make each turn and you need to decide which will benefit you the most. But you are not playing in a vacuum - other players’ decisions will affect what you will be able to do. You can even specifically make moves that will block or stop another player from being able to make a good move. This leads to much yelling in both triumph and frustration. The game is simple enough for children and offers enough complex options for the strategy-minded player. One of my favorite parts is simply getting to shout “Qwirkle!” really loudly every time I complete a line.

I have also become a big fan of the travel edition, which plays exactly the same and comes in a nifty little pouch which is just the right size for Qwirkle plus a deck of cards or Fluxx.

Game profiles: Hanabi, or, Theory Of Mind In A Box

Posted on July 28, 2014

Hi folks! Thanks to life not running according to those famous Other Plans, we've been caught a little on the hop by this month's Game Profile piece. So rather than another survey of a genre, like the superb effort Ben gave us last month, we're going to concentrate on a single game.

But whooo-ee, what a game.

Hanabi, which Australian donors Good Games are donating to Aussie participants, is like a haiku - or perhaps something a little less sparse, like a sonnet. It has a tiny number of components and systems, but they are arranged so artfully that they are more even than the product of their parts, let alone the sum.

Hanabi is Japanese for fireworks, or literally "flower fire". The story of the game - and it's largely decorative, with little connection to the mechanics of the game - is that it's New Year in a Japanese village, and the players are the fireworks crew who are about to put on the annual show. Some klutz has knocked over the carefully sorted fireworks and muddled them all up, and you're all frantically working together to reorganise them before the show starts - but if you make too many mistakes, the fireworks will blow up and take you all with them.

I'm going to skip over a detailed rules recap at this point - like many games, it's hard to grok from a description and I would just bore you. The key point is that this is a co-operative game of hidden information: you hold the cards facing away from you!

Yep. When you're playing Hanabi, everyone can see the cards in your hand but you. And there are strict rules that govern what players can tell each other.

This means that you are constantly thinking about what's going on in your teammates' minds. What do they need to know? Why did they think you needed to know that these cards were blue? Should I play them, discard them, or hang onto them and wait for more information?

And, as you get more advanced, you start thinking about how to convey information indirectly: if I discard this red 3, even though we still need one, will my friend work out I only feel safe to do that because I can see that her "unknown-colour" 3 is the other red?

You'll also start using negative information ("if these cards in my hand ARE blue, then all the other cards are NOT blue"), card-counting-style probability juggling, and more.

Just this surprisingly sophisticated level of puzzle-like logic, theory-of-mind, attempting to read other players, etc. is enough to make the game a keeper. But the real value of the game comes one layer deeper. In addition to those other skills, you're also receiving a lesson in the fundamental unknowability of other people. And you're doing it in a framework of co-operation.

Emotionally, it is far easier to engage with the "other people" problem in a competitive or even hostile mode. Our more basic natures reflexively resent the things that make us exert ourselves, and that meshes well with a goal that involves somehow triumphing over them. (One could argue that this is at the root of many modern socio-politico-economic ills - for starters, the rabid anti-intellectualism of large pockets of mass culture.) This is part of the pleasure of competitive play: expressing that basic egoistic subjective sense of the self’s defiance against the world, but doing so in a consensual context where that hostility is licensed, constrained into forms that contain the possible harm, and channeled in ways that mean that even the journey to defeat can still be a pleasurable and educational experience.

But real life – especially a good life – is much more about getting inside other people’s heads in order to help them, whether because doing so helps us too, or simply because we love them. And that’s what Hanabi is all about.

The puzzle that you are collaborating to solve – sort cards drawn randomly into sequences of 1-5 in 5 different colours – is childishly simple. But the fact that you know nothing of the cards you hold except what your partners tell you – and vice versa – plus what you can see of cards in other players' hands and on the table, and what you can deduce from all that information, makes other people not only a crucial part of the puzzle but utterly indispensible to the solution. Failing to trust your fellow players to tell you what you need to know can completely paralyse you. Failing to consider how even the slightest action will be seen by your partners in the game may well lead to you sending false signals. And most importantly, feeling antagonistic towards other players only distracts you – and probably them; most humans are incredibly sensitive to even slight inflections of blame – from the problem at hand.

This forces the higher functions of the brain not only to engage with the intellectual problem at hand, but to examine and control those resentful lizard-brain “how dare you make me work” impulses. In other words, you are not only practicing being smart but being good; blaming other people for not automatically conforming to internal expectations is at the root of evils ranging all the way from petty to genocidal.

It's a lot to read into a simple game, I'll admit. But play it - with someone you're close to, and with someone you're not - before you dismiss it. If a handful of words, well-chosen and perfectly arranged, can detonate in the mind and force a re-evaluation of an entire life, why can't a tiny bundle of choices and rules, actions and consequences, take us deeper into human nature than we even know how to recognise in "just a game"?

And if that's possible, isn't it our responsibility as libraryfolk to try and make sure it happens? It is our duty, I would contend, both to seek out the playful works that offer these kinds of possibilities, and - even more importantly - to provide the context and the vocabulary that enables our communities to realise them.

That this vocabulary is still in development, that our culture as a whole is only starting to wake up to the power of play - surely that only makes it more exciting, not less... and more important that community-minded, culture-minded, people-minded voices like ours be woven into the conversation right from the start.

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