Kallax Game Shelf

I’m taking a course titled Collection Development (SP19IS508AO) as part of my Master of Science in Library and Information Science program this semester. Our instructor had us write up introduction posts the first week of class and then from those posts she made a topic list with some of the common hobbies we all mentioned. We all had to opt-in to a topic without knowing the reason (and each topic had an unknown limited number of spots) and once we’d all chosen, she told us that we have to develop a collection of 20 items for chosen topic. We have to bring our list to class and defend it – explain why we chose the 20 things on our list instead of any other options. “Board games” was on the topic list and luckily I was able to select it before the option was gone. And we are not allowed to collaborate with the other folks who have the same topic.

Here’s the thing: I cannot just make a list of my 20 favorite board games and call it a day. In fact, I’ll likely need to include some games that I personally would not choose to play. This has to be a curated collection for a public library. A library that has patrons from all walks of life coming through its doors to check out various things for education and entertainment. Patrons who will have varied levels of exposure to and experience with board games. Some folks will know exactly what it means if a game is described as “a medium-weight game with drafting, set collection, and asymmetrical player powers” and some folks will read that description and it might as well be Greek. (For more on jargon in the board game industry/hobby, check out this post by Meeple Like Us.)

I need games that span a variety of themes, mechanisms, and complexities. I want games that will generate enough interest that I’ll get a budget increase to add more games to the collection – so I can listen to patron requests for games.

I need some kid-friendly games that a parent with a 5-year-old could bring home and play with their kid. Something that will engage the 5-year-old and the parent.

I need some classics and some mainstream games that are recognizable by folks who remember the occasional family game night as a kid and might use that nostalgia as a road into the modern hobby OR they recall seeing the game at Target and want to try it before they buy it.

And I need some designer hobby games that will appeal to someone who might have a group that they play with at a friend’s house or who might be part of a local board game Meetup or GameFor group but are looking for a new space for play.

If you’re wondering “Why board games?”, take a look here for some benefits of board games, read this article about the golden age of board games, and take a look at these talking points about tabletop games in libraries from the Games & Gaming Round Table of the American Library Association.

My comments about each game will be in the notes section at the bottom of each table table. For anyone unfamiliar with BoardGameGeek (BGG), it’s a game database where community members can rate games and get information about player counts, play times, designers, publishers, themes, mechanisms, and more for most published or soon-to-be published games. The tables below (created with a WordPress plugin from Meeple Like Us) pull information from BGG, so the ratings (1-10, the number in brackets next to rank) are based on BGG user ratings. The complexity scale goes from 1 (light) to 5 (heavy), where light games are generally easier to learn and play than heavy games.

ONLY 20 GAMES. Everyone’s list will be different (that’s the point of the assignment), but this list is mine. Here we go!

#1-5 Kid-Friendly Games

Game Details
NameDragon Rapid Fire (2016)
ComplexityLight [1.00]
BGG Rank14417 [5.43]
Player Count2-4
Mechanism(s)Dice Rolling and Roll / Spin and Move
Notes from RebeccaRacing dragons and shiny gems... what more could could a kid want in a game??? HABA is a wonderful publisher of kids' games, so you'll see they get 2/5 games on the kid-friendly list. As kids enjoy playing this game, they'll be exercising math and communication skills, learning how to take turns and how to win and lose - adults can use these moments to model what good sportsmanship looks like. It's also great for fine motor skills as you'll be moving pieces and picking up gems as you play. And, yes, there is an English copy of this.
Game Details
NameFlashlights & Fireflies (2015)
ComplexityLight [1.00]
BGG Rank9690 [6.13]
Player Count (Recommended)2-5 (Unset)
Mechanism(s)Uncredited
Notes from RebeccaThis game is adorable! The characters are playing hide and seek in the woods and capturing fireflies to light up their lanterns so they can find their friends. If your friends are good at hiding, you might run into some adorable woodland creatures instead. Watch out for those mosquitoes, though! Catch those and you won't have much light in your lantern! This game balances luck and deduction and had kids making some strategic choices.
Game Details
NameICECOOL (2016)
Accessibility ReportMeeple Like Us
ComplexityLight [1.02]
BGG Rank795 [6.87]
Player Count (Recommended)2-4 (3-4)
Mechanism(s)Area Movement and Take That
Notes from RebeccaYou're a penguin racing the hallways to either catch fish and evade the hall monitor OR you're the hall monitor trying to catch everyone before they catch their fish! This is a dexterity game where you'll be flicking penguin tokens around the game board, potentially trying to make a trick shot or two if you're feeling daring. This game has been a hit with every kid I've played it with - and every adult, too! This game offers opportunities to model good sportsmanship. Kids will exercise counting and color recognition skills.
Game Details
NameRhino Hero (2011)
Accessibility ReportMeeple Like Us
ComplexityLight [1.03]
BGG Rank666 [6.96]
Player Count2-5
Mechanism(s)Hand Management
Notes from RebeccaRhino Hero is a card stacking, tower building game. Skills exercised include strategic planning and comprehension of physics concepts (how card placement will affect the integrity of the tower). And, unlike Jenga, when the card tower comes crashing down, you won't have the clatter of wooden tiles hitting the table.
Game Details
NameYeti in My Spaghetti (2015)
ComplexityLight [1.00]
BGG Rank16520 [5.00]
Player Count (Recommended)2-99 (2-6)
Mechanism(s)Player Elimination
Notes from RebeccaWe have this game at my library right now and kids are CONSTANTLY playing it. There's a bowl with some wavy sticks (spaghetti) across it and a yeti sitting on top of the sticks. Players take turns removing sticks, trying not to make the yeti fall into the bowl. This one is great because it's silly, it exercises fine motor skills and comprehension of physics concepts.

#6-12 Classics & Mainstream Games

Game Details
NameCarcassonne (2000)
Accessibility ReportMeeple Like Us
ComplexityMedium Light [1.93]
BGG Rank152 [7.43]
Player Count2-5
Mechanism(s)Area Control / Area Influence and Tile Placement
Notes from RebeccaCarcassonne is a classic. Many people consider it a 'gateway' game, which means that, for several folks, it was one of the first board games they played and it made them love playing games - a gateway into the hobby. Carcassonne is still loved by new and seasoned gamers alike. It has expansions that allow up to 8 players. It could be on the table for an adults-only game night or family game night.
Game Details
NameCatan (1995)
Accessibility ReportMeeple Like Us
ComplexityMedium Light [2.34]
BGG Rank326 [7.19]
Player Count3-4
Mechanism(s)Dice Rolling, Modular Board, Route/Network Building and Trading
Notes from RebeccaCatan (Settlers of Catan) is one of the most well-known hobby board games and is available nearly anywhere that you can buy games. It's been getting love from various celebrities, which put it further into the spotlight during this golden age of board games. It was the first hobby board game for a lot of people and continues to be loved by many.
Game Details
NameKing of Tokyo (2011)
Accessibility ReportMeeple Like Us
ComplexityMedium Light [1.50]
BGG Rank259 [7.23]
Player Count (Recommended)2-6 (3-6)
Mechanism(s)Area Control / Area Influence, Card Drafting, Dice Rolling, Player Elimination and Press Your Luck
Notes from RebeccaBattle other giant monsters as you fight for control of Tokyo. This is a fast-paced dice game where you'll push your luck trying to earn victory points and keep your health up. Kids and adults can enjoy this game. The theme (based on Godzilla-like movies) is recognizable by a large number of people. The rules are quick to learn and the dice rolling part is similar to Yahtzee, which is also something many are familiar with.
Game Details
NameMegaland (2018)
ComplexityMedium Light [1.63]
BGG Rank2367 [6.91]
Player Count2-5
Mechanism(s)Press Your Luck
Notes from RebeccaThe art in this game is stellar, as is the art in games from Red Raven Games in general. Megaland has a video game-like theme: you're fighting monsters in a cave, trying to not lose any hearts, while collecting as much loot as you can carry. You can purchase cards that give you bonuses. Megaland is quick to learn and quick to play - you could play 3 games in an hour once you're comfortable with the rules. It appeals to a wide audience.
Game Details
NameMonopoly (1933)
ComplexityMedium Light [1.67]
BGG Rank17139 [4.38]
Player Count (Recommended)2-8 (3-6)
Mechanism(s)Auction/Bidding, Player Elimination, Roll / Spin and Move, Set Collection and Trading
Notes from RebeccaI know. Monopoly supposedly ruins families and the game never ends. But, it still sells like crazy and a lot of people associate board gaming with Monopoly. If you don't enjoy Monopoly, then don't play it - but don't make anyone feel bad for wanting or liking to play it themselves. It's nostalgic for so many. For someone who would never have considered checking out a board game, seeing something so familiar on a library shelf might persuade them to browse the collection.
Game Details
NameScrabble (1948)
Accessibility ReportMeeple Like Us
ComplexityMedium Light [2.11]
BGG Rank1627 [6.28]
Player Count2-4
Mechanism(s)Hand Management and Tile Placement
Notes from RebeccaScrabble clubs are still a thing. It's a word game that many still adore. It's also nostalgic for some folks. Kids and adults can play - the educational benefits for spelling and reading comprehension are great. There are several examples online of classroom use of Scrabble with custom rules - these alternative rules can be included with the game or used in programming. The game can sometimes be found for around $1 at thrift stores, so getting several copies should be feasible if there were a desire for a library Scrabble club.
Game Details
NameSplendor (2014)
Accessibility ReportMeeple Like Us
ComplexityMedium Light [1.81]
BGG Rank131 [7.47]
Player Count2-4
Mechanism(s)Card Drafting and Set Collection
Notes from RebeccaSplendor hit the board game scene hard when it released in 2014. It was an instant favorite for tabletop gamers of all sorts. It's got a great molded insert (the plastic tray inside the box that holds all the pieces), it's got poker chips components that are a lot of fun to play with, and the art is... splendorous. It's easy to teach, quick to learn, and it plays in just 30 minutes.

#13-20 Hobby Games

Game Details
Name7 Wonders (2010)
Accessibility ReportMeeple Like Us
ComplexityMedium Light [2.34]
BGG Rank45 [7.78]
Player Count (Recommended)2-7 (3-7)
Mechanism(s)Card Drafting, Hand Management, Set Collection, Simultaneous Action Selection and Variable Player Powers
Notes from Rebecca7 Wonders is a great example of a card drafting game. It plays up to seven people. It plays in 30 minutes or less. There can be a bit of a learning curve if you aren't familiar with the game's mechanisms, but it doesn't take many plays to figure it out.
Game Details
NameDead of Winter: A Crossroads Game (2014)
ComplexityMedium [3.01]
BGG Rank77 [7.68]
Player Count (Recommended)2-5 (3-5)
Mechanism(s)Action Point Allowance System, Area Movement, Cooperative Play, Dice Rolling, Hand Management, Hidden Traitor, Press Your Luck, Storytelling, Trading, Variable Player Powers and Voting
Notes from RebeccaDead of Winter is a semi-cooperative game, which means that the players are working together against the game, for the most part (there is a betrayer mechanism that you can play with or without). The art is fantastic. The characters are wonderful - this game is on a lot of lists for its diverse cast of characters and their representation. The game is great whether you play it with a full group of 5 or take it on solo. The two player variant is great for a date night or even a parent/child one-on-one game night. The Crossroads cards and mission objectives make the story for each game different.
Game Details
NameDominion (2008)
Accessibility ReportMeeple Like Us
ComplexityMedium Light [2.36]
BGG Rank76 [7.65]
Player Count2-4
Mechanism(s)Card Drafting, Deck / Pool Building and Hand Management
Notes from RebeccaFull disclosure: I personally am not a fan of Dominion. BUT, a lot of people love it and I recognize that. It's earned its spot as an essential game because it is so well loved by the masses. It's easy to learn, so it's a decent introduction to deck building games.
Game Details
NameEminent Domain (2011)
ComplexityMedium [2.51]
BGG Rank469 [7.09]
Player Count2-4
Mechanism(s)Card Drafting, Deck / Pool Building, Hand Management and Variable Phase Order
Notes from RebeccaEminent Domain is one of my favorite space games. There's space exploration, resource collection, technology research and upgrades, and defending your civilization from attacks of other players (or attacking them first!). It's like playing out your very own sci-fi movie.
Game Details
NameLords of Waterdeep (2012)
Accessibility ReportMeeple Like Us
ComplexityMedium Light [2.48]
BGG Rank53 [7.77]
Player Count2-5
Mechanism(s)Card Drafting, Set Collection, Take That and Worker Placement
Notes from RebeccaLords of Waterdeep is from the worlds of Dungeons and Dragons. Each player is one of the secret rulers of the city, competing for influence over the city. You'll recruit adventurers to complete quests, purchase buildings throughout the city, and carry out acts of intrigue. This game is an excellent example of a worker placement game. For gamers who want something longer than 30 minutes, this game can run between 1 and 2 hours, depending on the number of players (2-5).
Game Details
NameMansions of Madness: Second Edition (2016)
ComplexityMedium [2.67]
BGG Rank27 [8.16]
Player Count1-5
Mechanism(s)Area Movement, Cooperative Play, Dice Rolling, Hand Management, Modular Board, Partnerships, Role Playing and Variable Player Powers
Notes from RebeccaLovecraft's work has been very popular in tabletop games - there are handfuls and handfuls of games features Cthulhu and other Great Old Ones - and one of the best games is Mansions of Madness 2E. It requires a tablet to play because the app drives the games story and interactive puzzles, but the app is free so people can play it with their own tablet or using a library table at the library. The game is cooperative and plays up to 5.
Game Details
NameSagrada (2017)
Accessibility ReportMeeple Like Us
ComplexityMedium Light [1.90]
BGG Rank125 [7.58]
Player Count1-4
Mechanism(s)Card Drafting, Dice Rolling, Pattern Building and Set Collection
Notes from RebeccaSagrada immediately won over the tabletop community with its unique theme (stained glass making) and gorgeous game components. It's a lovely abstract puzzle game where you'll be drafting and manipulating dice to fit into the patterns of your unique stained glass panel. The base game plays up to 4 people, while the expansion allows play for up to 6.
Game Details
NameMysterium (2015)
Accessibility ReportMeeple Like Us
ComplexityMedium Light [1.92]
BGG Rank190 [7.40]
Player Count (Recommended)2-7 (3-7)
Mechanism(s)Cooperative Play, Hand Management and Pattern Recognition
Notes from RebeccaMysterium is like a modernized version of Clue. It plays up to 7 players and is generally best at full player count, but at least 5 players. One player runs the game as the Ghost. Other players are psychics hired by the ghost's employer to figure out how the Ghost died. The Ghost cannot speak, but only sends visual clues to psychics, hoping they'll be able to decipher the message and figure out the murderer, the weapon, and the location of the crime before time runs out. The cards in the visual clue deck are GORGEOUS. There are variables to make the game easier or harder. This is a great game when you've got a large group of people.

The Outcome (in class)

Edit to add: After our class discussion about this assignment, we discovered that three of us chose board games as our topic. Across our lists, we had 45 unique game titles. Only 4 titles were on all three lists (7 Wonders, Splendor, Catan, and Monopoly). There were 11 titles that were on at least 2 lists. We had to work with our group to reduce our list to 10 titles. After my group talked, this was our final 10:

  • 7 Wonders
  • Splendor
  • Catan
  • Monopoly
  • Carcassonne
  • Ticket to Ride
  • King of Tokyo
  • Dominion
  • Codenames
  • Scrabble

9 Thoughts on “Twenty Essential Board Games for a Public Collection”

  • Interesting list – two games I expected and aren’t on this list are Ticket to ride and Pandemic.

    I eel like both are iconic enough to deserve a spit and they are also quite friendly for newer gamers.

    I would probably drop Dead of winter and Mansions, because of complexity, but that is just my opinion 🙂

    Another game that I could see arguments for is Azul.

    • I wanted to include a wide variety of genres/themes, mechanisms, and complexity. Ticket to Ride and Azul were games I considered, and there are several others that could work for a list like this, too. In any list of this nature, there are going to be differences of opinion because there isn’t any one right answer. I chose Dead of Winter over Pandemic because I think DoW is more flexible. With Mansions, I wanted an example of a well done app integration.

      • Hmmm, I didn’t really consider trying to show a good app integration, but I really like it in hindsight 🙂 Maybe I’m just to focused on having beginner friendly games in such a list (in the end if 17 games are on the lighter side it would be nice to offer a little bit for people who are prepared for a bit more rules).

        And yeah such lists will always be different, I’m just in love with Pandemic 🙂

        I certainly understand that the 20 games limit is set by the assignment (I would guess in an actual situation there would be either a limit to combined price or a limit for space or both).

        Out of curiosity – what are your opinions about calssic games such as Chess on a list like this (I certainly get that we want to show off all the hobby games, but at the same time I could see a reason to include the true old games)?

        • I didn’t want to be too focused on beginner friendly because I wanted things that would entice folks who are already avid gamers, as well. If I had to use the collection to start a gaming club at the library, I’d definitely want to appeal to folks who already game and might be looking for a regular group. A lot of folks don’t feel comfortable bringing their own games until they know people, so I’d need some medium to heavy games to get them interested. Their enthusiasm for gaming would hopefully draw in more people, new gamers included.

          There’s definitely room for things like Chess, Checkers, Othello, and Go. The reason they aren’t on this list, and I probably should have mentioned in the post, is that, in my experience, libraries tend to have those games available even if they don’t have a circulating game collection (especially Chess and Checkers). They’ll receive copies as donations and keep them available either on a shelf where folks can just grab them and play in the library or they can request them from the reference desk.

  • 2 essential games that always seem to be missed in my opinion are smallworld and tsuro, both easy to learn with tons of strategy

    • Both would work on a list like this. I love Tsuro! 20 games is pretty restrictive when it comes to ideas for public libraries, and nearly everyone will have a different list. There isn’t any one right list.

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