The Games Library Pass was the best value of play at Gen Con. More than 4,700 games were available to check out over an 8 hour period for only $8.00. Housed in the Indianapolis Colts’ Lucas Oil Stadium, we checked in bright and early on Day 2 at 8:00 am for our pre-registered day passes and perused the bookshelves for game titles on our wish list that we wanted to play at Gen Con. After navigating through the masses of Exhibit Hall the day before, it was a relief to be able to spread out from other people and sit down at an empty table, just the two of us, to play some board games.
It was an unreal feeling to be sitting on the football field at the stadium’s ground level with the open expanse surrounding us of 70,000 seats in the stands. The Games Library itself occupied one end zone while the rest of the field had tables designated for board game tournaments. We scanned in with our badges and were given wristbands so that we could enter and exit as needed. Games were checked out one at a time with the inventory inspected by volunteers when they were returned. We would then take the game to our table and read the rule book to play. It was a smooth self-service process to check out games that we didn’t have to buy to play together.
While the games were loosely arranged in alphabetical order, it could be difficult at times for us to locate a specific title. It wasn’t quite the dewey decimal system of your local library, but more like signs posted with A-B or C-D on the bookends. The card games, most especially, were stacked on top of each other without any order so I meticulously pulled each out game one at a time both in the card games section and then in all the stacks of bookshelves from A-H until I finally located the card game called Herbaceous that we really wanted to play! Herbaceous was in the right section but underneath the rubble of other games hidden from my view the first dozen times I tried looking for it. Ah, the simple satisfaction of finding something that seemed lost forever! The Game Library had a QR code available that linked to a Gen Con catalog where we could search if a game was in stock or currently being played so this was helpful to look up specific games that we wanted to find on the shelves.
We began with On Tour, a roll-and-write route building game that simulates the route your band would be playing on tour around the country. We had pre-watched this game the night before on Ruel Gaviola’s channel and it looked like a fun and simple way to begin the day. With each roll of the die we would write the numbers with dry-erase markers in two different cities trying to connect a route in order from 1-100. It was a cute concept but I didn’t love the randomness of each turn dependent on the luck of the die. Our next couple games relied on our dexterity and arranging pieces skillfully with Dimension and Numbr 9. These games got some laughs for us because they didn’t play to our strengths and the frustration level was just ever so slightly kicking in!
We were lucky enough to try Cascadia in the Games Library that was awarded the 2022 Spiel des Jahres (Board Game of the Year) which is the highest honor in board games. Cascadia is a puzzly tile-laying game where we took turns building our terrain and populating it with the Pacific Northwest wildlife. As a drafting game with tiles and tokens, we had to create a diverse yet harmonious ecosystem in a puzzle of contiguous habitats for each animal species while also competing to score the most victory points. We only played Cascadia once but we liked it so much that we requested it for our library back home. The Valparaiso Public Library has been developing an impressive board game collection over the past year that is available for check out. The library approved our suggestion and ordered Cascadia for their shelves! Now we can borrow the game from our library to play again, as long as it is available, since the board games have really been taking off with patrons and are almost always checked out.
We concluded our Friday Game Library Pass with Fauna: A Wild Trivia Game and a chess-like race with wooden ships called Squadro that we really liked. Before our time was up we took pictures of the games we still wanted to play the next day with our Saturday Library Pass and headed over to the Board Game Geek’s “Hot Games Library” in the Hyatt across the street.
The Hot Games Room is a collection of the newest games donated by publishers each year for Gen Con that can be checked out for gameplay in a 2-hour time slot. After checking in with the host, we were each given a poker card with the number of when our pass ended so Derek and I were given a 3 for 3:00 pm. This was our ticket to enter/exit if we ever needed to use the bathroom down the hall. The hotel was extremely cold so I was glad that I wore layers but Derek didn’t have his long sleeve with him so we took turns wearing my sweatshirt. Yes, I love the irony that Hot Games had the coldest venue. The Hot Games Library was in a smaller space with only a limited number of people allowed to enter each hour in a more relaxed setting with the hottest selection of games. The only downfall is that we only had two hours to play and more strategic games typically take an hour or more to complete. There were a lot of games we wanted to try and just not enough time to play them all.
Derek snatched up Framework released by Pegasus Spiele this year as the latest game created by Uwe Rosenberg, the German game designer who brought us New York Zoo, Hallertau, Patchwork, and Agricola (among the other 25+ games he has created since the 90’s). I absolutely loved the tile matching aspect of this game; which was a race to connect our resources with the goal of eliminating our reserve of tokens instead of totaling victory points in the end like most games do. Each time a group of tiles was linked up, we would check to see if any other tasks had been completed for the domino effect of connected resource tiles. I would love to play this game again but we had to take advantage of our precious time in the library and find another hot game to play! Derek picked up Planted: A Game of Nature & Nurture (2022) but after glancing through the rulebook we didn’t think that we had enough time to play it before our shift was up. With 30 minutes left, our last game was a much shorter strategy game called Downtown Farmers Market where we had to align our produce with the end-game goals on rows and columns. Derek did very well in this game and scored a victory for our records!
We returned to the Gen Con Games Library for another day pass on Saturday where we played Shōbu, Herbaceous, and Karuba. Shōbu was a Japanese game somewhat similar to Chess but on four boards with rocks that is so classic that it seems like it could have existed for centuries! It had a Notan design concept of light and dark that balanced a passive action with an aggressive one on each turn to move our light or dark stones in the direction that would eventually push our opponent off the board much like a sumo wrestler (rikishi) being shoved out of the ring. This was a simple, yet very strategic game that could be played almost anywhere, maybe even on the beach if we could pick up similar shells or stones to play with!
Finally, Derek and I were able to fulfill another game from our wish list by playing our once lost, but now found game of Herbaceous. We collected herb cards to grow as sets and transplant into our pots for end-game victory points. Each turn, we drew a card and then decided to either keep it in our personal collection or add it to the community garden for our opponent to pick up. We then potted our herbs in groups of the same type, pairs, or in a variety of combinations according to the sizes and shapes of our containers to score as many points as possible for the most valuable medley of herbs. This was a great game with a unique theme for the gardener in both of us.
We ended our library pass with Karuba, yet another great tile-racing game that involved each person maneuvering their four adventurer meeples through a create-your-own jungle route like Indiana Jones racing to the ultimate treasure at the color coordinated pyramids. This game was right down my alley for my puzzly skill set and we played it a couple times together before breaking for lunch.
The Board Game Library experience was everything that we look for in our quest for curating our own small library of board games. We regularly visit local bookstores and scout out board game cafés when traveling to play the used games from their collections. For example, one of our favorite board game libraries is called Out of the Box in both Zeeland and Grand Rapids, Michigan, where their games are not only sold new and on consignment, but also where we can check out nightly rentals from their library to try with the Jager family. We really like the concept of a library of board games.
If ever there was a place at Gen Con where we could have seemingly unlimited access to board games, it was at the Games Library. We had access to play as many games as we wanted during our day pass at our leisure without the overwhelming nature of the magnificent Exhibit Hall demo tables. We considered extending our time in the library for the evening passes but the tickets were sold out. Gen Con was shaping up to be an amazing weekend and we still had the anticipation of AEG’s Big Game Night to look forward to.
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