Halloween Games for Library Programs

A few months ago an old colleague of mine asked me about games for her library to integrate into a Halloween program. After some back and forth I recommended five games. These games were chosen to fit in her (slight) budget, not require too steep learning curve, not have too complicated a setup, accommodate families, be resilient to repeated use (and survive a piece or two getting lost along the way) and yet satisfy a desire for contemporary games. The list that resulted from so many requirements is more a work of compromises than a platonic ideal. But, I think it works.

So, first up, games that she could get for ~ $100 and re-use for later programs. Without a firm cost limit I went with three commercial and two non-commercial options. The three box games have an MSRP of about $125 plus a few additional costs but with online discounts or partnering with a local retailer you can get down much closer to $100, or just drop one of the boxed games off the list.

It’s far too late for most libraries to plan for programs for this Halloween but I figured it would be easier to clean up the list I made for her now then remember to write it up in six months. When that time comes I do intend to update this list for next year’s planning.  This list isn’t going to be a revelation to those who follow table top games already but hopefully it can be a jumping off point for library game programs that are looking for a quick entry point. I recommend setting up and playing all of these once or twice before you do them with a program. For the boxed games, setup can be one of the most intimidating parts so don’t expect patrons to be involved with that though volunteers who have learned the rules in advance can be great to sit and play with the patrons which is why I focused on more cooperative games. Plus, cooperative games are great at creating a bonding experience, win or lose. Most of these have tutorials on YouTube you can use to help save time if you find the rules books cryptic.

Betrayal at the House on the HillBetrayl at House on the Hill

Premise: A group of people wander into this creepy house and based on a random event one discovers they are a bad guy and tries to kill the others.

Halloween Themes:  This game was an auto include due to it dripping with classic horror movie themes – the creepy house, werewolves, ghosts, demons, and so on. And it’s fun, just plain fun.

Anything Objectionable: I’m presuming that if you’re doing Halloween events that you’re prepared for any objections to references to the supernatural. Nonetheless, although not vulgar, there are some end game scenarios that references things like demons more strongly than others. Know your community as always. There is implied gore but it’s not not strongly presented.

Target Audience: Tweens and up.

MSRP: $40 and there is a lot of value in the box for that

Library Tie Ins: Nearly any horror writer or film is an indirect connection but some more than others, especially the “in the creepy house overnight” trope.

Game Style: This is a tile laying co-operative game with a defector. The characters and lots of options make it a kind of role playing game in a box. The laying of house tiles as you explore creates randomness as does card draws and dice rolling. This is very much an American style game that places style over strategy. A game mechanic causes a random member of your party to be revealed as the traitor (up until then that player is also unaware of it) and then select one of many possible end games scenarios. How the survivors and defector are supposed to handle that is a secret to each side detailed in separate booklets.

Accessibility: Most of the symbols are easily visible and clearly laid out. Text is decently sized and easy to read. The math and logic of the game is pretty easy for various cognitive levels. Some visual disabilities will struggle with text and part recognition but not much.

Learning the Game: At first glance the game can appear complicated however it’s simpler than it may seem so don’t let it scare you.

Patron Interaction: I’m not usually a big fan of defector style games but if there was a premise it was appropriate for, this is it. It is still mostly a cooperative game and one where even losing can be fun.

Overall Opinion:  If there was a perfect game for Halloween this would be it. Even at $50 I would have recommended it but at $40 it’s one of the cheapest modern board games with lots of replay you can get.

WerewolfWerewolf

Different published versions are called things like Werewolf By Night and Ultimate Werewolf, sometimes with variant roles and rules.

Premise: With day and night cycles werewolves work in silence to kill villagers and during the day villagers try to find the werewolves in their midst.

Halloween Themes: Werewolves hunting villages in the night. It would only be more Halloween if it had candy corn in it and someone somewhere probably has rules for that.

Anything Objectionable: Some groups like to play up the heavy drama and gore of it but really the tone is set by the players so for a library program, keep it light.

Target Audience: All. Because it’s very rules lite this is the broadest of games. Even little kids can play this game.

Cost: Variable ~ $10 / Free

Library Tie Ins: Anything with werewolves. Except Twilight. Because vampire as don’t sparkle! The werewolves were decent in it though. They’re guilty by association however so no Twilight.

Game Style: This is a party game and as such it’s cornerstone is social interaction and ability to handle large groups. The focus is on having fun through social interaction with minimal preparation and effort on the part of someone organizing it. That combined with free sounds like the perfect library program doesn’t it?

Accessibility: This is a perfect ten in terms of accessibility. All you have to be able to do is listen to a description of roles and see one card and in a pinch you can even be told what that is. A small amount of visual ability is needed but I’ve played this with the legally (but not completely) blind and deaf with no issues.

Learning the Game: Less than five minutes.

Patron Interaction: This game is all about interaction. The key is to not take it too seriously. When villagers are eliminated I like to give them things to do in the background like becoming a greek chorus of howling wolves. Keeping the eliminated players involved is the biggest challenge.

More Information: Werewolf is a game that goes by a number of names with decks printed by different people that you can usually buy for around $10. It was invented and has been played for free for decades now with various hacks. I’ve played it on the fly with nothing more than scraps of paper and hastily written ‘villager’ or ‘werewolf’ written on them. I’m going to give you a link to a page by a fellow named Max and this page lists history, some great information about the game and a free to print version of some nice cards with graphics if you want them:

http://maxistentialism.com/werewolf/

Next ….

Elder SignElder Sign

Premise: Using dice to represent the actions of heroic investigators the players try to stop cultists and monsters from bringing the elder gods back into the world.

Halloween Themes: Other worldly monsters, cultists, Elder Gods.

Anything Objectionable: Stay away from implying that the elder gods are somehow reflective of a real religion. Bring in the themes of the mythology as literature.

Target Audience: Tweens and up.

MSRP: $35

Library Tie Ins: Cthulhu Mythos stories from Lovecraft to the approximately 17,492 self published Cthulhu ebooks on Amazon.

Game Style: Cooperative dice game.

Accessibility: The main meat of the game is using dice to resolve challenges on cards and while there is descriptive text the dice and cards have easy to recognize symbols. The logic behind the dice prioritization is fairly easy to grok. The midnight doom cards are probably the biggest challenge for someone with limited vision.

Learning the Game: The game has a few awkward rules so it’s worth reading through the rule book a few times. It also has a mobile app that’s great for learning the game. Elder Sign has the most “gotcha” rules of any on this list.

Patron Interaction: As a cooperative game it encourages discussion and coordinated play.

Summation: I felt a moral obligation to include a Lovecraft mythos game in the list with it’s pop culture popularity. Elder Sign isn’t my favorite, I actually like Eldritch Horror more because I like it’s RPG elements but it has a higher price point and for diversity there is an audience that loves dice games. And a lot of people do love Elder Sign but if you have a bit more money available in your budget and your audience doesn’t include those who love dice games, I would consider Eldritch Horror instead.

 

MysteriumMysterium

Premise: 19th century psychics band together to try to get visions from a ghost and solve a murder mystery. Only one of the players knows who did what but they play the ghost and can’t talk to the other players.

Halloween Themes: Ghost Stories

Anything Objectionable: If spiritualism offends people this may be an issue but I assume that in that case Halloween may be an unhappy time for them in general.

Target Audience: Tweens and up.

MSRP: $50

Library Tie Ins: Ghost stories and murder mysteries. Think The Lovely Bones.

Game Style: Cooperative but a single information isolated player.

Accessibility: Like other games Mysterium has done a good job of using large clearly recognizable symbols but some colors may be issues for some kinds of color blindness.

Learning the Game: Mysterium is a fairly straight forward game. Most of the complicated elements are in the setup stage. I definitely recommend playing through two or three games before doing it with patrons.

Patron Interaction: A fully cooperative game with communication challenges can make this a great social experience. It’s like cooperative Clue with visions from ghosts. It’s awesome.

Soundtrack: The company that created Mysterium has a sound track available for download. Many of these games would benefit from a good soundtrack of course.

http://www.libellud.com/actualites/mysterium-decouvrez-la-bande-son

Dread RPGDread

Premise: An RPG with a wooden block tower instead of dice, leading to an increasingly feeling of dread as the tower gets less stable. When you cause it to fall, you’re doomed.

Halloween Themes: Whatever you make them.

Anything Objectionable: Only if you create trouble for yourself. I know there are still anti-RPG people out there who think RPGs are tied to Satanism but fortunately most of those are obsessed with D&D and their numbers have dwindled to somewhere less than moon landing deniers and more than flat earthers. Remember, while causing the tower to fall over is described as how a character dies you can change this to something less violent to just remove them from the story.

Target Audience: The default audience of Dread is more mature but thanks to it being an RPG you can modify the style of the stories and your presentation to make it any age appropriate and change the tone from high … well, dread, to whatever you want.

Cost: Free / $12 / $24 + s/h | + ~$10 for the “tower of dread”, The link below is where you’d an get the free PDF of the rules, buy a full PDF with scenarios and more information for $12 or order a $24 copy of the book.  Free is good.

About Dread the Game

Mechanics: One important thing to get out of the way related to cost is the “tower of dread.” Unlike games that use dice or cards for randomness Dread uses a tower of wooden blocks that a Jenga tower happens to work perfectly for (though there are non-Jenga trademarked ones that work also). There are chances you might already have one around for other library programs so that may or may not be a cost. One nice thing is that it lowers the barrier of entry in terms of teaching people and pretty much guarantees people stay in the story until the tower starts getting depleted.

Library Tie Ins: Whatever you make them.

Game Style: This is an RPG. However, Dread channels you to a storytelling heavy environment as it has very few mechanics. I encourage RPG storytellers to really involve the players and throw scenarios back to them with opportunities like “how do you want this to resolve” and then you can let them pull from the tower if necessary.

Accessibility: There might be some reading to do but with someone very visually impaired you could do away with character sheets. The bigger problem for someone with motor impairments or very low vision will be pulling from the tower.

Learning the Game: You can get everything you need to know in four pages of light reading and teach it to others in about thirty seconds.

Patron Interaction: The good and bad of an RPG is that there isn’t a mechanical structure constraining them. In a library program I would put a disclaimer in the setup that there is a certain social contract and for this purpose they are cooperating.

Staying Under $100, aka Dropping a Game

If one game is to be dropped based on cost I recommend Mysterium. It does have a lot of cards to keep track of and has one of the higher price points. However, it is crazy stylistic and fun. However, if the goal is to keep the highest quality games and one needs to be dropped I recommend dropping Elder Sign but you may enjoy dice games more than I do.

Honorable Mention – King of Tokyo

King of Tokyo is a great kaiju themed game that lends itself to silliness and fun tossing dice around. It’s very accessible and has few barriers to entry including logical planning that children can do. It’s very thematic. It’s an American style open information board game so older or more experienced players can help others and a wide variety of kinds of players can easily play together. It even has a Halloween specific expansion. Unfortunately, it also needs the Power Up expansion to really be complete and recently a second edition of the game came out with less cartoony graphics and without the Power Up expansion (yet). If you can get the first edition with the expansion it’s great for library programs. There is also a variant called King of New York but it includes unnecessary additional rules that I think hurt it for teaching in a programming setting (plus the monsters aren’t as iconic so not quite as cool).  If you’re willing to play without the Power Up Expansion this is definitely one to consider.

Further Playing 

There are so many Halloween appropriate games it’s impossible to list them all.

If you like tile laying and classic horror movie vibes the Castle Ravenloft Board Game is very cool. It has a ton of setup though and is priced at about $65. I think the rules are also awkward at times so be prepared to play it a few times and improvise occasionally. Dead of Winter is a great survival zombie game with a defector that can also be played fully cooperative. A Touch of Evil is a competitive game with some wonky rules but thematically perfect for Halloween and with some rule hacking is good. I’ve not played either yet but Fury of Dracula and Letters From Whitechapel are both defector games that look good too and are well reviewed in the board game community. As both are sitting on my shelf downstairs they are ones I’m likely to add to a future list.

Just on the Cthulhian game front: I previously noted I like Eldritch Horror for an RPG in a box. Mansions of Madness 2nd edition is a very cool game but pricey. Arkham Horror provides a good big box experience but it pricey and time consuming with a huge number of parts. Unspeakable Words is a good Cthulhian word game. I can think of six more Cthulhu card games that are decent and more RPGs than that. Honestly that could be a post in it’s own right, good Cthulhian games for library programs.

A Partial History of SCLENDS

A few weeks ago Equinox Software published a blog post I wrote about Evergreen in 2009. My first draft and my final draft were very different. Draft by draft I stripped out the history of how SCLENDS started, not because I didn’t want to tell it but because in the larger Evergreen context it wasn’t what I wanted to say. The very fact that some remained though and that I did start with so much tells me something. It is a story I want to tell and while that post wasn’t the place, this is. Why? Honestly during that first year we did a lot of “make it work and fix it later.” Document? If there’s time. It’s easy to be critical of that approach but we had tight deadlines and if it hadn’t been done the way it was it might never have happened. But now I have a little time to write it and want to do so while my memory is clear, at least of the elements that stand out in 2009.

I’m not going to claim this is a complete history. Beyond the fallibility of memory I doubt I know the whole story and it’s naturally biased towards the events I was present for. SCLENDS was started by many people, library directors, circ managers, systems librarians and more. I worked with most of them but some only tangentially. No single person was present for every conversation and no person could know the whole story. And since I’ve admitted that this will be an incomplete telling I will also offer that I’m going to try to keep it brief. The story begins properly with the development of writing in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt … just kidding.

In 2008 I was the Systems Librarian in Florence County, South Carolina. The library’s director, Ray McBride, and I had been deeply involved in the process of re-evaluating our technology plan. One thing we were not concerned about was our ILS. We were very happy Horizon users and had assumed that we would upgrade to Horizon 8 when it was released. It had already been delayed but why would we consider other options? Going out for an RFP is a process to be avoided like an invasive unnecessary medical procedure. Plus, we were happy with Horizon, it was user friendly, it fit our needs and was stable. Sure, it had gotten a little long in the tooth but the upgrade would give it the refresh it needed.

Then one day I was reading through my daily mail and there was a correspondence from Sirsi-Dynix. Horizon 8, Rome, was being canceled. Instead they would take the modern code base of their other product and merge it with the user friendliness of Horizon and like tunes being played together it would be Symphony. It was the kind of over the top marketing speak that made it clear they were trying to make users feel positive about news they knew we would be unhappy with. They would have been right about the unhappy part.

Fast forward and we had a meeting. I had compiled a list of possible ILSes we could upgrade to. Polaris was a strong contender. We seriously looked at Symphony, hoping for the potential of an easy migration. There were others we dismissed due to expense or lack of features. There might have been another we considered that I can’t remember now. And I threw Evergreen onto the stack for consideration.

Why did I suggest Evergreen? Florence was an almost pure Windows server environment and this was a radical departure. I didn’t try to convert the Florence environment to Linux despite my preferences because with the staff limitations the library had and applications they had invested in running within a Windows environment, Microsoft made sense. Migrating to a mission critical application on Linux was a big departure. But, when I looked at the growth of open source, what I saw happening in the Evergreen community and my own opinions about the relationship between open source and library philosophies I was of the conviction that we should consider it. Not go to it, just consider it. Frankly, with my time limitations an easy upgrade to Symphony sounded pretty good to me.

We formed a committee of public service staff and administrators. We invited in representatives from companies to talk about their ILSes. Evergreen was open source so I distributed a fact sheet. We had reps from Polaris and SirsiDynix come in. We talked to other libraries. One library referred to recent updates to Symphony in …. unflattering terms and told us they were migrating to Polaris as soon as they could. Others were only slightly kinder. Polaris looked good but didn’t blow us away. A Sirsi representative made it clear that migrating to Symphony would not be like an upgrade and there was Horizon functionality that did not have one for one parity in Symphony.

Discussions were lively but in the end we selected an ILS: Evergreen. At that point Evergreen was about version 1.2 and rough. As we talked about it one theme came up again and again. We believed that whatever shortcomings Evergreen had at that point in mid 2008 that it was the right long term choice for us. We believed that in time it would match and exceed the other options we had to pick from. We also wanted a choice that we felt would last us ten years. I think it was Ray who said later that this would be the last ILS a library would ever need to migrate to. He may well be proven right, only time will tell.

It can be strange what you remember. It was a Thursday afternoon in November that I was having coffee with Ray. We were discussing Evergreen and forming our plans for the migration. One of my concerns was the long term support, especially if I left. We began discussing approaching an external company for support of our servers. That would give me more time to spend in the community and support regardless of staff turnover. As we looked we also began to discuss moving to remote hosting and increasingly liked the idea though it meant moving nearly all technical management external to the library, not something we had traditionally done. However, while we had put a lot of value on internal staff management of technology we also had increasing needs without an increasing budget so going with a remote hosting option made sense.

All of this, especially the budget concerns, was in my head when I threw out another idea. In one sense, this was the start of SCLENDS. What if we invited others a to join us to start a consortium and reduce costs? Ray liked the idea and threw the idea out to the South Carolina library director’s listserv. From there I become a peripheral part of the story until January. During that time in the periphery I was aware that the offer was expressed and interest returned. I was tasked with inviting a vendor who could run servers for us.  The clear option was Equinox, having been founded by the original developers and administrators of Evergreen at Georgia PINES.  Additionally, they had a lot of experience with startup consortiums so they would understand what we were embarking on.

December passed and January of 2009 arrived. I found myself in the large meeting room at the Florence Library. The interested libraries were arriving. Eleven libraries in total attended that meeting, interested in sharing costs and materials in a new consortium. That meeting brought together not only the directors but systems administrators and circulation managers of the libraries.

Eleven libraries were present and ten of them went on to form SCLENDS. Honestly, that day was a blur of faces and voices. One person whose name I don’t hear mentioned much in connection to SCLENDS is Catherine Buck-Morgan and it should be. Although I don’t know this for fact I suspect she is the one who created the name (had it been left to me I probably would have chosen something tree related). Additionally, she was a critical part of this happening. It may have happened without her involvement, it may not have, I don’t know. I do know it wouldn’t have happened as quickly and the way that it did.

Catherine was the head of IT at the State Library and closely involved with the distribution of LSTA money in the state. I later discovered that she had already written a concept paper for creating a resource sharing consortium in South Carolina. I don’t believe her idea was inherently based on open source but she did cite PINES as an example of what she was thinking of in terms of resource sharing. Her idea hadn’t been circulated outside the State Library but this had dovetailed with it perfectly. She was critical to getting us LSTA funding to kickstart the migrations.

SCLENDS would quickly move over to a self sufficient model independent of LSTA and State Library money but those funds paid for the first two years of hosting and many of the migration expenses over two fiscal years that included our first three waves of libraries. Partial funds also helped one later wave.

Honestly, I thought the idea would be a much tougher sell than it was. Eleven libraries attended that first meeting and I had imagined half would back out. In the end only one, Greenville County, chose not to join SCLENDS, objecting to sharing their videos with other libraries. Most of these discussions happened in January and early February. Then we got to work. In less than five months, driven in large part by a window of opportunity for grant monies, we went from a first meeting to go live.

Wave one went live in late May 2009 and consisted of the State Library itself, the Union County Library and Beaufort County Library System. I later went to the State Library myself for a tenure at the IT Director there where I ironically ended up working with the Union County director, Nancy Rosenwald. We had both taken positions there and had offices next to each other. I really enjoyed working with her both within SCLENDS and at the State Library. She also had good taste in tea. Beaufort had one of the most dramatic go live days when a construction crew cut their fiber line during the first day of go live. The story the local newspaper printed was essentially “Evergreen Fails” instead of “No Internet at Library.” I understand they later printed a retraction in small print in an obscure text box. Ray McBride after a stint as a museum director even took over the library system there proving that it is a very small world. I discovered that Beaufort had been investigating Evergreen in 2008 as well though not as far along nor with plans as definite as our’s in Florence.

Wave 2 was in October of 2009 and included Fairfield County, Dorchester County, Chesterfield County and Calhoun County. Frank Bruno of Dorchester I think I fought with as much as I agreed with. I remember his staff loved him because he supported them. He passed away last year and the world is poorer for losing him. Drusilla Carter left Chesterfield for Virginia where she helped start talks that may have led to their own Evergreen consortium and eventually landed in Conneticut where she is a part of Bibliomation, another Evergreen consortium. Kristen Simensen is still at the Calhoun County library and fighting the good fight. Sarah McMaster of Fairfield retired right around the same time I left South Carolina and her last SCLENDS meeting was, I believe, my last one as well. Aside from personally liking Sarah as a person, professionally, there isn’t a library in the country that would not benefit from having a copy of Sarah on staff.

Finally wave three went live in December and included my own library Florence. Shasta Brewer of the York County library became a close co-worker of mine over those months and became the leader of the early cataloging discussions. Faith Line of Anderson had pervious consortium start up experience and continued to long be a voice that people looked to leadership on the executive board. I believe it was Faith her that suggested the creation of the working groups to aid in the migration that eventually became the main functional staff bodies of the consortium. Even when there were later attempts to expand or redefine them the original ones persisted in being the main ones. In Florence, Ray served as the chair man of the board during the infancy of the consortium and after leaving came back to another SCLENDS library.

And there were others – other staff, other stories and later other libraries which brought yet more staff and stories. SCLENDS grew over the next few years. But those stories belong in other years. I may or may not write about those stories some day but I think they’re better documented so there is probably little need. Did I leave some things out? Sure. The Thanksgiving Day Massacre. The Networked Man Incident. The Impossible Script Mystery. Probably others as well, and they make for fun stories, but aren’t core to the history I think.

– Rogan