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Guide to building a game library

How to build a game library starting with the collection you already have
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Why do I want a game library?

Think back to the last time you walked into a library. Maybe you were searching for something in particular, or perhaps you were just there to browse. As you took your first steps forward into the maze of shelves, your fingertips probably felt tingly, your palms sweaty, as the vast jumble of books haphazardly piled atop one another cluttered every nook and cranny in your line of sight. Cookbooks next to textbooks, romance novels scattered in between historical non-fiction, it was probably an awful mess. Why, you might have asked, are libraries always kept in such disarray?

Happily, they are not. In general, it is quite the opposite of that. A good library maintains a collection of items—sometimes a very large collection—in an ordered manner that makes the things you want to read easy to find. What’s more, a good library also protects the items in its collection by keeping out harsh sunlight, dust and moisture that can harm books and reduce them to brittle sheets of yellowed paper that crumble to dust at the slightest touch. And finally, a good library is beautiful to behold, an impressive testament to the focus and dedication invested by the collector who built it.

You can harness these incredible powers for your very own library of games. Once complete, you will have made a dedicated space that neatly arranges, preserves and showcases your catalog of games, making them more appealing than ever to pull off the shelf and enjoy. Toward the end of this guide we even offer some tips on how to grow and refine the library to your unique tastes. Let’s begin!

Step 1: Preparing the existing games in your collection

First, gather up all of the games you already own. One by one, we need to inspect and prepare them for a new life of game library bliss. Start by looking over the box. Is there dust? Are there any sticky spots or smudges? Take a clean, dry microfiber cloth and gently wipe the surface. This should remove dust and light dirt buildup. If there is an area that requires a more aggressive approach, lightly moisten your cloth with water and spot clean the box on an inconspicuous area. Is that section looking cleaner now? If so, great! Many modern games can be cleaned in this way because a special coating has been applied to the exterior of the cardboard box during the printing process that protects the surface and doesn’t allow moisture and foreign substances to penetrate the board material. However, if your trial spot cleaning has removed any ink, do not continue using a damp cloth, as it will cause more harm than good. Remember, our goal here is to spruce up the game box by making it bright and shiny again. But in case that’s not possible, you can still love and play a game that has seen better days.

Now look on the inside of the box. If it has been stored in a moist environment, or is very old, you may see some discoloration, usually yellow or brown, often appearing as spots or patches. Unfortunately, board games are not just fun to play; their paper-based components are also delicious (if you are one of a variety of molds or insects). As humidity increases, so does the risk that your game box will fall prey to these threats. If you see this kind of damage, you can try to arrest it by removing all of the contents of the box and placing everything, box included, in a dry and sunny place for several days. Any damage that has already occurred cannot be reversed. Best to think of it as the proud battle scars of a game that has loved and lived.

The same gentle cleaning approach applies to the various cards, boards, tokens and other pieces of the game. Wipe carefully, use a moist cloth lightly and sparingly, and let everything dry fully afterward.

Now is a good time to check whether your game has its full set of components. If anything is missing that can readily be replaced (like pawns, tokens or counting chips), make a note of the missing bits. In case something is irreplaceable (like a specially designed pawn or card), consider hand-making alternatives that can be used as substitutes.

And while we’re at it, if your game includes one or more decks of cards, you may want to invest in plastic card sleeves. These offer excellent protection from the wear and tear of regular handling. Also, if little game pieces are sloshing around in the box, you can place them in small ziplock bags.

Step 2: Think about storage

Now that we have tidied up our games, it’s time to prepare the storage area your game library will inhabit. We want a space that is clean and dry (remember the perils that come with too much humidity), and also out of direct sunlight (too many photons bombarding the inks on your game box can eventually destroy them and give your box a faded and dull look). An ideal storage area should also be located near your preferred spot for playing. And last, this area should be easy to access. We will review a few common options that should already be available to you, and explore how you can transform these into the home of your new game library.

Working with existing space

Bookshelves

Books and games can safely cohabitate. Some say they might actually prefer it. The books seem more fun-loving, and the games come off looking more well-read and knowledgeable. Let’s examine how your bookshelf can perform double duty as a library of both books and games. Start by dedicating at least one row to your game collection. Relocate those booted books to other shelves and plan on putting your games together. This is tidier and more attractive, and it allows you to arrange the games in some kind of order much like you would with your book collection. Some ordering options to consider are game type, publisher or box size (this approach allows you to consolidate similarly sized games, which can help you more efficiently use shelf space). The choice of ordering method is up to you. But before putting the games into place, touch the shelf with your bare hand. Does it feel at all tacky? If the shelf is made of wood, the varnish coating can become sticky over time. You can counteract this by applying a protective film onto the shelf. This film serves as a barrier between your cherished games and the somewhat sticky wood underneath.

Cabinets

Cabinets are even better than shelves at protecting your games because their doors reduce the accumulation of dust onto your precious games. Better still if those doors are made of glass, as this way you can clearly view your library from afar.

Boxes

Many good things come in boxes: chocolates, birthday presents and breakfast cereal to name a few. But boxes are less than ideal as a storage solution for your game library because they make it difficult to view and access those games. Even so, boxes can be a good option if you are already using a box-based storage system in a space like a child’s bedroom. But you may also want to consider the box’s cousin-brother, the tub. Tubs can afford some of the visibility and some of the protection of a cabinet without the hassle of opening and closing a box.

Getting a new storage space

If you don’t have any suitable spot to locate your game library, now is the time to go shopping. Look for a solution that offers your preferred level of protection and spaciousness which can also fit in near your game table. Many readymade options abound. There are even companies that offer bespoke game storage solutions (and tables!) that are made to your specifications. These will be more costly, but could be considered depending on your design goals and budget range.

Step 3: Expanding your catalog of games

An active library is constantly doing two things: growing and changing. Let us take these in turn, starting with how you can make your game library richer and more entertaining.

How well are classic games represented in your game library?

Do you like the classics? Games like chess and backgammon, chowka bhara or mah jong, have large followings for a reason. Beloved by game enthusiasts for centuries, they find a spot in many game collections. In fact, non-gamers sometimes are little aware of the rich world of games outside of these mainstays. Including a few in your library is always a good idea.

How about basic games?

By “basic” we mean the simple, elemental game equipment used in countless games of skill and chance. These include decks of cards, dominoes, betting chips and dice. If you enjoy such games, then these items belong in your game library. We recommend that you keep two identical decks of playing cards, as many card games require them. Also, domino sets come in a wide range of tile counts. We regularly use a set that runs from 0-0 to 12-12 (adding up to 91 unique dominoes). The nicest betting chips are made of ceramic. And finally, keep an assortment of dice. You can easily find face counts ranging from 4 to 20, but 3-sided dice and ones beyond 20 faces also exist.

Adding new favorites to your library

If you want to add new games to your collection, why not start by browsing the creations of game designers or publishers that are already in your library? Chances are there will be some titles that have the kind of gameplay mechanics or overall look and feel that you seek. And don’t overlook the expansion packs that may be available; these can dramatically transform an existing game into an almost completely new one (or at a minimum further enrich an already satisfying gaming adventure).

Of course, there is no substitute to sitting down and learning an unfamiliar game. Look at the titles circulating in your network of friends for inspiration, or pay a visit to one of the game cafes cropping up in larger cities. This is a great way to expose yourself to new games that are worthy of a spot in your library.

Curating your library

Perhaps you have a few games that aren’t to your liking for one reason or another. Maybe the theme is not appealing, the complexity is too high (or too low), or game setup is laborious and finicky. Whatever the reason, these games actually offer you an exciting opportunity to improve them by testing out your own house rules. Sometimes a small (or not so small) tweak to the default rules can refine the playing experience and inject a new sense of excitement and urgency.

However, maybe there is no getting around the fact that you just don’t like a game all that much. In this case, do the kind thing and set it free. By giving the game away, you are sharing the gift of gaming and quite possibly connecting someone else with a title they will relish. As an added benefit, you will be making your own library more meaningful to you and freeing up a bit of space for new material. After all, there is no sadder fate for a board game than to be cast aside, unplayed and unloved.

Granting lending privileges

Your lovely new game library is ready to receive the respect and admiration of all who lay eyes on it. But there is one more thing you can do to maximize the good it can do: share your games. Like a conventional library, a game library has the widest reach when many people can borrow items and experience their own adventures with those titles. Granting lending rights to friends and family is a great way to share your wealth of games.

We recommend keeping aside a few cloth bags that borrowers can use to tote your games home. This increases the chances that your games will be handled with adequate care, and also the bag will serve as a reminder that the game ultimately needs to be returned to you.

Summary

With a bit of time and planning, you can transform your assortment of games into a unified game library that adds convenience, value and eye appeal to your home (or classroom or workplace, in case that’s where most of your gaming unfolds). As your library grows, so too will the opportunities to share your collection with an appreciative community of fellow game lovers.