It Was a Dark & Stormy Afternoon; or, Nerd vs. Nerd

Every day at Booklist we face a barrage of press releases, queries, and demands. Will you review this first-time author’s second-person account of a third-generation farm family? we are asked. My author is an expert on the mortgage crisis–in fact, his ability to pay his own mortgage is in crisis–and is the ideal interview subject, we are told. Our product, holistic weedkiller, is perfect for your audience; as I have already linked to your site, I am certain you will return the favor, we are informed.

You get the idea.

Your Humble Correspondent

But, aside from the occasional, wildly off-target item (I made up the weedkiller example) most of the come-ons involve books or, in fact, are books. So when I got an e-mail touting a “board game for people who read . . . ok for really geeky people,” I couldn’t resist. No, Booklist doesn’t review board games, but with the gaming craze taking over like some kind of a Dance Dance Revolution, I decided that there’s no reason Likely Stories can’t review a board game. Send it! I replied.

Catherine Braendel, the creator of It Was a Dark & Stormy Night, did send it, and promptly. Last October. And while the game has not left my desk in the intervening months, it turns out that it’s not all that easy to get four geeky editors together for a lunchtime playtesting session. But, finally, on Friday, March 13, 2009, I convened our panel.

The first person I had thought to invite was Books for Youth Associate Editor Daniel Kraus, the only person here who has actually invited me to play board games at lunch. Next, I thought of Ian Chipman–yes, also a Books for Youth Associate Editor–who, although he has not invited me to play games at lunch, has waxed enthusiastic about board games in my presence. So we had three thirtyish guys (I did say “ish”). Clearly we needed someone with a deeper background in the world of books: Children’s Books Editor Ilene Cooper.

(Yes, to hear you tell it, I stacked the deck with youth editors, but really, it just happened that way.)

Anywho, on the aforementioned Friday the 13th, shortly after the ceremonial ringing of the Booklist lunch bell, we donned hockey masks and machetes and proceeded around the corner to Jake Melnick’s Corner Tap–where, amidst a plentiful supply of carbonated, nonalcoholic beverages (again, I did say “ish”) we opened the package.

The game pieces: a board, a six-sided die, a box of cards, four chessmen, and a handful of black books. (No, there aren’t any phone numbers in them; they’re made of wood and they don’t even open.) Twelve category divider cards are inserted into the box, which is styled to look like a drawer from a card catalog (some of you will remember card catalogs): Children’s Books, Children’s Movies, Movies, Mysteries, Non-Fiction, Novels, Pre-1900; Novels, 1900-1950; Novels, 1950-present (1950 can go either way, I guess); Poetry; Science Fiction & Fantasy; Shakespeare’s Plays; and Short Stories.

According to the instructions, the object of the game is this: “Correctly identify the author or title of 8 books after hearing their first lines. It’s that simple . . . and that challenging!” Essentially, you roll the die, land on a square that is marked with a category, and the other team asks you a question from that category. (Corner spaces give players chances to pick categories for themselves or the other team, kind of like the last round of Trivial Pursuit.) It’s that simple . . . and you know the rest. Correct answers award the team a black book, but not another roll of the die. The first team to collect 8 books (not quite enough for a truck) . . . wins!

A note on the game packaging and materials: While the game box itself is handsome and cleverly designed, and the game pieces are appealing, the board itself is kind of a weak spot. The unused center area is cluttered with quotes, and the relatively few playing spaces are, perhaps, a bit too simple. (Shakespeare has a picture of the Bard; movies has a picture of a movie countdown.) It’s fine, but could be a lot less cluttered and a lot more attractive. Here’s what it looks like:

The instructions recommend team play, so we divided into two teams based on the two sides of the table: Ian and myself, and Dan and Ilene. In upcoming blog posts, I’ll be giving a blow-by-blow account of our first game. If you think that a blow-by-blow account of a board game is overkill, remember, this is a game for nerds. You have boxing, we have board games. To simplify my reports, I’ll give each team a name. Ian and Keir will be called The Winners, and Dan and Ilene will be called The Losers. Have I given too much away?

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About the Author:

Keir Graff is the editor of Booklist Online and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix.

12 Comments on "It Was a Dark & Stormy Afternoon; or, Nerd vs. Nerd"

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  1. Ilene Cooper says:

    Although I soon hope to be blogging on this topic myself, I will only say now that the Winners and Losers oversimplifies this hard-fought match. And thank god for the category, “Children’s Books.”

  2. Daniel says:

    Isn’t calling us The Losers like reading the last page of a book first? For shame.

  3. Keir says:

    Shh! In a later post, I’m going to do this bit where I make people wonder whether the whole “Winner” and “Loser” thing is a ruse.

  4. ichipman@ala.org' Ian says:

    I’m pretty sure everyone else at Jake’s that afternoon can attest to the fact that we are all losers.

  5. Keir says:

    Hey now. We were all the “winners” of a complementary basket of buffalo wings.

  6. addison.d.braendel@bakernet.com' Addison says:

    You all sound like winners to me; I take umbrage, though, at the game board shot — I think my wife Catherine and the folks at Good Design Studio did a fabulous job. Possibly you could run a contest for your readers and editors to submit their own geeky game board designs? Then we submit for spousal / significant other assessment.

    Anyhow, remember the darn thing is self-published. Also, there are a couple of typos that have come to light in the game cards that I might as well defuse your ire on now. All that said, thanks for reviewing it! I’m looking forward to chapter 2.

  7. marianlibertarian@yahoo.com' MarianLibrarian says:

    I wanna play!

  8. Keir says:

    MarianLibrarian–if that IS your real name–we are hoping to test more games in the upcoming months. Perhaps we can schedule a gaming get-together at annual conference in Chicago this July….

    Addison–the contest is a good idea, but if it took me 6 months to schedule playing time, I think we can expect a contest sometime in 2011.

  9. csample@currituck.k12.nc.us' CSample says:

    Sounds like I’m a nerd! This kind of game is right up my alley. Looking forward to reading more about gaming.

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