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Playing games: Library, NUCAT take on tabletop games

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt Above, New Ulm Public Library Programming Director LeRoy Nosker Tanner with a selection of games the library has in its collection.

NEW ULM — For the last four months the New Ulm Public Library, New Ulm Cable Access Channel (NUCAT) and Red Dragon gaming have collaborated on a series of board game tutorials.

The series is called “Don’t Forget to Read the Instructions” and can be viewed on NUCAT and YouTube. The series is hosted by New Ulm Public Library Programming Director LeRoy Nosker Tanner and in each episode, he, with the help of his fellow librarians, teaches viewers how to play different tabletop games.

Tanner said the inspiration to do a tabletop tutorial series was partially related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic prevented the library from hosting programming in the building. This required him to think outside the box and partner with other organizations.

Since in-person programming was impossible, partnering with broadcasters was the logical step and with NUCAT offices located in the library basement, they were a perfect partner. The videos are taped a few feet from the NUCAT office.

Tanner also reached out to Red Dragon Gaming. The downtown business sells a variety of tabletop games that could be used for the program.

At left, (NUCAT screen shot) The “Echidna Shuffle” episode of “Don’t Forget to Read the Instruction” required the most editing. The game is relatively simple. Players compete to get their bugs home, but the board changes a lot.

Tanner said videos of board game tutorials are not new. Private entities have released similar videos, but the ones in New Ulm are unique in that the content is produced by a library. This is part of a growing trend to bring tabletop games into libraries.

“For a while libraries have tried to ask, ‘what else besides literature?'” Tanner said.

Libraries around the country have expanded renting materials beyond books. Tanner said some libraries rent seeds for gardening. The New Ulm Library rents life jackets and is planning to rent snowshoes. The basic idea is to give patrons access to things they would not normally have and tabletop games fit that category.

Tanner said The American Library Association (ALA) has held a Games and Gaming roundtable discussion on the benefits of tabletop games. As teaching tools, games were great for teaching everything from math and vocabulary to financial literacy and logic.

There has also been a push toward collaborative games. In these games, players do not compete against one another, but instead work toward a shared goal. Tanner said the games are great for fostering communication.

NUCAT screen shot The cards are dealt out to start the first round of “The Crew”, a collaborative game about astronauts exploring the solar system for a ninth planet.

Tanner believed the best games for teaching valuable skills were the pen and paper role-playing games like “Dungeons & Dragons.” These games teach reading, writing and math components in the game. Role-playing games also teach empathy and communication skills.

“There is so much flexibility,” he said.

The “Don’t Forget to Read the Instructions” series includes tutorial episodes on the tabletop games “Concept,” “Schrodinger’s Cats,” “The Crew,” “Echidna Shuffle” and “Trap Words.”

Tanner said he wanted to focus on games people did not know. People already know how to play “Monopoly,’ “Clue” and “Sorry.” The idea was to expand knowledge to other games. These games are also shorter and can fit in the format needed for the videos.

NUCAT Production Technician Mike McMahon said when his department was approached about this collaboration, he thought it was a great idea. NUCAT had been considering a similar collaboration with Red Dragon and the time was right.

Below, the New Ulm Public Librarians play through a round of “Concept” as part of the first video in the new tabletop game series hosted on NUCAT. In the game, players try to describe a person, place or thing using visual clues on the game board.

“We were excited to do this,” he said.

From a production standpoint, NUCAT could easily record the videos with minimal setup. NUCAT recently installed a ceiling camera in the studio space. This allowed them to record overhead shots of the tabletop games being played.

Each episode of “Don’t Forget to Read the Instructions” is shot straight through with Tanner explaining the game to his fellow librarians, followed by everyone playing the game.

The video tutorials are extremely helpful for those trying to learn a game. As the title of the series suggests, it is important to read the instructions, but providing a visual play through for the audience is an effective way to teach the games. This makes the recording and editing process especially important.

“We usually film straight through with them playing,” McMahon said. Most of the footage is taken from one or two cameras. After the initial filming is done, McMahon will get additional close-up footage.

From an editing standpoint, McMahon said: “Echidna Shuffle” was the hardest to edit. He said it was a simple game but it is a very visual game and the board changes a lot. Overall, he said it was a simple task.

“It is all pretty linear,” he said. “I don’t need to cut much.”

This means those viewing the videos on NUCAT or YouTube are seeing an accurate playthrough of the games. McMahon said everyone who has helped play games for the videos has given the tutorials fun energy. McMahon even joined in the gameplay for the recent video. He admitted he wanted to play from the beginning.

Tanner said future episodes of the show could feature guest star players from other city offices.

“Don’t Forget to Read the Instructions” started as alternative programming during the pandemic, but he believes it can continue and expand after COVID-19 ends. He hopes to someday do a tabletop demo with a live audience. There is even discussion of hosting a tabletop game tournament in the library.

All five episodes of “Don’t Forget to Read the Instructions” can be viewed on YouTube. The library and NUCAT are planning their next video. Tanner hinted the next game featured will be a card game based on Shakespeare’s plays.

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