Playing by the book is all about bringing books to life off the page and into our every day lives and so when I discovered that there was a board game call Play by the Book, my eyes opened wide and I went off to find out more. Billed as an “action-packed game that gets children talking and learning about literature!” it sounded like it might be right up my street – not just for home use, but also with my kids’ book group at the local public library.
It’s designed so that players can discuss any fiction book (or simply a given chapter if you want to keep things simpler), and it can also be used for films. Players travel around the game board (by rolling a die) with the simple aim of reaching “The End” first. Before each roll of the die, the player in question must answer a question about the chosen book. Questions are set at two levels; their content is basically the same, but written in a different way making it easier or more challenging to give an answer.
If a player lands on an illustrated square after having rolled a die and answered a question, they are given an additional task; they have to perform an action based on the book. This might involve singing, acting out a scene, drawing a character or speaking like someone from the book. It gets players up and active, and provides plenty of opportunity for laughter in my experience!
In addition to questions about the set book, there are “wild cards”, shuffled in amongst the pack. These are broader questions, with a focus more on different types of genre, linked to the illustrations to be found on the board game itself.
There are a few finer details you can add to the game to make it more complex, but this gives you the basic idea: it’s a game of luck when it comes to rolling the die, but along the way there are lots of opportunities for discussion, arguing, debating and (in various ways) playing out the book.
Having played it quite a few times now what I really like about this board game is that it works for different ages / different abilities, even when playing at the same time, thanks to the different question levels. It is also more active than some traditional board games because players at some point are likely to have to get out of the seats and sing/act or draw. I think this extra level of physical activity is great, though some players who are a little more reserved may take a bit more encouragement to take part in these activities; I’ve found it has worked quite well if the game is played in teams, with two people for each counter.
The instructions say that players should all be discussing the same book / chapter / film, and this certainly works well. I have, however, used the game where players have each chosen their own book to discuss and this too has worked well. It’s been an interesting way for players to try to persuade other children to try the book they are talking about. The game has also been a good way of pooling knowledge when we’ve played it where each player has had a different book by the same author.
Play by the book would be a great addition to any classroom, especially for the 8-12 year old crowd. It also offers something a little bit different for book groups to do, as well as working well as a family game (the dramatic elements have worked best for me at home, where everyone is more relaxed about being a bit silly and less concerned about ‘making a fool’ of themselves).
Play by the book retails at £21.54 and is available online here: http://www.learningresources.co.uk/product/play-by-the-book.do
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this board game from its distributors. Just to be clear: Despite its name I’m in no way affiliated to it.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also find this post of mine about book-themed board games interesting. I also recently made my own literature based board game – to explore science fiction with kid. If you want to know more about board games inspired by literature, this research article by Britta Stockmann and Jens Janke has lots of good leads.