Reading is often viewed as a solitary activity. Libraries–the places books are kept–are considered bastions of silence in a noisy and distracting world. Yet Bring Your Own Book–the “game of borrowed phrases,” as it bills itself–is a party game, and party games are usually known for thin manuals and raucous laughter. Is the introduction of prompts enough to free readers from the sterotypes that often box them in?
How It Works
Bring Your Own Book is a party game for three to eight players. Players find phrases in books that respond to the card prompts, and players are given cards for good answers. The first player to reach a certain number of cards wins.
Each player brings to the game a book–any book. On each turn, a new player draws the top card from the stack and reads the prompt. Players then search their books for a good answer to the prompt. The first player to find an answer shouts, “Got it!” and turns over the timer. The remaining players have until the timer runs out to find an answer. Players read their answers to the prompt, and then players vote on which answer was the best. (Ties are broken by the player who drew the card.) The player who gave the best answer receives the card with the prompt on it, and it is the next player’s turn.
Whenever a player receives a second prompt card, all players pass their books to the left. The game ends when one player claims a predetermined number of prompt cards. That player wins.
Note: The scoring rule above is a rulebook-sanctioned variant. The rules as written suggest that each round, a new judge draws the card and chooses the best answer but doesn’t participate in finding one. For my groups and play preference, we’ve adopted the variant scoring rule instead.
Copy Right, or In a Bind?
Bring Your Own Book begins exactly the way you would expect it to: with players bringing their own book. What follows is a party experience that is whatever the players want to make of it. And in my case, this has been incredibly fun.
I should begin my review with a huge disclaimer: books form a huge part of my life. My main hobby aside from board games is reading, and I work as an editor at a book publisher. (In some ways that hopefully aren’t scary to you, Bring Your Own Book is Editing: The Game.) The people I’ve played this game with share this passion, so please take that into account when considering my opinion of it.
Bring Your Own Book is fantastic. It’s a party game for book lovers, and not in the typical book-lovers mold. It’s not a trivia game, where players reference their knowledge of books from the outside. Rather, this is a party game where players can–and are even required to–bring their beloved books into the game. And the beauty is that anything can work here.
In one game, a player brought a commentary. In another, a computer programming guide. Classics, pulp fiction, manuals, genre fiction: anything can become part of this game. You’ll often hear people talk about a game saying that it has infinite replayability (or at least effectively infinite replayability). In the case of Bring Your Own Book, this is even more true. The scope of the game is as broad as the reading tastes of the players (or at least the books they choose to bring). Since anything can be chosen as the source text, just about anything will work.
And this is part of the fun of the game. In our first game, I gave players a restriction. Since I was playing with coworkers, I told everyone to bring a book they had worked on. It was fun to revisit these books for a different purpose. While my first trips through the book I brought were to make sure the argument made sense and the sentences were grammatical, now I was searching its pages to find “something overheard at a garage sale.” There’s something energizing–and playfully transgressive–in repurposing books to serve the included prompts.
The prompts in the game are one of the best parts. I’ve played home-brewed party games before, where players essentially make their own prompts using a party game’s skeletal system. (Confession: I’ve never played Telestrations, but I’ve played “Caveman Telephone” innumerable times, even before I knew Telestrations existed.) While you could potentially do the same thing with Bring Your Own Book, you’d be missing out, simply because the prompts are so creative and fun. They’re not the kind of things I’d think of on my own, and they provide that fascinating spark that sends all players rushing through their books to find the perfect phrase. Each card also has two prompts, so there are no “bummer” cards.
The rulebook includes multiple variants for the game. One of them I mentioned above in the “how it works” section. I don’t much care for the Apples to Apples-style “judge” system of scoring, so in my games, we’ve used the variant, everybody-votes system. This works well, but if your group is more comfortable with the more familiar judge system (leaving precious points to the caprices of a malevolent judge… am I tipping my hand here?), there shouldn’t be any problems playing that way.
One of the best rules of the game is that every time a player wins their second card, players have to pass their books to the left. This is wonderful for a few reasons. First, while any book will work within the Bring Your Own Book system, there are some books that are easier to search than others. That these pass around is a boon to players. (Or a bane when you end up with another player’s programming book…) But second, it also exposes the other players at the table to the book that you brought. And if there’s one thing I can say about readers, it’s that they love foisting reading material on others. (I’ll admit: that’s why I brought my Complete Father Brown to one game.)
What I love about this game is how open it is. The framework is so simple that you can easily plug in new ways to play. You can set the parameters, as I did above, using just the works of William Shakespeare or H.P. Lovecraft, or all books of one genre, or all books from one literary movement. You could even play at book club with all players using the same book. You can get into character with the prompts, attempting accents and even pretending you’re at karaoke night. It’s really up to the players. And the game acts as a keepsake, with space for you to record all the books that have been used so far in playing Bring Your Own Book. I love that the game itself, which is packaged like a book, has space on the cover for its own library of sorts, each book sparking remembrance of the highlight reels of games past. I like that the game provides the skeleton, but it’s really up to the players to flesh out the fun, and there are lots of opportunities for clever editing and interesting performances. Again, far from conforming to the bookworm stereotype, Bring Your Own Book cracks open possibilities beyond trivia or staid word games.
There isn’t much to say against Bring Your Own Book. As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, I am the target audience for this game, so I’m not sure how this will play with someone who isn’t a fan of books. It seems like it should still work, although there’s more effort involved here than in, say, Apples to Apples or even Wits & Wagers, where answers are more constrained. It also, like many other party games, is dependent on the group playing. If someone is sullen and clearly doesn’t want to be at the table, they can spoil the experience. And some players are more skilled at choosing appropriate answers to the prompts, so it can be discouraging if one or two players keep amassing cards while the others are empty handed (although in this case, the game should be mercifully short). But these are all situational problems that are likely to negatively impact any party game.
What is key here is for you to ask yourself 1) do you love books? 2) do you like being creative? 3) do you like both of these things better in groups? If you answered yes to these three questions, Bring Your Own Book is absolutely for you. And even if you didn’t, Bring Your Own Book might be for you. As you’ve read above, it most certainly is for me. It’s such a simple concept–find phrases in a book to match the prompt–but it’s a winning combination since it lets players be creative without having to come up with their own answers. Bring Your Own Book won’t likely work in every party game situation, but for those where it fits, you will not be disappointed.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank GameWright for providing us with a copy of Bring Your Own Book for review.