The Bodleian game

By | 13 December 2017

You were promised tenuous links, but there’s nothing difficult to follow about this one.

Yes, there really is a Bodleian board game.  Its aim is to recreate “hours spent in scholarly pursuit” as you move around the different reading rooms of the Bodleian Libraries, reliving the thrill of creating a bibliography for your research project.

Christmas is a time for nostalgia, and as soon as you open the board you can see how things have changed since 1988 when the game was created.  Locations include Rhodes House library, which closed in 2014, while the Weston Library features under its former name, the New Bodleian Library.







All players are trying to track down the same fourteen books, relating to a topic agreed at the beginning.  (No frivolity here, options include: The theory of games, Women & society, Childhood.)  These are real books, such as Bringing up children in Ghana, found in the game at Rhodes House, but now relegated to the Book Storage Facility.  Or you might find yourself hunting down Advertising and Marketing Law & Practice* which is still here at the Law Library on open shelves just as it was in 1988.

*spot the typo

The game was released at a time before automation had really taken hold, so all players start at the central Bodleian, and must check the printed catalogue to find the first book.  This is where it gets exciting – you have to choose between the Pre-1920, the Post-1920 and the Interim catalogue (“listing some pre- and post-1920 publications actually acquired by the library after about 1983-4”).  You can only check one at a time; choose the wrong one and you’ve wasted your turn.  If you discover that your book is held in another library, you have to throw the dice, move there and check the local catalogue to find it on the shelves, a time-consuming process.

The advent of OLIS, the first online union catalogue here, has made life easier since then.  Of course even now not everything that’s held by the Bodleian is in the main catalogue (now known as SOLO).  For some specialist materials you may still need to check a different catalogue – see the ‘Other catalogues and services ‘ box on the SOLO homepage.  For others, your best best is still to ask a subject specialist, as there may be resources which aren’t discoverable online at all.

Chance cards speed you on your way or throw hazards in your path.  Maybe the book you requested from the stacks isn’t waiting for you.  In the game this would mean a wasted turn; nowadays there are automatic email notifications when your book arrives at the reading room, to save you a wasted trip.

Another chance card sees you missing a turn for being caught eating in the library; you have to go the Admissions office to retrieve your confiscated reader’s card.  These days, food is still mostly forbidden except in a very few designated areas, but you can at least bring in your hot drink into several reading rooms, as long as it’s in a Bodleian-approved Keep Cup.

Some things haven’t changed – “Should a player land on the same square as another player, both players must go to the Kings Arms“.  This Oxford institution is still going strong after all these years, and still luring readers away from their study.

A major change in the last decade is the arrival of electronic formats for books and journals, which mean you might no longer need to visit a physical library at all.  To update the game, perhaps these chance cards should be added, courtesy of the digital revolution:

  • The book is available as an unrestricted eBook so you can log in remotely and read it wherever you are.  Throw again to move on to your next title.
  • The article is available on electronic legal deposit; go to any Bodleian library computer to read it.  Perhaps with the concomitant  hazard This eLD article is already being used by someone else.  Wait a turn until it’s free.

Since it’s a high-minded game for scholars, the winner isn’t the person who finds all the books first.  Whenever you’ve located a book, you have to throw the dice to see how useful the book is to your research, and record your score.  So, even once you’ve found all the books, you can add to your score by ‘reading’ them again.  The end only comes when a second player completes the list, and then all players add their scores, so the actual winner may not be the person you expected.

You will no doubt be sad to hear that the Bodleian game is no longer available to buy.  For alternatives you could visit Board Game Geek who have a list of other library-related board games.  As far as I know, the Bodleian is the only library to have its own board game; even if it is, shall we say, not entirely enthralling to play, its existence must surely be a source of pride.


The Bodleian Board Game: designed by Leslie Scott and Sara Finch, c1988 Bodleian Library, Oxford.