Book Bugs 3

Designer: not credited

Artist: not credited

Publisher: National Library Board, Singapore

Bugs of all shapes and sizes….except none exist in the wild.

Book Bugs 3 is a collectable card game produced by the National Library Board in Singapore to encourage reading. The cards are given away as a promotional item for kids via a point based system. Borrowers accumulate points for every book they borrow and these points can be exchanged for Book Bug cards. Book Bugs 3 is the third iteration of this program with a total of 75 cards in the series to be released in stages, each with its own theme:

1-44 Magical Forests
45-54 Mysterious Seas
55-64 Mystical Mountains
65-74 Marvelous Homes
75 Special “guest”

For each series, cards come in regular and foil edition and most of the bugs are inspired by different mythical characters or folk tales from countries across the Asian continent. Some cards also come in several languages (English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil) to promote learning. Each card is hand drawn and even though some of the illustrations aren’t exactly of a Michael Menzel or Vincent Dutrait quality, they are reasonable. What’s worthwhile is that these bugs are all very Asian-centric and focused on promoting local characters and legends from different mythical tales. Often these character traits are superimposed on the bugs with various results. Sure, some are rather comical and feel a bit corny, but this being a promotional and educational tool, you cannot be expecting a masterpiece. That said, the quality of the illustrations are all reasonable and have an organic feel. I would have wished that the name of the artist be displayed at the bottom of each card ala Magic the Gathering. These artists deserve some credit and their names should be proudly displayed somewhere on the card.

So, Book Bugs 3 is also a card game along the lines of Magic the Gathering. Each bug has a unique ability and a number of points ranging from 1-3. To start, players will have a preset deck of 25-30 cards and each turn, players will play a single card to their tableau from a hand of 5 cards. Card powers are immediately triggered as soon as they are played and the cards will remain in the tableau. The game is won when a player reaches 20 points or if one person’s deck runs out. The rules are kept simple to entice readers of all ages to collect and play. I can understand the choice.

To me, the idea of “gamifying” reading is fantastic. The program is wonderful and I haven’t seen many other countries doing this sort of program for kids. I think even just the concept of going to the library and spending time around books is a good start for readers . Whether you agree with the method of encouragement by using “games” as a lure, is another matter, but I bet it has an impact. After all, this is the third collection to be released by the National Library Board (the others being Book Bugs 1 and 2). Being such a data driven country, I doubt they would continue this program without at least some evidence of success. I actually hope they keep this up.

As a card game, Book Bugs 3 feels like a lost opportunity. Yes, one might think of this entire endeavor as trivial and secondary to the major goal of promoting reading, but really this is also an opportunity for the Library Board to showcase local talent by designing a well-play tested game that embraces modern game design concepts. First, Singapore has a handful of talented board game designers who have created good quality board games that are available in the global market. Why not commission them to design a card game that is balanced and well play tested? Board game design is no longer some niche, unknown quantity and the market for analogue games is growing at a rapid pace. Designing a good quality game and promoting them should be a parallel goal for the National Library Board for this Book Bugs series. As I mentioned, the artwork for the cards also deserves attention. This is an opportunity to showcase local artists and to make sure their names are displayed on each card. It’s inspiring for kids to see that illustrators can also get name recognition alongside the developers for the game.

Finally, if the game is promoting reading, it might as well be be educational too. There are fantastic games out there with an educational bent beyond just direct conflict and counting to 20. Games that subtly integrate math (Sleeping Queen, Zeus on the Loose, KaChing!), deduction (Outfox) or memory (Memoaaar) would be interesting to craft from a collectable card game standpoint. The success of Wingspan in the broader commercial market suggests that a tie-in to real-world information for these cards games can also be a real model. Why not focus on pan-Asian bugs unique to our corner of the world? I am sure Borneo alone, would provide us with enough bugs to span another 3 more collections. Collectable card games have often used Magic the Gathering as a template and I think its time for to see some real innovation in that direction.

Initial impression: Not for us

For more information about rules of the game, visit
https://childrenandteens.nlb.gov.sg/events/bookbugsx/

Kids Corner

There is really not much to say here. We were all very excited to give this a spin but was really let down by the game play. Basically, the card powers are wildly unbalanced and too conflict-oriented. There were so many “discard this and that type of card from your opponent’s field”. So many that one can lose all the cards even though you might be one card away from victory. Too harsh and too mean with no particular reason. We even implemented a few house rules, removed some of the harsher cards and still, the game felt bland. Having been exposed to a lot more games, my kid was also not terribly thrilled at the random aggresion. This is just really too bad because everything else about this game is wonderful. We had such a great father-daughter bonding experience over the entire experience of going to the library, picking up books, reading, going to the card dispensers to press our luck, trading with other kids by mail and only to be let down by the final aspect of the experience: the actual game play. Oi Vey…..

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