Bring Your Own Book, Board Game Review


Bring Your Own Book, board game box cover

Year Published: 2015

Players: 3-8

Playing Time: 20+ Minutes

Books. Reading. Literature. A separate hobby from games. Right?

Have you ever looked through a book and, rather than reading it cover to cover, simply found interesting phrases or passages? I suspect nearly all of us have done this at some point.

Welcome to doing that…as a party game.

Bring Your Own Book is a simple board game that follows a familiar formula. If you’ve ever played Apples to Apples or the more infamous Cards Against Humanity, you understand the basic premise. Read a prompt, and try to come up with the cleverest or funniest answer to the prompt, which is judged by a rotating judge that works its way through all players.

Those other games have static cards with set terms on them. Sure, you might be able to get a little creative, but that creativity is limited by the imaginations of the creators and the limitations of card decks.

Bring Your Own Book takes this same premise, but gives you the entirety of literature to work from.

Creativity in Party Games

That’s overselling it. You won’t have every conceivable piece of literature in front of you. You’ll have a single book. Perhaps a cookbook. Or a video game manual. Or biography of a Renaissance painter. Or one of the Harry Potter tomes. Or a collection of poetry. Or something by Dr. Suess. And so on.

Further, you won’t have infinite time. Once a single player finds a good prompt, they declare that they’re done and flip a central timer. Beyond that, all other players have 30 more seconds to find their phrase.

The creativity, then, is twofold. One, the game allows you to imagine truncated or concatenated sentences and out-of-context phrases in an entirely new light. Your mind will be turning circles to find just the perfect dating advice, or movie title, or whatever you’re searching for that round.

Second, the timer inherently limits you, so you need to be creative in how and where you search for things. That movie title? Probably best to start in the table of contents and look through chapter titles. Advice for a new college graduate? I’d go for lines of character dialogue instead of omniscient exposition. A war cry? I’d set to work furiously scanning just for a silly word or two, covering as much ground in as little time as possible.

Emergent Humor, and Why It’s Better Than Forced Humor

Much has been written decrying Cards Against Humanity and its occasionally rated-R themes. I’m even among those who have weighed in.

While I’m not a huge fan of the game, I tend not to come down too hard on something that – in the proper context – can still provide a good time for those involved. I don’t think it’s corrupting anyone not already corrupted in some way, but I do advocate for clear notices of what the game’s content is like so that people can make informed decisions about playing or avoiding.

However, my primary objection to the game is in the forced nature of its humor. Work past the shock value, and what’s left? Not a whole lot, it turns out, which a lot of people can attest to who have played one too many sessions of CAH at college parties and such. The same is true of Apples to Apples. More oblique uses for cards are encouraged, which is a start, but it’s still limited.

In Bring Your Own Book, you’ll never hit that wall. Sure, you can burn out on any game if you play it too much. But the very premise of those others grows stale due to their limits…limits that don’t exist for Bring Your Own Book.

As such, I’ve laughed harder at the game’s most brilliant finds, and also haven’t tired of it after a commensurate number of plays.

I was among those playing too much Apples to Apples in college, for example. It peaked early, and then was never quite the same. Bring Your Own Book, conversely, still finds ways to surprise me.

Rules, Schmules, We’re Just Having a Good Time

This is thankfully also not a game that breaks with tweaks around the edges.

For example, the rules in my edition state that books are to rotate at certain points. But sometimes someone is just frustrated with their book and wants to try something new. So our house rule is to keep a pile of extra books in the table’s center. You can swap for a new one between any round, or trade with others at the table.

In less competitive groups, you might even get an exchange like this:
“That book seems hilarious! Can I borrow it for a couple rounds to see what I can find?”
“Sure, enjoy!”

Because you can’t hide whose phrases belong to whom, this sort of atmosphere is encouraged. The alternative is picking the “winner” of a round based on who’s winning and losing to try to help yourself. This is against the spirit of the game, which necessitates a casual spirit to the proceedings.

You can also – like the Apples/CAH’s of the world – simply play until you’re done, not to a set point total or time limit. Once when we had a tie after allowing everyone to judge an equal number of times, I had to make up rules on the fly for a sudden death tiebreaker round. This was tense and dramatic, and worked out just fine.

Hell, once or twice I’ve even ignored the prompt dealt to me and announced that my criteria for the round was something else entirely. Again, nothing went awry, and I’d even say that this further encourages the creativity that’s at the heart of the game.

Games that can bend to accommodate individual preferences like this get some points or praise from me, because I like being able to cater my gaming experiences to both my tastes and the preferences of those I’m playing with.

Bring Your Own Book – Conclusions

The premise, despite my musings about the creativity on display, is ultimately quite basic. It’s a great conceit for a game, but like anything, won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

There’s also the social contract to consider, and ultra-competitive gamers may struggle with the open information and how it could easily be manipulated to angle for a win. If that’s why you’re playing this game, you’re doing it wrong. Argue passionately for your responses, sure, but then smile and laugh when they aren’t picked, and also award rounds to those most deserving when it’s your turn. This is the way to some great gaming here, but that approach is occasionally at odds with how most people approach the game table.

Beyond that, I guess if you don’t have much of a book collection, don’t consider this game. Although, even then, you could probably play with a stack of game manuals on the table, or tablets with the Kindle app open or something. It’s flexible like that.

If any of that sounds like it may be your jam, I heartily recommend Bring Your Own Book. Simple premise, tons of heart.

Enjoy my reviews and want more? Check out my other reviews and game musings!