Cape Elizabeth library carves pop-culture niche with Euro-style board games

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Thomas Memorial Library has long been perhaps the best place in town to find movies, comic books and video games.

Now you can add board games to that list.

The library recently added five games to its collection as it continues to court new and different audiences – and fans of geek culture in particular.

A far cry from “Monopoly” or “Battleship,” these games – which include titles like “Pandemic,” “Carcassonne,” “Puerto Rico,” “Ticket to Ride,” and the hugely popular “The Settlers of Catan” – are called German-style, or European-style board games. In contrast to traditional American board games, Euro-style games typically de-emphasize luck, forgo player elimination, and focus more on economic themes than military ones.

While some of the games’ themes may be mundane – “The Settlers of Catan” involves building roads and collecting resources like iron ore – the gameplay is highly involved and addictive, said Adrian Alexander, a library assistant.

American games are just the opposite, he said: You may be conquering the world or saving a kingdom from an invasion, but it all boils down to rolling dice for six hours.

The self-contained nature and relative simplicity of Euro-style games also differentiate them from “Dungeons & Dragons” and tabletop games, which attract more hardcore hobbyists and encourage players to purchase endless supplements.

Alexander will host a “Settlers of Catan” training and information session at the library on Saturday, March 8, at 2 p.m. After providing a 30-minute overview of the rules and strategy, attendees are invited to stay and play a round, which typically lasts about 90 minutes. Alexander said he would consider holding similar sessions for the library’s other games if there proves to be interest.

“The Settlers of Catan” was first published in Germany in 1995. Today it’s available in more than 30 languages and has sold more than 18 million copies worldwide. It still occupies a niche market in the U.S., but its popularity has surged in recent years.

“It’s not ‘Grand Theft Auto,’ but it’s definitely permeated pop culture,” Alexander said.

Video games are another recent addition to the Thomas Memorial Library collection. Patrons can now rent popular titles including “Bioshock,” “Super Mario Galaxy” and “The Last of Us,” for the Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii and Playstation 3 consoles, respectively. That is, if they’re in stock – since entering circulation, they’ve been requested frequently via interlibrary loan.

Combine all these games with the library’s extensive collection of fantasy books, graphic novels and Japanese comics, or manga, and Thomas Memorial begins to sound like a major haven for geekdom.

“There’s definitely an intention to be inclusive in terms of a variety of media and influences,” Alexander said. “We try to follow or anticipate trends in pop culture.”

Library Director Jay Scherma said it’s all about providing innovative services and catering to underserved audiences.

“Board games and video games are both collections that other libraries have had successes with, and we want to make sure we’re doing everything for our people,” Scherma said. “We’re also looking to provide an opportunity for people to have some social networking, time where they can meet other people with similar interests. The whole notion of game night, as much as it’s about the games, it’s about being with other people with similar interests.”

He added, “We’re trying to provide an opportunity for people to get together and have meaningful experiences.”

Brendan Twist can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @brendantwist.

Sidebar Elements

Thomas Memorial Library Assistant Adrian Alexander sets the board for “Pandemic,” a game in which players work together to stop an outbreak of disease. Alexander will conduct a workshop on another game, “The Settlers of Catan,” Saturday at the Cape Elizabeth library.

“The Settlers of Catan,” a game in which players collect resources and build roads, settlements and cities.

Branding decisions loom for Thomas Memorial

CAPE ELIZABETH — Thomas Memorial Library may have cornered the market on fanboys and gamers, but it faces tough choices about how to present itself to the broader public.

Members of the library board of trustees, the library building committee, the Thomas Memorial Library Foundation and the Town Council met Wednesday to discuss branding plans for the 95-year-old library.

And while there was a general consensus that the board should at some point approach the foundation to request money for a branding campaign – one estimate called for between $20,000 and $40,000 – there were unresolved questions about whether a branding plan should be introduced before or after the Nov. 4 referendum on a $4 million library renovation project.

Board member RuthAnne Haley said the branding discussion started more than a year ago. She described meetings with Elisabeth Doucett, director of the Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick and author of the book “Creating Your Library Brand,” and Walter Briggs, a Maine marketing professional who designed branding campaigns for Curtis Memorial and the Patten Free Library in Bath.

Haley stressed that the branding discussion began independently of renovation plans. Now, however, any discussion of branding has to involve the referendum.

The sentiment Wednesday was that a strong branding campaign – if there’s time to create one between now and November – could improve the referendum’s chances of passing by creating awareness and generating excitement, but that a poorly executed campaign would be worse than none at all.

Lee Rutty, who sits on both the library and foundation boards, said a pre-referendum branding campaign could be construed by the public as too presumptuous or slick.

“I think managing perceptions is really important,” he said.

For now, it appears the library board and foundation will decide together how and when to contract for messaging, a logo, a slogan and more.

The group did agree that the image of namesake William Widgery Thomas Jr., which appears throughout the library’s website, should be discontinued. Thomas is depicted as a gnome-like creature with a large mustache and V-shaped beard.

“He needs to go to the barber,” Haley said.

— Brendan Twist