Book Swapping

Book Swapping

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Book Swapping
Designer: Toby Grytafey
Players: 16-40
Stuff required: a variety of 50 or more used books; computer or smart phone to access spreadsheet
Crew required: 3
Preparation: collecting and cataloguing used books, printing instruction sheets
Time required: 90 minutes
Place required: bar or event
Activities: Trading
This is an unfinished game. It is still in the design stage, and is not playable.
This game is made available under an Attribution-Noncommercial Creative Commons licence. (What does this mean?)

Swap books (or steal books) from other book-lovers to build a library of high-scoring books. Books are scored based on a given criteria, like number of pages or the Dewey Decimal Number, but others will be collecting books to score on a different, unknown criteria. Or maybe you want to trade for a book because you really want to read it! Book Swapping is a celebration of the physical book and an opportunity to find unfamiliar books while trying to outwit your friends.

History and Influences

An idea from an Obscure Games gamelab brainstorming session that keeps popping back into my head.


Book Swapping requires lots of books. The game will work best with a wide variety of books. It may be helpful to partner with a library, a bookstore, a couple of friends with more books than bookshelves, or garage sales. If at all possible, a couple really cool books would be nice.

Instruction cards will have to be printed. The instruction card will tell the player what criteria they are looking for in a book to get a higher score.

After being collected, the books will have to be catalogued into a spreadsheet. A model spreadsheet can be developed and uploaded, with formulas to make scoring easier. The crew will have to record a score for each chosen criteria.

Criteria for books

The "score" for each book will be determined by a particular criteria. The crew should select a 3-5 criteria. The criteria should create a range of values for the books - for example, Dewey Decimal Numbers will give a range between 0-1000, while letter positions will give a range of 1-26. It doesn't matter that the ranges differ, because the spreadsheet will be able to determine who scores the most relative to the total number of points for each criteria.

Possible criteria are:

  • Dewey Decimal Number
  • Number of Pages or Chapters
  • Letter position of first letter in title or author's name
  • Year published
  • Criteria requiring a little bit of research (ebay price, google hits for title, size of publishing company...)
  • Meta-criteria, which would require each player to fill out a slip listing the three books in the game that they want most at the end of the game


Book Swapping could be played in a social atmosphere or a school.

Number of players

Book Swapping requires a large group. Players will be unknowingly competing against a subset of the group with the same criteria. Differing sizes of each subset isn't that important, as long as each subset has at least three people in it.


Two Cops, who will patrol the play area and arrest robbers

One Database Manager, who will score the game based on a spreadsheet

Game Play

Book Distribution

A player checks-in with the Database Manager, who records the player's name in a spreadsheet (can use nickname) and also records the number of the Instruction Card given to the player. The Database Manager gives an Instruction Card and three books to the player. If the player brought a book to donate, they hand it to the Database Manager, who will record the book title and the appropriate number for each criteria.

The Cops then demonstrate how to steal books. Preferably, the Cops role-play with each player.

Players can ask the crew for clarification about the player's particular criteria when the member of the crew is available to speak privately.

After receiving their books, players can start mingling and trading.


Trading occurs informally among the socializing of the event. Players approach other players and try to strike a deal.

Players are not allowed to reveal the criteria on the instruction card or ask questions to try to determine other people's criteria.

Players should try to "sell" their books. Every player gets to keep one of their books, so a player may be able to trade a low-scoring book by enticing the other person into wanting to read it. Players are fully encouraged to play the role of a snobbish book critic, even without ever opening the book.


After the first half hour, the extra books brought by the players are distributed if enough are available. After this point, players can attempt to steal books from other players.

Players can steal a book from another player by pointing a handgun, making eye contact(?) and then saying "One Bibliography". The victim cannot speak and must raise his or her hands in the air before the robber finishes saying "One Bibliography". The victim must silently keep her or his hands in the air while the robber counts, "One Bibliography, Two Bibliography, Three Bibliography." If the robber isn't arrested before completing the count, then the robber gets to take any of the victim's books. If the robber is arrested by the Cop, then the victim gets to take a book and the robber must give a second book to the Cop.

If a player has one more book than the number distributed at the beginning, then that player can be robbed after only Two Bibliographys. Similarly, if a player has two extra books, they can be robbed after only One Bibliography. A player with three or more extra books can be robbed without any extra Bibliographys after sticking up the hands.

A player is not allowed to rob again for a minute after robbing somebody.

Any player can rob or be robbed.

The Cop may distribute the confiscated books in whatever manner the Cop chooses. The Cop may wish to reward snitches with books, but it is completely within the Cop's discretion.

End of Game

After an hour, the game is called. All trades and stealing stop. Each player shows the books to the Database Manager, who enters each players nickname next to the book title. The nickname should be cut and pasted to ensure uniformity. After entering in each player's library, the spreadsheet should display who scored the highest for each criteria; who scored the highest overall relative to total points for a particular criteria and who scored the highest across all criteria. That player gets to pick any book from any player. Each of the highest scoring from any criteria also gets to choose any book. After all the highest scorers pick their books, players may take one of the books from their libraries home with them.