Bringing fun and games to the community

Debora Van Brenk // Western NewsMathew Hoy, co-founder of Project Play, and Lisa Manax Skikos, co-ordinator of the children and youth services in the London Public Library, said the quality games now available for free borrowing at all London branches cements the library’s role as a fun place to be.

Libraries are great for borrowing books, magazines and music. ­And now, board games, too?

Thanks to a donation by Project Play – an annual gamer event co-led by Western website developer Mathew Hoy – Londoners now have free borrowing access to a range of some of the coolest games, such as Dixit and Ticket to Ride.

“We really want to give games to everyone, to encourage families and friendships through this. We’re kind of like the Games Santa Claus,” said Hoy. He and event co-founder Greg Picken launched Project Play as a way for “a lot of nerdy friends” to join with other gamers in sharing their love for board games, tabletop games and video games in one place, on one day.

The first year, the entrance fee was at $10 to cover costs and they hoped a few dozen people might be interested. More than 400 showed up.

Unexpectedly flushed with proceeds from an event they’d intended to be a fun social gathering for game geeks, they decided to spread the joy around town. All proceeds were used to buy and donate board and video game systems to family crisis centres, women shelters and community centres across the region.

“We are so excited. They’ve been so generous,” said Lisa Manax Skikos, co-ordinator of children and youth services at the library. “We are one of the first libraries in Canada to do this,” and probably the only one with so extensive a collection, she said.

“Project Play gives away 100 per cent of the money we take in. Everything,” Hoy said, adding  organizers have been diligent about donating every penny one year, when they found their game purchases were $3 short of their intake, they bought two packs of Bicycle playing cards to empty the wallet completely.

The first year, when they let Merrymount Family  Support and Crisis Centre know they’d be dropping by with some games, staff expected maybe musty basement surplus boards, Hoy said. They didn’t expect a guy to arrive in a full Halo costume with a new flatscreen TV, Wii, Xbox and video games, plus 50 board games they unwrapped and set up in the family room.

The generosity won Project Play a Community Innovation Award from Pillar Nonprofit Network the following year.

The event grew so quickly, the 12 core organizers realized if it were to continue, it would need far more infrastructure than they’d originally envisioned. It was valuable, but it was also eating into important play time with their own families.  After six years, it was time to retire the day-long Project Play event.

“We were all feeling kind of exhausted,” Hoy said. “It’s kind of a big deal to raise $40,000 in six years and to give it all away.”

In a fitting finale, they decided a lasting, public legacy would be to share the final year’s proceeds with all London libraries. Each branch now has a collection of quality games, for a total of 175. Project Play also donated $3,000 so libraries can replace worn-out or lost parts as needed.

Just in time for March Break, the games are available for public borrowing starting on Saturday.

While the games are catalogued and searchable on the London Public Library’s site (look for ‘Games to Go’ at, they won’t be available for inter-branch swaps. Patrons can either take a game home or play with friends at each branch.

The names might not be familiar to those for whom board games mean a cutthroat marathon of Monopoly or a sedate session of Scrabble. These selections, though, are hugely popular among today’s gamers; some, such as Pandemic, are co-operative; while others, such as Exploding Kittens (which features goat wizards, magic enchiladas and kittens that can be distracted by laser pointers), are more whimsical and raucous.

Library staff have all taken games home in the past couple of weeks, so they can help patrons know which games are best suited to each borrower.

Manax Skikos said the games help solidify the libraries’ role as a fun, family-friendly place in the community.

“People can turn off the screens, grab a board game and have a ball,” she said.

For Hoy, a large measure of this outreach is ensuring wider public access ­– including access for newcomers and people with socio-economic barriers. “It’s a valuable tool to teach literacy, mathematical literacy and social skills,” he said, adding it’s mostly about play. “We want to take the goodness of games and share with the community.”

Games to Go:

  • London Public Library’s new Games to Go collection is available for borrowing starting on March 10, the beginning of the March Break holiday.
  • Search Games to Go in the online catalogue or type in the name of the game you are looking for.
  • Games are suitable for ages 8 years and up.
  • Available games: Anomia, Bohnanza, Carcasonne, Catan Family Edition, Century Spice Road, Cockroach Poker, Codenames, Concept, Coup, Dixit, Exploding Kittens, Flash Point, For Sale, Forbidden Island, Ghost Blitz, Hive, Incan Gold, King of Tokyo, Kingdomino, Love Letter, Machi Koro, One Night Werewolf, Pandemic, Patchwork Splendor, Sushi Go, Ticket to Ride, Timeline/CardLine, Tsuro

Mathew Hoy’s top-three games list:


Spot It!

Exploding Kittens

Lisa Manax Skikos’ top-three games list:

Ticket to Ride (all versions)


CardLine games