As an avid reader, I was pretty excited to find out about a puzzly, book-themed board game released from Foxmind Games. While there are certainly some great literature-themed games out there (Hardback and Ex Libris) that come to mind, most are too difficult for me to play with my young ones.
Enter By the Book, a simple little puzzle game that will have you stacking books on a shelf trying to make things even.
By the Book comes with 40 progressively harder challenges for you to take on. Each card (sorted into 4 difficulty levels), will list off the components you need to stack on the shelf. It might be 3-4 books of various sizes or even a sleepy cat. Early on, there are few strict rules, but as you get into the more difficult challenges, some books will have stacking requirements, such as a specific book or books must be placed horizontally.
The goal is to place all the required pieces on the bottom shelf, be able to place the second shelf on top, and have the top shelf be level. The top shelf must also be supported by 2 books. The game even comes with a tiny bubble level to check your work. The reverse side of each card has a possible solution to the puzzle.
Some games, like The Mind or The Game, have a raging debate on whether it’s an activity or a game. With By the Book, I don’t think anyone can argue that it’s more of an activity than a game. Not that that’s a bad thing, but there is no score to keep, winners to crown, or losers to worry about. All you do is draw the challenge and figure it out.
By the Book has an age rating of 8+, but I think that’s a tad conservative. My 5-year-olds were able to play this one with no issues. Sure, they did have some issues parsing some of the more difficult challenges, but for the most part, they understood what they needed to do and were able to be successful. In fact, they’ve gotten so into it, that I can just hand it to them and it keeps them busy (and out of my hair) for quite a while. Which is an absolute win in my book.
One of the things that could potentially frustrate some players is that there is no “right” solution. The back of each card has a “possible solution”, but there is a good chance yours won’t match that one. That’s because a lot of the books are fairly similar in size, and the rules are pretty light. The main thing to know is that the second shelf has to be supported by at least 2 books, it must be level, and the cat always has to sit on a book (just like a cat isn’t it). So there might be half a dozen ways to accomplish a single puzzle. For those looking for exact confirmation they did it right, it won’t be here. My daughter was particularly annoyed when her solution didn’t quite match the one on the back. So be forwarded on that one.
But if you don’t have to be directly on point, By the Book is a fun little bit of mental exercise. I’ve played through most of the puzzles and none were egregiously hard. There were a handful here and there that gave me something to think about, but for the most part, I was able to figure things out. Now my kids had a bit more challenging time, but considering their age, that seems fair. The components themselves are solid, with painted books, and oddly shaped but well-made cards.
By the Book is an interesting game… well activity. It’s primarily a solo game, but there is no reason you couldn’t play it cooperatively. We did try that and it was a tad awkward because the pieces are somewhat small and the puzzles don’t really require that much collaboration. We ended up just taking turns trying to do a puzzle as most you can solve in a few minutes, so it wasn’t a big deal to take turns.
I’m not going to give By the Book a star rating, because it’s hard to rate an activity, but overall we found it enjoyable. As long as you aren’t looking for exact solutions or super challenging puzzles, you can have a good amount of entertainment with this one. It’s also great for keeping your little ones occupied and letting them stretch those mental muscles.