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Oxford History of Board Games [Hardcover]

David Parlett
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 3, 1999 0192129988 978-0192129987
For thousands of years, people have been planning attacks, captures, chases, and conquests--in short, they've been playing board games. Now, in The Oxford History of Board Games, David Parlett investigates the myriad board games that have developed through the ages and around the world.
Here are the origins and development of our favorite games, from the Egyptian and Asian ancestors of Chess, Checkers, and Backgammon, to the invention of such modern classics as Monopoly, Clue, and Scrabble. Parlett groups the games in different families--such as those based on races or chases, wars or hunts, capture or blockade--and then provides a fascinating history of each family. Throughout the book, Parlett pays close--indeed, loving--attention to traditional games, the charming folk entertainments that have grown up through the centuries, and which exhibit endless local variations. Likewise, he devotes enthusiastic coverage to lesser-known and experimental games. Thus the book is no mere catalog of the familiar, but takes the reader into a world a games they have never known before. And not only does he describe the rules and strategies of the games, but Parlett also draws on 20 year's experience as a professional games researcher, critic, and inventor, to offer many perceptive insights into the thinking involved in creating these games. And, finally, Parlett also illuminates the significance of game-playing as a central part of human experience--as vital to a culture as its music, dance, and literature.
Written with great affection and authority, and beautifully illustrated with period art and helpful diagrams that show the finer points of the games, this is a fascinating and accessible guide to a richly rewarding subject.

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This book by Parlett (A Dictionary of Card Games, Oxford Univ., 1992) is a superb work that succeeds in defining board games from their ancient inception to the present day. The most basic games were of a race nature (from point A to point B). Board games then evolved by implementing dice, cards, extra pieces, and territories. This exhaustive work is more an informative reference than an easy read, with subjects divided into Race Games, Space Games, Chase Games, Displace Games, and War Games (such as chess). The book gets high marks for historical depth, and includes game varieties from every country. Readers will find one shortcoming, however: a lack of "how-to" strategies for winning play. Instead, there is detailed research on the mechanisms of games. This is a worthy updating of H.J.R. Murray's classic A History of Board Games Other Than Chess (1952). Great tidbits or obscure, entertaining facts can be found on any given page. The game mechanisms can also be applied with little ingenuity. Highly recommended.AMarty Soven, Woodside, NY
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.


The most enjoyable thing about this book is that it describes the rules for hundreds of board games....This book will require you to think in ways you never before though possible. For the same reason, though, you probably won't be able to put this one down. -- Steven Robert Allen, Weekly Alibi, July 21, 1999

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (June 3, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192129988
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192129987
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #862,000 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Born London UK 18 May 1939 to Sidney Thomas Parlett and Eleanor May Parlett née Nunan. Lived in Barry, Glamorgan, 1940-5. Brothers Graham (1946), Andrew (1956). Educated Battersea Grammar School 1951-9, University College of Wales Aberystwyth 1959-63, BA in Modern Languages. Spent year as assistant teacher in France (Prades, Pyrénées Orientales). French teacher London and Ashford (Kent) 1964-7. Married Barbara Hoare 1966; children Elizabeth (1970), Edward (1973). Technical writer with London PR companies 1967-1974. Freelance writer for Games & Puzzles magazine 1974-1980. First of many books on indoor games published 1977. Invented board game Hare & Tortoise first published in UK 1974, in Germany 1978, received first Game of the Year Award 1979, still in print. Joined Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) 1980. Translated selections from Carmina Burana published by Penguin Classics 1986.

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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must buy for anyone interested in games! May 4, 1999
"The Oxford History of Board Games", the latest book from British writer and games expert David Parlett, is a magnificent overview of the development of games over the millenia. Such a book is long overdue - the previous similar work was H.J.R. Murray's "A History of Board-Games", published back in 1952. Parlett however has the distinct advantage of another half a century of research, and this shows: His book even includes and discusses (not to say dissects) the Roman board game recently excavated by archeologists in Colchester, and rounds off with a chapter on modern board game design: Risk, Monopoly, Diplomacy, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit and a host of others are to be found right there. Parlett is thus able to correct a number of the mistakes made by Murray, and adds considerably to the store of knowledge in the field of games. Parlett also in his book divides the games by a very logical classification, and tells about the historical development of each in turn. This book is in short a long-overdue milestone, and an absolute must for anyone with the slightest interest in games. Despite the thoroughness with which Parlett treats the subject, the writing is lucid, sprinkled with interesting cultural references and topped with occasional flashes of dry British humour. I cannot recommend it highly enough - and as a collector of books on games, with 1100 titles on my shelves, I should know. - Dan Glimne
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great new book on games! July 22, 1999
By A Customer
David Parlett has writen a magnificent book on the history of board games world wide. The book is well organized, clearly written and complete. It takes it's place along side the great work on games and game collecting, and is a "must have" for any game lover. It is hard to imagine a work more thoroughly or more loving prepared and it is clear that Mr. Parlett is one of the foremost experts on this subject. Each chapter is devoted to a subset of game type, there are dozens of charts ranging from "probability curves for binary lots" (two sided dice) to the "quantity of letters in Scrabble." 26 different Chess variants are presented with diagrams of the pieces and their boards, as well as board games from cultures ranging from the Aztecs to the Zuni and everyone in between. The only disappointment in this otherwise outstanding work is the lack of a complete bibliography on game study. But the book is meticulously footnoted and sources are listed at the end of each chapter. I have already made several of the games that Mr. Parlett had described in his book, to the enjoyment of my family and friends. This is not an "How To" book the strictest sense, but an invaluable tool for anyone interested in the subject of board games and their history.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chase, displace, space, race games-- and themes! November 6, 2008
I learned last week that my personality type seeks out pursuits not for competition or reward, but for the pleasure of the pastime. I get absorbed, as many readers of Parlett may, by the world within a game that mirrors and distorts our reality. Curious about the history of chess, and the personality quirks associated with it and other strategies occupying space on a grid, board, circuit, or pattern, I found Parlett's guide.

As with so much of gaming scholarship, throughout his entries, Parlett nods to the massive but uneven, now partially superseded, research of H.J.R. Murray on the origins of chess and varieties of other board games. I might add how it's easier to consult and use than Murray's exhaustive compendia. Now out-of-print, a companion to Parlett's card games history, this 1999 study deserves reprinting in paperback by OUP.

"The aim of this book is primarily to present a historical survey of positional board games, but extending the story to modern and proprietary games whenever they can be shown to advance or expand on a traditional idea," Parlett explains (p. 7). He suggests that "the power of involvement of its underlying abstract structure" determines, no matter the label, its abstract content or representational surface, the success long-term for a theme game. "What makes people want to go on playing a game once its theme is past its sell-by date is the fact that it remains engaging and exciting despite its outdated appearance and loss of topicality." For example, we do not go into battle with elephants, take counsel with bishops, or ride as knights into the pawns that comprise the enemy's ranks-- yet we still play chess with these pieces.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing Resorce. September 13, 2001
David Parlet should be commended for his clarity and organization. The History of Board Games is an amazing resorce for anyone who is interested in the evolution, origin and history of games like chess, checkers, tafl, backgamon, fanorona, nyout, seega, alquerque, nine mans morris and many many other games.
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