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It's All a Game: The History of Board Games from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan Hardcover – May 30, 2017
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"[A] timely book...It’s All a Game provides a wonderfully entertaining trip around the board, through 4,000 years of game history." ―The Wall Street Journal
“[A] splendid new book...A quick and breezy read, it doesn't just tell the fascinating stories of the (often struggling) individuals who created our favorite games. It also manages to convey the entire sweep of boardgame history, from the earliest forms of Checkers to modern-day surprise hits like Settlers of Catan.” ―Mashable
"Throw away your preconceived notions and dive into this rich story that informs who we are by the games we play...Each chapter is a thematic essay that stands alone but also artfully weaves together culture, business, and ways games impact society... This history of games is perfect for the budding social scientist, the casual reader, or someone looking to impress party guests with trivia knowledge." ―Booklist
"a fascinating and insightful discussion not only of games past, but the socioeconomic and historical factors that contributed to their popularity" ―Chicago Review of Books
"There is both reason and rhyme for every one of Donovan’s historical installments, and the biographical bits are intriguing, revealing the kind of person who invents a board game... What Donovan has done with It’s All A Game is write a social history through board games." ―Paste Magazine
“Offering more than a nostalgic trip through the attic, this book will appeal to readers interested in a comprehensive history of board games” ―Library Journal
"Tristan Donovan takes what might seem like a dull topic and brings it to life. Turning a hobby into a fascinating history subject, It's All a Game manages to cover the entire realm of tabletop games in an easy-to-read yet fascinating tale. Think you know everything about board games? Read this to find otherwise!" ―Tom Vasel, Host, The Dice Tower
About the Author
TRISTAN DONOVAN is a British author and journalist. His books include It's All a Game and his writing has appeared in numerous publications, including BBC News Online, The Atlantic, The Times of London, Stuff, Wired, The Guardian, Eurogamer, Kotaku,Community Care, and The Big Issue. He lives in the UK.
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The histories of games such as Clue, The Game of Life, Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, and Scrabble are much more complicated and creative than one might think. Truly for me, it was actually a subject I had never thought about at all. Each game follows a path that seems to be a combination of ingenuity, luck, and timing, and each individual story is quite intriguing and speaks to what society valued at the time of the creation of that particular game. I was also amazed to learn that Monopoly was used to funnel escape kits to the Allied prisoners during World War 2. The cardboard base of the game had small compartments cut into the board to stash a small compass, two files and a silk map and then the playing area was glued back on. Money in the currency the prisoners would need was hidden among the Monopoly money. How cool is that?!
I really enjoyed the section on German games, particularly The Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride, because we play those a fair amount. I wish the author had included a few other popular games such as Blokus and Sequence to round out the book, but overall he covered a good list of games.
I recommend this book for those who enjoy playing board games; I learned so many cool details that add another dimension to my enjoyment of playing those games. Thanks to Thomas Dunne Books and NetGalley for the chance to read this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
It's a terrific tour, a collection of mostly unconnected essays each of which deals with a particular game. (There are one or two exceptions that are topical instead, such as a chapter that explores how certain games were used in spy craft during World War II.) Donovan explores each game's roots, such as who invented it or why, and tracks its development into its modern form. In some cases the earliest versions of the game look familiar, while in others they're strikingly different from the games we know today. (For example, did you know that the Game of Life was originally played on a checkers-style board?)
The book has a great pace; the essays never drag. At around 15 or 20 pages each, Donovan introduces a game, shares the most interesting things about its history, and then is on to the next subject. Yet somehow the writing never feels superficial. It's as if you had a friend who had done a lot of research, and now he was filling you in over drinks about the coolest stuff he'd learned.
Board games have always been with us, and indeed have been experiencing something of a renaissance lately. (Donovan has a chapter on that, too.) This book isn't necessarily about getting up to speed on the trend, although it name-checks many popular titles, but it is an extremely readable and downright fun look at the world of games.