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Saturday, 27 July 2019

Boardgame Bonanza

Published by Clyde & Cart Press following a successful Kickstarter campaign, The Board Game Book: The essential guide to the best new games is a new publication dedicated to showcasing the best that the tabletop gaming has to offer, primarily in terms of board games and card games, but also with a nod to roleplaying games and miniatures wargames. Every entry gets a page of its very own—if not three or four—containing a write-up, an interview (though not all), and lots of gorgeous photographs. There are almost one-hundred-and-forty entries in this book, covering the years 2017 and 2018, and all penned by a professional team of writers.  

The Board Game Book opens with two sections designed for those new to the hobby. The first is a potted history of tabletop gaming, somewhat slight in comparison to other treatments and in need of a slight reorganisation. That said, if you are new to the hobby, it is informative and it does lay the groundwork for the rest of the book. The second section, actually the first chapter, is titled ‘Get Into Gaming’ and describes almost thirty games, from Ticket to Ride and Machi Koro to Santorini and Takenoko, many of them considered classics, but all considered to be good first games to play. Then, it delves deep into the board games of the last two years, first with ‘Family, Casual and Party Games’, and then chapters dedicated to games of increasingly complex strategy. 

Every entry follows the same format which informs the reader of the game’s designers and artists, its category, the number of players it supports, playing time, suggested playing age, and price in both pounds sterling and US dollars. This is followed by a review and then an interview with the designers, both half a page in length. The reviews are quite light and positive, but give a good idea what playing each game is like and what their good and bad points are, but again mostly good. The interviews are also quite light, but are in a way more informative because in general many of the interviewees in the pages of The Board Game Book are not interviewed all that often. What is clear from these interviews is that some designers are prolific and have multiple entries and thus interviews, for example Matt Leacock with the entries from the Pandemic family and Matt Wallace with games such as Brass Birmingham and Wildlands, and that the designers come from around the world, though many are from Germany and Italy, and that being a game designer is not solely a male preserve. Of course they dominate the hobby, but there is still diversity on show here, whether it is the husband and team of Inka and Markus Brand behind Word Slam and EXIT: The Game or Nikki Valens, the queer and non-binary designer of Legacy of Dragonholt. Hopefully this is only a start and a greater diversity will be reflected in subsequent issues of The Board Game Book.

Not every entry in The Board Game Book benefits from an interview, but as the book progresses through its chapters, the entries grow in size to match the complexities of the games being described, both in terms of both the review and the interview. This is not always successful, as some entries do feel padded out in comparison to their content—the review of Crystal Clans is a noted offender here—but for the most part, the longer, more complex games deserve the greater page count.

The chapter on Storytelling Games such as Fog of Love and Stuffed Fables nicely dovetails into the chapter on Roleplaying Games. Sadly though, both roleplaying games and miniature wargames in the next chapter only receive a slight treatment in The Board Game Book in comparison, just a titles for each in comparison to the number of boardgames covered in the book. Now, obviously this is The Board Game Book and so board games are its focus, but really in covering just Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Forbidden Lands – Raiders & Rogues in a Cursed World, Star Trek Adventures: The Roleplaying Game, and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Fourth Edition, it all feels rather obvious, with the exception of the interesting inclusion of Star Crossed, the roleplaying game of unlikely romances from Bully Pulpit Games. Worse, the coverage of Indy style roleplaying games is more photographs than content and feels like an afterthought.

It is possible that titles like the Call of Cthulhu Starter Set, Art & Arcana: A Visual History , RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, Masks of Nyarlathotep: Dark Schemes Herald the End of the World, and Prince Valiant: The Storytelling Game were all released after the deadline for inclusion in The Board Game Book, but the renaissance of Chaosium, Inc. would have been worthy of inclusion as would the best horror roleplaying game supplement of the last two years, Harlem Unbound: A Sourcebook for the Call of Cthulhu and Gumshoe Roleplaying Games. Another issue is that roleplaying games are not treated in the same way as the board games in the book. They do not get the same listing of information at the start of their entries as do board games. The chapter on wargames is likewise brief and suffers from the same lack of information as well as being dominated by entries from Games Workshop.

Rounding out The Board Game Book is a listing of some twenty or board games which have been adapted to apps. This is useful because it provides another easy way into the hobby, enabling players to pick and choose games at home, trying them before investing in physical copies. That and a decent glossary nicely bookend the ‘Get Into Gaming’ chapter at the start of the book, helping prospective players get a start in the hobby.

Physically, the presentation of The Board Game Book is crisp, clean, and highly professional. There is almost a foodie cookbook-like quality to The Board Game Book in its efforts to present each and every game in lovely detail, to make each and every game look intriguing and eye-catching. This book is simply pretty. The presentation extends to the text too, with nice use of colour for the interviews. The book could do with an edit here and there, but is otherwise very readable.

The Board Game Book does several things. First, as an ‘annual’—a once-a-year publication—it serves as a snapshot of the tabletop gaming hobby in 2019. Second, as a showcase, it shows off the best of the games which have been released in the last year in a bright, easily accessible form. Third, it serves as a coffee table book that you, a friend, or a member of your family can browse to get some idea of what the games look like and just a little of what the hobby is like rather than a collection of boxes. Fourth, it serves as a reference guide, though one given more to breadth rather than depth, and fifth, it works as a catalogue of games to try, no matter whether you are new to the hobby or are a veteran.

At its best when focusing on board games and thus living up to its title, The Board Game Book: The essential guide to the best new games is an attractive introduction to the tabletop gaming hobby, one that illustrates the best of hobby in 2019 for those new to it and those who are old hands. It deserves to sit alongside your games collection whether you are just starting out or already have shelves full of games.

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