Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Friday 20 December 2019

Friday Filler: Board Games in 100 Moves

Another year and another bumper crop of board games as 2019 continues the trend of seeing the release of ever more board game titles and playing board games becomes firmly cemented as a hobby that everyone can enjoy. 2019 was also a good year for books about boardgames too, including The Board Game Book: The essential guide to the best new games, a retrospective of the last two years’ worth of games and Meeples Together: How and Why Cooperative Board Games Work, a detailed examination of board games in which the players work together to defeat the game. Joining them is a much broader examination of the board game, an examination which takes in eight thousand years of playing games from the ancient world to today’s golden age of meeples, co-operation, legacy change through play, thematic play, superb production values, and fantastic designs—all of which have come about in the last three decades. That book is Board Games in 100 Moves.

Published by Dorling Kindersley—a publisher known for the quality of its illustrated reference works, so the quality of the book is certain to be good, Board Games in 100 Moves is written by two stalwarts of the British hobby games industry, James Wallis, designer of The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Alas Vegas and Ian Livingstone, co-founder of Games Workshop and co-creator of the Fighting Fantasy series amongst many other things. Both are avid board game players and collectors and in their time have played thousands of games. Together they take the reader through eight thousand years of games and six ages of game design, all in exactly one hundred games.

From the start, almost like the rules to every good board game should, Board Games in 100 Moves explains its set-up. Both authors introduce their love of board games and explain the book’s premise, how it is organised, preparing the reader for the grand tour that is come. It sets out what the one hundred board games of its title are—from Senet in 3100 BCE, the Royal Game of Ur in 2600 BCE, and Hounds and Jackals in 2000 BCE to Beasts of Balance and Sushi Go Party! in 2016, and The Mind in 2019. Along the way it lists classics like Chess and Backgammon, playing cards and Pachisi, surprises such as Kriegsspiel and Suffragetto, stalwarts such as Scrabble and Monopoly, children’s designs like Mouse Trap! and Connect 4, it touches upon roleplaying games such as Dungeons & Dragons, before coming up to date with modern designs like Settlers of Catan, Pandemic, and Codenames.

The first four ages of Board Games in 100 Moves are ages of materials—wood and stone, paper and print, cardboard, and plastic—and examine how those materials changed the look and feel of the games as much as it examines the games themselves. In ‘Wood and Stone’ it looks at the oldest game that we know of, Senet, noting that the Pharaohs were fans of the Egyptian game of passing and that the game had spiritual significance in that passing also referred to moving into the afterlife and then it looks at the first game that we have rules for, the Royal Game of Ur. What is fascinating here is how the rules were rediscovered. Other games examined in this period are ones that we would recognise today—Go, Pachisi (better known by its modern variants, Ludo and Parcheesi), the many variants of Men’s Morris (originally a game spread by the Romans across their empire), Backgammon, and of course, Chess.

A common feature of these games is that often being made from stone or wooden, there is a certain permanence to them, but in the age of paper and print, games became colourful and complex, yet easy to transport and teach. This is when playing cards evolved from tarot cards and the first printed board games appear, such as the Royal Game of the Goose. The nature of games changed again towards the end of this period when they set out to be instructional and educational, as with A Journey Through Europe, before the age of cardboard heralded the arrival of games about campaign, first military battles, but then political ones two. So this examines Kriegsspiel, the wargame designed to teach Prussian officers military tactics and The Game of Suffragette, published to promote the cause for female emancipation, before mentioning some of the actual games as propaganda published before and during World War 2. Here it does not shy away from some of the more reprehensible and unpleasant game designs of the period. 

Unsurprisingly, Monopoly and its origins as a game completely counter to its big business theme, is highlighted before we come to the age of plastic. This period is likely to be the one that the older board game player—and certainly the authors—will be most familiar with as it is when they first played games. So Mouse Trap!, Scrabble, Connect 4, Twister, and both Risk and Diplomacy, but as Board Games in 100 Moves into the age of imagination with publication of Dungeons & Dragons and the rise of the Eurogame, there is a sense of the foundations being laid for where we are now, in an age of imagination, of Eurogames like Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan, and exploring a future of co-operation, of a global hobby with board games from Japan like Machi Koro and from the Czech Republic like Codenames, and digitalisation. Although one hundred games might lie at the heart of Board Games in 100 Moves, along the way, the book looks at more than that single hundred, not necessarily in the depth and detail accorded its singular hundred, but enough to intrigue and wonder about finding out more (or in some cases, rejecting out of hand).

This being a book from Dorling Kindersley, is very nicely laid out with hundreds of illustrations which showcase the changing look and design of board games throughout history as much as the words explore their impact and design. It even comes with an excellent index and buried deep in the back of the book there is a bibliography for the reader who wants to explore the hobby a little more as well as play the many games listed within the pages of Board Games in 100 Moves.

It should be no surprise that Board Games in 100 Moves gives a somewhat Anglocentric history of its subject matter. After all, the format that it is inspired by—A History of the World in 100 Objects—and its authors are all British. This in part also explains the attention paid to Games Workshop and Warhammer, although their inclusion in this history is certainly warranted and certainly does not detract from the inclusion of games from all over the world. Where Board Games in 100 Moves differs from A History of the World in 100 Objects is that it is not a look at a hundred specific games or objects—anyone wanting that should be directed to Green Ronin Publishing’s Hobby Games: The 100 Best or Family Games: The 100 Best—for many of the games listed at the book’s start are never mentioned again. (Which possibly means that there is a scope for a book which examines each title on that list in turn.) Instead Board Games in 100 Moves is a hundred moves through history of organised play, an examination of the importance and impact, the enjoyment and effect, of board games.

Board Games in 100 Moves is an interesting and informative introduction to the history of board games, an examination a hundredand more—board games you may or have not heard of, and might want to play. For the board game fan, this book is a must, whilst for the roleplayer, this book is still of interest because of the many ways in which the two hobbies overlap each other, but either way, Board Games in 100 Moves is an attractive and enjoyable read from start to finish. One that fans of tabletop games of all types will find interesting.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like a great read, thank you for the review Matthew! :D

    I've added it to my wishlist, along with Meeples Together (which I've been admiring from afar for awhile now via Shannon's blog posts).