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Board games have been with us longer than even the written word. But what is it about this pastime that continues to captivate us well into the age of smartphones and instant gratification? In It’s All a Game, British journalist and renowned games expert Tristan Donovan opens the box on the incredible and often surprising history and psychology of board games. He traces the Board games have been with us longer than even the written word. But what is it about this pastime that continues to captivate us well into the age of smartphones and instant gratification? In It’s All a Game, British journalist and renowned games expert Tristan Donovan opens the box on the incredible and often surprising history and psychology of board games. He traces the evolution of the game across cultures, time periods, and continents, from the paranoid Chicago toy genius behind classics like Operation and Mouse Trap, to the role of Monopoly in helping prisoners of war escape the Nazis, and even the scientific use of board games today to teach artificial intelligence how to reason and how to win. With these compelling stories and characters, Donovan ultimately reveals why board games have captured hearts and minds all over the world for generations.


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Board games have been with us longer than even the written word. But what is it about this pastime that continues to captivate us well into the age of smartphones and instant gratification? In It’s All a Game, British journalist and renowned games expert Tristan Donovan opens the box on the incredible and often surprising history and psychology of board games. He traces the Board games have been with us longer than even the written word. But what is it about this pastime that continues to captivate us well into the age of smartphones and instant gratification? In It’s All a Game, British journalist and renowned games expert Tristan Donovan opens the box on the incredible and often surprising history and psychology of board games. He traces the evolution of the game across cultures, time periods, and continents, from the paranoid Chicago toy genius behind classics like Operation and Mouse Trap, to the role of Monopoly in helping prisoners of war escape the Nazis, and even the scientific use of board games today to teach artificial intelligence how to reason and how to win. With these compelling stories and characters, Donovan ultimately reveals why board games have captured hearts and minds all over the world for generations.

30 review for It's All a Game: The History of Board Games from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan

  1. 4 out of 5

    Tracey Allen at Carpe Librum

    Roll the dice. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. I love playing board games and It's All A Game - A Short History of Board Games by Tristan Donovan was a good read. All the expected games are there: Chess, Backgammon, Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble, Cluedo, Pictionary and Monopoly and much more. I appreciated reading the history behind the formation of these games and learning about new - to me - ones. The section on war games was interesting, however I was surprised and secretly excited to hear men Roll the dice. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. I love playing board games and It's All A Game - A Short History of Board Games by Tristan Donovan was a good read. All the expected games are there: Chess, Backgammon, Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble, Cluedo, Pictionary and Monopoly and much more. I appreciated reading the history behind the formation of these games and learning about new - to me - ones. The section on war games was interesting, however I was surprised and secretly excited to hear mention of The Ungame and Scruples. I enjoyed reading about the evolution of my favourite game Monopoly, however was embarrassed to learn it was created in the USA first. I played the British version and ignorantly believed the American game board was the 'inferior' version. Whoops! "By 2016 [Monopoly] had sold more than 250 million copies worldwide. It is, by far, the bestselling branded board game ever created and no other game, except maybe chess, has so imprinted itself on the world's collective consciousness." Page 95 I also enjoyed learning about the formation of Simon & Schuster on page 155: Richard Simon was at his aunt's house for dinner in 1924 and she asked if there was a collection of cross words she could buy for her daughter. "Together with his friend Lincoln Schuster, Simon founded a publishing company called Simon & Schuster" to publish a collection of cross word puzzles. The book became a sensation and "Simon & Schuster was on its way to becoming one of the biggest book publishers in the United States." I read It's All A Game during Non Fiction November (hosted by A Book Olive) and it left me wanting to play boardgames again. Unfortunately I don't have any willing participants close by so now I'm playing Backgammon on Board Game Arena. My profile name is Carpe_Librum (naturally) if anyone wants to play. Roll the dice. * Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

  2. 4 out of 5

    Stewart Tame

    Fortunately this book covers a wider time span than the comparatively brief sixty year gap between the respective releases of Monopoly and Settlers of Catan. Indeed, it does a decent job of providing a brief overview of the history of boardgames in general. The emphasis is mainly on games with which the average person is likely to be familiar: chess, Scrabble, Twister, Mousetrap, Clue, Risk, and so on. The book reads well. The prose is engaging. Donovan has definitely done his research. I think h Fortunately this book covers a wider time span than the comparatively brief sixty year gap between the respective releases of Monopoly and Settlers of Catan. Indeed, it does a decent job of providing a brief overview of the history of boardgames in general. The emphasis is mainly on games with which the average person is likely to be familiar: chess, Scrabble, Twister, Mousetrap, Clue, Risk, and so on. The book reads well. The prose is engaging. Donovan has definitely done his research. I think his history of Monopoly is the most thorough I’ve seen yet. And his chapter on Marvin Glass and Associates was fascinating. It pleases me to know that the company that designed Mousetrap also created such novelty items as fake vomit and the classic windup chattering teeth. I would love to read a book about Marvin Glass, who seems to have been quite a character. I’ll admit that, as a longtime hobby gamer, I was hoping for more about that aspect of boardgame history. He mentions companies like 3M, Avalon Hill, Rio Grande, and Mayfair in passing, but that's about it. Fair enough, since this book is aimed more at the general public than hardcore game nerds. I would like to see a book someday that does for boardgames what Designers & Dragons did for RPGs. It's a good dream … One of the most engaging nonfiction titles I’ve read in a while. Recommended!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Orsolya

    No matter the obsession with technology and computerized entertainment; the playing of board games still abounds the lives of youth and has even experienced resurgence in the culture of adults from “board game nights” to dates. Akin to the analog in a digital world, board games may not be the prime mover and shaker but that is not to say they are going anywhere. Tristan Donovan follows the history of board games and presents the playful romp in, “It’s All a Game: Games from Monopoly to Settlers No matter the obsession with technology and computerized entertainment; the playing of board games still abounds the lives of youth and has even experienced resurgence in the culture of adults from “board game nights” to dates. Akin to the analog in a digital world, board games may not be the prime mover and shaker but that is not to say they are going anywhere. Tristan Donovan follows the history of board games and presents the playful romp in, “It’s All a Game: Games from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan”. “It’s All a Game” combines elements of straight history, social history, and the pop history of board games in a sort of journalistic style to bring the life span of board games to the spotlight. Rather than focus merely on a chronological commodities-esque study; Donovan offers chapters on subject-by-subject topical view highlighting the mini-stories of individual games and the overall effects of board games on society. Initially, this is a deviation from what one may expect but Donovan successfully infuses each chapter with both micro and macro views of game playing along with psychological forays and thus presents the reader with a complete view. Donovan’s writing style is quite captivating, being eloquent in tone and language and yet easy-to-read with a naturally smooth pace that encourages readers to continue onwards. The content is entertaining and educational certainly advancing the reader on the subject and therefore he/she comes away with facts and conversational points. One will definitely have “Ah-ha!” and “Wow!” – moments. “It’s All a Game” is very thoroughly researched and therefore executed in an almost expose-light making for a riveting reading adventure. Some of the chapters do, unfortunately, seem to be cut-off and end abruptly but this doesn’t take away from the overall positive value of “It’s All a Game”. The evolution of games in “It’s All a Game” naturally depicts the timelines of such popular games as Monopoly, Life, Scrabble, Twister, and even Operation. However, some classics such as Battleship or Sorry are missing from the roster. In the latter chapters of “It’s All a Game”, Donovan shifts the focus slightly more on the gaming scene and environment (including the advancements made) versus on specific games. The flow into this is seamless and fits the thesis of “It’s All a Game” quite well. Sadly, “It’s All a Game” suffers from a blow at the conclusion, ending somewhat thinly and without an emotive response which doesn’t mesh with what one would expect. Plus, it would make logical sense for Donovan to have included an ‘Afterword’ into his thoughts and insights into the future of board games but this is absent. Donovan includes a list of references (no annotated notes are available) which is compiled of predominately internet material which at least, in a sense, makes his piece the definitive reference in book form. Even though “It’s All a Game” is not perfect and has noticeable flaws; the subject matter is extremely compelling, informative, and entertaining with a precise but enjoyable writing style. The piece is simply a pleasure and well-enthused for all board game lovers or those readers interested in pop culture/nostalgia. “It’s All a Game” is a terrific read and is very much recommended.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Serge Pierro

    As the Board Game hobby continues to grow, it is not surprising to see that several books have started to appear that cover various aspects board game history. Some of them have focused on Eurogames, while others delved into the origins and backstory of ancient classics. Tristan Donovan has written a well researched book that broadly covers the history of board games, with an emphasis on the classic board games that were available pre-Catan. These include Chess, Backgammon, Monopoly, Clue, Mous As the Board Game hobby continues to grow, it is not surprising to see that several books have started to appear that cover various aspects board game history. Some of them have focused on Eurogames, while others delved into the origins and backstory of ancient classics. Tristan Donovan has written a well researched book that broadly covers the history of board games, with an emphasis on the classic board games that were available pre-Catan. These include Chess, Backgammon, Monopoly, Clue, Mouse Trap, Scrabble, Risk, Trivial Pursuit, and more. Let’s take a look a why this recent offering is a “must have” for those interested in the history of modern board games. The book contains 16 chapters, each of them devoted to either a specific topic and/or game. Usually there is one dominant game that is being written about, while at the same time a secondary game is introduced that is somehow related to the first game. It is the depth of the research on each game that readers will find fascinating. While others have offered much of the same material, Donovan has dug a little deeper and offers information that I haven’t seen in other books on the subject. Even Tom Vassel is quoted on the back cover as saying “…Think you know everything about board games? Read this to find out otherwise!”. There were several instances where I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of effort that Donovan put into the book to make sure that it provided enough “new” information to make this a worthwhile addition to a gaming library. The venerable game of Chess is handled nicely. With such a deep and rich history, it would be easy to just gloss over the known facts of the game and move along. But, the book gives a concise overview, while at the same time contributing interesting anecdotes throughout. As a tournament level player I was delighted to see that the game was treated with respect, while also providing information that wasn’t just a rehash of a Wikipedia link. Backgammon was treated in a similar manner, however, the difference here is that the perspective is geared towards the promotional skills of Prince Alexis Obolensky. This proved to be fascinating, as the exploration of the game is taken from its past, to the era of the jetsetter class and then to its current state. And while the Chess and Backgammon chapters were interesting, most readers are going to be more interested in the chapters that cover the classic board games from the 20th century. Each of these are given the same scholarly treatment, though oftentimes they are more in-depth, due in part to the nature of the games and their proximity to the modern era. Example: The chapter covering Monopoly begins with three pages establishing the social and political underpinnings of the era. Although the historical nature is concise, it is fascinating to delve into the backdrop of how the game came into being. Perhaps some gamers are familiar with Elizabeth Magie’s “The Landlord Game”, however, when you read about the backstory during this period in history, one gains a greater understanding about how the game developed. It is against this backdrop that the history of Monopoly unravels. This chapter, like many in the book, is what makes this book so fascinating; Tristan Donovan goes the “extra yard” in meticulously researching his subject matter and presenting it in an entertaining and educational format. One of the other entertaining and interesting chapters deals with the eccentric Marvin Glass. Besides bringing “Mouse Trap” and “Operation” to the market, it appears that he had a large impact on the industry as a whole. This is a fascinating read and illuminates some of the “characters” that have always been part of the industry. The entire book was wonderfully researched and the angles presented were different from other books that I've read on the subject - it also includes an excellent reference section that contains material for each chapter. This would make an excellent first book for someone that has an interest in the history of board and card games or for the serious gamer who enjoys reading about board game history.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    I have to start this review with a disclaimer: I LOVE board games and I was so excited to read this book. So my thoughts might be a tad bit biased.... That being said, I loved this book and I think I would've been quite entertained by it even if I wasn't such a tabletop game fanatic. It was well-organized, well-written, and had some fantastic stories that really heightened my appreciation of board games in general (and of a lot of the specific board games Donovan mentions). In addition to delving I have to start this review with a disclaimer: I LOVE board games and I was so excited to read this book. So my thoughts might be a tad bit biased.... That being said, I loved this book and I think I would've been quite entertained by it even if I wasn't such a tabletop game fanatic. It was well-organized, well-written, and had some fantastic stories that really heightened my appreciation of board games in general (and of a lot of the specific board games Donovan mentions). In addition to delving into the history of several prominent games and the people behind them, Donovan addresses how these games influenced the societies they were part of. Often, when we hear about the histories of games, we hear how the games were influenced by the society around it, not the reverse. This was a unique and compelling way to relate these stories. My only real complaint is that Donovan focused too much on chess. To be fair, he did this in excellent ways - mentioning chess was often a precursor to another game, or into relating why chess changed some aspect of gaming. Also, I'm well-aware that chess is played worldwide and is one of the most enduring games ever created. I just got sick of hearing about it. By the fourth chapter that begun with talking about chess (whether it was the development of the game, tournaments, using chess as support for the idea that geniuses can be created, or teaching computers to teach chess), my first thought was Not this again..... Donovan incorporated these tales in very seamlessly, but it still got tiring to hear again how wonderful and influential chess is. A word of caution: Reading this book made me want to pull out all my old games and try them again now that I have a better understanding of how they came to be. And it kind of made me want to create my own game. So if you have any interest in tabletop gaming, be aware that this book will probably awaken those feelings in you. Highly recommended for anyone who likes a good game.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Eduardo

    Considering I play "heavy" board games weekly I was predisposed to enjoy this book. What I did not expect was for this to be a fascinating popular culture history book. It chronicles the creation of ubiquitous things such as crosswords, artificial intelligence and perennial family favourites like Monopoly or Cluedo. The book is not so much about the games themselves as it is about the people who created them and it's unbelievable that most of them struggled to see their works published. I would Considering I play "heavy" board games weekly I was predisposed to enjoy this book. What I did not expect was for this to be a fascinating popular culture history book. It chronicles the creation of ubiquitous things such as crosswords, artificial intelligence and perennial family favourites like Monopoly or Cluedo. The book is not so much about the games themselves as it is about the people who created them and it's unbelievable that most of them struggled to see their works published. I would have liked to read more about the revolution that has been happening in board gaming over the last 15/20 years but the author does dedicate 2 chapters out of 16 to this. I do have one minor niggle and it's in relation to the structure of the text. The author tries to follow a somewhat academic/informative pattern but the conclusions at the end of each chapter feel somewhat forced. Take this with a grain of salt. I really enjoyed this book and found myself immersed in these fascinating chronicles of creativity (so much so that it prompted me to write my first review after 8 years of using Goodreads). If you have the slightest interest in pop culture, and even if you are not much of a board gamer, I think you'll end up feeling the same.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Aisling

    This was much more interesting than I had expected it to be. I've always liked board games and often wondered where they stemmed from. I had a vague idea about the background of Chess but never knew about the starry past of Backgammon and I learned so much about the unlikely beginnings of Monopoly, Scrabble and Operation. The board games featured all have remarkable stories, from post world war II morality, religious indoctrination, war games and battle planning and even pandemics. A lot of the This was much more interesting than I had expected it to be. I've always liked board games and often wondered where they stemmed from. I had a vague idea about the background of Chess but never knew about the starry past of Backgammon and I learned so much about the unlikely beginnings of Monopoly, Scrabble and Operation. The board games featured all have remarkable stories, from post world war II morality, religious indoctrination, war games and battle planning and even pandemics. A lot of the games were familiar to me though some were entirely new (and now I want to play those). The book covers a lot of ground- seminal moments in human history are well covered but the author really invests in communicating the cultural context that created all of these games and suggesting how they all became so prevalent.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tammie

    I love board games, so maybe I started out with a positive bias, but this work of non-fiction was great. It;s the kind of book you can read only the part that interests you and still love it or all of it. I borrowed this book from the library, but now I think I may order a copy for myself. I loved the in depth background on games, but also the little snippets of info you get about games as they changed over time. A great non-fiction read, but also a good resource for game lovers.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Steven Raszewski

    As a lifelong boardgame hobbyist this was a pure joy to read! Very informative and inspiring. The history of how numerous games came to be is just fascinating. We truly are in the golden age of boardgames. Check out the World Boardgaming Championships (WBC).

  10. 4 out of 5

    Eimantas Nejus

    "It's All a Game" was so much more than I initially expected. It wasn't so much about board games themselves, but rather about the creative process behind them. What was the social and historical setting at the time, what stigmas and popular believes they had to break, what interesting and challenging life story of each author was, and what string of events lead to final creation of masterpiece of a board game in each of the chapters. This book revealed the side of my beloved hobby which I did no "It's All a Game" was so much more than I initially expected. It wasn't so much about board games themselves, but rather about the creative process behind them. What was the social and historical setting at the time, what stigmas and popular believes they had to break, what interesting and challenging life story of each author was, and what string of events lead to final creation of masterpiece of a board game in each of the chapters. This book revealed the side of my beloved hobby which I did not know existed and it surely made me appreciate it even more now!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie (That's What She Read)

    This was a fun and informative book. The chapters were self-contained and covered the histories and influence of certain board games, like Scrabble, Monopy etc. I wished there had been a stronger conclusion and a few more general overview chapters.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Carin

    My family have always been board game players. I have known how to play parcheesi and Chinese checkers and even chess for as long as I can remember. And we'd play Monopoly in the summer, when you have the time for long games. My brother though was obsessed with Monopoly when he was about 4. We had about 8 different versions, all from other countries, and once or twice we tried to play 2- or 4-board versions although those would last days, not just hours, and were quickly abandoned. I remember wh My family have always been board game players. I have known how to play parcheesi and Chinese checkers and even chess for as long as I can remember. And we'd play Monopoly in the summer, when you have the time for long games. My brother though was obsessed with Monopoly when he was about 4. We had about 8 different versions, all from other countries, and once or twice we tried to play 2- or 4-board versions although those would last days, not just hours, and were quickly abandoned. I remember when my 4-year-old brother would look at a property with 3 hotels and the rents would be something like $1075 each , and he'd say, "You owe me $3225" and I'd say, "You just multiplied a 4-digit number in your head!" Anyway, we still have a lot of games although we don't get to play them as often as we'd like as no one seems to want to do game night with us. Clue was always my favorite, as it's a game of logic, and if you pay close attention, you ought to be able to figure it out long before you test all the cards. This book goes through the history of board games, from ancient civilizations, up through very modern games like The Settlers of Catan, that I don't even know how to play! It traces precursors of some of the ur-games like Go. And tells the invention stories of much more modern games like Mousetrap and The Game of Life (oh how I hated Life. No strategy--all determined by the spin of the wheel, like a grown-up version of Candyland, but without the candy. Worthless.) As a history it is far-ranging in both centuries and countries, and yet it does in its way tell the history of all of us. Would wars have turned out the way they had without Risk? What do popular games say about our society at different eras? A fun and trivia-filled book that is exactly what it says--a history of board games. If you like games, you'll like this book.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Aimee

    4.5 stars Originally reviewed @ Reading Lark: http://readinglark.blogspot.com/2017/... I’ll skip the traditional summary because the subtitle (The History of Board Games from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan) handled that job for me, and get right to why I think this is such a great book. In addition to being a comprehensive look at the most popular games throughout history, It’s All a Game is brilliantly organized, and achieves the perfect blend of information and nostalgia. It’s All a Game is organ 4.5 stars Originally reviewed @ Reading Lark: http://readinglark.blogspot.com/2017/... I’ll skip the traditional summary because the subtitle (The History of Board Games from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan) handled that job for me, and get right to why I think this is such a great book. In addition to being a comprehensive look at the most popular games throughout history, It’s All a Game is brilliantly organized, and achieves the perfect blend of information and nostalgia. It’s All a Game is organized by chronology, but with a particular game or type of game being the central focus of each chapter. Although Donovan does have a theme that develops throughout the book, it would be easy for those who don’t typically read nonfiction to jump into whichever chapter interested them and go from there. Between the relatively stand-alone chapters and the recreational subject matter this is one of those books that could convince more people to read nonfiction. Donovan has a clear love for board games and gamers. While his research into each game is impressive (20 pages of references in the back!), what really sold me on It’s All a Game is how he weaves all of that into compelling prose that hit all the high points and emotional buttons of my personal board gaming experience. I remember the angst of Monopoly, the randomness of Life, the intelligence of Trivial Pursuit, and the revelation of experiencing games that actually depended on more than the roll of the dice. I suspect that anyone reading this book will experience similar emotions, though perhaps with different games. It’s All a Game is a terrific read both for gamers and for those who might be hesitant to try nonfiction. Almost everyone has experience with board games. Now they can know who developed them, the historical and social contexts they reflected, and how those games connect humanity together.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Altice

    Donovan's Replay is my favorite history of videogames due to its wide-ranging scope and attention to non-US games. This is a different kind of history. Rather than covering a wide swath of games, Donovan chooses those with the biggest cultural impact, from chess and senet to Clue and Catan. Each chapter has its own narrative hook that tells the story of the game, its creators, and how the game (and related games) fit into the social/cultural milieu of its time. It's a fun read and well-written, Donovan's Replay is my favorite history of videogames due to its wide-ranging scope and attention to non-US games. This is a different kind of history. Rather than covering a wide swath of games, Donovan chooses those with the biggest cultural impact, from chess and senet to Clue and Catan. Each chapter has its own narrative hook that tells the story of the game, its creators, and how the game (and related games) fit into the social/cultural milieu of its time. It's a fun read and well-written, but functions less as a history with an overarching throughline than as a broad overview of major successes. Unfortunately, the book's narrative focus tends to read like a history of big winners. Donovan is continually reminding us of sales data—Monopoly then sold x, Clue went on to sell y, Catan has sold z copies since 1995, etc. I know he isn't arguing that monetary success equals cultural importance, but this is the theme that lurks beneath the narrative. So It's All a Game isn't a comprehensive history of board games, but it's an excellent overview for the newcomer who might be interested in why so many players are returning to board games.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Bryan Alkire

    Excellent book about the modern history of board games. All the classics are here and it’s an interesting nostalgic topic. The book is short and moves along quickly with each game comprising a chapter. The writing is readable and compelling and I really found it hard to put the book down. The analysis of the games is interesting…covers the antecedents and the classic version as well as attempts to modernize for a 21st century audience…also puts the games in cultural context when needed…In short, Excellent book about the modern history of board games. All the classics are here and it’s an interesting nostalgic topic. The book is short and moves along quickly with each game comprising a chapter. The writing is readable and compelling and I really found it hard to put the book down. The analysis of the games is interesting…covers the antecedents and the classic version as well as attempts to modernize for a 21st century audience…also puts the games in cultural context when needed…In short, this book blew me away…It’s outstanding! So, I have no reservations in giving this book a 5…it’s interesting, it’s compelling, it’s needed in the digital age and it’s a fun walk down memory lane…Enjoy!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Peg

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this! It has such a conversational feel as you're learning the history and highlights of games I grew up on or now, have yet to try. I could never have imagined all the facts and transformations games have gone through, let alone religious aspects such as chess! If you're looking for a light flowing read on history and fun this is the book you want! Now I'm off to reacquaint myself with a few board games! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this! It has such a conversational feel as you're learning the history and highlights of games I grew up on or now, have yet to try. I could never have imagined all the facts and transformations games have gone through, let alone religious aspects such as chess! If you're looking for a light flowing read on history and fun this is the book you want! Now I'm off to reacquaint myself with a few board games!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Autumn

    Like a survey course or wikipedia deep dive into games and gaming. Each chapter focuses on one game/creator/theme, much like a long read or magazine article. Not earthshaking, but good for folks with a vague interest in the topic.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kosh Koshover

    I'm a biased reader as I love playing modern board games and have been obsessed with games (whether Euchre, Rummy, Chess, Poker, Magic the Gathering etc...) since I was very young. I really enjoyed reading the history/biography of the games and game creators. I'm a biased reader as I love playing modern board games and have been obsessed with games (whether Euchre, Rummy, Chess, Poker, Magic the Gathering etc...) since I was very young. I really enjoyed reading the history/biography of the games and game creators.

  19. 5 out of 5

    John Behle

    Remember playing good ol' board games? Dozens of examples here on how we learned, played and then discarded these artifacts from our past. The instructions were always kept handy. Either the supplied booklet version, or when this was promptly lost, there was usually a condensed version under that big rectangular lid, right? Tristan Dovovan's book is a recount of the all time favorites we all know...chess, backgammon, Monopoly. We all know a little about these games, and those facts are rolled out Remember playing good ol' board games? Dozens of examples here on how we learned, played and then discarded these artifacts from our past. The instructions were always kept handy. Either the supplied booklet version, or when this was promptly lost, there was usually a condensed version under that big rectangular lid, right? Tristan Dovovan's book is a recount of the all time favorites we all know...chess, backgammon, Monopoly. We all know a little about these games, and those facts are rolled out once again. The street names of Monopoly were ultimately named after the avenues and boulevards of Atlantic City New Jersey--how many times have we heard that? Dovovan takes us through The Game of Life and of course, Trivial Pursuit to Settlers of Catan. Many passages read like embossed museum placards. Writing this review makes me feel as if I am painstakingly completing an essay answer in school. Most of the games of the 20th century have tough patent fight stories about them. Who was first? Who also claimed credit? Which version is the real deal? Many falling out tales of "co-inventors" suing each other years later. My favorite chapter is The Game of Life. I liked it better than Monopoly. It seemed to be the "other" board game, and we played it more. I liked the reflection of decisions we all make in daily life. Heck, I'm still trying through 401(k) choices to make it to "Millionaire Acres." Board games are pocket mirrors of the greater game we play all day, every day.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Thom

    Great summary of selected impactful (and top selling) games through time. Each chapter focuses on a game or game type, from ancient to chess to late 19th century roll-and-move to modern day. Each provided history, anecdotes, and information in just the right amounts. I enjoyed the sections on Life, Clue, and Pandemic, and already knew many of the others. The later sections document the recent resurgence of board games, and the last chapter the start of “Spiel des Jahres” - game of the year. While Great summary of selected impactful (and top selling) games through time. Each chapter focuses on a game or game type, from ancient to chess to late 19th century roll-and-move to modern day. Each provided history, anecdotes, and information in just the right amounts. I enjoyed the sections on Life, Clue, and Pandemic, and already knew many of the others. The later sections document the recent resurgence of board games, and the last chapter the start of “Spiel des Jahres” - game of the year. While it didn't delve beyond Kriegspiel in the wargame section, I have another title to read which goes into a lot more detail. In summary, this book covers board game history (and origins) really well, and is recommended for anyone with interest.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Alicia

    Want to know the backstories, histories, and thought processes for the creation of some of the most prolific board games in history? Look no further. I learned things about Bobby Fischer that I didn't know because I didn't really pay attention (and it wasn't my time period) but how so much of it was driven by the politics of the time. How money enters into the gambling and betting on games. How games morph over time and was amazed at how scientists and historians figure out what was what from so Want to know the backstories, histories, and thought processes for the creation of some of the most prolific board games in history? Look no further. I learned things about Bobby Fischer that I didn't know because I didn't really pay attention (and it wasn't my time period) but how so much of it was driven by the politics of the time. How money enters into the gambling and betting on games. How games morph over time and was amazed at how scientists and historians figure out what was what from so long ago! Even if they're amazing educated guesses. Plenty of indexing and bibliographic materials. Plus it almost made me want to open up a board game cafe!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Let’s be honest, I was not prepared to be riveted by this book. As much as I love board games and as much as I love reading, this seemed like it might be a tad dry. I thought wrong. Well researched and well written explanations of the evolution of board games in our world and how they reflect our culture kept my attention and gave me a renewed love of board games. No really, it’s amazing! Thank you to my sister Sara for the belated birthday gift! I thoroughly enjoyed it and will now be spewing f Let’s be honest, I was not prepared to be riveted by this book. As much as I love board games and as much as I love reading, this seemed like it might be a tad dry. I thought wrong. Well researched and well written explanations of the evolution of board games in our world and how they reflect our culture kept my attention and gave me a renewed love of board games. No really, it’s amazing! Thank you to my sister Sara for the belated birthday gift! I thoroughly enjoyed it and will now be spewing forth trivia at random like our father has been known to do.

  23. 5 out of 5

    SSShafiq

    I am usually a fan of these pop culture histories because I find them a nerdy, light break from other reading. This book, on the history of board games was no exception. I had a fun time reading this - learnt a few fun facts of some of the biggest games in history and some not so big games. Other than a reference to the Gupta empire as a “... nearly forgotten Indian realm..”, I enjoyed my time with this. Did make me miss Snakes and Latte though - one more thing to look forward to after the lockd I am usually a fan of these pop culture histories because I find them a nerdy, light break from other reading. This book, on the history of board games was no exception. I had a fun time reading this - learnt a few fun facts of some of the biggest games in history and some not so big games. Other than a reference to the Gupta empire as a “... nearly forgotten Indian realm..”, I enjoyed my time with this. Did make me miss Snakes and Latte though - one more thing to look forward to after the lockdown is over.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Scott Rogers

    It starts out very good with some nice histories on the classics (chess, backgammon) and 20th century-era games (Monopoly, Risk). It drops off by the last few chapters when it attempts to cover some newer games and kind of loses focus. If you like this sort of thing, I suggest listening to "Biography of a Boardgame" segments on The Dice Tower and Ludology podcast. It starts out very good with some nice histories on the classics (chess, backgammon) and 20th century-era games (Monopoly, Risk). It drops off by the last few chapters when it attempts to cover some newer games and kind of loses focus. If you like this sort of thing, I suggest listening to "Biography of a Boardgame" segments on The Dice Tower and Ludology podcast.

  25. 5 out of 5

    MoriartyandHerBooks

    This was such a fascinating read! I absolutely love board games, and play them frequently with my friends, so reading this book was a lot of fun! I knew there must be an interesting history to all these games, but I really had no idea until reading this book!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Tudor Ciocarlie

    Very little about the modern board games, but the history of the older ones was interesting and engaging.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Stretches from ancient Egyptian board games to the dominance of involved German-made games today. I learned that most people play Monopoly wrong: you aren’t supposed to put all the money raised from fines on the Free Parking space! (It makes the game go on much longer.)

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jane Leach

    Fascinating look at how board games have evolved through the centuries

  29. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    Gave this one to my husband, and it sounded like so much fun I had to read it myself. It was just the right level of depth for me: not too detailed, and not a bunch of obscure games I never heard of. Overall, a very enjoyable trip through history, down memory lane, and into the present. Made me want to sit down and play a game or two...

  30. 5 out of 5

    Justin

    Once again I have my library's "New Arrivals" section for introducing me to "It's All a Game". What caught my attention is that it covers two of my favorite topics, board games and history. Several of the games mentioned throughout the book are ones I had never stopped to consider from whence they sprang. Now that I do, I have a greater appreciation for them. The book is organized around different types of games. Life, Monopoly, Risk, Clue, and Settlers of Catan are some of the big names that anc Once again I have my library's "New Arrivals" section for introducing me to "It's All a Game". What caught my attention is that it covers two of my favorite topics, board games and history. Several of the games mentioned throughout the book are ones I had never stopped to consider from whence they sprang. Now that I do, I have a greater appreciation for them. The book is organized around different types of games. Life, Monopoly, Risk, Clue, and Settlers of Catan are some of the big names that anchor chapters explaining how the game was developed and how they represent a specific genre of game playing. The game of Life was actually developed as a way to teach children about the consequences of bad decisions in life such as not obeying authority, not embracing education, etc. It was developed in New England so there's a heavy flavoring of the Puritan mindset. Sadly, the individual who first developed the game was never really given the credit they were due. Many people created their own version of the game until one of the big game producing companies bought the rights. Over the years the game of Life has been softened but there are versions out there that are truer to the original intent. Risk was a game that my father, brother, and I would play when we were all home on vacation. My brother would inevitably grow impatient with his losing strategy and exit the game before we had really even come close to ending it. Apparently the versions that were developed in Prussia were used for this purpose: to determine not just winning military strategies, but to reveal who were the best military minds. The original game actually had topographical pieces such as mountains, lakes, trees, hills, swamps, etc. that were placed on the board to create actual topographical maps of locations in Central Europe. This "game" was used to develop the plans the Prussians used in the Franco-Prussian war and helped develop the Schlieffen plan in WWI. The game that we have today has stripped down the board to just the continents that we know, but I have a greater respect for the current game considering its history. The last chapter of the book was dedicated to Settlers of Catan and games that have become popular in recent times. Settlers of Catan changed the way games were played and we go back to Germany to find its roots. Post-WWII was an anti-military climate for game playing in West Germany. In fact, Risk was banned for awhile. So many games makers, and Germans growing up under these conditions, were primed for games that weren't so militaristic in nature. There began to be developed games that weren't about winning or losing but about journey of playing the game and being the best you can be given the context of the game. This was a shift from the Risk and Monopoly types of games where you actually worked at punishing others and profiting off their loses. Settlers of Catan is the most popular, but probably not the last, game that inhibits the early change in game playing. While there is a clear winner in Catan, there are multiple ways to win, and most of them are not you profiting off the loses of your competitors. New games such as Ticket to Ride and others have taken this concept and begun to popularize new ways to play games. Growing up playing games I never thought to stop and think about the social, historical, or psychological contexts that produced the games I play. After reading this book I'm now going to be more aware and curious about games. I think this book is great for gamers because it gives some credibility to the games we play as well as some history to ponder over. That's a win win in my book.

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