Back when I was trying to be a Renaissance Nerd, covering all facets of nerddom, I was invited to play Twilight Imperium, described to me as Babylon 5 meets Risk in a sort of intro to tabletop games. I admittedly didn’t feel the greatest that day, so I likely would have left regardless, but after an hour and a half or so of not much, I apologized and said I’d like to play again sometime. I was then informed “oh, we haven’t started, this was all set up.”
But! I do love games. Classic board games that take a half hour from beginning to end, give or take a bit. Particularly party games, which seem to be undergoing a Renaissance of their own right now (why did I have to put that word in this review twice? Spelling that correctly is like a game of its own. Also, if you haven’t gotten a copy of Codenames yet, fix that – it’s kind of an addiction.) Trivia games, arcade games, skee ball…. give me something to play and I’m a happy girl.
I sort of thought that this book would be a history of gaming itself, and it kind of is, in that we start with chess, one of the oldest board games, and progress through its evolution as a dice game into the modern chess we know now, but the book then moves on to the history of other individual games (crosswords, backgammon, mancala, monopoly). Each game is explored in rough chronological order, concluding with Settlers of Cattan (I really need to bite the bullet and try that one, I know), but that’s a bit different than the history of games as a whole.
That said, what we do have here is quite interesting if not exactly unified. I learned quite a bit, including that trivial pursuit was inordinately expensive upon its debut because it (like many untested games that are now staples) was home-distributed, and revisited things I already knew (like Twister becoming a hit because of its appearance on The Tonight Show). To be fair to the author, an expansive history of games would necessarily be huge and incomplete – look at my third paragraph, even I’M not sure how I would define what constitutes a game (do physical arcade games count? video games? role playing games?) – but this felt like a tourist’s overview of games rather than a devotee’s.