Have you ever walked by a box in your local game store and wonder if what was inside was any good? There’s only so much you can learn from the outside of the box – the attractive illustration and a couple paragraphs of marketing copy. Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone you trusted tell you what it was like to play? Alternatively, remember the last time you walked through a big box store’s toy aisle and spied a game from your youth? Maybe a smile came to your face as you picked up the package and looked at the pieces and tried to remember if it was the same as when you last played.
These two scenarios are played out by two new books from editor James Lowder. In Family Games, there are 100 short essays on everything from Strat-O-Matic Baseball to HeroClix. Family games are “togetherness in a box”, as Mike Gray says in the foreword. The book catalogs what Lowder and his immense panel of experts have deemed their top family games of the past 100 years. Read what Steve Jackson has to say about Monopoly (“In a way, Monopoly is roleplaying. You’re roleplaying a heartless, scheming capitalist, and it’s fun.”) or James Ernest‘s thoughts on Candy Land (“Candy Land is a great educational game for kids and adults. It lets each generation pass along its own perspective about what a game is supposed to be.”). The assortment in Family Games isn’t all game shelf staples either. There are plenty of games you haven’t heard of … or maybe a few you just haven’t heard of in a while.
Hobby Games narrows its scope a little, examining RPG, card, miniatures and board games from the past 50 years. Here you can read about Gary Gygax reflecting on playtesting Metamorphosis Alpha or GeekDad favorite, John Kovalic, ponder why he likes Formula Dé so much – especially considering he is neither a fan of dice games, nor racing. When Richard Garfield writes about first discovering Dungeons & Dragons, you can almost see the groundwork being laid for a career that would lead to Magic: The Gathering. Because many sets in the Hobby Games book require a big time commitment to both learn and play, it’s a joy to read about some you may have looked at in the store, but have never played.
There are a lot of similarities between the two books. By their very nature, they are quite close. But what was fascinating was thumbing through the two volumes and reading the history of so many games and the complex theory behind games I had taken for granted because of their simplicity … and then getting excited to run down to my local game store and pick up a new game or two (or three).
If you’re into games, check these books out – they’re well worth the look.