The title of Douglas Morse’s new coffee table book is a mouthful: Wizards of the Tabletop: A Rogue’s Gallery of Board Game Designers and Conspirators. But it’s fitting because what’s found within its covers is a veritable who’s who of today’s tabletop industry. The book, which found life in a Kickstarter project that launched about a year ago, is a combination of insightful text and clever photography of some of the best known games and the people who make them.
I first became aware of Morse a few years ago when he was promoting his documentary, The Next Great American Game (well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it). It was during this book project, producing Wizards of the Tabletop, that Morse met Randall Hoyt and the documentary took over. (Hoyt even made Morse’s book, you can read about him on page 60.) When he got back to the book, Morse made the most of it.
In Wizards of the Tabletop, Morse captures some of the best minds in game design (and production). Many photos are staged, capturing the silly side of his subjects — in one photo, Steve Jackson appears laid out on the floor with the designer edition of Ogre providing a crushing weight on his torso. Or Matt Leacock standing astride a game of Pandemic; the components are strewn about, representative of the chaos commonly associated with that game. Others are more candid like Richard Launius and Christopher Badell deep in thought over a prototype game or James Ernest in a burst of laughter. Seems fitting, since every time I see Ernest it seems as though he’s busy having fun.
The book is also packed with photos of lovely, lovely game components, snapshots of games in progress. I’ve noticed at conventions that these “tabletopus interruptus” have an irresistible draw for gamers’ eyes. We can’t help looking at those meeples, tiles, or resource cubes, and try to puzzle out what to do next. Wizards of the Tabletop has plenty of those images to dwell on.
But that’s not the least of it. Morse’s book serves as an abridged written history of the modern board game too. Many of the biggest titles are described within, along with stories, insight or fun anecdotes from their creators. These tidbits have been culled from dozens of interviews Morse has had with these champions of chipboard and they are very enjoyable to slowly contemplate, as one is meant to do with a coffee table book.
Wizards of the Tabletop certainly has a wealth of games, designers, and conspirators, but it’s not comprehensive. It couldn’t be — the weight of such a volume would splinter your coffee table’s legs. It’s a snapshot of a moment in time. To that point, Geek Chic, the revolutionary game furniture company that went out of business this summer, is featured in the book.
Through Gandalf, J.R.R. Tolkien said “A wizard is never late, nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.” Through Wizards of the Tabletop, Douglas Morse combines photos and text to deliver a love letter to our hobby, an endearing and inspiring look at games and the people behind them, precisely as he meant to.
All photos, Douglas Morse, used with permission. Disclosure: GeekDad was sent a sample of this book for review purposes.