Four Decades of the Greatest Board Games Ever Made
by James Wallis
Aconyte Books, 2022. 221 pages.
Review written May 4, 2023, from a library book.
I enjoyed this book so much! It looks at the recent history of the rise in popularity of tabletop games through the lens of the German award Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year), through its first 44 years of selecting winners.
The reason I loved this so much was that I lived in Germany from 1996 to 2006. At the time, before I’d even heard the term “Eurogames,” I discovered awesome games at the local stores (not even specialty stores, just the local Aldi), and thought a great way to practice German was to buy games and translate them. Eventually, I learned I could download translations from the internet, but I had fun puzzling out how to play the games and delighted in their cool wooden pieces. The games were fun to look at and to touch and to play. My theory at the time was that because the German games listed the designer on the box, you’re going to get better games. It’s just like books — series books that don’t list the actual author on the cover aren’t as good as books that do list the author. Same with games. Now I also argue that awards help things improve. As the Newbery Medal made American children’s books better, so the Spiel des Jahres has helped German games improve. I also loved reading this book and discovering games with interesting new mechanics and nicely calibrated combinations of strategy and luck.
In this big and beautiful oversize book, the author dedicates two spreads to each Spiel des Jahres winner from 1979 to 2022. He also lists other nominated games and eventually the Kennerspiel and Kinderspiel winners. He tells if the game was a worthy winner and if it’s still available today. And talks about trends and new innovations and all kinds of fascinating stuff. There are also chapters grouping different eras. It turns out that the author called 1996 to 2004 the “Golden Age” — which is exactly when I lived in Germany. I own most of the winners from that time period and lots of runners up.
Here’s what the author says this book is about, not actually a history of the Spiel des Jahres:
Instead, the book’s focus is about the games themselves — the winners and, in some cases, the runners-up and also-rans — and uses them as a lens thrugh which to look at the ways in which games, games culture and the games industry have changed over the last five decades. It looks at how tastes have evolved, how German game design (not unlike superb German engineering) became a worldwide trend, and how our understanding of the way games work has led to a renaissance in new designs and new ways of making and playing games.
I have only one complaint about this wonderful book — the sidebars are written in tiny white letters on colored backgrounds, and some of those colors made it impossible for me to read the words, even with a magnifying class. The printing may have been a little fuzzy, too. I could read the ones with lots of contrast, but not so much for the gold background (which was in the Golden Age chapter). This annoyed me, because I was so fascinated with the book, I wanted to read every single word. So it took a high level of frustration before I gave up and stopped reading the golden-colored sidebars.
But apart from that, I love Eurogames. I’ve been fascinated with the Spiel des Jahres since 1996. So this book was a complete delight to read. If you enjoy board games, I highly recommend it. And, yes, I’m ordering some new games based on this book. And pulled out some old games to show my gaming group.
Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/everybody_wins.html
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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.
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