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GAMER’S BOOKSHELF: AMERICANOPOLY

AMERICANOPOLY:

 

A VIEW OF AMERICA THROUGH ITS GAMES

 

by Bruce Whitehill

 

(Swiss Museum of Games, 132 pages in English, French and German, 8.25″ square, over 110 color photos, $24)

 

Reviewed by Herb Levy

Don’t let the name fool you. Although no book on American games would be complete without some mention of it, this is NOT a book on Monopoly. It is something much more ambitious.

Originally conceived as a volume to complement an exhibition of American games shown at the Swiss Museum of Games running from September 2004 through February 2005, Bruce Whitehill’s Americanopoly presents a well-written overview of American games from the early 1800s to the present. The volume traces the growth of American game companies from their beginnings in the 1800s right through the turn of the 21st Century with the bulk of the book centering on the interrelationship between games and American life, particularly in the 19th and 20th centuries.americanopoly

Mr. Whitehill makes the case that the history of the United States can be seen through the games made and played there. Games reflect the issues of the day, the concerns of the people and the social mores of their times and the book is packed with full color photos (credited to Sebastien Pauchon) to illustrate the points. Among the many interesting facts showing the intersection of games and social behavior: many early games did NOT include dice since the use of dice was tantamount to “gambling” and gambling games were “tools of the devil”. Soldiers who fought in the Civil War often left dice behind before going into battle so that if killed, the dice would not be sent to their families along with their other personal effects.

The book also gives the reader a peek into the inner workings of game companies. Major and some minor players of the 19th century including such well known entities as McLoughlin Brothers, Milton Bradley, Parker Brothers and Selchow & Righter appear. Insider “snapshots” of what goes into making a game successful are quite informative. (One section, contributed by Wayne Saunders, focuses on The American Dream, a 1979 mass market game from Milton Bradley, that couldn’t avoid marketing perils and went from being a sure winner to a disaster right before your very eyes!)

In moving into the 20th century, the watershed games of Monopoly and Scrabble get their due as does the rise of games based on that new medium, television as well as the growth of “adult” games, spearheaded by a line of games from the 3M company. Not only did 3M pioneer the emergence of “adult games” in our time but, Whitehill informs us, Sleuth, originally published by 3M, was the first card game based on a boardgame. (But we did catch one error concerning 3M. It is stated that 3M bought the rights to Diplomacy. Not so. The game, available under the Games Research imprint, was bought by Avalon Hill.) In bringing the volume into the 21st century, the author recognizes the influx of European games into the American market but argues that America has had an important impact on European gaming.

The book layout is a little strange as the publishers approach a multi-lingual audience in a novel way. Rather than publish three separate editions to accommodate French, German and English readers, the volume includes all three languages throughout. English is found in the first column of the left hand page with the identical text in German in the second column of the same page. The identical French text is on the opposite page! This oddity can be a little disconcerting at first but you get used to it rather quickly and doesn’t detract from the narrative flow. An index (which the author wanted to include) would have been a welcome addition but is not present. The book benefits from the high quality, glossy paper used which shows off the wonderful photographs (many close-ups) of vintage (and newer) games which add to the atmosphere and pleasure of the volume.

Bruce Whitehill has used his formidable knowledge of American games and game companies to construct a smooth and fascinating narrative on the growth and impact of games on America and America on games. Anyone interested in popular history and the integral part games have played in it will find Americanopoly a great read and a book well worth having. – Herb Levy

ORDERING INFORMATION: In the continental U.S. for $24, which includes media mail postage and handling. Payment can be made by check, money order, or PayPal from a bank account (no credit cards). Copies are signed (and inscribed by request) by the author. Email: games at the big game hunter dot com (eliminate spaces, replace “at” with @ and “dot” with a period—address written to reduce spam). Put “Americanopoly book” in the subject line. The book is published in Switzerland and carried by the Swiss Museum of Games; the supply is limited in the US.

In Europe, books are available through the Swiss Museum of Games by mail order by emailing info@museedujeu.com. Price is 24 CHF (Swiss francs) or 16 Euros plus postage. (Signed copies are available from the author in the U.S. as per the above paragraph, for additional postage.)


 

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