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GAMER’S BOOKSHELF: THE 15 GREATEST BOARD GAMES IN THE WORLD

Reviewed by Herb Levy

by the Editors of Klutz,  Klutz Press, 36 pages, $24.95

Drawing upon the expertise of R. Wayne Schmittberger (editor of GAMES magazine) and Mark Jackson (described as someone “who specializes in playing board games”), The 15 Greatest Board Games in the World is the latest entry in the Klutz line-up of books. The rationale for selection of these games is straightforward: they have to be easy to learn, have solid replay value and appeal to a wide range of players. These reasonable guidelines have resulted in a reasonably entertaining book.

The 15 Greatest Board Games in the World is (counting the covers) a 36 page spiral bound book. The thick coated pages display the boards and rules needed to play the chosen games and includes a specially designed plastic “pouch” right on the front to house the components required to play the games within including two sided plastic playing pieces, “coins”, various tokens, a pair of dice and more. The gaming cast of characters comprising this volume actually exceeds the specified 15 (if you count the variants included) and consist of Hoppers (and Mini-Hoppers), the Game of Y, the Royal Game of Ur, Surround, Corsaro, Solitaire, Pentominoes, Nine Men’s Morris (and Three Men’s Morris), Scatter, Tigers and Goats, Roundabouts, Fanorona, China Moon, Checkers and Push Penny Bounce.

Although the book is described as for “ages 7 to 107”, the real target audience is on the lower end of that spectrum (the tip-off here is that “playtesting” the games in this volume was done by the kids at El Carmelo Elementary School) and information about the games is presented in a light, conversational tone.  As with all of the Klutz publications, presentation is first rate. As mentioned, the pages are coated to withstand the inevitable spills and wear and tear  to be expected when playing and the components provided are at least functional. (The two-sided playing pieces are actually pretty clever.)

The volume manages to present a nice mix of gaming, from classic games (THREE versions of Checkers and two versions of Nine Men’s Morris, for example) to an infusion of some newer, modern day designers including Wolfgang Kramer’s Corsaro (the winner of the German Game of the Year Award for children’s games back in 1991) and Bruno Faidutti’s China Moon (a game that should be familiar to GA members since it had received feature treatment in the Winter 2004 issue of Gamers Alliance Report). No surprise that one of the game gurus cited in the credits (R. Wayne Schmittberger) makes his presence felt with the inclusion of two of his own games (Surround and Scatter).

This book could be considered a revised edition of The Book of Classic Board Games collected by Sid Sackson, an earlier Klutz release from 1991. That volume also contained 15 games, some of which appear here as well (Checkers, Roundabouts, Hoppers, Fandango, Solitaire, Nine Men’s Morris).  Ironically, Go and Backgammon, two games appearing in the Sackson book and games that you could make a legitimate and persuasive argument for inclusion in a volume of  “greatest” games, failed to make the transition.  Although Sackson is mentioned as “inspiration”, unfortunately, none of his game designs managed to find their way between these covers. Perhaps that’s due to the fact that the book is only 36 pages in length. More pages filled with more games would certainly have been welcome.

In a world that seems to generate controversy at every turn, The 15 Greatest Board Games in the World is a title sure to trigger arguments and disagreements.  Why wasn’t (fill in the blank with your own particular favorite) included? Hyperbole aside, The 15 Greatest Board Games in the World does serve up a tasty brew of old and new, some games that have withstood the test of time and, albeit, some a bit too young to have weathered that particular test. More importantly, the volume provides a great service by introducing young, potentially life-long, gamers to a world of games outside of the mass market mainstream. For that reason alone, the book is a worthwhile effort and a perfect gift for the younger gaming and soon-to-be gaming enthusiast. – – – – – – – – – –  Herb Levy


 

Spring 2008 Gamers Alliance Report

 

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