Book Review: It's All a Game

It's All a Game: The History of Board Games From Monopoly to Settlers of Catan
Published By: Thomas Dunne Books
Publication Date: May 30, 2017
Page Count: 304
Source: Kindly Provided by Publisher
Adult - Nonfiction

I’ll skip the traditional summary because the subtitle (The History of Board Games from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan) handled that job for me, and get right to why I think this is such a great book. In addition to being a comprehensive look at the most popular games throughout history, It’s All a Game is brilliantly organized, and achieves the perfect blend of information and nostalgia. 

It’s All a Game is organized by chronology, but with a particular game or type of game being the central focus of each chapter. Although Donovan does have a theme that develops throughout the book, it would be easy for those who don’t typically read nonfiction to jump into whichever chapter interested them and go from there. Between the relatively stand-alone chapters and the recreational subject matter this is one of those books that could convince more people to read nonfiction. 

Donovan has a clear love for board games and gamers. While his research into each game is impressive (20 pages of references in the back!), what really sold me on It’s All a Game is how he weaves all of that into compelling prose that hit all the high points and emotional buttons of my personal board gaming experience. I remember the angst of Monopoly, the randomness of Life, the intelligence of Trivial Pursuit, and the revelation of experiencing games that actually depended on more than the roll of the dice. I suspect that anyone reading this book will experience similar emotions, though perhaps with different games. 

It’s All a Game is a terrific read both for gamers and for those who might be hesitant to try nonfiction. Almost everyone has experience with board games. Now they can know who developed them, the historical and social contexts they reflected, and how those games connect humanity together.

Board games have been with us longer than even the written word. But what is it about this pastime that continues to captivate us well into the age of smartphones and instant gratification?

In It’s All a Game, British journalist and renowned games expert Tristan Donovan opens the box on the incredible and often surprising history and psychology of board games. He traces the evolution of the game across cultures, time periods, and continents, from the paranoid Chicago toy genius behind classics like Operation and Mouse Trap, to the role of Monopoly in helping prisoners of war escape the Nazis, and even the scientific use of board games today to teach artificial intelligence how to reason and how to win. With these compelling stories and characters, Donovan ultimately reveals why board games have captured hearts and minds all over the world for generations.