As we continue to anticipate great times ahead once the Optima Verdana® card room opens — when we will spend many an evening with friends huddled over a backgammon or Scrabble board — we can, in the meantime, feed our curiosity about the history of board games. It’s fascinating!
While much has been written about board games by scholars and laypeople alike, one of the best sources around is It’s All a Game:The History of Board Games from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan. Written by Tristan Donovan and published by St. Martin’s Press in 2017, this smart, engaging book by a renowned games expert helps us understand how board games continue to captivate our attention and to bring us back to the proverbial table, in spite of the allure of myriad technology toys and the scourge of decreasing attention spans.
Throughout the book, Donovan explores the roots of board games’ consistent popularity. Analyzing the influence of social, political, and economic influences on board game designers and manufacturers, Donovan maps the evolution of our modern-day relationship with board games across time, geographies, and cultures. He also examines the impact this leisure activity has had on popular psychology.
Donovan writes expansively on the history and evolution of ancient games and their current-day counterparts. He traces the Indian and Persian influences on chess and explains how the rules and game pieces evolved to reflect first Muslim and then European societies. He also examines how games like Monopoly developed as games that required both strategy and luck, paying special attention to how the original versions of these games reflected the times in which they were born, and how they changed over time.
Donovan’s survey of gaming history is full of amusing anecdotes and eccentric characters, including a discussion of Marvin Glass, an eccentric and paranoid toy inventor from Chicago, whose infusion of plastics into board games like Operation and Mouse Trap brought the board game and toy industries together.
If you’re a trivia buff, you’ll also love It’s All a Game, since Donovan spares no detail about board games and their histories. And if nothing else, it will help you build a huge arsenal of interesting tidbits and stories to share when you find yourself gathering and gaming at Optima Verdana®!