Once again I have my library’s “New Arrivals” section for introducing me to “It’s All a Game”. What caught my attention is that it covers two of my favorite topics, board games and history. Several of the games mentioned throughout the book are ones I had never stopped to consider from whence they sprang. Now that I do, I have a greater appreciation for them.
The book is organized around different types of games. Life, Monopoly, Risk, Clue, and Settlers of Catan are some of the big names that anchor chapters explaining how the game was developed and how they represent a specific genre of game playing.
The game of Life was actually developed as a way to teach children about the consequences of bad decisions in life such as not obeying authority, not embracing education, etc. It was developed in New England so there’s a heavy flavoring of the Puritan mindset. Sadly, the individual who first developed the game was never really given the credit they were due. Many people created their own version of the game until one of the big game producing companies bought the rights. Over the years the game of Life has been softened but there are versions out there that are truer to the original intent.
Risk was a game that my father, brother, and I would play when we were all home on vacation. My brother would inevitably grow impatient with his losing strategy and exit the game before we had really even come close to ending it. Apparently the versions that were developed in Prussia were used for this purpose: to determine not just winning military strategies, but to reveal who were the best military minds. The original game actually had topographical pieces such as mountains, lakes, trees, hills, swamps, etc. that were placed on the board to create actual topographical maps of locations in Central Europe. This “game” was used to develop the plans the Prussians used in the Franco-Prussian war and helped develop the Schlieffen plan in WWI. The game that we have today has stripped down the board to just the continents that we know, but I have a greater respect for the current game considering its history.
The last chapter of the book was dedicated to Settlers of Catan and games that have become popular in recent times. Settlers of Catan changed the way games were played and we go back to Germany to find its roots. Post-WWII was an anti-military climate for game playing in West Germany. In fact, Risk was banned for awhile. So many games makers, and Germans growing up under these conditions, were primed for games that weren’t so militaristic in nature. There began to be developed games that weren’t about winning or losing but about journey of playing the game and being the best you can be given the context of the game. This was a shift from the Risk and Monopoly types of games where you actually worked at punishing others and profiting off their loses. Settlers of Catan is the most popular, but probably not the last, game that inhibits the early change in game playing. While there is a clear winner in Catan, there are multiple ways to win, and most of them are not you profiting off the loses of your competitors. New games such as Ticket to Ride and others have taken this concept and begun to popularize new ways to play games.
Growing up playing games I never thought to stop and think about the social, historical, or psychological contexts that produced the games I play. After reading this book I’m now going to be more aware and curious about games. I think this book is great for gamers because it gives some credibility to the games we play as well as some history to ponder over. That’s a win win in my book.