Tabletop Gaming Manual
Matt Thrower
Haynes Manuals, 2018
ISBN: 1785211498

This new book from games journalist Matt Thrower is published by Haynes Publishing, who are perhaps best known for their car, motorcycle, scooter and ATV manuals, and who in recent years have developed an interesting and lucrative sideline in General Interest Manuals, with topics ranging from Zombie Survival to the Imperial Death Star. With such a wide range of fan culture on offer, it was surely only a matter of times before tabletop games got the Haynes treatment, and in Matt Thrower (who as well as his excellent Fortress blog is perhaps best known for his work with Shut up and Sit Down) they have the ideal gamer for the job.

The Tabletop Gaming Manual presents itself as an introduction to the hobby, and whilst it is not an academic textbook, it is clearly extremely well researched and provides a detailed and in-depth look into the heritage of tabletop games and gaming that will appeal to even the most experienced of gamers. Divided into nine logical chapters, it covers everything from the history of the hobby through to buying games, storing them, and advice on how to start designing them yourself.

Given the rising popularity of tabletop gaming, there is a definite need and an audience for a manual such as this, and the quality of the writing and beautiful illustrations will certainly make it appealing to gamers both new and old. As a seasoned gamer myself I still found lots of new information, and I particularly enjoyed the ‘Maths is Fun’ chapter, which provides a gentle introduction to the role that maths and probabilities play in tabletop games. I was especially delighted to come away from the chapter knowing that the next time I am forced to play Monopoly I can do so with a slight strategic advantage!

In general, the Tabletop Gaming Manual does a very good job of introducing all of the topics that one would expect, and Thrower’s experience as a gamer and games journalist allows him to speak with authority on most subjects. He also does an excellent job of providing references to other books where interested readers can explore topics with a little more detail. That being said, a couple of the chapters might have benefited from a slightly more in-depth approach. In particular, whilst the ‘Model Behaviour’ chapter provided some excellent advice on painting miniatures, the step-by-step guide would have been improved by listing the exact paints that were used, thereby giving readers a tangible example for colour selection when it comes to blending, washing, and highlighting. I’d have also liked to see  a Glossary included, as having a quick-reference for the various acronyms and jargon that make up tabletop gaming would be of benefit to novices and experts alike — I can’t be the only one who constantly has to refer to Boardgamegeek to remind myself of the differences between a ‘card drafting’ and a ‘hand management’ mechanic.

Overall the Tabletop Gaming Manual provides a fascinating overview of the world of tabletop gaming, and should be considered as an essential purchase for those who are looking to get into the hobby. It is also makes a great gift for the more seasoned veterans for whom tabletop gaming already occupies a significant portion of their lives, and storage space.

Sam Illingworth