In a special guest post, games journalist Owen Duffy tells us what on earth possessed him to put together a book about board games, and then launch it on Kickstarter.
When I tell people I’m working on a book about board games, I get a range of responses. Everything from: “That’s great!,” to: “That sounds like hard work,” to: “That’s nice, sir, but would you like a bag with your shopping?”
One question keeps coming up, though: “A book? Like, a printed one?”
For the past few months I’ve been collaborating with a group of games authors and journalists to publish The Board Game Book – a big, chunky hardback exploring the year’s most interesting new tabletop releases. It’s going to feature games criticism, designer interviews and studio photography, all in a beautiful coffee-table-style package.
We reckon it’s going to be something pretty special, but it also highlights a strange irony. The physical, tangible appeal of board games is one of the hobby’s biggest draws, but tabletop gaming media exists almost entirely online. With the notable exception of Tabletop Gaming Magazine, discussions, critiques and analysis of analogue games are overwhelmingly happening on blogs, forums and YouTube channels.
This isn’t unique to gaming. There’s been a wider trend away from print and towards digital media for years. So why are we publishing in what some would argue is an archaic physical format?
Last year I found myself in the Glasgow branch of Waterstones, the UK’s biggest bookshop chain. It struck me that their gaming section was larger than some actual game stores I’ve visited. Customers were perusing Catan, Carcassonne and Pandemic. One young couple were engaged in a conversation about whether to buy Ticket to Ride or Monopoly: Glasgow Edition.
With every fibre of my being, I wanted to barge my way across the shop floor and launch into a passionate spiel about the recent board game renaissance: the elegant brilliance of modern game design, the astounding quality of artwork and components, the clever and welcoming community that’s grown up around games. But on more careful consideration, I realised that it might come across as a bit creepy. What would be handy in just this situation, though, would be a book – a beautiful, accessible, informative book sitting right next to the games on the store’s shelves. I thought of the comic and TV annuals I’d received every Christmas as a kid – how I read and reread them, even years after they’d been published. I wanted to create something with a similar appeal, but for games.
I started developing the concept, thinking about the kind of content this kind of publication would have and the audiences it would cater for, the ways that it could represent the creative diversity of the hobby and dig into the stories behind games, exploring the ideas and influences that resulted in these innovative gameplay experiences.
I put a team together consisting of some of my favourite games writers, Matt Thrower, Teri Litorco and Richard Jansen-Parkes. Together we shot a video and threw the idea out onto Kickstarter in the hopes that our fellow gamers would be as enthusiastic about it as us. In its first couple of days, it’s already made more than a third of its funding target. Somewhat rashly, I’ve promised to dye my hair purple if the pledges keep coming in.
But along the way I’ve also realised that this book offers us the chance to do something really special for the hobby. Yes, there’s a thriving community revolving around tabletop games online, but for anyone just discovering them for the first time, it can be
bewildering and intimidating. The sheer variety of games on offer is enough to leave anyone confused, and there’s a gamer code of jargon –deckbuilding, 4X, area control, worker placement – that takes a while for newcomers to get their heads around. By presenting these games in a way that’s clear, concise and approachable, we hope to ease people’s paths into game geekdom.
That’s not to say that the book will only be for gaming newbies, of course. We’ll cover everything from quick and simple family games to strategy epics. Our three goals are to bring new people into the hobby, to deepen existing players’ enjoyment and appreciation of games, and to celebrate the work of a talented and diverse range of game creators.
It might seem counterintuitive in the age of Twitch and Snapchat, but we reckon a book is a pretty effective way to do all of those things. We hope the community agrees, and we’re looking forward to bringing The Board Game Book to gamers everywhere.