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It's All a Game: The History of Board Games from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan
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It's All a Game: The History of Board Games from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  420 ratings  ·  98 reviews
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
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published May 30th 2017 by Thomas Dunne Books
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Tracey Allen at Carpe Librum
Roll the dice. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. I love playing board games and It's All A Game - A Short History of Board Games by Tristan Donovan was a good read.

All the expected games are there: Chess, Backgammon, Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble, Cluedo, Pictionary and Monopoly and much more. I appreciated reading the history behind the formation of these games and learning about new - to me - ones.

The section on war games was interesting, however I was surprised and secretly excited to hear
Jun 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library, exposes, other
No matter the obsession with technology and computerized entertainment; the playing of board games still abounds the lives of youth and has even experienced resurgence in the culture of adults from “board game nights” to dates. Akin to the analog in a digital world, board games may not be the prime mover and shaker but that is not to say they are going anywhere. Tristan Donovan follows the history of board games and presents the playful romp in, “It’s All a Game: Games from Monopoly to Settlers ...more
Serge Pierro
Nov 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, games
As the Board Game hobby continues to grow, it is not surprising to see that several books have started to appear that cover various aspects board game history. Some of them have focused on Eurogames, while others delved into the origins and backstory of ancient classics. Tristan Donovan has written a well researched book that broadly covers the history of board games, with an emphasis on the classic board games that were available pre-Catan. These include Chess, Backgammon, Monopoly, Clue, ...more
Mar 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
I have to start this review with a disclaimer: I LOVE board games and I was so excited to read this book. So my thoughts might be a tad bit biased....
That being said, I loved this book and I think I would've been quite entertained by it even if I wasn't such a tabletop game fanatic. It was well-organized, well-written, and had some fantastic stories that really heightened my appreciation of board games in general (and of a lot of the specific board games Donovan mentions). In addition to delving
Dec 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Considering I play "heavy" board games weekly I was predisposed to enjoy this book. What I did not expect was for this to be a fascinating popular culture history book.

It chronicles the creation of ubiquitous things such as crosswords, artificial intelligence and perennial family favourites like Monopoly or Cluedo. The book is not so much about the games themselves as it is about the people who created them and it's unbelievable that most of them struggled to see their works published. I would
Oct 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was much more interesting than I had expected it to be. I've always liked board games and often wondered where they stemmed from. I had a vague idea about the background of Chess but never knew about the starry past of Backgammon and I learned so much about the unlikely beginnings of Monopoly, Scrabble and Operation.

The board games featured all have remarkable stories, from post world war II morality, religious indoctrination, war games and battle planning and even pandemics. A lot of the
Stephanie (That's What She Read)
Nov 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fic, library
This was a fun and informative book. The chapters were self-contained and covered the histories and influence of certain board games, like Scrabble, Monopy etc. I wished there had been a stronger conclusion and a few more general overview chapters.
Nov 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
My family have always been board game players. I have known how to play parcheesi and Chinese checkers and even chess for as long as I can remember. And we'd play Monopoly in the summer, when you have the time for long games. My brother though was obsessed with Monopoly when he was about 4. We had about 8 different versions, all from other countries, and once or twice we tried to play 2- or 4-board versions although those would last days, not just hours, and were quickly abandoned. I remember ...more
4.5 stars

Originally reviewed @ Reading Lark:

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
Nathan Altice
Sep 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Donovan's Replay is my favorite history of videogames due to its wide-ranging scope and attention to non-US games. This is a different kind of history. Rather than covering a wide swath of games, Donovan chooses those with the biggest cultural impact, from chess and senet to Clue and Catan. Each chapter has its own narrative hook that tells the story of the game, its creators, and how the game (and related games) fit into the social/cultural milieu of its time. It's a fun read and well-written, ...more
Sep 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this! It has such a conversational feel as you're learning the history and highlights of games I grew up on or now, have yet to try. I could never have imagined all the facts and transformations games have gone through, let alone religious aspects such as chess!
If you're looking for a light flowing read on history and fun this is the book you want! Now I'm off to reacquaint myself with a few board games!
Oct 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I love board games, so maybe I started out with a positive bias, but this work of non-fiction was great. It;s the kind of book you can read only the part that interests you and still love it or all of it. I borrowed this book from the library, but now I think I may order a copy for myself.
I loved the in depth background on games, but also the little snippets of info you get about games as they changed over time. A great non-fiction read, but also a good resource for game lovers.
Steven Raszewski
Nov 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As a lifelong boardgame hobbyist this was a pure joy to read! Very informative and inspiring. The history of how numerous games came to be is just fascinating. We truly are in the golden age of boardgames. Check out the World Boardgaming Championships (WBC).
Aug 21, 2017 rated it it was ok
Like a survey course or wikipedia deep dive into games and gaming. Each chapter focuses on one game/creator/theme, much like a long read or magazine article. Not earthshaking, but good for folks with a vague interest in the topic.
John Behle
Nov 12, 2017 rated it it was ok
Remember playing good ol' board games? Dozens of examples here on how we learned, played and then discarded these artifacts from our past. The instructions were always kept handy. Either the supplied booklet version, or when this was promptly lost, there was usually a condensed version under that big rectangular lid, right?

Tristan Dovovan's book is a recount of the all time favorites we all know...chess, backgammon, Monopoly. We all know a little about these games, and those facts are rolled out
Bryan Alkire
Jan 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book about the modern history of board games. All the classics are here and it’s an interesting nostalgic topic. The book is short and moves along quickly with each game comprising a chapter. The writing is readable and compelling and I really found it hard to put the book down. The analysis of the games is interesting…covers the antecedents and the classic version as well as attempts to modernize for a 21st century audience…also puts the games in cultural context when needed…In short, ...more
Jul 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Great summary of selected impactful (and top selling) games through time. Each chapter focuses on a game or game type, from ancient to chess to late 19th century roll-and-move to modern day. Each provided history, anecdotes, and information in just the right amounts.

I enjoyed the sections on Life, Clue, and Pandemic, and already knew many of the others. The later sections document the recent resurgence of board games, and the last chapter the start of “Spiel des Jahres” - game of the year.

Want to know the backstories, histories, and thought processes for the creation of some of the most prolific board games in history? Look no further. I learned things about Bobby Fischer that I didn't know because I didn't really pay attention (and it wasn't my time period) but how so much of it was driven by the politics of the time.

How money enters into the gambling and betting on games. How games morph over time and was amazed at how scientists and historians figure out what was what from so
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Let’s be honest, I was not prepared to be riveted by this book. As much as I love board games and as much as I love reading, this seemed like it might be a tad dry. I thought wrong. Well researched and well written explanations of the evolution of board games in our world and how they reflect our culture kept my attention and gave me a renewed love of board games. No really, it’s amazing! Thank you to my sister Sara for the belated birthday gift! I thoroughly enjoyed it and will now be spewing ...more
Kosh Koshover
Oct 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
I'm a biased reader as I love playing modern board games and have been obsessed with games (whether Euchre, Rummy, Chess, Poker, Magic the Gathering etc...) since I was very young. I really enjoyed reading the history/biography of the games and game creators.
Scott Rogers
Oct 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
It starts out very good with some nice histories on the classics (chess, backgammon) and 20th century-era games (Monopoly, Risk). It drops off by the last few chapters when it attempts to cover some newer games and kind of loses focus.

If you like this sort of thing, I suggest listening to "Biography of a Boardgame" segments on The Dice Tower and Ludology podcast.
Tudor Ciocarlie
Jun 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very little about the modern board games, but the history of the older ones was interesting and engaging.
Stretches from ancient Egyptian board games to the dominance of involved German-made games today. I learned that most people play Monopoly wrong: you aren’t supposed to put all the money raised from fines on the Free Parking space! (It makes the game go on much longer.)
Sep 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Gave this one to my husband, and it sounded like so much fun I had to read it myself. It was just the right level of depth for me: not too detailed, and not a bunch of obscure games I never heard of. Overall, a very enjoyable trip through history, down memory lane, and into the present. Made me want to sit down and play a game or two...
Oct 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-about-life
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
Tom Ackerman
May 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A perfect little popular history. Great for gamers and non-gamers alike. Each chapter tells the story of a different classic game or genre of games, and each one left me wanting to know more! That's the kind of popular history I like: cleanly written, gives you enough info to make you curious, and never talks down to the audience. I'll definitely be adding more Tristan Donovan titles to my shelf.
Book received from NetGalley.

The book was entertaining, and I was almost guaranteed to enjoy it since my family and friends get together a few times a year to spend the weekend playing games, and board games are a part of it. We're more likely to be playing Catan than Monopoly, or Arkham Horror than Clue, but the more well-known board games are on our shelves as well. The book starts with early games, like Senet and Chess and discusses newer games as well. I liked it, and at some point, I may
Richard Tatnall
May 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a great book for board game fans, particularly the classics such as Monopoly, Scrabble, Operation, Risk etc. Author gets a little side tracked by artificial intelligence two-thirds of the way through with a couple of off topic chapters, but other than that would definitely recommend.
Sep 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
A concise history of board games. This is a must read for any one in the hobby, even as a means to explain to curious onlookers the evolution of gaming to the present day. It's fun to see all the games mentioned that I have played and the Acknowledgement section is a who's who of gaming.
Justin Ferguson
Jan 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
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