Hobby Games The 100 Best – Book Review
Hobby Games: The 100 Best. Edited by James Lowder. Green Ronin Publishing. Trade paperback. 380 pages.
The book’s insights into how game designers think almost comprise a mini-course in design.
Quick—name the best game you’ve ever played!
Tough to narrow that down, isn’t it? But 100 game designers, developers and others from the game industry were asked to do something similar: to submit three or more "best game" nominees. They were then asked to write about one of those nominees and explain why it deserved to be included in Hobby Games: The 100 Best.
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The book is a unique reference source that offers valuable information on titles gamers may have missed and ought to look into. Its chapters will likely be read in no particular order, rather than cover to cover.
People who work in the game field get jaded: you can only see so many knock-offs of the Dungeons and Dragons and PanzerBlitz games before you start throwing 20-sided dice and silhouetted counters at passerby. Any game these tormented souls pick as "the best" deserves serious consideration.
Submissions had to be "hobby" games, defined for the purpose of this book as games that "invited repeated play," have "depth of strategy," and nurture imagination by letting players pretend to be something they’re not, whether that is a Pharaoh, a wizard, a panzer commander or a cartoon character.
Let us pause here for an obligatory disclaimer. Several of the people who wrote for this book are long-time friends of mine. Heck, I even wrote for one of the games—Paranoia, when it was published by West End Games—and I was among the playtesters for TOON: The Cartoon Roleplaying Game when I was marketing director for Steve Jackson Games, a company with four titles among the Hallowed Hundred. But after years of working for gaming magazines and getting a bit jaded myself, I had to review the book, especially after it received the Origins Award for best non-fiction publication this year.
None of the authors were permitted to select a game he/she had designed or had a financial interest in; for that reason, the publisher, Green Ronin, excluded its own games from consideration.
The resulting submissions "led to some surprising revelations, as designers selected games completely unlike the work for which they are known," editor James Lowder wrote in his introduction.
Who knew Mike Selinker (designer of Risk: Godstorm, Axis & Allies D-Day, et al) loved Bohnanza, "the best card game ever written about bean farming," as he described it? Or that Richard H. Berg (Terrible Swift Sword and —oh, hell, just start naming wargames; you’re bound to mention several he designed) would pick Plague!, a darkly humorous game about the Black Death?
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