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The Oxford History of Board Games [Hardcover]

David Parlett
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

25 Feb 1999
For thousands of years, people have been planning attacks, captures, chases, and conquests - on a variety of different boards designed for an astonishing diversity of games. The compelling mix of strategy, skill, and chance is as strong as ever; new board games are invented almost daily, while the perennial favourites continue to attract new devotees and reveal new possibilities. This book investigates the principles of board games throughout the ages and across the world, exploring the fascinating similarities and differences that give each its unique appeal, and drawing out the significance of game-playing as a central part of human experience - as vital to a culture as its music, dance, and tales. In his trade-mark accessible, entertaining style, David Parlett looks at the different families of games: games based on configuration or connection, races or chases, wars or hunts, capture or blockade. He focuses mainly on traditional games, the folk entertainments that have grown up organically through the centuries, and which exhibit endless local variations, although he discusses also the commercial products that have tried, with varying degrees of success, to match their astonishing popularity. This is not primarily a how-to book, although the rules and strategies of certain games are discussed in detail, neither does it offer sure-fire tips for success, although with a fuller understanding of a game the reader will undoubtedly become a better-informed, if not better, player. Rather, it is an affectionate and authoritative survey of one of the most familiar parts of our cultural history, which has until now been inexplicably neglected.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (25 Feb 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192129988
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192129987
  • Product Dimensions: 22.4 x 14.4 x 2.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,168,470 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

David Parlett is a games expert of international reputation. A former editor of Games & Puzzles magazine, he has written many books on card and word games, and has himself invented many games, including Hare & Tortoise, which has been published in ten languages and won many awards, including Germany's prestigious Game of the Year award for 1979.

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Given our title, it would be reasonable to start by distinguishing board games from other types of game. Read the first page
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5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Classic Board Game Books 22 Oct 2011
This is one of the classic collections of board games, with their history and their play. It stands alongside the classic works of the 1950s and 1960s, Murray's "History of Board Games Other Than Chess" and Bell's "Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations", also listed on Amazon. Like those, it is really a long list of games, organised by game type, rather than historic period. Each game is given a history and, in many cases, brief details of the rules.

The Oxford History of Board Games has the advantage over some other games compendium type books in that it is very readable. Of necessity the narrative is disjointed, since each game is described in turn and many warrant only a paragraph or two. But mostly the book sticks to plain English. Sometimes a notation is used to describe moves of pieces in games with two-dimensional grid boards (chess, draughts and the like). This is easily understood, using symbols such as + for an orthogonal move, x for diagonal moves and * for moves like the king and queen in chess.

The book covers all types of traditional board game: race games, space games (or games of position), chase (hunt) games and displace games (war games and mancala). Sections on these types are further split, with race games for instance split into square or cross-track games, tables (backgammon), single-track games and games without dice. For the last category Parlett has been criticised for promoting his own game Hare & Tortoise, which is the only game in that category, but this criticism is unfair due partly to the brevity of that chapter and partly to the fact that this type of game is rare.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5.0 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must buy for anyone interested in games! 4 May 1999
By - Published on
"The Oxford History of Board Games", the latest book from British writer and games expert David Parlett, is a magnificent overview of the development of games over the millenia. Such a book is long overdue - the previous similar work was H.J.R. Murray's "A History of Board-Games", published back in 1952. Parlett however has the distinct advantage of another half a century of research, and this shows: His book even includes and discusses (not to say dissects) the Roman board game recently excavated by archeologists in Colchester, and rounds off with a chapter on modern board game design: Risk, Monopoly, Diplomacy, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit and a host of others are to be found right there. Parlett is thus able to correct a number of the mistakes made by Murray, and adds considerably to the store of knowledge in the field of games. Parlett also in his book divides the games by a very logical classification, and tells about the historical development of each in turn. This book is in short a long-overdue milestone, and an absolute must for anyone with the slightest interest in games. Despite the thoroughness with which Parlett treats the subject, the writing is lucid, sprinkled with interesting cultural references and topped with occasional flashes of dry British humour. I cannot recommend it highly enough - and as a collector of books on games, with 1100 titles on my shelves, I should know. - Dan Glimne
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great new book on games! 22 July 1999
By A Customer - Published on
David Parlett has writen a magnificent book on the history of board games world wide. The book is well organized, clearly written and complete. It takes it's place along side the great work on games and game collecting, and is a "must have" for any game lover. It is hard to imagine a work more thoroughly or more loving prepared and it is clear that Mr. Parlett is one of the foremost experts on this subject. Each chapter is devoted to a subset of game type, there are dozens of charts ranging from "probability curves for binary lots" (two sided dice) to the "quantity of letters in Scrabble." 26 different Chess variants are presented with diagrams of the pieces and their boards, as well as board games from cultures ranging from the Aztecs to the Zuni and everyone in between. The only disappointment in this otherwise outstanding work is the lack of a complete bibliography on game study. But the book is meticulously footnoted and sources are listed at the end of each chapter. I have already made several of the games that Mr. Parlett had described in his book, to the enjoyment of my family and friends. This is not an "How To" book the strictest sense, but an invaluable tool for anyone interested in the subject of board games and their history.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chase, displace, space, race games-- and themes! 7 Nov 2008
By John L Murphy - Published on
I learned last week that my personality type seeks out pursuits not for competition or reward, but for the pleasure of the pastime. I get absorbed, as many readers of Parlett may, by the world within a game that mirrors and distorts our reality. Curious about the history of chess, and the personality quirks associated with it and other strategies occupying space on a grid, board, circuit, or pattern, I found Parlett's guide.

As with so much of gaming scholarship, throughout his entries, Parlett nods to the massive but uneven, now partially superseded, research of H.J.R. Murray on the origins of chess and varieties of other board games. I might add how it's easier to consult and use than Murray's exhaustive compendia. Now out-of-print, a companion to Parlett's card games history, this 1999 study deserves reprinting in paperback by OUP.

"The aim of this book is primarily to present a historical survey of positional board games, but extending the story to modern and proprietary games whenever they can be shown to advance or expand on a traditional idea," Parlett explains (p. 7). He suggests that "the power of involvement of its underlying abstract structure" determines, no matter the label, its abstract content or representational surface, the success long-term for a theme game. "What makes people want to go on playing a game once its theme is past its sell-by date is the fact that it remains engaging and exciting despite its outdated appearance and loss of topicality." For example, we do not go into battle with elephants, take counsel with bishops, or ride as knights into the pawns that comprise the enemy's ranks-- yet we still play chess with these pieces.

As Parlett cautions in his lively introduction, this erudite yet accessible survey's not meant to be read front-to-back, although I did so, at least to get the gist of it all. Its nineteen chapters range widely as they investigate varieties of race, chase, displace, and space games. Theme games conclude this compact yet dense enough volume. While not submerged by descriptions, those unfamiliar with specific games may find this better suited for reference about one's chosen pastimes; I found for my own interests those on "tafl" or Northern European strategy games and the section on chess most engaging. After a while, relying on print rather than observation, your mind bogs down in details, inevitably, of games that elude your easy comprehension when locked into words and a few illustrations, however instructive.

The reason it's a reference rather than a chronological narrative? It's likely you'll skip to the type of games here most appealing to your own sensibility. He breaks them down into roughly theme games and four related forms of chase, displace, space, and race! As an inventor ("Hares & Tortoises") as well as historian (he also publishes on card and word games), Parlett brings an enthusiasm for the process of how games evolve and how new ones appear I found contagious. Not that I'll ever figure out the game of "Go" any more than chess at my advanced age, but it's instructive to ponder how we tend to gravitate towards passing the time with imaginary hunts, wars, chases, captures, and climbs, no matter the culture or terrain we live in.

I've heard that such criss-crosses, dots, squares, and lines as cave dwellers made show these deeply grooved patterns in our minds. Parlett's brisk survey, often acerbic and well-written, takes you into the mystery of how such games mutate and shift as new ones appear while only those that speak to a lasting need for meaning and shape beneath the holiday season's latest movie tie-in or promotional throwaway fade.

It might have been entertaining to include games that have been conceived of on boards but that exist in speculative fiction. What about "<span style="font-style:italic;">Das Glasperlenspiel</span>", the "Glass Bead Game" of Hermann Hesse's Castalia, for example, or fantasy games played only in novels? However, as there's plenty of more easily obtained real games in these pages to ponder, the scope of this book may have precluded such forays into the imaginative realm of pursuits. There's enough deserving ones to locate out there on the shelves. Or, to make up, as Parlett shows.

Mancala, chess, checkers (or draughts), go, backgammon: in many forms across many lands, what drives people towards these time-tested winners? They transcend trends, and outlast fashions. They coax from us, as Parlett documents neatly without too much withering detail, long-lasting satisfaction as we mimic our ancestors dashing about the savannah-- or substitute more safely for the hazards of the battlefield.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing Resorce. 14 Sep 2001
By Shea T. Whitham - Published on
David Parlet should be commended for his clarity and organization. The History of Board Games is an amazing resorce for anyone who is interested in the evolution, origin and history of games like chess, checkers, tafl, backgamon, fanorona, nyout, seega, alquerque, nine mans morris and many many other games.
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