10.21.2007

Hobby Games: The 100 Best

"Best of" lists are always dangerous propositions: They can be too subjective, they can leave out what we think should be on, they can include "bad picks," and they can be little more than lists without explanation. Editor James Lowder bypasses these dilemmas in his book Hobby Games: The 100 Best through excellent guidelines and reviews from hobby professionals.

The introduction sets the stage for these picks. After a broad definition of hobby games (a game that "invited repeated play and depth of strategy"), Lowder explains that the game professionals contributing to this book had to select three or four of their favorite games, without knowing what the other contributors had picked. They could also not select anything they had created or something from their own companies, obviating any self-praise or self-promotion.

The result is a fascinating collection of selections. The games chosen are all over the map, from popular mainstream works (Axis & Allies, Dungeons & Dragons) to pretty obscure works (My Life With Master, Terrible Swift Sword). There are board games, card games, roleplaying games, and narrative/storytelling games. Some games that take a year to finish, while others can be completed in minutes. Entries go as far back as the 1960s to 2006. And there's a wide spectrum of subjects for the selections: While there's no shortage of re-creations of historical battles, there are also games on fantasy and sci-fi, conspiracies, even bean farming and mail delivery!

The contributors to Hobby Games are all industry professionals (with brief biographies listed after their entries) and they all offer their own views of what makes a great game and why they picked their entries. For some, their choice is based on rules mechanics. Others cite a game's overall impact on all that followed it. There are also subjective reasons, as the contributors share stories about playing their favorite games with friends in college, or the experience of playing a favorite with family members. And the contributors all explain very well why they picked their favorites.

Naturally, no "best of" list will be perfect. Some of the games here are disliked by me (I had a very bad time playing Diplomacy) and others (the Marvel Super Heroes game rpg, chosen by Steve Kenson as his best, made InQuest magazine's list of worst games ever), while other favorites are conspicously absent. (I'd love to see a list of the ones that just missed making the cutoff.) That said, Hobby Games: The 100 Best provides a rich, fascinating look at the myriad elements in the gaming world. It's a must-read book for fans of gaming, or anyone who wants to learn more about gaming.

Overall Grade: A+

Reviewed by James Lynch

(who owns 17 of the games in Hobby Games and plans on picking up at least 3 more listed there)

6 comments:

Dale said...

Regarding the MARVEL RPG, if INQUEST dogged it, I'd consider that a point in the game's favor!

It's a simple, clean system that remains my Supers ROG of choice to this day.

JB said...

I'm not sure I'd call Terrible Swift Sword obscure. It's generally considered to be a classic Richard Berg game. Flawed, certainly, but one of the great, early monster games. And, go ahead and spill, which games do you own?

James Lynch said...

For the MARVEL HEROES RPG, I believe InQuest's complaint was that the "naming" system of power levels was too hard to remember: In the heat of battle, who can remember if Incredible is better or worse than Amazing? From my experience, I recall being annoyed that each successive level is twice as much as the previous one, but at the higher end of the table 2 or 3 levels were treated exactly the same! ("I can lift 8 tons and you can lift 16 tons, so it's a 50-50 chance who'll win if we arm wrestle.)

As for the games I have, they are:

BATTLETECH
CALL OF CTHULHU
CARCASSONNE
DUNGEON & DRAGONS
FLUXX
ILLUMINATI
MYTHOS
PARANOIA
PUERTO RICO
SETTLERS OF CATAN
SHADOWFIST
SHADOWRUN
TICKET TO RIDE
TIKAL

Hmm, it's actually 14. Time to edit!

James Lynch said...

Oh, I forgot:

COSMIC ENCOUNTER
MAGIC: THE GATHERING
ONCE UPON A TIME

So 17 it is! (Until I get the three I wanted after reading this: BOHNANZA, SHADOWS OVER CAMELOT and THURN AND TAXIS.)

smg58 said...

You forgot Magic??? How many games of that did we play?

digitaldoc said...

At least a couple hundred games of Magic, and I probably missed thousands more.