James Lowder, ed. Hobby Games: The 100 Best. Renton, Wash.: Green Ronin Publishing, 2007. ISBN 10: 1-932442-96-0; ISBN 13: 978-1-932442-96-0. $24.95
Jim Lowder’s background includes designing games, editing books, writing fiction and working on various game projects, as well as doing a stint at TSR. Over the years he made a lot of contacts and he has put this circumstance to good use in this project. He contacted a number of prominent game industry figures and asked them to rank the best games in the hobby before getting them to contribute a chapter on one of their choices. As such, the book is a bit subjective in that, as Lowder admits readily, no one would put every game reviewed in the book in their personal top hundred. Anyone could suggest substitutes for the ones included (Risk was a surprising omission for example). None the less, the listed games are at least defensible choices for inclusion and many would garner near-unanimous support.
One the polling was done, Lowder began the assignment process. His concept of a hobby game (“one that invited repeated play and depth of strategy”) gave him an idea of the kinds of games he wanted in the book, but some authors convinced him to include a few that fell outside his original vision. Overall, the criteria was broad enough to include card, CCGs, Eurogames, miniature systems, RPGs, sports games, and wargames. The vast majority of the games are low complexity. Lowder tried to give the writers their first pick but second and third choices were sometimes assigned. No author could write about a game he designed or possessed a financial interest in. For example, Steve Jackson reviewed Paranoia, but the entries on Car Wars and Ogre (his designs), and Toon (his company), were done by Jeff Tidball, Eric Wujcik, and David ‘Zeb’ Cook, respectively. No Green Ronin products were reviewed.
A typical article gives an overview of the game and discusses its mechanics, history, and impact on the hobby. Often the author describes his own history with the game and explains his particular obsession with it. As a number of the reviewers are TSR alumni, it seems that the TSR game library exposed many of them to a wide range of the chosen games. Each review concludes with the writer’s biography and a link to his web site, if any. Experience writing novels, designing RPGs, especially for TSR, and work with computer games are pretty common backgrounds, with cats being the pet of choice. Overall, the reviews are of high quality, though some graphics would have been welcome.
Besides the reviews, Reiner Knizia contributed a Foreword focusing on gameplay, James Dunnigan an Afterword discussing the hobby, mainly from an historical perspective, and Bill Bodden wrote an appendix on finding games. For information on ordering the book, contact Green Ronin Publishing at PO Box 1723, Renton, WA 98057-1723, or go to their web site at Green Ronin Publishing. Family Games: The 100 Best will join the company's lineup this year and should be worth checking out.
Peter L. de Rosa
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