Wizards of the Tabletop

WIZARDS OF THE TABLETOP

A Rogues Gallery of Board Game Designers and Conspirators

Authored by Douglas Morse
Review by Greg J. Schloesser

In regards to writing reviews, board games are undoubtedly my forté.  Having written well over 500 reviews (I lost count a long time ago), I have a bit of experience in that department.  Book reviews are certainly not my specialty, but when that book deals solely with the board game industry and the personalities involved, I am certainly willing to give it a go!

Wizards of the Tabletop is the creation of Douglas Morse, a board game aficionado and photographer extraordinaire. Years of work, including extensive travels and interviews, have resulted in this impressive work, a large, coffee-table style pictorial that tells the story, both in text and gorgeous full color photos, of some of the industry’s most renowned personalities.  The tome focuses on game designers, publishers and influential individuals who have greatly impacted the board game industry.

Each subject–be it a designer, game-related company, publisher, etc.–usually receives a two-page spread revealing a bit about that person or company and the impact they have had on the hobby and/or industry.  These usually provide interesting background and insights, and are sometimes accompanied by humorous anecdotes.  In many cases I would have preferred a bit more detailed information, but as the old storytelling adage goes, “always leave them wanting more.”  In any case, there is information here that will be of interest to anyone immersed in the board gaming hobby.

While there are interesting and sometimes fascinating details and stories, the stars of this tome are undoubtedly the dozens of wonderful photos.  Morse has attempted to capture the personality of each of his subjects, framing them in appropriate–or sometimes outlandish–settings that reflect who they are, or perhaps what makes them notorious.  Designer Alan Moon of Ticket to Ride fame is captured riding atop a train, BoardGameGeek guru Scott Alden is hard at work behind his computer terminal at a convention, Steve Jackson lies prone, having been crushed by the massive bulk of his iconic game Ogre.  Other photos show close-ups of board games as they relate to their designers.  All of these photos are beautifully posed, often with the subtle touch of shadows and detail that only an experienced photographer such as Morse can create.  In many cases Morse provides some explanation as to why and how a particular photo was staged.

With any “Top Ten” list, who was included and/or excluded is open for debate.  Morse’s choices in Wizards of the Tabletop can likewise be scrutinized and discussed.  In my humble opinion there are some individuals included that I feel have not stood the test of time or had a large impact on the hobby.  Further, there are a few omissions that make me scratch my head in wonderment.  However, this is Morse’s book, and although we may quibble with some choices,  he undoubtedly has his own opinions and, of course, the right to include or exclude whomever he feels appropriate.

The only other quibble I have is that the cover is not very appealing or indicative of what is contained within.  It has the appearance of something akin to a spell book that might be used in Dungeons and Dragons or some other fantasy role-playing game.  That is likely Morse’s intent, especially considering the title of the tome.  Still, one casually glancing at the book will likely have no idea what it contains, which brings up that old “judging a book by its cover” problem.

These issues aside, Wizards of the Tabletop casts an overdue spotlight on the cast of characters and companies that have impacted the board game hobby and industry.  The information provided is interesting, as is his take on the past and potential future of the industry, but it are the photos that truly shine and help bring these characters to life.  Morse’s talents as a photographer are on full display, as the photos are vivid, playful and sometimes pensive and thought-provoking. They are sure to delight anyone who is immersed in our hobby or industry. Wizards of the Tabletop would make a fine “game table” book in any game lover’s library.

Ratings:

4 (Love it!):
3 (Like it):  Greg S., John P
2 (Neutral):
1 (Not for me):

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About gschloesser

Greg Schloesser is the founder of the Westbank Gamers and co-founder of the East Tennessee Gamers. He is also a prolific reviewer of games and a regular contributor to numerous gaming publications and websites, including Counter, Knucklebones, Boardgame News, Boardgame Geek, Gamers Alliance and many others. Greg has been a gaming enthusiast his entire life, growing up in our hobby mainly on the war game side. His foray onto the internet exposed him to the wonderful world of German and European games and now nearly all of his gaming time is devoted to this area of our hobby. He travels to several gaming conventions each year and is the co-founder of Gulf Games, a regional gaming get-together held in the Southern USA. Greg was born in 1961 and lived his entire life in New Orleans before moving to East Tennessee in 2005. He is married and has one daughter (now married.)
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