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Book Review: GameTek

GameTek (by Geoff Engelstein) is a collection of brief thoughts and ideas that are fleshed out into two to three page chapters. The book covers a range of topics from emergence, power creep, to cheating.




Review

GameTek is broken down into chapters within several major areas such as Math, Psychology, Science, Game Mechanics, etc. Most chapters are opinion driven, some are news items that are discussed, others are overviews of a given concept.

There are over 75 chapters from 10 years of the GameTek blog. Chapters are brief and succinct. Most of the chapters relate to games in some fashion and provide interesting points of discussion.

Summary

The Bad

There are a number of issues with the book, most of them fairly minor. There are a fair number of typos in the book, not sure if that is a result of a speech to text program or some sort of formatting issues.

Most of the book contains strong opinions and are argued from the armchair, without supporting sources or thorough explanation of the topics. Which makes sense given the original podcast format. This book doesn’t claim or pretend to be a annotated text book, to be fair. However, it can be frustrating to be told about a study that backs up an argument or counter-intuitive position, without any citation.

For example, the book asserts that “to definitively corral games or any other objects into specific categories is doomed to failure”. Which seems to ignore fields of artistic study such as art, music, literature, and theatre. Where definition and categorization is essential to be able to critical analysis and discussion.

Without being able to categorize boardgames (or anything) how can discussions from common ground be made? Even the exploration of categories can lead to insight. The study of boardgames is much younger than art or music, so I think while things may seem nebulous now, works in the future will help analyze and categorize various aspects of games.

This shows up even in the book itself. One of the chapter sections is called “Game Theory”, which ironically only has one out of twelve chapters is actually on game theory. Game theory is a very specific part of economic theory and in a book that does discusses it, I would expect that phrase not be applied to discussions of the Monty Hall problem, which is completely unrelated to game theory.

While these issues are admittedly minor, my chief issue with GameTek is the rather brief overview of topics discussed. For example, the chapter on the Monty Hall problem spends just a few paragraphs discussing the actual solution and basically says “trust me, this is the solution”. This is the standard for the book, rather than the exception.

I picked the Monty Hall chapter because over the years, it took me a while to wrap my head around the solution and have even attempted to explain it a few times. It really seemed to be glossed over in GameTek, rather that diving into the topic and exploring it fully.

The Good

This contains a large number of topics with very brief introductions to them. In many ways, it is a great tool to learn about a wide variety of topics for later research. Each chapter introduces the topic and contextualizes the issue.

The further reading section is also a fairly good reference of existing published books about board games and math that relate to games.

The Conclusion

This book is a quick introduction to over 70 topics that relate to board games in some way. It is interesting to read of different connections between topics, context of real world examples (such as Monty Hall used as a way to give away prizes at a baseball game), and some historical background.

Who Should Buy This Book

Anyone who wants an overview of many topics that can influence and effect board game play and design. It is a quick read, but lacks thorough citations and discussions.

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