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Book Review: Everybody Wins

Everybody Wins (by James Wallis) is not a text book, but a kind of "one man's journey playing every winning game of the Spiel Des Jahres". It isn't heavy on accuracy and often defers to personal perception rather than doing any kind of research to support it's many strongly held beliefs. 


 For those who might not be familiar with the highest (and one of the few) awards given to board games, a brief overview. The Spiel Des Jahres is given out by a committee of board game journalists (originally) each year, to the "best family game". While that may be nebulous, it is intentionally so, with the Spiel committee shunning the idea that it is the "best" game, but one that is preferred by the critics on the committee.

Everybody wins is a kind of weird review of every Spiel winner since the inception of the award in 1978. The book format is pretty straight forward. Each chapter discusses a specific year's winner, sometimes with a small amount of background. The chapters are then bound together based on some loose categories like 'early winners', or 'golden age'.

I feel like 'discussion' describes each chapter best, as they are not really reviews. They briefly describe the game play, but spend more time complaining about why the game is the best game of all time, or why the game didn't actually deserve to win and just general belly aching.

There are brief call outs to the first appearance of game mechanics such as deck building, worker placement, etc. These call outs are not well researched and are sometimes inaccurate. Some small notes of other game nominees are occasionally made as well. The most interesting information such as these are minimal and not the focus of the book.


The Bad

The Physical Book

The user experience of a book should be largely immaterial, however, this book is so poorly designed that it must be called out. The book clearly was not proof read as a physical product, I would guess only digital proofs where used. This is very apparent in the the sidebars that generally appear in each chapter. While useful for explaining mechanics like 'worker placement', every sidebar has a background color.

The contrast between the small (pt. 8) font and the very dark background renders the text illegible. In fact, I literally had to buy a magnifying glass with built in light to read the sidebars. I showed the sidebars to a number of people and everyone had trouble reading the text, if they could at all. This is just such an elementary, rookie mistake that it is embarrassing (and frustrating) to see in a product published by someone like Asmodee.

A Surplus of Opinions, a Lack of Facts

The author spends a fraction of each chapter talking about the game and why it might have won and instead devotes the majority to why they don't like the game, why it shouldn't have won the Spiele, why they don't like the graphic design or name, ad nauseam. If more time was spent on the the facts of each game rather than personal opinion, the book could have been very interesting.

The author has very clear favorites and those are given much praise, but they don't actually get any more concrete information, just more opinions on why the game is so great. For example talking about Ticket to Ride, "It's deeply satisfying to play", "you don't feel bitter towards any particular player", etc. Statements built on personal preference, not actual insights into why someone might be satisfied to play. Also, per the statement about bitterness, the author assumes that his personal experience is the only one, any player could ever have. I have personally witnessed a lot of animosity, when someone completes a route another player was one card away from.

The worst part of the opinions in the book, is that they are presented as undisputed facts. For example, the author claims that Scotland Yard resists attempts to quarterback, except that Scotland Yard is fairly infamous for having that exact problem. The author doesn't say how Scotland Yard prevents quarterbacking (one playing basically running the game for the others, by making all decisions and telling everyone what to do). Some people believe that by having a 1 vs many game, that there won't be quarterbacking, but that isn't true in any way, shape, or form.

An Absence of Research

The author also shows a general ignorance of certain games and the fact they didn't even google some of the 'facts' they present. For example, in discussing the 1991 Spiel winner, Drunter & Druber, the author compares it to the mobile game 'Snake' which hasn't been invented yet, so clearly, (says the author), the designer of Drunter & Druber cannot have been influenced by it. But a very simple google search shows that Snake was actually first introduced in 1976 via arcade games. So, the author is saying it is ridiculous that a game in 1991 was influenced by a 15 year old, very popular arcade game? Unfortunately, this kind of sloppy research is evident throughout the book.

The author also claims we lack the vocabulary in English to describe what makes a game pleasing. Not only is this idea laughable and ridiculous, but is easily refuted by such book as Rules of Play (2003), A Theory of Fun for Game Design (2013), or even The Power of Fun (2023). While "fun" can be a very nebulous and personal concept, there is much discussion over it.

Favorite Children

Ticket to Ride is clearly a favorite of the author and they imply that everyone loves the game and that even if you lose the game it is still so much fun because of the routes you build. However, this is clearly a personal opinion. It should be presented as such. Not everyone enjoys Ticket to Ride and to act as if one's personal opinion is reflected by everyone else it just plain arrogance, and destructive of other people's agency.

It is very clear when the author really dislikes a game, as they will resort to nitpicking various things that truly do not matter to the game play. For example, the 2005 winner Niagara is clearly disliked by the author. He picks on the theme for Niagara, while overlooking the many absurdities in games like Ticket to Ride. Every game is an abstraction and every game has arbitrary rules (otherwise it would not be a game). To nitpick Niagara really shows a lack of character that later comes up often, particularly in a chapter about Dixit.

Dixit is another very disliked game. Rather than focus on legitimate critics of the mechanics, the author resorts to basic gate-keeping, focusing on the similarities between Dixit and other 'dictionary' games. While the author does justify their opinion that Dixit isn't fun for beginners or groups of strangers, they do so based entirely by deciding that some outcomes in Dixit aren't "fun". To make the blanket statement that everybody guessing your card or nobody guessing your card isn't fun and hence the entire game cannot be fun, is again, assuming that what the author feels, everyone feels, and is the only 'correct' way to feel. The author completely ignores that there are many rounds of play in Dixit, is hugely successful, and played by many new gamers.

There are many, many instances in the book where the author makes a blindly ignorant statement and then does not back it up at all. For example, when talking about Kingdomino on page 189, the author says "The English-speaking world's reluctance to learn other language is still an impediment in the world of games.". The author did not bother to do any research for their opinions, why would then? The truth is that many, if not most games are renamed into the local market language when they are released there. Pick any game on a board game encyclopedia website, like "A Game of Thrones Board Game" you will see under versions, many different names that the game is sold under. This is not unusual nor is it a "sin" of the English speaking markets.

The Good

This book does cover each game winner, and occasionally provides some interesting insight into the games covered, and adds historical details. The book does also provide photos that do help illustrate each game and it is interesting to 'see' each game and get a sense of how games have changed physically, over time.

The Conclusion

There are a few tantalizing tidbits in this book that could have been made into an interesting and fascinating book. However, that was not done. Instead we have a book that is about 80% opinion without much substantiation. The information in this book is not unique. It can easily be accessed with more insight on other websites.

Who Should Buy This Book

Quite frankly, I cannot think of anyone who should really buy this book. Maybe someone who wants a $40 checklist of games to try out. Or someone who doesn't have internet access. The truth is that a list of Spiel winners is very easy to come by and there are several board game encyclopedias out there. This one adds very little.

That being said, I must admit, that I personally have tried some of the games mentioned in the book and enjoyed them enough to purchase them (Thurn and Taxis). I strongly recommend the journey, but you can easily find a better guide book.


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