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The Book of Classic Board Games

A review of Klutz Press' effort to find the 15 best board games ever invented

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Choosing the 15 best board games of all-time is a Herculean task, and one that some would argue is wise to avoid. But the folks at Klutz Press dove right in, and the result is a book that should be part of every board gamer's library: The Book of Classic Board Games.

The book, oversized and printed on heavy card stock, comes with all the equipment you need to play all 15 games. It includes only abstract games in the public domain. For obvious copyright-related reasons, games like Monopoly and Diplomacy couldn't be included.

Even so, some of Klutz's choices are very interesting.

The Easy Choices

Let's start with the givens: Backgammon, Checkers, Go and Mancala. No arguments there. Each game is, in its own right, a classic. Although it's mentioned in the introduction, Chess isn't featured, presumably because it would have required special pieces to be included with the book. (The pieces which do accompany the book are simple black and white markers, along with two six-sided dice.)

Others that could be considered near-locks include Nine Men's Morris, 3-D Tic Tac Toe, Solitaire and Hasami Shogi. The latter is a derivative of Shogi (also known as Japanese Chess).

The Controversial Choices

From there, the arguments can begin. First, it's important to note that all of the games included are eminently playable and enjoyable. And there's no reason to doubt that the Klutz braintrust spent countless hours playing -- uh, working hard -- to choose those games that made the final cut.

Klutz's criteria included several factors: the games had to be suitable for all ages, the rules had to be straightforward (the book boasts "the world's first set [of backgammon rules] to be written for and by normal human beings"), the games had to be enjoyable on several levels, and serious strategists had to have the ability to work their brains.

Sid Sackson, author of A Gamut of Games and himself a designer of numerous wonderful games (including Acquire), served as primary games consultant for Klutz Press.

So what games made the cut?

Dalmation Pirates and the Volga Bulgars is interesting mainly because it's a game where one player starts with two pieces and the other begins with 24. The two pieces (the Volga Bulgars) are charged with defending a fortress against an onslaught by the 24 (the Dalmation Pirates). Two games are played; the winner is the one who suffered the fewest casualties while playing as the Pirates.

Brax is a cousin of another featured game, Cats and Dogs. Both are related to checkers and involve players sliding pieces along pre-determined course. In Brax, the color of the course you choose determines how fast your pieces move (1 or 2 spots per turn). The goal is to eliminate all of your opponent's pieces.

In Cats and Dogs, players try to move their "top cat" or "top dog" to the center of the board. Unfortunately, there's only one path to accomplish that task -- and any obstacle halts progress. The duty of the other 17 cats and dogs is to clear the path by jumping the opponent's pieces.

Hoppers is a two-player version of Chinese checkers.

Roundabouts, with its colorful looping board, rewards sneaky players and punishes those who don't plan ahead. Moving can only be done from point to point, but a series of eight loops come into play when it's time to capture an opponent's piece. This game is also known as Surakarta.

In Hex, the goal is to be the first to connect two sides of a 9x9 board filled with 81 hexagonal spaces. It's the only game in the book which can be enjoyed by four players simultaneously.

Last but not least is Fandango. Players capture pieces by approach or withdrawal, meaning there's a lot of bloodshed (figuratively, of course) in a hurry. It's not uncommon to capture three or more of your opponent's pieces in a single move. The goal is to eliminate your opponent from the board.

An Enthusiastic Recommendation

There you have it. The 15 best board games of all time. Although you may quibble with some of the choices, the fact is that Klutz Press did a superb job in packaging a collection of 15 highly enjoyable board games into a single book that you can take with you anywhere.

The Book of Classic Board Games rates an enthusiastic recommendation.

All of the Games

An alphabetical list of the 15 games included in The Book of Classic Board Games:

  • 3-D Tic Tac Toe
  • Backgammon
  • Brax
  • Cats and Dogs
  • Checkers
  • Dalmation Pirates and the Volga Bulgars
  • Fandango
  • Go (Chinese rules, 8x8 board)
  • Hasami Shogi
  • Hex
  • Hoppers
  • Mancala
  • Nine Men's Morris
  • Roundabouts
  • Solitaire

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