BooksNonfictionReviews

David M. Ewalt – Of Dice And Men (a book review)

Many, many summers ago, when I was just a kid – and before the advent of home computers, the past-time was usually spent by reading books, playing outside (well, it was not that dangerous back then), watching what little kiddie entertainment was on our TVs or playing games – card games and/or boardgames. Nothing too complicated, but it did the trick.

Horse-races and betting, the Czechoslovak rip-off of Monopoly

Then someone somwhere has discovered Monopoly and because why to pay for licencing rights, bright folks in then commie Czechoslovakia came up with the concept of horse-races. Well, instead of buying and developing properties, you’ve bought horses and train them. The concept was the same, but hey, who knew about Monopoly anyway, right? Well, certainly not kids in Czechoslovakia (and just as a side note, Monopoly did have also a nice post-commie era rip-off called Business Simulator, which I have used to play with my friends for countless hours).

A Dragon’s Lair, Czech version of Dungeons & Dragons

But the end of the Iron Curtain has brought the influx of the ideas we had never thought about. And one day I have received a book catalogue from one Czech distribution service and I’d found something strange. A gamebook (rulebook) for a pen-and-paper game called “A Dragon’s Lair”. Well, to make the explanation short, it was basically a Czech version (I don’t want to use a “rip-off” term again, although…well…) of what is known globally as Dungeons & Dragons. Oh my, how badly I’ve wanted to play it.

But I was alone in my persistence. Kids simply didn’t want to memorize rules and go with an abstract, imagined worlds. Shame.

From then on, I was aware of D&D (or AD&D, where A stands for Advanced), but never actually played any games based on these. Again, the language barrier was definitely a factor.

Fast forward a lot of years and I am living in the North West of England, in the lovely town of Burnley and ocassionally visiting the local game shop. That was the spot I’ve played my first D&D game along with my stepson (the idea was to introduce him to gaming, but it was just a cover up for being able to attend myself, but pssst…don’t tell anyone). From Magic The Gathering to D&D, we’ve sampled many nice games there, but unfortunately, we can’t attend regularly, so that’s that.

Anyway, I like the phenomenon as much as the next person there and because I am keen on reading about the history of various events or inventions, I’ve searched on Amazon for something related to history of boardgames, wargames and Dungeons & Dragons. And among a few titles I’ve found this nice book I want to tell you about.

The author, David M. Ewalt

David M. Ewalt is a journalist and a geek. Or nerd, if you will. And he’s also a keen D&D player, so,naturally, he knows his stuff. And “Of Dice And Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It” is a lovely shout-out not only to the veterans of D&D gaming who might not be aware of the history/development of the game, but also to the noobs/newbies like me, who want some interesting, well-written introduction to the gaming, especially related to D&D.

Although the book goes a little beyond that as well, because Ewalt mentions also miniature wargaming, which is still a hot topic to this day, especially with the rising popularity of Warhammer 40,000 gaming and the readers has the opportunity to familiarize themselves with various companies (Avalon Hill, Parker Brothers, TSR, Wizards of the Coast) and their products (Risk, Gettysburg etc.).

Gary Gygax, one of the developers of D&D

The book relates the history and the development of the D&D and we learn about various more or less known things – the split between Gygax and Arneson, so-called “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s and its relation to role-playing games and especially D&D and the ressurection of role-playing gaming.

David Arneson, other inventor of the Dungeons & Dragons

Well written and interwined with Ewalt’s storytelling of playing his own D&D game, this 285 pages long paperback is easy to read and (in my case) re-read. I like well-written books and this one is one of those.

So, if you like games, no matter which ones (computer or board games, or card) this one’s for you. You might find something of the lasting value here.

But be forewarned – D&D can be a costly hobby. But a very rewarding hobby nonetheless.

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Rudolf Schütz

A father to two little perpetuum mobiles called kids, Rudolf is a main force behind The Rubber Axe webzine, a bookworm, musick lover and a movie fan - not to mention his virgin forays into the comics and board/card games.

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