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6 minutes reading time (1225 words)

Your Move: What Board Games Teach Us About Life

Thank you, Sutherland House, for sending us this book to review!

Your Move: What Board Games Teach Us About Life by Joan Moriarity and Jonathan Kay and published by Sutherland House is a wonderfully written 166-page paperback book consisting of fifteen chapters. As stated in the first chapter, each is written as an individual essay and they do not have to be read in order. I will say, though, that later chapters did make some references to previous ones, but not significant enough to where one wouldn’t be able to comprehend the section they are reading. It is simply things like “As I mentioned in the previous chapter, this is where I reiterate my point.”

Chapter one is called “Welcome to the Magic Circle.” Joan Moriarity writes to explain the basic unwritten contract everyone silently agrees on before starting a tabletop game. If the participants are absolute perfectionists, there is no room for fun; likewise, if at least one of them is too bored or lazy to even bother trying, it spoils the game for the whole table. “In order to enjoy play, to be playful,” she writes, “players must realize that the freedom to fail is as essential as the will to succeed.” (Moriarity 6)

Chapter two is called “Peaceful Games from War-torn Europe.” It focuses on the many differences between American board games and European board games, or Eurogames, as they are called. “And so almost every Eurogame is designed so that final scoring comes only at the end of the game, after some defined milestone or turn limit so that every player can enjoy the experience of being a (nominal) contender until the final moments.” (Kay 18)

Chapter three is called “A Checkered Life.” It covers the history of the board game that we now know as Life, along with some issues with its concept and moral differences between it and what it originated from.

Chapter four, titled “An Offer You Can’t Refuse,” addresses what we can learn from Chinatown and No Thanks!. These are both games that reveal the human nature to desire to “spite” our opponents as a form of social justice fulfillment.

Chapter five, “Cures for Pandemics and Alpha Players” goes into more depth as to the unspoken contract everyone agrees to that ensures a fun game: No cheating, don’t be too serious, and don’t ruin the game by not trying. To illustrate this, the author uses the game Pandemic.

Chapter six, titled “The Zombie Survivor’s Dilemma” explores the lessons learned from cooperative board games accompanied by their advantages and disadvantages along with possible reasons that some people – including Jonathan Kay, the co-author – dislike cooperative board games. Moriarity goes into detail about a game called Dead of Winter.

Chapter seven, called “The Game That Explains Everything” discusses the realistic qualities in Monopoly and what it can teach us about economics and modern-day capitalism.

Chapter eight is called “The Stupid Free Parking Rule,” and its title refers to a certain rule people often incorporate into their games of Monopoly. People frequently insist on playing Monopoly in a way that ensures that money that would otherwise be collected by the bank goes to the middle of the board until a player lands on the “Free parking” space. That player receives all of the bank money that has been accumulated throughout the game. Moriarity explains why this rule defies the sole premise of Monopoly and provides ten possible reasons why people often choose to play this way.

Chapter nine, titled “All Your Culture Are Belong To Us” reveals the fact that even in board games – an area that is usually free from anything being taken personally – people are starting to care more about political correctness and accuracy when depicting cultures. Kay uses four different titles along with his own experiences to prove his point.

Chapter ten, “Inside the Mind of an Inuit Hero,” shows how our understanding of Indigenous peoples has influenced the creation of not only historical documentaries and novels but also board games and other forms of literature. He notes how good games are with their historically accurate plots, mainly using Greenland as and example along with a few other games.

Chapter eleven features Joan Moriarity ranting about how not only is Scattergories a bad game that ruins relationships but it is sacrilegious – hence the chapter name: “Scattergories and Sacriledge” – in the perspective of those who value the play space as sacred.

Jonathan Kay explains the reason he dislikes Scrabble and believes it to be overrated in chapter twelve, “The Fine Line Between Work and Play.” Scrabble players see words only as an opportunity to score points rather than looking for their meaning. He uses several analogies to prove his point.

Chapter thirteen is called “Horrible People,” and it is about the game premise of Apples to Apples and Cards Against Humanity, two virtually identical board games with very different histories. The author then goes into detail on how she thought the target audience for Cards Against Humanity would consist of those less likely to get offended by its content and was proven very wrong.

Chapter fourteen recognizes the fact that Advanced Squad Leader, like all tabletop games, provides players with a path to self-improvement, so long as they are alive to the lessons of the gameboard. The author concludes the chapter, titled “Discovering Myself by Invading Belgium,” by explaining why we should all enter the board gaming world, because failure and mistakes would result in consequence only outside of the magic circle.

Chapter fifteen, “Power Fantasies and the Power of Fantasies,” describes Moriarity’s child-born interest for Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) and how she developed it by playing it with other kids she knew at school and sometimes strangers. She learned that imagination is more important than any physical accouterments and that understanding the rules matters less than creativeness. She also learned through her own experience that as a Dungeon Master, it is best to give the players what they want, even if it is stupid.

Lastly, after the final chapter of the book is a recorded interview between the two authors of Your Move: What Board Games Teach Us About Life. They discuss what writing the book together has taught them, and they both offer legitimate answers. Both of them admitted to have ended up writing their chapters with a bit more personality than originally intended, but they recorded some personal realizations.

I noticed a couple of instances in which a parenthese was closed and not opened. One of these occurrences in particular was on page no. 77. Other than that, I noticed no other major issues in grammar or writing style.

It does have some swear words in it and a bit of blasphemy. This includes ‘d*mned,’ ‘f*cking,’ ‘g*dd*mn,’ ‘j*ck*ss,’ ‘b*st*rd,’ and ‘b*d*ss.’ Moriarity also reveals herself as a transgender woman at the end of the book (157). Other than the moral issues, though, I found Your Move: What Board Games Teach Us About Life is to be a very interesting read, and I think it would be more so for those invested in the board gaming community in any way. To any such people I would recommend this title.


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