Thursday, April 12, 2018

Book Review: GameTek by Geoff Engelstein

GameTek: The Math and Science of Gaming: The First Ten Years by Geoff Engelstein

I've been a fan of the Dice Tower podcast for a long time. The podcast is about board games and card games and has had segments from many contributors. The most consistent contributor is Geoff Engelstein. His GameTek segments have run since 2007. They've covered not only math and science in games, but also theory, psychology, and history. The segments are typically under five minutes and deal with one issue. His attitude is both upbeat and curious, exploring all sorts of ideas that strike his fancy. The games he references run the gamut from simple ones like tic-tac-toe and rock-paper-scissors to deeper and harder games like Die Macher and the 18XX games.

The book contains seventy-one of the transcripts from the GameTek segments, lightly edited. Engelstein has added the occasional illustration, chart, or diagram to help explain the concepts presented. Those are great. Unfortunately, the book could use more editing. I don't mind the occasional typo or grammatical snafu, but occasionally the math or example is wrong (the two instances I wrote down are on pages 233 and 268). When the book is about the math of gaming, it is imperative to get the math right. As a reader, it makes me wonder about concepts (like autocatalytic sets discussed on pp. 94-95) that I don't quite understand. Am I not smart enough or is there a problem with the text? My skeptic light switched on at some point, making the book less enjoyable.

Which does not mean that I dislike the book. Many practical tips and interesting ideas are presented that I will come back to in future gaming and just for the fun of pondering. Also, the book has a list of recommended reading. I've marked off several volumes for further reading on topics like chaos theory, statistics, and game design. Any book that can get me to read about statistics has got to be good.

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