Games by Godfrey Hall, 1995.
This book is part of the Traditions Around the World series, which explains different aspects of culture around the world. Each book in the series focuses on a different cultural topic and then explains traditions regarding that topic in different countries. This one is all about games of various kinds.
The games are organized into sections by continent, and the book covers a variety of board games, party games, and sports. Not all of the games are explained in detail. Many of them have brief descriptions, explaining what types of games they are and when they are usually played, and there are some with complete instructions.
I was originally interested in the histories of the some of the games, but the book doesn’t always explain the history of games or tell how old they are. There is some of that type of information, but some of it is a little vague, just mentioning that these are games are played or have been played in certain countries. Of course, when dealing with such a broad topic in a short book, it can be difficult to go into detail on everything, and when it comes to cultural topics, like games, their origins aren’t always known or obvious. Many games have their origins in many different countries. Sometimes, it’s because they are based on such universal concepts that many different societies naturally come up with their own variations (like games involving tossing a ball or hiding and seeking). Other times, it’s because the games have been played in many different countries over the centuries, and everywhere they’ve been played, rules have been altered or pieces and boards redesigned to take their modern form, like Checkers and Chess. Sometimes, this has happened so many times, it can be difficult to say exactly how the very oldest forms were played like with Backgammon. This book mention that people in China play Backgammon, but it’s actually a game played all over the world, related to ancient board games from Ancient Rome, Egypt, and the Middle East. The book doesn’t really go into its history.
I think that the two strength of this book are the variety of games it covers and the pictures it shows of real people playing different games. The book discusses ancient board games like Go (China and Japan), unusual sports like hurling (from Ireland), and children’s playground games, like How Deep Is the Water? (from Germany) as well as some common games that are played around the world, like jacks (an ancient game that has been played in many variations, called variously knucklebones, jackstones, etc.). Some games and game concepts are universal, but there are some unique gems that are particular to certain areas. Seeing the pictures makes the games come alive and also makes the descriptions easier to understand. That is one of the things that I really like about children’s books, and I wish more adult books would make better use of pictures. They really are worth a thousand words.