If you enjoy boardgaming the chances are you enjoy a good read as well, and books have certainly been a rich source of inspiration for boardgames over the years. Here’s a quick look at some of the myriad games based on well-known books. if you enjoyed the book, now play the game—or vice versa!

Frank Herbert’s Dune is a classic of science-fiction writing, and a series that has gone on and on (though, to this reader, the first three—Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune—are the original and best). A game of the book was released in by Avalon Hill in 1979, and it is universally recognised as being an excellent game that captures the flavour of the books incredibly well, with a lot of player interaction. You’ll represent various factions trying to control the planet of Dune and its spice trade using negotiation and bluffing, all while dealing with sandstorms, the mammoth sandworms, and the military forces of the other players. Some gamers have gone to amazing lengths to create their own versions of this much-loved game—one even created his own custom-made table inlaid with rare woods! The good news is—for those of us with far less time and money on their hands—Fantasy Flight Games is in the process of re-releasing Dune in a brand new version. The bad news is that it will no longer be based on the Dune books, but on a different licence—Warhammer 40,000 perhaps?

I’ve mentioned the epic wargame War of the Ring several times before, and there are no prizes for guessing which famous series of books this game is based on—yes, J. R. R. Tolkein’s timeless Lord of the Rings trilogy.WotR is an exceptional gaming experience in its own right, but the way it captures the feel of the novels, and builds upon their epic quality by also focussing on the epic battles of the Third Age, is extraordinary. There are several games based on the trilogy, but WotR is the most impressive in my opinion. Also don’t forget to try the other fantastic wargame by the same authors, Age of Conan, which is based on the series of swords-and-sorcery classics by Robert E. Howard (and other writers such as L. Sprague de Camp). It doesn’t quite capture the adventuring spirit of the Conan stories, but it is an excellent wargame in its own right.

Arkham Horror (2005) has also been mentioned many times in my previous articles. This game draws on the inventions of H.P. Lovecraft and later writers who created fiction using his unique Cthulhu mythos. The Mayfair game Witch of Salem (2008) also draws heavily on the Cthulhu mythos, this time from Wolfgang Hohlbein’s book series, and it features some stunning artwork. They are both very different games, and while re-creating the unique atmosphere of Lovecraft’s books is a challenge that will probably never be met—you’d probably have to go insane first!—there’s plenty here to keep cosmic horror fans happy.

Fantasy Flight Games has certainly got a lot of mileage out of its licence of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series of fantasy novels. I discussed the new Battles of Westeros in my last article, but don’t forget the Game of Thrones LCG (2008), and the A Game of Thrones (2003) boardgame. The Living Card Game has been expanding for some time now and at last count there were 32 expansion packs and more on the way! The boardgame has two expansions, A Clash of Kings (2004) and A Storm of Swords (2006). In the game, each players is one of the great Houses of Westeros and attempts to control the land with a mixture of resource management, diplomacy and cunning—and of course wielding armies and unique characters from the books. I have yet to play A Game of Thrones, but I hear it captures the flavour of the books extremely well.

Another game I haven’t played myself, 1960: The Making of the President (Z-Man, 2007) is based on The Making of the President, 1960, by Theodore White and published in 1961, which won the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction. This two player, card-driven game explores the 1960 American presidential race beween John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon, and is played on an electoral map of the USA. You’ll have to deal with a wide range of political and social issues of the time in your race for the White House.


The Pillars of the Earth (Kosmos, 2006) is based on the best-selling 1989 novel by Ken Follett, about the building of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge, England. The game was awarded the 2007 Deutscher Spiele Preis, the Spanish ‘Game of the Year 2007’ and the Norwegian ‘Best Family Game of 2007’ and the GAMES Magazine Game of the Year 2007. A new stand-alone game, World Without End, was published two years later and is based on the book’s sequel. In classic Eurogame style, these games involve lots of resource management, production, buying and selling, and victory points!

Kosmos have published an entire line of literature-based games, among them Reiner Knizia’s co-operative Lord of the Rings game (2003); Around the World in 80 Days (2005) and Journey to the Center of the Earth(2008) based on the Jules Verne classics; Beowulf: The Legend (2006, and later published by Fantasy Flight); The Golden Compass (2008), based on Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy; and The Swarm(2009, published by Z-Man in English) and based on the novel by Frank Schätzing.

Ravensburger published a game in 2008 based on Umberto Eco’s wonderful story of murder and deduction in a medievalmonastery, The Name of the Rose. The Days of Wonder game Mystery of the Abbey (1996) could also be said to have drawn heavily for its inspiration on this novel, involving as it does the deductive search for a murderer among the monks of an abbey.

There are some old fantasy and science-fiction classics that are certainly ripe for re-publishing in a more modern form, amongthem Starship Troopers (Avalon Hill, 1976) based on the classic Robert A. Heinlein story; and Dragonriders of Pern (Mayfair, 1983), from Anne McCaffrey’s series of fantasy/sci-fi novels.

Of course, early out-of-copyright classics are a goldmine for game designers—and not only because no intellectual property rights need be obtained and paid for! Games Workshop’s Fury of Dracula (1987), and its Fantasy Flight Games re-vamp (pun intended) in 2006 are of course drawn from the Bram Stoker book we all know and love, Dracula, first published in 1897. The game is one of my all-time favourites and positively drips with the atmosphere of the novel. Tales of the Arabian Nights (2009), recently completely redesigned by Z-Man Games (with graphic design by yours truly), recreates the world of One Thousand and One Nights and the timeless stories of Scheherazade. The first English language edition of this collection of Middle Eastern and South Asian stories and folk tales (including the tales of Aladdin and his lamp, Ali Baba and the forty thieves, and the seven yoyages of Sinbad), was published in 1706 as The Arabian Nights’ EntertainmentTales of the Arabian Nights is a game of pure fun where players create their own story; strategy gamers beware, this is a game for those who like a good laugh and a lot of fun and are happy to let control of the game run away from them!

Days of Wonders’ Shadows Over Camelot (2005) is a beautifully produced co-operative game inspired by Arthurian legends, most notably those written down by Sir Thomas Malory in Le Morte d’Arthur, first published in 1485. It could be said that this game kicked of the current craze for co-operative games; it’s an enjoyable game that is great for families, and the lurking possibility of one of the players being a traitor definitely spices things up a bit!

Of course this article just touches on the huge array of games available that seek to re-create the many places available to us between the covers of a book (or the electronic pages of an iPad, if you’re that way inclined). Whether immersing yourself in a familiar world, or changing the course of events, or creating your own stories, games offer an extra level of interactivity that a book cannot—yet another reason why gaming is such an absorbing and interesting pastime!

by Universal Head

For more information about the games mentioned in this article, visit the publisher sites or BoardgameGeek (www.boardgamegeek.com). You can also find rules summaries and reference sheets for many of these games at Headless Hollow (www.headlesshollow.com/freebies_games.html).

Universal Head (www.universalhead.com), has been designing for clients across the globe for more than twenty years, and playing games for much longer than that. He’s responsible for the graphic design of several boardgames, notably ‘Tales of the Arabian Nights’ by Z-Man Games, and once spent an entire year recreating the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in 3D for a computer game. In between he’s designed just about every form of visual communication: corporate identities, websites, packaging, brochures, even postage stamps. He also created the game websites www.tekumel.com andwww.battleloremaster.com. His blog site www.headlesshollow.com is an obsessive repository of professionally designed rules summaries and reference sheets for popular boardgames.