Pasted-on theme? Read the book!
Phil Hendrickson
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Many eurogames are set in a real place and time. Occasionally, the theme comes through clearly in the game play; other times the theme is nothing more than a way to make the pieces and actions easier to remember. Either way, a game's theme can inspire players to learn more about the subject matter.

This list recommends books that bring to life the history, geography, or persons behind a game's theme. If a game makes you curious but it's not game night, read a book on it!

Feel free to comment with other good books that bring to life the themes of these games. However, please limit this list to non-fiction books that illuminate euro games. There are other geeklists for games based on novels, companion books for wargames, historic simulations, and such. No need to duplicate those efforts.

Play on, and read on!
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1. Board Game: Lisboa [Average Rating:8.24 Overall Rank:131]
Phil Hendrickson
United States
Seward
Nebraska
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Any board game has to make abstractions of reality, but Lisboa is Vital Lacerda's heartfelt attempt to let players experience the rebuilding of his hometown after it was devastated by earthquake, flood and fire in 1755. The actual story is even more immense than this massive game, and is told well in Mark Molesky's 2016 title, This Gulf of Fire The Destruction of Lisbon, or Apocalypse in the Age of Science and Reason.

BTW, I am NOT suggesting that this game is an example of pasted-on theme. See below for some of those.
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2. Board Game: Lorenzo il Magnifico [Average Rating:7.84 Overall Rank:169]
Phil Hendrickson
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Seward
Nebraska
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This is a fun game, and a great example of a "pasted-on theme". However, all of the leader cards are named for historic persons who were connected to the Medici family line, of whom Lorenzo was the peak. To learn about the family down the ages, read Paul Strathern's book The Medici: power, money, and ambition in the Italian Renaissance.

The games Medici and Il Vecchio also employ this theme, as do several others.
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3. Board Game: The Voyages of Marco Polo [Average Rating:7.96 Overall Rank:40]
Phil Hendrickson
United States
Seward
Nebraska
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Just back in print, The Voyages of Marco Polo has proven to be a very engaging mix of mechanisms, with enough variety to keep the game fresh across many plays. Obviously, one can read the historic book of the same title, to see what Polo (and his ghost writer) claimed about his voyages. To hit the highlights, gain some historic context, and consider what may have been fable versus reality, John Man's book Marco Polo : the Journey That Changed the World is an entertaining read.
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4. Board Game: World's Fair 1893 [Average Rating:7.29 Overall Rank:650]
Phil Hendrickson
United States
Seward
Nebraska
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This game is light, quick, and engaging. The cards all portray persons, exhibits and features of the 1893 World's Fair. The fair was quite a feat to put together, which is one of two intertwined stories in Erik Larson's book The devil in the White City: murder, magic and madness at the fair that changed America. The other half of the book tells of a creative and twisted serial killer operating in Chicago during the lively time of the fair. Scary but true.
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5. Board Game: Lewis & Clark [Average Rating:7.55 Overall Rank:138]
Phil Hendrickson
United States
Seward
Nebraska
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This clever game turns the journey of Lewis and Clark's team into a race between competing expeditions, but the mechanisms of the game and the persons named on the cards are true to history. Many books have been published on this subject, not least the journals of the co-captains themselves. An entertaining account of the journey and its impacts is shared by Stephen Ambrose in Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the opening of the American West.
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6. Board Game: Great Western Trail [Average Rating:8.28 Overall Rank:9]
Phil Hendrickson
United States
Seward
Nebraska
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GWT is a wild ride (as euro games go), and its mechanisms are pretty abstracted from how things really worked on the cattle trail. However, the theme is interesting (to some) and the mechanisms work very well to create an engaging game. Tom Clavin may have started this book from an interest in two historic characters, but ultimately Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and the wickedest town in the American West gives a great insight into life on the trail and in the towns along the way.

As you might guess, this book also adds flavor to games like Wyatt Earp and Carson City.
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7. Board Game: Steam [Average Rating:7.65 Overall Rank:109]
Phil Hendrickson
United States
Seward
Nebraska
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Who doesn't love a good train game? Okay, some of you don't. But many do, which is why several of them are rated highly, and more keep coming. Building a railroad across the American continent is another interesting and entertaining setting, where countless people exploited grand opportunities, vices and vanity. Stephen Ambrose tells many lively stories along the way in Nothing like it in the world: the men who built the transcontinental railroad, 1863-1869.
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8. Board Game: Shipyard [Average Rating:7.38 Overall Rank:436]
Phil Hendrickson
United States
Seward
Nebraska
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What's it like to build an ocean liner, and how is life aboard one? Explore the building aspects in Shipyard, but learn more details about life aboard ship (and why the Blue Riband scores points) in Erik Larson's Dead wake: the last crossing of the Lusitania. It's a good read, but don't expect a happy ending.

If you like this theme, as I do, perhaps you are also looking forward to Mac Gerdts' Transatlantic, coming soon!
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9. Board Game: 1775: Rebellion [Average Rating:7.79 Overall Rank:247]
Phil Hendrickson
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Open rebellion broke out in 1775, thus the name of the game. However, most of the significant battles took place in 1776, as well as the historical politicking that allowed the rebellion to be prosecuted to success. These are detailed to great effect in David McCullough's great read, 1776.

While one might argue that this is a wargame, it plays much like a euro game wearing a uniform.
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10. Board Game: The Grizzled [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:289]
Phil Hendrickson
United States
Seward
Nebraska
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It's been argued that WWI created the modern world. It also demonstrated horrific warfare on a scale that left individual soldiers without hope and feeling that their survival was entirely out of their hands. I won't get into the metaphysics of existence here, but this game does a great job of conveying that sense of hoping against hopelessness. To observe the scope and significance of the war, check out John Keegan's magisterial The First World War.
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11. Board Game: Expedition: Northwest Passage [Average Rating:7.07 Overall Rank:1079]
Tom Flatt
Canada
Whitecourt
Alberta
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Long the dream of navigators the world over, the quest for the Northwest Passage and its leader, Sir John Franklin, has been a popular topic for many years. The relatively recent Frozen In Time: The Fate Of The Franklin Expedition by Owen Beattie and John Geiger provides a riveting look at the expedition and what we have found out about it.

As an aside: for those who enjoy the such fare, Lady Franklin's Revenge by Ken McGoogan is a memorable look at Sir John Franklin's forward thinking wife who was a staunch advocate of his claim to fame!

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12. Board Game: Three Kingdoms Redux [Average Rating:8.11 Overall Rank:915]
Keng Leong Yeo
Singapore
Singapore
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小富靠勤,中富靠智,大富靠德。
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The very first sentence of the novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, that the game Three Kingdoms Redux is based on:

天下大勢,分久必合,合久必分。

Translation: All great powers reunify after long periods of division, wane and break up after long periods of unification.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms is often described as 70% history and 30% fiction. Based on the three kingdoms era of Chinese history, the novel is one of the four great classical novels of chinese literature. It covers the century from late 1st century to the late 2nd century, when the Han dynasty failed and numerous warlords rose to carve up ancient China. This eventually consolidated into three power blocs, i.e. Wei, Wu and Shu.

I have read the novel a few times. The first time I attempted to do so, it took me half a year, because the chinese it was written in was tough going for me. But I persevered and was rewarded with a vast improvement in my chinese vocabulary and an epic of a story. I introduced the story to my girlfriend and later wife, and she was and still is equally enamoured by the story.

When designing Three Kingdoms Redux, my Significant Other and I aimed to capture most of the key aspects of the period and novel into the main game mechanics. Most other three kingdoms-related board games only concentrated on the war aspect.

Further light reading for BGG-ers who are new to the three kingdoms era:

Quotes from Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Three Kingdoms Redux: A Historical Perspective
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13. Board Game: John Company [Average Rating:7.76 Overall Rank:1826]
Morten K
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For this you have John Keay's 'The Honourable Company'.
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14. Board Game: Pax Pamir [Average Rating:7.66 Overall Rank:1046]
Australia
NSW
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William Dalrymple's "Return of a King" is a great companion piece.

I know the Pax series skirts the edges of "Euro", so apologies if this doesn't quite fit the remit.

But it's the first thing that came to mind. The book tells the story of the period, but perhaps more interestingly, does so with abundant reference to Afghan sources, which is just perfect for providing background information on a game which asks the player to play as an Afghan tribal leader. Having an understanding of the politics at multiple levels and knowing all the characters on the cards helps to make this game even more immersive. So glad my local library's copy caught my eye!
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15. Board Game: Hannibal & Hamilcar [Average Rating:8.76 Overall Rank:2335]
Ian H
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"The Ghosts of Cannae: Hannibal & the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic" does a great job of capturing the history of the most famous battle of the second Punic war. The focus is on Cannae, but it gives lots of background on the conflicts between Rome and Carthage leading up to and following from the battle. It avoids the pitfall of becoming too focused on just the battle and spends lots of time on the interesting politics involved on both sides.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8078106-the-ghosts-of-ca...
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16. Board Game: Neanderthal [Average Rating:7.58 Overall Rank:1134] [Average Rating:7.58 Unranked]
Alex Kendrick
United States
Madison
Wisconsin
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One of my favorite games. It is excellent solitaire, but very fun if you find 1-2 players of a similar mindset. If you are interested in human evolution and the origins of language, culture, and/or sexuality this is a game for you.

For related reading see these two books by Jared Diamond:

The Third Chimpanzee
http://www.worldcat.org/title/third-chimpanzee-the-evolution...

Why is Sex Fun?
http://www.worldcat.org/title/why-is-sex-fun-the-evolution-o...


EDIT: Not sure this totally qualifies for the pasted on theme requirement. whistle If this is too thematic, I can delete. laugh
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17. Board Game: 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis [Average Rating:7.56 Overall Rank:507]
Christoffer Fast
Sweden
Mönsterås
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After having played this gem of a game a couple of times (and read the accompanying short historical summary), I felt that I just had to have more. MORE! So I found One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War by Michael Dobbs at my local library. Great read! It does away with some of the popular myths surrounding the event, but also uncovers alot of previously unknown details that makes the whole thing even more captivating.

Purportedly, the game designers themselves have also read the book
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18. Board Game: ZhanGuo [Average Rating:7.65 Overall Rank:394]
Andy Eberly
United States
Brownsburg
Indiana
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I greatly enjoy the brain exercise of this game, but many say its theme about the unification of China is pasted on. However pasted it may be, it was sufficient to peak my interest about this period in Chinese history. I found The Early Chinese Empires: Qin and Han by Mark Edward Lewis very interesting and informative. http://www.worldcat.org/title/early-chinese-empires-qin-and-...

Fun fact: the first Emperor of China had his "doctors" make elixirs of eternal life for him...they contained mercury...he did not obtain eternal life.

It is also the 1st volume in a 6 part series if you want to read further on Chinese history.
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19. Board Game: Navegador [Average Rating:7.58 Overall Rank:162]
Phil Hendrickson
United States
Seward
Nebraska
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The Age of Discovery is the setting for Navegador, as well as Empires: Age of Discovery (and its predecessors) and several other games. We all admit that the sailing exploits of the great explorers were impressive, but most of us do not fully appreciate the extreme hardships faced by these brave crews. Laurence Bergreen's Over the Edge of the World shows in great detail the perils faced by the sailors who went with Magellan on the first successful trip around the world. Only a few finished the journey, and they only barely made it. Bergreen also does not shy away from the failures and mistakes made along the way. This is another fascinating story, well told.
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