July 5th, 2017

Tristan Donovan’s NYC Book Launch

My voice was shot.

In twelve hours’ time I was supposed to be reading from my latest book, It’s All a Game: The History of Board Games from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan, at the Uncommons board game cafe in Manhattan. But with the clock ticking my vocal chords had betrayed me and reduced my voice to a faint croak.

My ever lovely agent Isabel Atherton had rushed to the drug store for some super-powered throat medicine but no amount of that foul-tasting gunk made any difference. I went to sleep with the usual author worries about whether anyone would turn up multiplied by a fear that anyone who did show would find a voiceless author before them.

The following morning Greg May, the kindly owner of the Uncommons, piled me with tea laced with honey and we waited.

My initial fear of an empty room soon evaporated as people began to show. It’s a small crowd in a small side room but it’s flattering all the same that people decided to spend part of their Saturday morning hearing me read from my book.

Provided I could speak, of course. I take another big gulp of honey tea, draw a deep breath and start talking.

There’s a voice! I can speak! It’s croaky admittedly, like a Marlboro Man in the making, but no longer so tattered that no one can hear me. Maybe the marvelous medicine worked after all.

The selections from the book seem to go down well. A handful of paragraphs about Medieval Europe’s attempts to enliven chess with dice and other long discarded ‘improvements’. The opening pages of the Clue chapter, recounting how the game was born out of the boredom of life during wartime. And, finally, a glimpse into the eccentric life of Chicago toy visionary Marvin Glass and how his company refreshed board games with plastic.

Afterwards plenty of questions too, stubbing out my final fear that I would stop speaking only be greeted by awkward silence.

Have you ever thought about designing a game? one person asked.

Memories of a truly awful Olympics-themed, roll-and-move game I once drew out on a huge cardboard slab as a kid come rushing back. The world’s really much better off with me sticking to words, I reply.

Celebrating a successful reading with friends!

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by Tristan Donovan


“Isabel has great taste, and is a pleasure to work with. She’s flexible, reasonable and professional.”

Lee Wade, VP & Publisher, Random House Studio