The other day I noticed how similar books and board games are. The thought was triggered when I held a board game box in my hand and then plonked it on the table. The sound it made was very much like that of a tome being placed down. It also felt as heavy as a thick hardback book. I soon realized that there were many more commonalities. So let me investigate the spiritual twins that are books and board games.


Apart from how they sound, books and board games are also alike when it comes to touch. The cover of a well-produced board game box can feel like that of a paperback, cool and smooth with just a tiny amount of friction, or it can remind you of an old leatherbound book with an interesting embossed pattern.

Smell is another sense that links books and board games together. That’s no surprise, of course, because both are made from paper or cardboard. The smell of a new book is very much like that of a new board game. As both age, their aromas become muskier, which will evoke memories of the past, maybe from your childhood. I mean, just pick up a book that has been sitting on your parent’s shelf since you were a child and smell it. Do the same with the family copy of Monopoly or Game of Life and its scent will be the same.

The visual appeal of books and board games is also very similar. Looking at your collection of board games on your shelf is very reminiscent of looking at a shelf of books. The graphic design of the side of a board game box is very much like that of the spine of a book. Both feature the title in an interesting and fitting font, above a poignant strapline, both of which sit on top of an evocative background image that draws you in.

A Never-Ending Story

There is more though. Books and board games don’t just appear similar to our human senses, but they both also appeal to our mental senses in a related way.

While fiction books, be they fantasy, science-fiction, horror, crime or whatever tickles your fancy, stir our imagination and take us on a journey, many board games do exactly the same thing. Both can be a means to escape from our day-to-day lives into another world.

Non-fiction books, on the other hand, can be educational, just like some modern board games. I have previously spoken about war games in another article, where I explained how they can teach us about the past, just like educational books about war do. In fact, board games tackling history often don’t just help to educate players, but they are almost like a first-person narrative. As players, you replay the events and you may even change history.

Additionally, the stories books and board games tell come to life in your mind. Words or game components and rules alone are inanimate and dead. It’s your imagination that animates them. It’s when you read a book or play a game that it becomes something else in your head, something almost real. You can hear people’s voices when you read a book and the actions players take in a game can create a narrative, even in a completely abstract game. As I already said, books and games invigorate your imagination, which in turn takes you on a journey.

Alone or Together and for all the Family

Something that maybe isn’t so obvious is how books and board games can either be enjoyed alone or together. I think for most of us reading books is considered a solitary experience, akin to playing a solo game. You spend time with a good book and go on a journey or learn about something in very much the same way as you spend time with a solo game.

Yet, book reading can also be a social activity. I mean, many people will have sat reading a book at home at some point in their lives, while their partner or other family members were doing the same. Mind you, that sort of family reading time is probably less common these days. However, book clubs, both in-person as well as virtual ones, have become very popular and having a group of people reading the same book and discussing it afterwards is akin to playing a multi-player solitaire game. It’s not too different to playing any kind of game together, actually. Very often I would discuss a game we just played with my friends.

Books and board games are also often aimed at specific age groups. There are children’s books just as much as there are family games. There are not necessarily adult games, in the sense as there are adult books, but some board games certainly contain storylines or events that are definitely not suitable for younger people.

a family playing Monopoly (Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash)
a family playing Monopoly (Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash)

Books to Board Games to Books

Lastly, we all know that some books were turned into board games and that some board games spawned books. The probably most famous one is Lord of the Rings which has been made into a number of modern hobby games. Likewise, we have books set in the Catan or Warhammer 40k universes. How successful the process of turning a book into a board game or writing books based on a board game is is for another discussion. Of course, there is also a multitude of choose-your-own-adventure style books. These really blur the line between books and games, just as the numerous role-playing games that have been popular for so many years.

What About You?

I’m sure there are more things that books and board games have in common. Can you think of any? Have you ever thought that books and board games are alike or did it never cross your mind? As always, please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. I’d love to hear what you have to say.

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