I picked up an ebook of one of Matt Forbeck’s recent 12-for-12 novels that he funded through Kickstarter last year, titled Dangerous Games: How to Play and let me tell you, I think that this is poised to become the gamer holiday classic we’ve been waiting for.
The premise is simple: ’twas the eve before Gen Con and all through Indianapolis…well, you get the picture. It’s the Wednesday night before Gen Con kicks off officially and a well known game designer is found dead. When it’s clearly a murder, industry hopeful and recent graduate of police academy, Liam Parker, is called in by the convention organizers to serve as a liason to the police and help crack the case. Though it’s the first in a series, the book very much stands alone…and will make you want to keep reading the rest.
The plot is a little silly—at times there are some very geeky jokes and case connections that only a gamer would pick up, but more importantly it’s a fun read. Forbeck perfectly captures the Gen Con experience, from piling into the hotel with suitcases full of games and waiting in line for that must-have new release to the late night shenanigans and the overwhelming feeling of stepping into the convention hall for the first time. Last year was my very first Gen Con, so the memories were still very fresh in my brain, but the descriptions of Liam’s first encounter with the massive event were enough to make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside…you know, despite the whole chain-of-murders thing.
One thing that struck me as rather odd toward the beginning, however, was getting used to seeing the names of real people show up in the text. Right away we’re introduced to folks like Matt Forbeck (yes, the author himself,) Kenneth Hite, Lisa Stevens, Robin Laws, and so on. On one hand, it was fun to laugh at the descriptions of people I knew, on the other—the story is fiction, and the lack of fictitious characters was jarring at first. Not to mention the fact that the main character is fictional, it left a strange feeling of curiosity as I considered what was real and what wasn’t.
The book also does start out with a small amount of game jargon—if you aren’t familiar with some game design terms, you might be a little confused as to what Liam Parker’s new game is about, but that passes quickly and it’s easy enough to fall in step with the story. Another interesting aspect to this is how the fictional counterparts to real life game designers are full of actual, good advice for aspiring industry professionals. Notably, at times it feels like we’re beaten over the head with the reminder that game designers aren’t paid very well, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does often walk the line between a recurring joke and a somber reminder of what game design is really like.
As always, Forbeck’s writing is very engaging and well paced, with a detailed setting that shows his experience with worldbuilding and game design, even in a book that is set in a world unlike our own. Not only did he capture the Gen Con spirit perfectly, but has a fun, engaging story that keeps you guessing and interested at every turn. Whether you’re a Gen Con veteran or only dream of setting foot at a gaming convention, it’s a great, quick read for anyone with a love for gaming. I have no doubt that it will quickly become a must read around convention season, and I know I’ll probably be picking it up again next year when the mood strikes and I get that Gen Con excitement all over again.
Since this is also the first in a series, I’m looking forward to reading the rest. While the first was certainly wrapped up well, I love the idea of returning to Liam Parker’s version of Gen Con…though I might save the sequel for after this year’s convention, to help recover from the woe of returning to the real world!
If you’ve read Dangerous Games: How To Play, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Likewise, if you’d like to check it out for yourself, you can find a Kindle edition on Amazon for $4.99, or visit our friends over at DriveThruFiction for a multi-format digital bundle (also $4.99) or a hard copy, if you prefer keeping it on the shelf.
I really recommend this book to anyone who’s a fan of gaming, conventions, or anything even kind of like that. Reading it really made me feel like a kid again, reading books about summer camp in the weeks leading up to my own trip…except, again, aside from the whole chain-of-murders thing.
See you in Indianapolis—either in real life or between the pages of Dangerous Games: How to Play!
Originally posted on 8/6/13 at http://charismabonus.com/cha/2013/08/book-review-a-gen-con-murder-mystery/