Last Summer, I posted a proposed college curriculum for game design. That project is complete, so I would be in need of a new Summer-long blogging series for this year.
Books on game design are tricky things. There's an awful lot of material out there, enough to be quite daunting to the student, teacher or professional looking for the right one. A disappointingly large percentage of the books out there are practically worthless, and telling them apart from the "good" books often requires enough experience that you wouldn't need the book anyway. Fear not; I shall wade through the mountains of manure to find the few shining gems, so that you don't have to.
Then there's the matter of breadth. Game design is a huge field, like Science; you could no more write a single unified textbook on "game design" any more than you could write a "science" textbook. Every book will necessarily have its own specialization, so even the books worth reading may or may not be useful to a specific designer.
I will comment on several things for each book: first, the focus of the book (because the books themselves rarely tell you), and whether the writing on that topic is worth a darn. Next, the intended audience; again, the books themselves will almost always say they're "for everyone" or "for all levels" because the publishers know better than to limit their audience, so I'll provide my own opinion of who the book really seems most useful for. Then I'll talk about each of the three groups that comprise most of the readers: is the book suitable for a student studying on their own; is it useful for a practicing game designer in the industry; and is it useful as a textbook for a class (and if so, which class).
I realize that some of this may involve biting the hand that feeds me, since many of these books were given to me for free by the publishers so I could evaluate them as potential textbooks for my own classes. In this case, I feel my allegiance should be more to the cause of education than the financial interests of book publishers; if anyone wants a good review from me, they'll have to write a book worthy of it, plain and simple. (I receive no kickbacks or other compensation whatsoever for anything that I post here, nor will I ever do so. I promise.)
I will also include links to all reviews from this post right here, same as last summer, so bookmark this one later if you want the complete list:
A Theory of Fun for Game Design, by Raph Koster
Basic Game Design and Creation for Fun and Learning, by Swamy & Swamy
Patterns in Game Design, by Bjork & Holopainen
21st Century Game Design, by Bateman & Boon
Game Design Workshop, by Fullerton, Swain & Hoffman
Rules of Play, by Salen & Zimmerman
Game Design: From Blue Sky to Green Light, by Todd
The Game Design Reader, by Salen & Zimmerman
Game Design, Theory and Practice (2nd Ed.), by Rouse
Fundamentals of Game Design, by Adams & Rollings
Introduction to Game Development, edited by Rabin
High Score!, by Wilson & Demaria
Introduction to the Game Industry, by Moore
Chris Crawford on Game Design, by (surprise!) Chris Crawford
Break into the Game Industry, by Ernest Adams
Teaching Videogames, by Oram & Newman
Challenges for Game Designers, by Brathwaite and (shameless plug) myself
The Art of Game Design, by Jesse Schell