10 Novels in which Characters Play Board Games

  1. The Tempest by William Shakespeare.

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In Scene 1 of Act 5 in The Tempest, when the curtain is drawn, Miranda is seen playing chess against Ferdinand while they flirt.  But the game of Chess lurks behind the entire plot.  Prospero’s power was taken away when he was banished to the island. He spends his time plotting revenge on the king.  Throughout the play, Prospero moves his people in to place, trying to corner King Alonso to win his Dukedom back.  Check mate!


2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

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Card games are featured throughout the book including: commerce, vingt-un, whist, loo, quadrille, and lottery.  After dinner, at fancy parties on large estates, the cards are brought out.  Commerce, lottery, and loo were round games, meaning there were no specific number of players.  Vingt-un is similar to blackjack.  The aristocrats passed their time playing card games since they could well afford to lose a little money at gambling.  Near the beginning of the book, Elizabeth declines a game of loo saying she prefers books to games. But in truth, she enjoys card games, but can’t afford their high stakes.  Later the aristocrats seem to have trouble interacting socially after dinner without card games.  This showcases the differences between the aristocrats and the common people.    


3. Edge by Jeffery Deaver.

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Jeffery Deaver utilizes board games in many of his books, including his series about a quadriplegic crime solver named Lincoln Rhyme, who is taught Go by some Chinese passengers on a ship.  In the novel, Edge, the protagonist, Corte, collects tabletop games.  As a “protector,” he goes head to head with a “lifter,” using game theory and explaining it as he goes.  During the novel, Corte visits a game club in DC to play such classic games as Risk, Go, and Chess. 


4. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling.

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Hermione thinks wizard’s chess is barbaric.  In the enchanted chess game, giant pieces move on command, often taking other pieces violently. But Ron Weasley, who has always been in the shadow of his brothers, turns out to be a terrific player.  Commanding the giant chess pieces, Ron shows that he can think quickly, act strategically, and take charge.


5. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey. 

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McMurphy, who likes to gamble, talks the other patients into using real money when playing monopoly, with a real penny representing a monopoly dollar.  One game goes on for three days.  McMurphy convinces the others to take more risks in life as well as in Monopoly.


6. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.


The female protagonist, Offred, is chosen as a breeder, useful only for having babies.  When the Commander invites her to play Scrabble in the forbidden room, she feels more like a person again.  She spells valence, quince, zygote, limp, and crisp.  


7.  The Emperor’s Trap by R.A. Denny.

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Outside the Gates of the Underworld, the soldiers gamble while playing the board game Mud, Rocks, and Trees.  They play to win money, but also to predict player’s fortunes, much like the Royal Game of Ur.  Colonel Pilizer takes a special interest in young Tuka’s skill at play, and bets against one of his own veteran soldiers, adding fuel to the soldier’s jealous anger.

In the Tzoladian war camp, Colonel Fineas wins a pile of tzfards from other officers by playing the part of mud in the dice and race strategy game.  As long as his winning streak and the beer last, he becomes more amenable toward the soldiers from the mud regions of the empire, giving them a spark of hope. But will it last?


8.   Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan.

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Sha’rah, Stones, and Snakes and Foxes are games played in The Wheel of Time series.  According to Robert Jordan, Stones is very similar to the game Go.

In Book Six, Lord of Chaos, Mat and Olver play Snakes and Foxes, a children’s game based on the lore surrounding the Finn.  Adults know that it cannot be won without cheating.  In the game, which is played on a web-like board, two human tokens try to escape from the middle without being touched by the snake and fox tokens.  The game beings by reciting: “Courage to strengthen, fire to blind music to dazzle, iron to bind.”


9.  A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin.

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The Dornish Court is enamored with the game of Cyvasse which arrived on a galley from Volantis.  Princes Myrcella Baratheon learns the game from her bethrothed, Prince Trystane Martell and beats him more often than not.  Dorian tries to use the game to teach his daughter Arianne to study a game before trying to play it.

Tyrion Lannister plays Cyvasse on his voyage on the Shy Maid with young Griff, and by winning learns the boy’s true identity.  When Tyrion is sold as a slave, he brags about his Cyvasse skills.  In The Winds of Winter, after a skirmish, the white dragon piece ends up at Tyrion’s feet, but blood stains make it look like it has veins of blood.  According to George R.R. Martin, Cyvasse is partially inspired by Chess, Blitzkrieg, and Stratego.  A fan has created a copy with rules.


10.  The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss.


Tak, Pairs, and Corners are games played in The Kingkiller Chronicle.

Tak is a game of abstract strategy and logic played in The Wise Man’s Fear.  Kvothe describes the rules as simple, but the strategy complex. In the land of Vintas, Bredon, a noble in the court, befriends Kvothe and introduces the game to him.  He claims the point is not to win but to play a beautiful game. Later, Felurion of the fae plays a lovely game of Tak with Kvothe.

Actual Tak and Pairs games have been created and are available online.


What novels would you add to this list? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!