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Literary Games


There are so many things that I love about board games; the experiences you share with friends and family, the escapism that they provide, and that there really is something for everyone. There is a game about almost anything that you can think of; the migration cycle of the monarch butterfly, anthropomorphic sushi, and rebuilding civilization under the ocean to name, but a few. As well as playing board games I love to read, as well as recommended reading, there are some great literary games to play.

Marrying Mr Darcy

This is a light card game where each player is a heroine from Pride and Prejudice, hoping to receive proposals from eligible Austen bachelors.

Throughout the courtship stage of the game players take turns to draw event cards and add traits like wit, friendliness and beauty, to their character, making them more desirable to potential suitors. Players may also use their cunning to improve their chances of making a good match.

When all the event cards have been played, the proposal phase begins. Players roll the dice to see who will propose. Unsuccessful players will become an Old Maid. There are points for the traits you have collected as well as marriage, the person who has the most points wins.

Do I need to have read the book?

If you’ve not read the book, then I very much recommend that you do. If you don’t fancy the book then you should watch the BBC mini-series (at least five times actually). However, this is a fun game, even if you’re not familiar with the story. I’ve played with people who haven’t read (or watched) it, who have really enjoyed playing. With that being said, I do think there’s so much that you’ll appreciate if you are P&P fan. The references are spot on with so many fun nods to the book in the events like ‘Walk through the mud to take care of your sick sister’ and ‘Visit Pemberley’. It’s also a great gateway game if you know people who love the book but haven’t played many games.

I can’t not mention… Obsession

Whilst I realise Obsession isn’t based on a book, it does have the words ‘pride’ and ‘prejudice’ on the box. As well as referencing one of my favourite books, it is one of my favourite games. I am OBSESSED with Obsession. Although it’s a stretch to describe this as a literary game, it’s a good alternative to Marrying Mr Darcy if you like the period drama setting but prefer a heavier game.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell: A Board Game of English Magic

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is a mid-weight literary game set in Regency England where magic has been confined to academic study, centuries since it was last practiced. Each magician must acquire rare magical texts and spells as well as making influential connections at balls and literary salons across Europe. Whilst you’re studying new skills and perfecting feats of magic, the gentleman with the thistle-down hair is gaining strength.

Throughout the game you must balance your progress on the magical ability and connexions tracks (it has bonus bookish credentials as you meet literary figures like Ann Radcliffe, Jane Austen and Lord Byron, all of whom cameo in the book). If nobody has surpassed the gentleman with the thistle-down hair, then he is victorious. Otherwise, the player who has scored the most points on the magical ability tracks wins.

Do I need to have read the book?

Perhaps more so than any of the other literary games in this list, having read the book will really affect how much you enjoy the game. I love it, and for me it’s interesting and unique in its own right. The way the theme is incorporated with the mechanics of the game is incredibly well done, with so many satisfying nods to the book. I particularly love the way the Marseille cards are used. However, in all the reviews I’ve seen, there’s really not much love for this game. However, none of the reviewers had read the book, so perhaps that’s the difference. The book is totally immersive, and there’s so much attention to detail in the game. I think that’s part of why I enjoy it so much, but certainly not the only reason.

Wonderland’s War

In Wonderland’s War each player is one of the characters battling in Wonderland to lead the Wonderlandians. There’s bag building, area control and push your luck, which I’ve never played all in one game, in fact, I’ve never played anything else that feels quite like this.

Each round begins with a tea party phase in which you build your bag, recruit supporters and different characters with unique abilities. There are also opportunities to increase your Leader’s strengths and powers.

Following the tea party there are a series of battles in which you use the bag that you’ve built. There’s such a good push your luck element in this phase of the game, each player’s set of starting chips include madness. If you draw madness during a battle your supporters will be depleted, lose all of them and you go bust, receiving no points for any progress you’d made on the battle track.

Throughout the battles you’ll be trying to meet certain criteria outlined in feats as well as end of game objectives. After three rounds, the player with the most points is the winner and rules over Wonderland.

Do I need to have read the book?

Whether you’ve read the book or not, most people will be familiar with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The theme is perfectly integrated, but this is a super fun literary game regardless of whether you have read the book or not.

The Pillars of the Earth

This is a light to mid-weight worker literary game placement game played over six rounds. Each player has a company of craftsmen collecting materials and building the cathedral in Kingsbridge at the beginning of the 13th century.

After placing workers each player’s three master builders are selected at random to determine turn order, although this comes at a cost. The master builders can undertake a variety of tasks, obtaining rare materials, buying and selling at the market, or recruiting new craftsmen and more temporary workers. The craftsmen you employ convert the materials that you have collected into victory points.

The game itself is a fairly simple worker placement game, but with a few interesting tweaks. I should say that out of the box this is not good at two-players, it’s just way too open. However, this is easily fixed by a great, and very simple, two-player variant by @Miner_Cotren on Board Game Geek.

It is an older game and in some ways that shows, there are so many fantastic worker placement games now. However, it added something new, which I’ve still not seen in other games. It’s also a good choice when you want to play a simple worker placement game that will play nice and quickly. I prefer The Pillars of the Earth over something like Stone Age because I love the book and I think the things it does differently are interesting. I also love games where the theme is about building something, here the rounds are marked by building the cathedral in the centre of the board, which is a perfect thematic touch.

Do I need to have read the book?

Theme wise this doesn’t feel that dissimilar to something like Notre Dame or Carcassonne, so whilst reading the book (which you totally should if you haven’t) might enhance your enjoyment of a literary board game, it’s definitely not essential.

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is less like a board game in the traditional sense, there’s no dice or cards, actually there’s no board. It feels a little like a pre-cursor to escape rooms in a box like the Exit and Unlock series.

This is a deduction game that has ten cases for you to solve. Using a map and case book you follow the clues that you find in newspaper articles as well as speaking suspects and experts.

Although it suggests up to eight players, I wouldn’t recommend this at more than two people. I also think this is far more enjoyable if you ignore the scoring (you will NEVER beat Sherlock) and just enjoy the process and the puzzle. If you are very competitive, it’s likely you’ll find the scoring quite frustrating.

Do I need to have read the book?

Like Alice’s adventures in Wonderland, everyone is familiar with Sherlock Holmes. Again, it won’t hamper your enjoyment if not, but if you are very familiar with Sherlock stories some of the references will be fun to spot.

I can’t not mention… Chronicles of Crime

Again, it’s not based on a book, but Chronicles of Crime feels like a natural successor to Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective for present day (or indeed the 1400s, 1930s, 2400s etc). I really enjoy Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, but I do definitely need to be in the mood to play, and I also need to have a good chunk of time. Chronicles of Crime gives me experience I’m after, but is quicker to play with fewer components to handle and some of the game admin being taken care of by the app.


After years of losing at Scrabble, Paperback made me realise, I actually like word games. Each player is an author submitting novels to their editor by using their letter cards and creating words. You are a multi-talented author as you write across a number of genres, Romance, Sci-Fi and Westerns, some of which top the book charts as best-sellers!

Players add to their starting deck of cards by purchasing more letters based on the score of the words they complete. Some letters have additional abilities such as drawing more cards, that trigger when used to complete a word. I prefer playing as a competitive game, but the rules include a cooperative variant.

Ex Libris

Ex Libris is another deck-building game where you are curating a library with rare valuable tomes. To become the village’s Grand Librarian, your library will need to meet some strict criteria like the range of books, whether they’re in alphabetical order and that the shelves are stable enough to hold the collection.

I think Ex Libris is a brilliant fresh take on worker placement. The worker placement spaces increase and change throughout the game which not only means you need to think about your strategy from one round to the next, but also means that there’s stacks of replayability.

The alphabetisation and stability of the shelves provide a puzzle to solve as well as an element of push your luck. It feels a little like a series of mini games within a game in a really great way.

I think the artwork is fine, but I love the components, particularly the clipboard which feels like a great thematic detail. I’m also a big fan of dry wipe scoring pads, so much more practical than disposable pads.

I don’t think you need to have read any of the books to enjoying playing these games, although I’d still recommend them. For me it enhances the literary game experience further, I really enjoy my worlds colliding in this way.

I appreciate that there’s a glaring omission in this list, as there’s no Tolkein inspired games. Although I’ve read both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, I’d much rather watch the films (I’m sorry!) I thought the books were fine, but they’ve never inspired me to play anything set in Middle Earth. I get that’s a me problem rather than a Tolkein problem.

Tolkein or no Tolkein, I still think it’s a great list of games, as well as a great list of books. It makes me excited to get more books down from the shelves, and more games to the table.