How To Play by Matt Forbeck – Book Review [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk reviews the first novel in Matt Forbeck’s self-published Dangerous Games trilogy.
“Matt Forbeck does it again and writes a really suspenseful story full of murder, deceit and tabletop geeks galore.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields
More than any other novel that Matt Forbeck has put out in recent months, or even a year, his Dangerous Games trilogy is one that I’ve looked forward to the most. These three books are set at GenCon, the premier tabletop gaming convention in the Western world, and are full of murder, mystery and mayhem aplenty. Well, that’s the idea anyway. As someone who has wanted to go to a major US/UK con for five years now, getting to see the geek culture at GenCon was always going to be the highlight for me. Much as it was with his Leverage novel, The Con Job, which was set at San Diego Comic Con, I wanted to see this world from the intimate experiences of the characters therein. And that’s what I got, because both novels, especially How To Play, are a wonderful exploration of that geek culture.
As with any Matt Forbeck novel, Dangerous Games: How To Play gets going right off the bat as the protagonist Liam Parker is thrust into a murder investigation while attending the pre-event party of his first ever GenCon. As a recent Police Academy graduate, he is put in charge of liasing with the local police officers by the GenCon admin staff since he “speaks the language” as it were and can help the investigation from an angle that would not be possible for the cops on their own.
Liam Parker made for a really fun protagonist. For one, through him Matt Forbeck explores a concept that is near and dear to the entire entertainment industry: the question of Intellectual Property rights. Liam has come to GenCon with the idea for a tabletop game that he calls Mojo Poker, and is based on a concept from Matt Forbeck’s own novel Vegas Knights. He intends to sell the game concept to a publisher at the convention, and for that to happen, he approaches Matt Forbeck (yep, he is in the novel in some lovely cameos!) to get his tacit approval for the game concept. It was a really nice touch to the novel and helped develop the entire narrative.
Two, since this is Liam’s first such convention, he approaches the entire event with the eyes of a fresh-faced newcomer. His entire experience reflects the reader’s own experience and through him, we get to see so many different aspects of the event. We get to see Liam talking with various publishers, marketing his game to them in the hopes of making a sale. I know we all harbour our own plans to do the same one day, and Liam is a great vehicle to advance the reader’s own expectations and bring them to a resolution. Through Liam, we get to see how the con administration works behind the scenes and just how ragged they can get when things go south as they do in this novel. Through Liam, we see the various events as they happen, particularly a live-action roleplay session of D&D. That was immeasurably cool. It was one of my favourite scenes from the entire novel, seeing the characters act out the roles of the different D&D classes in a mock fantasy dungeon.
From the Diana Jones Award party the night before GenCon starts, to the final hours of the event, How To Play is a near-magical ride. Matt Forbeck has recreated the joy and excitement of being at a convention like this really well, even better than he handled SDCC in The Con Job, particularly because the former is a much smaller and more personal con. At least, that’s my thinking. The convention itself is a character in the novel, rather than just being a setting for the events of the murder investigation.
As is usual for a Matt Forbeck novel, How To Play is fast-paced and is full of amazing characters. The novel is also a series of cameos from some of the biggest names of the tabletop gaming and tie-in fiction (comics, novels, etc such as Wizards of the Coast and Pathfinder etc) industry, with names like Ken Hite, Allen Varney, Robin D. Laws and several others coming up again and again. How To Play is definitely one of the geekiest books I’ve ever read and it is certainly among my most favourite novels of all time, alongside a number of other Matt Forbeck novels. With this one, he has once again proven his incredible consistency in writing good fiction that is fun, adventurous and everything in between.
With a Matt Forbeck novel, there’s never a dull moment.
Note: This novel is graded according to a new ratings system, the details of which will be going up very soon.