Katie Salen & Eric Zimmerman (2004)
This hefty and well-designed tome contains the wisdom of game designers and educators Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman. Its 600 pages discuss games from a lot of different angles, which are grouped together in four 'units'. The first unit focuses on the books core concepts while the last three expand on central themes of games as systems, play and culture. Each unit is further divided in different chapters that discuss an aspect of games and playing in more detail. All these chapters are written in a very accessible style aimed at an audience of students of game design. At the same time it is academically sound and very well referenced. Central is the concept of meaningful play and the difficulty of designing this experience of the player, which needs to emerges from the material under the direct control of the designer.
Rules of Play deals with all types of games, including board games, social games and, to a lesser extend, sports. This is an advantage and disadvantage at the same time. It is an advantage because this way the different types and strategies of game design is much broader than any book that confines itself to only one genre, it is also a disadvantage because this further enlarges the scope of a book that already wishes to cover a lot of ground. Sometimes this causes the book to lack a certain depth; it is very inspiring to think of games as "emergent systems" or as the "play of simulation", for example, but both subjects are hardly exhausted by these chapters, and might leave the reader wanting for more. Still, Rules of Play is an invaluable contribution to the fields of game designs and game studies. I am sure I will refer to it frequently.