'The Player Of Games' (1988) is the second Culture novel by British science fiction author Iain Banks.

Gurgeh, the protagonist of the novel, is a 'morat' or 'player of games'. He is one of the most talented players in the Culture. He is versed in the rules of all known games and wins many competitions. He even publishes papers about games - yes, in the luxurious Culture, gaming has become an academic field, and Gurgeh is at the top of it. He is , basically, the ultimate 'grognard'.

Gurgeh’s fair-play is intentionally compromised by a 'drone', one of the Culture's artificial intelligences. Because of this, he is forced to leave the Culture on a mission to the Empire of Azad. The Azadian Empire is a newly discovered area of the Galaxy, which hasn’t been incorporated into the Culture yet. What’s so special about this empire is that the game Azad, an incredibly complex board game, determines people’s careers and lives.

From the moment Gurgeh enters the Azadian Empire, the contrast with the Culture gets more and more emphasized. The Culture is the ideal society. Technology has reached such a high level that everybody has access to everything, money is no longer necessary and crime is non-existent. Azad, by contrast, seems remarkably close to our Western civilization. And into this Empire, the Player of Games arrives with a mission he himself is not fully aware of.

This novel shows an amount of flair worthy of, let’s say, Jack Vance. Banks creates a believable character that will be loved by everyone who has ever played a strategy game, and then sends that character through an amazing amount of thrills and excitement. You want sensawunda? This novel has more sensawunda than you can shake a stick at.

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