2020 has been a bit of a year, and one of the things I miss most is going to conventions to spend time with fellow readers and writers and gamers. Even though my gaming is mostly on the computer, the social aspect mixed with the competition is familiar enough to me that this book sucked me in and didn’t let go. The card game Albert develops for this book is simple enough to not turn off those unfamiliar with collectible trading card-based games while also being sufficiently in-depth to bring real drama to the gaming scenes.
The trick is how well Albert mixes the gaming itself with the mental and emotional states of the point of view characters, whether Cam or Alden. Their gaming styles are even aspects of their characterization that heighten the relationships between the men. While not exactly “enemies” at the start, their gaming styles clash enough to show how they obviously would never work, despite any fleeting moments of attraction that might prove otherwise.
But in the same way that a road trip can make or break an established relationship, the cross-country road trip to a gaming convention is precisely what’s needed for Alden and Cam to develop a bond outside of the gaming table. Secrets are inevitably revealed, and I couldn’t help but cheer whenever the characters grew closer. This is one of those books where some of the plot points are entirely predictable (only one bed in the hotel room! They have to face off against each other at the gaming tournament!). However, by this point, I cared enough about the characters and their developing relationship to enjoy the journey immensely.
The ultimate ending is not entirely as predictable as you might think, and it’s all the more satisfying for it. My biggest quibble is that a significant amount of the “comedic” aspect of this romantic comedy appeared to come from the unique way in which Alden sees the world and his different reactions to things. Cam is never anything but supportive, and there is absolutely no subplot of anyone trying to “fix” a neurodiverse character, but some moments just happened to fall flat for me. Other readers may have vastly different experiences, and I still highly recommend this book to anyone looking for gamers living their best lives (with a bonus happily ever after).
Rating: 4 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.