I distinctly remember being in 7th grade when we read The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell. It was one of those activities where we went around the room and read out loud. And it was also one of those activities where our teacher had to talk us through what just happened and people were horrified. In retrospect, that may have been way too young to be exposed to books with this theme, but now you think about the permeance of The Hunger Games series, The Maze Runner series, or even the Divergent series, and we really are exposed to these types of themes all the time now. With the recent popularity of shows such as Squid Game or even Alice in Borderland, it feels like the trope is making a comeback at least into mainstream media — even though books about deadly games never really left.
Now, here’s the deal. I could give you The Hunger Games, Battle Royale, Red Rising, etc. but where’s the fun in that? In this list of books about deadly games, you’ll find some titles that maybe you haven’t heard of yet. And if you’re convinced that the deadly game trope has been done so much that it’s lacking originality and creativity, I hope this list also helps give a new perspective.
Books About Deadly Games
Danganronpa by Takashi Tsukimi
This manga is based on the video games series of the same name. Hope’s Peak Academy accepts only the best and brightest…plus one student chosen by lottery who is often considered to be an outcast. Naegi is this year’s lucky lottery winner, but he soon finds out there is something sinister happening inside the school. Ruled by a vicious robot teddy bear principal, in order to leave Hope’s Peak, students must murder another student and then get away with it in a mock trial–type interrogation.
Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates
During their first year at Oxford University, six best friends strike up a casual game of truth or dare. But like all best-laid plans, the game doesn’t stay innocent. And before long the dares become elaborate and dangerous, with the consequence being intense humiliation and life or death scenarios. After school, the boys part and attempt to forget the game, but something brings them all back together 14 years later. This time, it’s the final round and the stakes are higher than ever.
The Crimson Labyrinth by Yusuke Kishi
Fujiki wakes up in what turns out to be rural Australia without a clue of how he got there. The only he has is a Gameboy-like machine in his pocket that reveals he’s in a game and must survive a labyrinth to win the prize money. Fujiki begins to explore his surroundings and eventually runs into a woman named Ai, who is equally confused. As they meet at various checkpoints, Fujiki notices that his fellow players are changing and that more and more are willing to kill in order to walk out with the 1 million yen.
The Games House by Claire North
Originally published as three novellas, this novel tells the story of the notorious gambling house known as Gameshouse. Within this secret society, everyday games are played, such as chess, backgammon, and Capture the Castle…but it’s with real castles and real stakes that are not only deadly but can control political parties and even the fate of empires. Each of the three novellas depict a different game and the extreme lengths its players will go to ensure their victory.
Liar Game by Shinobu Kaitani
When Nao opens a mysterious package to find 100 million yen, she is scared and confused. A letter explains that in order to win the “Liar Game,” she must protect the money she received for a month at all costs. After she is tricked by an opponent and loses the money, she hires a famous thief and swindler to help her get the money back and survive the Liar Game.
Tag, You’re Dead by J.C. Lane
We follow a group of teens who are playing a game of tag in the streets of Chicago — however, this version of tag is a game of life or death. If you’re tagged, you die. Technology plays a large role in this version of the game as well, where the Runners’ locations are sent to the “It” every 30 minutes — so there’s no way you can just hide and wait it out. Both the Its and the Runners in this game have different motives for survival, but since the game won’t end until someone does die, the Runners have a choice to make.
The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi
We follow a group of three friends and the action that ensues when they get sucked into a board game known as “The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand.” Yup — this book has total Jumanji feels and it’s amazing. In order to escape the game, the group must defeat the game’s architect, Lord Amari, a force of evil hiding within the game. If Farah and her friends fail to defeat Lord Amari, they will become just another cog in the game’s machine, like every kid that’s come before them.
S.T.A.G.S by M.A. Bennett
At St. Aidan the Great boarding school (S.T.A.G.S), a handful of students receive an invitation to spend a weekend at the manor of one of the most popular and wealthy students at the school. Henry’s letter promises a weekend of “huntin’ shootin’ and fishin’. Upon arrival, Greer immediately knows something is off and her suspicions are confirmed when she and her fellow students are forced to play a series of blood sports where they themselves become the hunted.
Hide and Seeker by Daka Hermon
This book takes a game a majority of us played during our childhood and completely turns it on its head. Justin is initially excited when his best friend, Zee, returns after being missing for a year. But Justin can tell that something is off and Zee isn’t talking about it. At Zee’s welcome home party, a game of hide and seek starts but doesn’t ever quite end. One-by-one, all the game players begin disappearing into a world of nightmares, where they are in constant fear of the “Seeker.” Was this the place where Zee was? And how did he get out?
The Housemates by Iain Rob Wright
This book very much has Saw 2 vibes, where 12 strangers wake up in a house and are forced to fight for their lives by playing a series of games. And not only that, but for $2 million in cash. The strangers are unsure how they all came to be there — but that’s when a list of crimes appear on the wall: THIEF, CHEAT, MURDERER, etc. Is it possible everyone in this house is a criminal? And is it possible that all of these people are linked? Behind it all is the mysterious “Landlord” who is watching (and controlling) their every move.
Can’t get enough books about deadly games? Check out these related lists from the Book Riot crew: