[In celebrating our 30th year, we thought about the thousands (tens of thousands? hundreds of thousands?) of games that have appeared on the scene over the last three decades. So we contacted everybody we could find who had ever contributed to Gamers Alliance Report since our beginning as well as our worldwide membership and asked them: In YOUR opinion, what are the BEST games published, YOUR Top 10, over that span? What games did YOU find innovative or ground-breaking or just plain fun? With lots of games mentioned and with the votes tallied (with some very close votes too), we ended up with a Top 30 list (to match out 30th anniversary). Did YOUR favorite make the cut? Here, with some comments from some of our voters, these are, as determined by our poll, the Top 30 games of the last 30 Years! Let the countdown begin!]
30. War of the Ring (Fantasy Flight, 2004)
There have been a ton of games based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy since it caught fire on college campuses in the 1970s but this particular trilogy to game transformation gained enough support to earn it slot 30 in our poll.
“This is one of those games from Fantasy Flight that have become common with them: a beautifully produced, intricate yet playable game. I love games that work on different levels and the related but quite different story arcs of the military campaigns and the quest to destroy the ring work amazingly well in this game, which is why it is still a favorite. – – – – – – – Derek Croxton
29. Tales of the Arabian Nights (West End Games, 1985)
First appearing in 1985 from West End Games, this game underwent a significant reworking and appeared from Z-Man Games in 2009 (seen here), taking the idea of “paragraph games” to a whole new level, a level high enough to earn it spot 29 in our poll.
“Tales of the Arabian Nights was designed by Eric Goldberg (and others), better known as a wargames designer (not mentioning Junta, since that dates back to 1978), and published by West End Games. This is a stand-out example of what I call an experience game. This is a game you play not necessarily to win (though that’s part of it), but for the experience. Win or lose, you come away with a tale to tell. The re-vamped 2009 edition from Z-Man is just as good.” – – – – – Pevans
28. World in Flames (Australian Design Group, 1985)
World War II had been done on a global scale before but this one expanded the detail and scope of the international conflagration from 1939 to 1945 even more.
“Third Reich [Avalon Hill] was innovative in its day but World in Flames innovated in some ways that have still not been matched. The long list of expansions suggests just what an amazing game it was. If Gamers Alliance had been created two years earlier, I would definitely have put Harry Rowland among my top ten designers because what he and Greg Pinder did in producing Empires in Arms and World in Flames within a few years of each other is truly extraordinary.” – – – – – Derek Croxton
27. 1830 (Avalon Hill, 1986)
Railroad games occupy a special place in the hearts of gamers and Avalon Hill put out more than a few. But this game was special enough to not only get a revamped edition in 2011 from Mayfair Games but to also ride into slot 27 in our poll.
“It’s hard, when thinking of gaming innovation, not to consider Francis Tresham. And while 1829 was clearly an innovation, the collective effort between the development team at Avalon Hill and Tresham was comparably innovative, creating a new branch of the 18xx family tree – and in fact creating the tree. Other innovations have been added since, but most 18xx games trace back closely to either 1829 or 1830.” – – – – Joe Huber
26. MARIA (Histogame, 2009)
This game builds upon a previous release, fine tuning a very unique combination of Euro and wargame mechanics that, unlike many games, is best with THREE players, and good enough to earn the 26th slot in our poll.
“Richard Sivel’s second game using the Friedrich card/board with suits system. It fixes some of the issues of its predecessor while raising the skill level required for everyone. Playing the namesake’s position in Friedrich is one of the most intense and thrilling game experiences there is but Maria shares that fun with all of the players. ” – – Mark Delano
25. Roborally (Avalon Hill/Wizards of the Coast, 1994)
Few designers have a wider range than Richard Garfield. Not only did he invent the collectible card game genre with Magic, the Gathering but he also managed to mix robots, racing and miniatures with a clever design to create another big seller. The success of this science fiction fan favorite resulted in a second edition and generated a bunch of expansions too.
24. History of the World (Avalon Hill, 1993)
The search to create a “build a civilization” game that doesn’t take half a day to play continued with this classic release (that later received a second edition in 2002 under the Avalon Hill/Hasbro imprint).
23. Dixit (Asmodee, 2008)
A party game of pictures that ended up winning the Spiel de Jahres (German Game of the Year) award in 2010 and winning slot 23 in our poll.
“Hands down winner because of the amazing art on the cards. The game wouldn’t be half as good without it.” – – – – James Davis
” The idea is simple, the cards and the player’s imagination makes for a rich experience. The all original artwork is evocative without being tied to specific interpretations, which ties into the goal of giving clues that some will get and some will not.” – – – – Mark Delano
22. Small World (Days of Wonder, 2009)
A new and improved version of Vinci (both designed by Philippe Keyaerts) where the rise and fall of civilizations was replaced by the rise and fall of FANTASY civilizations.
“Great art, of course. But the functional use of the artwork is very well done. Everything fits together, sometimes literally.” – – James Davis
21. Take It Easy (FX Schmid, 1994)
First released by Spears in 1983, the game was resurrected under a different (and presumably more “multi-language friendly”) title by FX Schmid in Germany in 1994 and earned a Spiel des Jahres nomination. As designed by Peter Burley, the game is a colorful cacophony of crisscrossing lines of color. (The original name for the game was Hextension which is actually a better name since you are extending lines of color across hexes.) An ideal opener or closer on a game night or for handling a bunch of non-gaming friends that can be played with virtually any number of players by adding additional sets.
20. Medici (Amigo Spiele, 1995)
After all these years, this Reiner Knizia design of bidding and perceived value remains the gold standard for auction games.
“Reiner Knizia tends to put out pairs of games that are different spins on the same basic mechanism. One such pairing is Modern Art with Medici. I had access to Modern Art first given it earlier release date and enjoyed the game very much at the time but, after getting to play Medici a few times, I ultimately realized it was a much better design. And it wasn’t much longer afterwards that I realized the game was likely going to be what I like to call a ‘forever’ game. A ‘forever” game is one that like Acquire or Cosmic Encounter will likely be in print for as long as people are playing board games. Medici, along with The Settlers of Catan, seems to have achieved this status and, as a result, are both well suited for this list.” – – – Nick Sauer
19. Race for the Galaxy (Rio Grande Games, 2007)
Tom Lehmann’s card game of galactic civilization building combined with multiple roles.
“My most played game over the past 10 years. A fantastic, quick playing game that can easily devolve into ‘just one more’ until the next morning.; It hits the sweet spot of “few decisions, every decision important.” – – – – Mark Delano
“The first three times I played this game, I did not care for it. I was overwhelmed with symbols and options and I didn’t know what to do. I kept playing because other people liked it, and it soon became one of my favorites. You definitely need to know the cards in this one to be successful. However, with simultaneous action selection, there is little down time and a plethora of options. Indeed, deciding to take one course over another and not keep all your options open is one of the most important parts of winning this game.” – – – – Derek Croxton
18. Age of Steam (Warfrog, 2002)
Steam powered locomotives storm across the United States as players competed for routes and profits. Martin Wallace has a definite affinity for railroad designs and the success of this design has led to a trainload of map expansions that continue to be released to this day.
“I’ve never gotten into 18xx gaming so this is the King of Railroad Games for me. Avoiding the death spiral at the beginning is always a healthy challenge but you’ve also got to position yourself to succeed during the lucrative final turns. The balance between track building, financing, and delivery planning is excellent and players interaction affects things greatly. Of all the games in this family, Age of Steam is the most difficult and unforgiving, and that’s why it’s my favorite of the bunch!” – – – – – – – – – Larry Levy
17. Die Macher (Hans im Gluck, 1986)
A very ambitious and challenging game of power politics set in Germany, popular enough to warrant not only a second edition in 1997 but a third, English language edition, by Valley Games, in 2006 (and pictured here).
“I was involved with Eurostyle games well in advance of [the US appearance of] The Settlers of Catan. This game was one of the ‘big four’ that any collector of German games was supposed to own to prove their status as a serious collector. The other three were Energie Poker, McMulti and Schoko and Co. for those curious. While Eurogames had at the time and today still have a reputation for being lighter fare, this was one of the first to show that this did not always have to be the case. It is a heavy strategy game that seamlessly merges a number of interesting mechanics resulting in a long ranging experience reminiscent of games like Civilization. While this style of gaming has fallen out of favor these days, Die Macher still deserves to be recommended for showing that Eurogames could move beyond their reputation” – – – Nick Sauer
16. Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage (Avalon Hill, 1996)
A well regarded example of the card driven wargame system began by We, the People, where players use multi-purpose cards to dominate opponents militarily and politically. Reissued by Valley Games in 2007.
“There are things about this game that frustrate me, such as the inability of armies to retreat to an enemy PC marker. It is very difficult to reproduce the historical campaign using these rules. Nevertheless, it is still one of my favorite games because of the balance of options it gives you. Every card is playable, a major step forward from We the People, and the introduction of siege combat adds a nice element. I also love the combat system of matching cards. Many people hate it because it doesn’t ‘simulate’ anything, as though playing a card with a ‘3’ on it rather than a ‘1’ simulated anything. What combat does simulate is the difficult decision of whether to go for the risky move that may lead to total annihilation or the conservative attack that is more likely to lead to even attrition.” – – – – – – Derek Croxton
“I could just as easily point to We the People. But it’s really Hannibal that demonstrated the full potential of a card-driven system for wargames. In particular, the multiple uses of each card offers sufficient flexibility to provide an enormous amount of replayability – while maintaining enough of the traditional wargame elements to provide a familiar feel for those with previous wargame experience.” – – – – – – Joe Huber
15. Tichu (Fata Morgana, 1991)
Trick taking is a classic card game mechanism, from Bridge on down. Out of the truckload of proprietary trick taking card games available, this particular partnership trick taking card game, which has undergone several different editions over the years, received enough love from our worldwide voters to take the 15th spot in our poll.
14. 7 Wonders (Repos Production/Asmodee, 2010)
This civilization building game by Antoine Bauza used card drafting as the main driving force of the gameplay – and won lots of awards and generated a lot of sales and expansions in the process.
“The art on the cards and boards is extremely well done. The iconography is perfect.” – – James Davis
“Aside from its quality game play and clever use of card drafting, this game scales amazing well with anywhere from 3 to 7 players – and there is even a rules set for 2.” – – – – – Herb Levy
13. Pandemic (Z-Man Games, 2007)
This Matt Leacock game of worldwide contagion where players cooperate to stop the spread of disease has proven infectious with gamers, enough so to spawn a bunch of expansions.
“Cooperative games have been around for many, many years, but none have experienced the commercial and mainstream success as enjoyed by Pandemic. I guess there is something about trying to forestall the impending downfall of all mankind that resonates with people. Plus, if you lose, you can always blame it on the system or a fellow player!” – – – – – – – Greg J. Schloesser
12. Um Reifenbrite (Jumbo, 1991)
Originally published as Homas Tour in 1979, this game was rescued from oblivion (due to many copies of the original game being destroyed in a warehouse fire) by Jumbo. Given a second life, this game about bicycle racing went on to win the Spiel des Jahres in 1992.
“My gateway game of Tour De France bicycle racing and the first Euro game I ever bought. Without being introduced to this game, I would have most probably left the hobby long ago.” – – – Chris Kovac
11. Kohle, Kne$, Knete (Schmidt Spiele, 1994)
Brilliant game of negotiation, quick deals and backstabbing galore. The amazing thing about this Sid Sackson design is that, rather than being upset or angry when deals do not go your way, the universal reaction is laughter! Despite being a finalist for the 1994 Spiel des Jahres, the game was very difficult to get in the United States until Face 2 Face Games reprinted it, slightly revised it, and retitled it as I’m the Boss! in 2010, pictured here. (An interesting aside: that cigar smoking corporate type on the box is a stylized caricature of Sid Sackson himself – but I never saw Sid smoke in real life.)
“The English edition of I’m the Boss beats out other excellent deal making games.” – – – – – – – – – Marty Goldberger
10. Memoir ’44 (Days of Wonder, 2004)
Basically a two player game (although team play is possible), this game simulates key conflicts in World War II combining strategic card play, dice and miniatures for a winning combination, so winning that there are a bunch of expansions for the system for devoted fans who have placed in in our poll’s top 10.
“Battle Cry was first, but this is my favorite of Borg’s ‘Command and Colors’ series. It improved on Battle Cry in so many little ways, such as moderating the penalty for retreating offboard (lose one piece instead of the whole unit) and making “Recon” cards, the least effective at combat, at least give you an extra choice when drawing. It also made the changes necessary to make the system appropriate for the war it was simulating, such as changing how artillery fires. It annoys me when I can’t draw any right flank cards or my opponent rolls 4 hits out of 4, but it is still a fun and tense game, and I can get non-wargamers to play it.” – – – – Derek Croxton
9. Power Grid (Rio Grande Games, 2004)
Originally released as Funkenschlag by 2F Games (the designer’s own company as you can probably tell from his initials), this Friedemann Friese design challenges players to construct their own electric power routes (hence the title “power grid”) to peak efficiency. Note that the dominant color of the box is green. ALL of Friedemann’s games share two characteristics: they begin with F – at least in German – AND have green, the designer’s favorite color, as their dominant color!)
8. Through the Ages (Czech Board Games, 2006)
Civilization building game where players develop their technologies, build wonders, grow a military and put the right leaders in place to guide their growing civilization.
“This is just an amazing design, a full blown Civ game played only with cards and no map that you can finish in an evening. Despite the unconventional materials, it conveys the epic feel worthy of its subject matter. The game is remarkably innovative and exceedingly clever. Juggling all of the aspects of the play is hugely challenging and very enjoyable. The duration and intensity of play means that this doesn’t get to the table all that often but when it does, it provides a feel like no other game. It’s been my favorite game for quite a few years and I can’t wait to see what changes they’ve made to the new version.” – – – – – Larry Levy
“I do enjoy a good civilisation-development game and this, despite its length (it’s known to some of my gaming friends as “Through the ages and ages…”) is one of the best.” – – – – – – Pevans
7. Battle Cry (Avalon Hill/Hasbro, 1999)
Civil War battle game that pioneered the game play system that would later be used in Memoir ’44 (#10 in our poll). A second edition of this game was published, with different box cover art, in 2010.
“One of the big issues with wargames is their length. Battle Cry introduced the Command and Colors system, which allows for a battle to be fought to conclusion in just a half hour – while providing all the necessary elements to reenact a wide variety of battles.” – – – Joe Huber
6. El Grande (Hans im Gluck, 1999)
Classic area control game from the design team of Wolfgang Kramer and Richard Ulrich where players fight for power in medieval Spain. 1996 Spiel des Jahres winner.
“Any of my ‘Top 10’ list of favorite games absolutely MUST include El Grande, which earned the top spot of personal favorite games almost immediately after its release. It has not relinquished that spot in almost 20 years. It is widely recognized as the best ‘area majority’ control games. Every game is always a tense affair. This is, in my opinion, gaming perfection.” – – – – – Greg J. Schloesser
5. Puerto Rico (Ravensburger/Alea/Rio Grande Games, 2002)
As governors in Puerto Rico, this Andreas Seyfarth design uses the concept of role selection to perfection as players share actions in their quest for the most Victory Points.
“Coming out of the 90s, it seemed like innovative game mechanisms had been abandoned in favor of recycling systems we had seen before. This drought of new concepts ended for me with the appearance of Puerto Rico. The game’s designer, Andreas Seyfarth, is not prolific but he really knocked this one out of the park.” – – – Nick Sauer.
“Puerto Rico is a wonderfully designed game from beginning to end but its best feature is that it lets players decide the order in which the turn phases are carried out with the active player gaining an additional advantage. This is a terrific innovation and the essence of the game is that you need to be able to anticipate the actions of your opponents and position yourself so that you’re able to take advantage of them. The game also scales marvelously well with all player counts. This was my top game for many years before Through the Ages overtook it and I still thoroughly enjoy it every time it comes out.”- – – Larry Levy
“Dedicated gamers were immediately enthralled by Puerto Rico, which rested atop the BoardGameGeek list of top games for many, many years. It is certainly a “meaty” game, with so much to consider and plan. Yet, in spite of its deeper level, it has found its way into many mainstream stores and continues to sell well.” – – – – – – Greg J. Schloesser
4. Magic, the Gathering (Wizards of the Coast, 1994)
This Richard Garfield design created a whole new genre of game playing: the Collectible Card Game. Many imitators followed but this game’s popularity took off and, after more than 20 years, hasn’t stopped yet!
“Pretty much the standard for consistently beautiful artwork for many years.” – James Davis
“The game that first brought us CCGs (collectible card games) and suckered so many of us down the rabbit hole for at least three to five years and is still the bread and butter of so many game stores. You had to be there to understand the impact of this game.” – – – Chris Kovac
“Whether you love or hate collectible card games, no one can argue that Magic not only introduced the concept but launched an entire new genre of gaming as well. Magic’s arrival was timely in that it revived interest in a hobby that was definitely going into a slump at the time. Furthermore, it succeeded in bringing more and younger players to the table which is always a healthy thing for any hobby.” – – – – – – – Nick Sauer
“This is the only game on my [top games] list that I have not played, yet I fully recognize the amazing impact it had on the industry and general public. While there may have been predecessors that used a similar mechanism, Magic: The Gathering brought the deck building / collectible card mechanisms to new heights and caused a revolution within the industry. Now, there are hundreds (and perhaps thousands) of games that have incorporated one or both of these mechanisms. While the game and system may have flaws, perhaps it biggest is that it is unfortunately generally viewed as a game for young “geeks”.” – – – – – – Greg J. Schloesser
3. The Settlers of Catan (Kosmos/Mayfair Games, 1995)
The unpopulated island of Catan serves as the setting for this wildly successful game from Klaus Teuber that has proven to be a “gateway game” in introducing potential players to the world of Euro gaming. Winner of the 1995 Spiel des Jahres Award, its incredible success has spawned lots of expansions and spin-offs and even a name-change. The original name, which most gamers had already unofficially shortened to “Settlers” has been officially shortened to “Catan”.
“OK, not my gateway game but by far the game that opened up the Euro game wave to North Americans and is still a gateway game to many new family gamers. ” – – – Chris Kovac
“I was collecting European games back before the whole Eurogame craze hit. Amongst the traders on both sides of the Atlantic that I worked with at the time, Kosmos games, as a rule, were firmly in the “try before you buy” camp. Thus it turned out to be somewhat ironic when they released this game which would go on to popularize the Eurogame in America. I’m not that big a fan of the game, much preferring Settlers of the Stone Age or Settlers of America myself but, even with my lackluster view of the original, I would have to be completely out of touch with reality to not acknowledge the colossal impact this game has had on the hobby. Its success ultimately paved the way for the regular stream of board game from Europe that we see in America today and, for that especially, I thank Settlers.” – – – – Nick Sauer
“The Settlers of Catan is a simple game without a whole lot of eye candy yet it is one of the most successful games ever. One of its most innovative aspects is the way it creates a real market for trading. Many games allow trading, but this is one of the few in which trading is absolutely essential and both players can emerge significantly better off after a trade. Without combat, the game prevents wholesale ganging up on the leader, while still allowing small ways to hurt the player who is winning.” – – – Derek Croxton
“There is little doubt that this is THE breakthrough game that helped bring European-style games to the attention of the general public around the world. Settlers (or “Catan”, as they are now calling it) has been responsible for millions of people worldwide coming to the realization that board games are not just for children, and that they can actually be fun, exciting and challenging. It was a true ground-breaker and continues to enthrall people across the globe.” – – – – Greg J. Schloesser
2. Ticket to Ride (Days of Wonder, 2004)
A brilliant mix of set collection and strategy as players place their colorful trains to create routes across the United States. With its ease of learning and beautiful graphic design, this Alan R. Moon creation has not only won a bunch of awards (Spiel des Jahres 2004, 2004 Origins Award Best Board Game and more) but has become one of the great “gateway” games of the hobby while giving rise to a bunch of successful variations and sequels.
“Family friendly railway game for both gamers and non-gamers.” – – Chris Kovac
“Alan Moon had been playing with a number of the mechanisms in this game with some of his earlier designs and, with Ticket to Ride, he managed to knit the pieces together into an impressive whole. The game is an excellent gateway game that also provides enough depth of play to keep regular gamers entertained as well. Like other successful designs, the game has a large number of expansions. I would especially recommend Ticket to Ride: Asia for the partnership game and I believe that Ticket to Ride: Marklin is a very underrated expansion game that should appeal more strongly to serious gamers.” – – – – Nick Sauer
“If Settlers of Catan was the breakthrough game that introduced European-style games to folks worldwide, Ticket to Ride is the one that cemented that trend. The game is easy to learn, play and understand, yet completely captivating. I have seen the game in all types of stores, including mainstream toy and book stores. I also encounter more and more “non-gaming” people who know and enjoy the game.” – – – – – – – – – – – Greg J. Schloesser
1. Dominion (Rio Grande Games, 2008)
When in prototype form, this game was so unusual that they didn’t know what to call it so it was called “Game X”. When finally published, Dominion, by then new designer Donald X. Vaccarino, created a new segment of game play – deck building – and has since generated thousands of cards in expansion sets (as well as a legion of other games from other designers adopting and adapting deck building for their own designs).
“Another gaming innovation of taking cards and creating a new genre of game. In this case, building a deck using a common set of cards allowing players to try out different combinations of cards. Quick, fun and infinitely expandable.” – – – Chris Kovac
“First of the deck building games and the original version is still near the top of the pack (which now includes deck building boardgames).” – – – – Marty Goldberger
“Started the deck building genre but still doesn’t get old for me, not with the expansions.” – – – – – – – Paul Sauberer
“The game that launched the deck building genre of games. I had the very good fortune of being able to play a prototype version at Origins and immediately realized how big the game was going to be. While some complain that the theme is very light, a complaint which I can understand, I have never really been troubled by it myself. Of course, I’m also a fan of abstract games so that probably colors my judgment a bit. The game features an insanely large number of expansions of which I recommend Prosperity first, especially for players looking for a deeper resource management gaming experience.” – – – – Nick Sauer
“Some people have strong opinions on Dominion, many of them unfavorable, but there is no doubt that the game does something that appeals to a lot of people. One of those things is the desire to build up without being tied to a specific ‘tech tree’. Another is the way that acquiring victory points generally hurts your chances of getting more victory points, which means that the game is a careful balancing act and not a rush to overwhelm everyone. The fact that there are now literally hundreds of cards to play with means that every game is different. Attack cards affect all other players, so again there is no ganging up. There are scenarios where games can bog down in attacking, but it really becomes most interesting with attacks because otherwise it is largely multi-player solitaire – although a particularly intriguing version of it.” – – – – – – – – Derek Croxton
“A descendent of Magic: The Gathering, but one that has not been tainted with the “For Geeks Only” label. The deck building twists and innovations pioneered in Dominion have helped spawn countless copycats, few of which reach the high standards of the original. The game is easy to learn and play, but challenging to play well.” – – – – – – Greg J. Schloesser
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Other Fall 2015 GA Reports