10 Influential Board Games That Everyone Should Play
The time is upon us. The UK Games Expo starts at the end of this week. It’s time we got serious about gaming. As of today, there are only four days to go. That is four days left to complete our research. It is four days to verify our schedules for when we are there. Finally, dear reader, it is four days for us to prepare ourselves for the best three days for UK based geeks in the year.
Of course, I am also aware that most of the readers of this blog are not UK based, so for you guys I just thought I would do a series of articles this week about gaming, with a slight Expo-related twist.
Today we are going to look at 10 Influential Games that EVERYONE, not just gamers, should play. If you have come onto this list wanting or expecting Monopoly, Scrabble, and Cluedo then you have come to the wrong place.
To horribly misquote Pink –
The Expo’s comin’ up so we better get this list of 10 started.
Munchkin is one of those games that is a little bit like Marmite. As a player, you tend to either love it or hate it.
For me, however, Munchkin deserves to be played. Not only is it one of the best gateway games in existence, but it also helped develop the take-that genre of gaming. It is in-part thanks to Munchkin, which was originally released in 2001, that we have so many creative variations of the take-that game now.
Munchkin is, by no means, the best game in the world; however, it is a game that can help introduce people to board games, and I know this because I know at least a handful of gamers where Munchkin was one of their first, if not their first, foray into gaming. I am one of those gamers, so I am kind of grateful to Munchkin now.
As a game, it has branched out into many different genres. Earlier this year I did an analysis of all of the Munchkin versions to see which was best thought of. That article analysed 24 different genres of Munchkin and I am pretty sure I missed a few off. I’m pretty sure, no matter what you like, there is a Munchkin for everyone.
If I were to ask any gamer I know to tell me three games with tile placement then most of them would list Carcassonne on that list of games. When I first started coming up with ideas for this article, I actually thought of Sub Terra first, before realising what has probably helped inspire the gameplay. Carcassonne may not have been the first tile laying or area control game; however, it has certainly become one of the most influential.
Considered one of the four most influential Eurogames of all time, and designed by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede, Carcassonne has helped introduce more people to gaming than there are people actually living in Carcassonne in France. It is the first game mentioned in this article to have a space in the top 10 most owned games on Board Game Geek, the international repository of board game data, and is the first game to have two expansions in the top hundred most owned games as well.
Carcassonne’s popularity is not unmerited. It is a fantastic game and one that I am surprised to hear all kinds of people own. It has a wide appeal and for that, we have to salute it.
Considered THE card drafting game, 7 Wonders has done a few things with its scope. The first is it has managed to take a very simple mechanic and build a whole game around it. Secondly, it managed to make a fairly dry theme incredibly engaging. Thirdly, it is a card game that feels like a board game.
So, before we continue, what is card drafting? It is where all players get dealt a hand, they choose one card they want, and then everyone rotates their hands. They choose one card they want again, and rotate.
The success of 7 Wonders is well known in board game circles, but even if you have not heard of the game the odds are you have played the mechanic it helped develop. Card drafting was a CCG mechanic long before 7 Wonders came about; however, very few people had used it in board game form. Since 7 Wonders there have been a few notable games that use it, including Sushi Go and Blood Rage as large parts of their games.
7 Wonders is one of those games where everything lines up. It is a game where the mechanics and the theme are so well thought through that it is a simple delight to play. What is more, the very nature of the game makes it accessible to everyone. 7 Wonders is thought of very highly and, once again, makes a superb entry level game.
Cards Against Humanity
From highbrow gaming to low, Cards Against Humanity is not hugely well thought of in the gaming community and, when you look at the mechanics themselves, it is not hard to see why. That being said, I think gamers give Cards Against Humanity a little bit too much of a hard time. Just look at what it has done for the community –
Cards Against Humanity has helped bring this new gaming renaissance of ours into the light. It has introduced games to people, and acted as a fantastic gateway game for people who would not usually consider card games a source of entertainment.
Secondly, it has revolutionised the games industry to allow for adult games that are not all about trying to turn your partner on. Adult games now mean a game that is rude and crude and awkward and cringe-worthy and a game that will make you laugh. It is a game to have a few drinks with, and enjoy with friends.
All you need to do is look around any games expo (tying it back into the UKGE) or around any bookshop and you can see what Cards Against Humanity has done for the industry. Companies have taken the adult game model that Cards Against Humanity revolutionised and adapted it into games like Scrawl, Bucket of Doom, Exploding Kittens, Crabs Adjust Humidity etc. The list goes on and on.
Some are, needless to say, better than others (I would sincerely recommend Scrawl) but all stem back to Cards Against Humanity in the long run.
At the time of writing, I am officially the 6th best Splendor player in the UK; however, that is not why I put it on this list.
Splendor is one of the quintessential engine building games. As a game, it has become one that is heralded, not because of its theme (gem collecting only gets you so far) but because of how it is an engine building game at its purest. You collect a 1, you collect another 1, you can now collect a two.
Splendor is one of the quickest games to play on this list as well, with games rarely surpassing 25 minutes, meaning that it is possible to get several games into an evening, as well as showing that a short game can have some meat to it.
Splendor has been noticeably influential to several other games, not least the Century series and, in particular, Century: Spice Road and Century: Spice Road Golem Edition.
Lords of Waterdeep
This is a bit of a strange one on the list. Lords of Waterdeep was not the first worker placement game. Nor was it the first franchised game. Nor was it the first D&D based game; however what Lords of Waterdeep has become is something that surpasses all three of those categories. It has become a crowd favourite, as well as a unique game that really shows franchises what a great game can be.
Lords of Waterdeep seamlessly blends the D&D universe into something that is accessible to all. It is a game that has not only helped sell itself but it has also helped introduce new players to Dungeons and Dragons, helping players transfer from one to the other with ease.
Unlike with some other worker placement games, Lords of Waterdeep encourages players to interact with one another. Likewise, there are several core mechanics that Lords introduces that are typically not used for the more traditional worker placement style games. It took a mechanic that is traditionally place-and-play, and made it something really exciting. Where worker placement games are usually about creating or building a stable environment, Lords of Waterdeep is about adventure. There are a hundred different ways to win for each player, it is asymmetrical so each player has a unique experience, and it introduced Mindflayers. What more could you want?
Game designer Vlaada Chvatil has a reputation for being the gamer’s game designer. He has a track history of amazingly complex and fantastical games that blow your mind as well as take hours to play. Then seemingly, out of the blue, in 2015 Vlaada created Codenames, a simple party game for 4-8 players, and it was an instant hit.
Where Cards Against Humanity shows one side of what party games can be like, Codenames shows the other. In the game, players are split into two teams, looking at a set of random words in the centre of the table representing different spies in the field. It is down to two spymasters to direct their team to pick all of their words, using only two-word clues – a word that connects a number of the words, and a number as to how many words it applies to. So the words “Egg”, “Feather” and “Roast” may all be connected by the clue “Chicken, Three”.
Codenames is a game that has helped refine the party genre, giving it an intellectual game to talk about. It is a game that appeals to all members of the family, no matter what age they are, making it both a perfect entry-level and family game.
Since 2015 there have been several other versions to come out. These include Codenames Pictures, Codenames Deep Undercover (which is the NSFW version) and Codenames Duet where two players can hunt the spies together.
Trying to stop the world from dying a death of disease is certainly a unique premise, and no game quite pulls it off like Pandemic.
Pandemic is one of the “must play” co-operative games. Not only does it have unique gameplay, but it also is one of the few games where all the players can actually lose only for the game to win. What is more, Pandemic has become an influencer in the Legacy Games market, with Pandemic Legacy Season One and Season Two completely shaking up the board game world.
Pandemic, and its various different versions, are games that stand out in the industry due to their innovation and development of the median. Where there are so many games out there that release new editions that are essentially just reskinned, every version of Pandemic is completely different in its own right. Whether that is Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu, Pandemic: Rising Tides or Pandemic: Iberia.
Pandemic is one of those games that is so different to anything that came before, that has a genuine sense of threat of everyone losing the game, that is a must play for everyone.
Ticket to Ride
When it comes to Eurogames, Ticket to Ride is one of the very best. A firm favourite to a lot of gamers, Ticket to Ride is a surprisingly simple game about route building that has taken the world by storm, from Smolensk to Paris.
Ticket to Ride is one of those games where the premise sounds a little bit dull. You are, essentially, building train tracks. That being said, once it is sold, once convinced to play, players generally adore it. Yet, Ticket to Ride is a sophisticated puzzle, with simple mechanics, that makes it perfect to pick up and play at any moment.
There is something incredibly satisfying about Ticket to Ride. It is well made, well designed, and can be a challenge. The game has aspects of area control, without having an area control mechanic, and this je ne sais quoi is what makes the game so appealing.
Ticket to Ride is a game for all ages and all kinds of player. It can entertain ages 8 to 80, perfect for families and groups of friends alike. It is because of this that it cannot be recommended enough.
Catan (aka Settlers of Catan)
No list of influential board games would be complete without the mother of this board game renaissance – Catan, better known to some as Settlers of Catan.
Catan is still THE primary negotiation game on the market, encouraging a huge amount of social interaction, bartering, and strategy that makes it appeal to everyone, no matter who the player is. It is because of this that Catan helped bring gaming back into the modern era, and helped reinvent a means of entertainment that was worryingly almost certainly going to forever be known for Monopoly alone.
Catan was one of the big Eurogames to come out of Germany and, along with the likes of Agricola, Carcassonne, and Ticket to Ride, is considered to be one of those games that reestablished tabletop gaming as a serious hobby. Whether you are a fan of Catan or not, you cannot deny that it has been seriously influential.
Over the past few years, the popularity of Catan has grown and grown. It is the most owned game on Board Game Geek, it is now available in high street stores, and it has made more people fall in love with gaming than any other modern board game out there.
What is more, Catan is an entry level game. It is a family game. It is a gateway game. It is also a game for serious gamers. Catan is a game for everyone, and it has mechanics that it masters more than any other game. You have to take your hat off to it. It is not only a game but a phenomenon.
All this from a simple game about settling on an island, gathering resources, and building roads. All this from a game that is a simple board made out of hexagonal tiles. All this from one game that helped change the tabletop world.
Conclusion: 10 Influential Games
You’ll notice something when reading this article. I did not call this the “Top 10” and I didn’t put numbers against the games. This is because there are way more than 10 influential games, however, I just wanted to share with you ten today. These are games that have influenced the industry in some way or another over the past 20 years, and games we can (as participants of the hobby) be thankful for. Each one has been influential in its own way.
I am curious though. There are a load of games I haven’t mentioned on this list, and I haven’t even begun to get into RPGs or miniature games. What games do you consider influential board games? But also, what do you consider influential RPGs and miniature games? Let me know in the comments below.