The Card and Dice Poll is here, and that means data! I love fiddling with numbers. Honestly, it was one of the major reasons I started the project. So what can we learn from the 139 different games our 18 participants listed? What are my picks for the 10 greatest games? What do I think are the 10 greatest games that haven’t been mentioned at all? What was I surprised by with the list? I’ll probably think of more things to write as I go. Read on.
We already know that there were 3 games mentioned 4 times and 7 mentioned thrice. Additionally there were 18 games that got two mentions, leaving 111 games unique to the person who added them to the list.
The median BGG rank for the entries was 260, and a full 40% of the BGG top 100 were mentioned. The #1 game on BGG, Gloomhaven, received 3 votes, and the lowest ranked game (other than Triomphe, which doesn’t have enough votes to receive one), was, unsurprisingly, Monopoly. No one can doubt its importance in the history of board games, but I don’t see board game hobbyists playing it, either.
Recency was something I was very curious about going into this project. The idea of “greatest” often gets people thinking about older games. The BGG list is extremely biased towards newer games. Is this one also? Somewhat. Of course, the concept of bias implies that there’s a “correct” distribution of release dates to compare it against, and how could you prove such a thing? But the games listed in the Card and Dice Poll are, 37% of the time, no older than 5 years old. The BGG top 100? 48%. Here’s a graph of what that looks like:
What designers got the most recognition? Only one person created four different games mentioned: Uwe Rosenburg. Richard Garfield, Reiner Knizia, Cole Wehrle, and Matt Leacock all have 3 games on the list. Stegmaier, Warsch, Konieczka, Tresham, Gerdts, Eberle, Kittredge, Olotka, Wilson, Dennen, Lang, Daviau, Brand(x2), Chvatil, Jensen, and Kramer all get two mentions.
But I’m going to award Garfield with the overall win, as he has 7 total mentions among the 3 different games. There is no doubt that he has been an extremely important figure in the history of gaming.
I’m going to get the biggest reaction out of the way first: the biggest surprise, to me, was Everdell making the top 10. Now, I’ve never played it, but I’ve never felt a strong urge to because all the reports I heard about it didn’t make it sound particularly exciting. Now I’m reconsidering that decision.
I’m very happy to see that both Chess and Go ranked so highly. I’ve heard people say, on more than one occasion, that these games don’t stand up to modern games. I think that’s an absolutely ridiculous claim, particularly for Go, and I’m glad they’re getting a lot of recognition.
The biggest snub has to be Through the Ages. There’s a surprising lack of Vlaada on the list, perhaps because it’s been four years since a brand new release from him. Has he lost the name recognition he once had? Or does this prompt disadvantage designers with deep catalogues but not necessarily one or two defining hits? I’m probably just overthinking this, but I’m not going to stand by and not mention Vlaada.
Continuing with designers whose names begin with “V”, I’m a bit surprised that Vital Lacerda didn’t get more mentions, given how influential he’s been in the last 8 years or so. Then again, I’m not going to pick one of his games for my list, as much as I enjoy them.
I love the lists that are very different and personal. I mean, I love all the lists, especially the ones that try to take an account of the entire history of games, but the weird, quirky ones are great. For that, check out Volko Ruhnke and Andy Matthew’s lists.
There are a couple of games that are automatic inclusions for how much I respect them and how much they’ve shaped the hobby, both long term and short. I have to include either Chess or Go (or both). Their greatness is apparent. I’ll choose Go because of its elegance and emergent complexity. It feels timeless, like a mathematical truth that was discovered rather than created.
Twilight Struggle is an auto-include because it pulls off a kind of magic trick, being both supremely dramatic and strategically deep. It’s also one of the early examples of a war game that stretches beyond traditional warfare.
Dominion created a genre and is still the best example of that genre. The Resistance didn’t create social deduction but perfected it, and every attempt to improve upon it has only created clutter.
Magic: the Gathering is hard to leave off because it’s probably the most influential game of the last few decades, but it only works today with a tremendous amount of development constantly fighting the game’s significant flaws (challenges?) I’ll go with Garfield’s far superior game, Android: Netrunner, instead.
Those are the easy picks. Now I look at designers that deserve to be mentioned. Two come to mind immediately: Knizia and Chvatil. With the former I can easily go with either Lost Cities or Modern Art (or Stephenson’s Rocket if I want to get weird with it). Flip a coin: it’s Modern Art. Vlaada is a tougher one because I could easily justify including Through the Ages, Codenames, Space Alert, Mage Knight, or Pictomania. I can’t choose just one! Let’s go with Through the Ages for a heavier inclusion and Codenames for a party game. It’s defined the last few years of party games, after all.
So many games could fit into these last few spots. Do I look at other designers (Wallace or Rosenburg, perhaps?), or do I go back in history (Diplomacy; Scrabble)? Or do I look at genre? I don’t have any train games on my list, and those can’t be ignored. 1830 is the obvious choice as it’s clearly the most important 18xx game, but I haven’t gotten weird with this list yet and what’s the point of the exercise if you’re not going to get weird with it? Plus, I didn’t actually enjoy playing 1830 itself very much, so instead I’ll substitute my current favorite: 1862. That ought to rustle some jimmies.
The last pick is quite hard. I recently ranked Spirit Island as my favorite game of all time, so that should be it, right? But if I’m going to go with something so new I might as well go with Mage Knight as the equally great progenitor. Gloomhaven gets crossed out for similar reasons. Brass is tempting, as is Castles of Burgundy. I could easily go with Twilight Imperium and call it a day. In fact, that’s super tempting, but I’ll pass it by, fondly waving. Here I Stand is too similar to Twilight Struggle. Agricola is significant, and perhaps the logical choice. But Fire in the Lake! Food Chain Magnate! Concordia! Ahhhhhh!
But my 10th pick was always going to be Dominant Species. I can’t deny its greatness. It’s elegant and violent and a small slice of perfection. The more I play it the more I enjoy it. I can’t say that for many games. Usually games quickly plateau, but Dominant Species hasn’t stopped growing.
My Top 10 Neglected Games
This is my favorite part. What are the 10 greatest games that no one mentioned? I’m going to make it even harder by including my own list as well. Poker is the first game that popped out to me as a surprise absence. Mage Knight is too good not to include. So is Brass. Let’s look back at history. H.G. Wells’ Little Wars invented miniatures gaming and probably deserves more recognition for that. Similarly, Yahtzee invents the roll and write (I think) and should get some credit for it. Sid Sackson is a huge figure with no representation on this year’s list. Acquire is his most famous game, but I’ve never played it so I’ll go with Can’t Stop. The COIN series is massively influential as far as the 21st century is concerned. Andean Abyss was the first but I think the series peaked with Fire in the Lake. Pandemic and Forbidden Island were both mentioned, but I always like to give a shout out to my favorite Leacock cooperative game: Forbidden Desert. Speaking of co-ops, what about perhaps the best IP game ever: Battlestar Galactica. I’m too stuck in this century, so let’s finish off with a quirky classic that arguably ushered in the era of the “heavy euro”: Die Macher.
What are your picks?