Card and Dice Poll 2021
Andrew Holmes – Critic
Website (2): thescikuproject.com
Comments: How to define greatest? It’s a definition that’s probably as subjective as the actual games chosen. For me the greatest games are those that have stood the test of time and irreversibly changed the hobby in some positive manner.
Such a list has to include a traditional abstract game or two – I’ve gone for Go because it’s purer than chess (and took far longer for developers to programme an AI that could beat the best human players) and Backgammon because with a similarly simple rule set and components it creates the exact opposite feeling. Both are also far older than other similar games – Go is over 2,000 years old, whilst Backgammon is nearly 5,000 years old. The fact that both are still beloved today says it all.
Gaming and gambling are often found together, creating huge industries as a result. But for me I don’t think many games where gambling is involved are actually all that great – they’re rarely compelling designs that can stand up without the money winning/losing aspect, and given they fuel addiction and organised and petty crime they don’t exactly have a positive impact on the world. Backgammon fits the gambling bill for me, whilst Liar’s Dice and its offspring Perudo can give you the same sense of bluffing and bidding as Poker and its ilk, whilst being both far older and more exciting.
Next come games that have founded entire genres in the tabletop world, whilst remaining solid designs today. Scrabble is the stately elder spokesman for all word-based games and tournaments are highly competitive to this day. Risk, whilst far from the first war game, revolutionised the genre and whilst it’s not held in such high regard by many hobbyists today, there’s no denying it’s still eminently playable and incredibly popular. Plus it spawned the entire Legacy genre. You may think Scotland Yard is a surprising entry but, again, its hidden movement design was utterly ground-breaking on release and, whilst its spawned many offspring, none have significantly improved on that core experience. Dominion should be an obvious inclusion, the aftershocks of its release creating a tidal wave of deck building games.
Dominion is also included, along with Carcassonne, for their impact on the industry and the production of expansions. Both are highly influential as game designs in their own right, but both games have shown just what is possible when it comes to releasing expansions to keep a game fresh and interesting, changing the tone and feel of the game depending on the expansion used. Gloomhaven is the youngest inclusion but I think it’s a worthy one. Dungeon crawlers are a niche unto themselves and I could have looked to Descent or any number of other games but Gloomhaven’s sheer size, scale, scope and overwhelming popularity put it ahead of any competitors. I briefly considered Twilight Imperium for the list – whilst not a dungeon crawler it ticks many of the same boxes as Gloomhaven in terms of the epic narratives told. But despite its proven longevity I don’t think it’s impacted the hobby in the same way.
Lastly I wanted to include a great card game. You could argue that Magic: The Gathering is an obvious contender but from its business model to the culture that originally grew up around it I’m not sure it’s been a positive change for the hobby. For me Whist is probably the greatest card game to use a standard 52 card deck. I’ll absolutely acknowledge that it’s not the first trick-taking game but it captures the genre and it led to Bridge which, whilst occasionally a little stuffy, is an incredible game that appeals to all ages.
I suspect if you asked me again in a couple of years, some of the games on this list would be different, and obviously it’s an incredibly subjective list based on what defines greatness for me at this moment in time. But I’m happy with the games I’ve chosen here, none of them double up or do the same thing as each other and I am 100% sure that the hobby wouldn’t be where it is now if anyone of them never existed.