The 50 Most Historically and Culturally Significant Games Published Since 1800

Five years ago, Erik Arneson published an article ( listing the 50 most historically and culturally significant games published since 1800.  I really enjoyed his list, but there were games I thought needed to be included which weren’t, so I put together my own list:

But five years have passed, adding five years of additional games into the mix – not to mention another five years for the games I had considered back then to demonstrate their significance.  I also set a requirement I hadn’t considered initially – to qualify, the game must have its own entry on Wikipedia.  And so, without further ado – the list as I see it, as of 2013:

1) Poker
Year: 1810

Poker is not a game I care for – but it would be hard to argue that it’s not among the most significant games since 1800, after having spawned books, newspaper columns, and television shows.

2) Skat
Year: 1810

While Poker is an international phenomenon, Skat’s largely a German mania.  But it’s a game that has influenced German game design significantly as a result, not to mention gaming in general, and thus clearly belongs on this list.

3) Kriegsspiel
Year: 1824

While wargames have never had great mainstream appeal, they have had great influence, and this one influenced them all.

4) The Mansion of Happiness
Year: 1843

A critical game in the development of the gaming industry in the United States.

5) Mahjongg
Year: 1850

My greatest miss in 2007 was not including this game, which became a craze in the United States in the 1920s, but which has continued to be played worldwide since then.

6) Happy Families
Year: 1851

This game has been published – in one form or another – by nearly every publisher to have been around for any significant period of time.  It’s the origin of Go Fish (and its many variants).

7) The Checkered Game of Life
Year: 1860

The game that effectively founded Milton Bradley as a game publisher.

8) Crokinole
Year: 1876

A dexterity game that has lasted for well over a century – and continues to influence new game designs today.

9) Tiddlywinks
Year: 1888

While the game itself might not get much play – though it apparently has some sincere supporters – it’s got such a key cultural identity, it must be included.

10) 500
Year: 1904

One difficulty in creating a list such as this is in considering a wide variety of games, each of which has great significance – but on a limited subset of the globe.  500 is such a game – though it’s played across enough different limited subsets as to clearly belong here.

11) Pit
Year: 1904

One of the great projects I would love to see completed is a comprehensive history of Pit.  There are at least five different games, all with nearly the same rules and mechanisms, all of which came out of the Western Ohio – Southern Michigan – Eastern Indiana area, all right around 1904.  It’s entirely possible that one was published first, and the rest were “inspired” by the original.  But I believe it’s also possible that there was a standard deck card that inspired all of the games.  However, I’ve never found evidence of such a game – and even the stories of games such as Gavitt’s Stock Exchange aren’t well documented, at least that I’ve been able to find.

12) Little Wars
Year: 1913

The progenitor of miniature gaming.

13) Contract Bridge
Year: 1925

How many 85 year old games still warrant daily newspaper columns?

14) Monopoly
Year: 1935

While it’s a popular game to complain about, it’s still played by millions of people worldwide; of games not in the public domain, this one likely has the most players.

15) Canasta
Year: 1939

Once, this rivaled Bridge.  While no longer played so widely, it brought new audiences to Rummy-like games.

16) Hex
Year: 1942

This is a hard one, as one can easily make an argument that Twixt is the right game to list.  When I put together the list in 2007, I opted for Twixt – but on further consideration, I think Hex is a slightly preferable option, as more games have been derived directly from Hex than from Twixt, and Twixt owes a significant amount to Hex.  But certainly one or the other must be here.

17) Cluedo
Year: 1946

The classic deduction game.  While there have been – at least to my taste – better deduction games published since, this is the one 500 pound gorilla in the field – if not the first.  (Mr. Ree predates it by nine years, but has been out of print for more than 40 years, limiting its ongoing influence.)

18) Stratego
Year: 1947

Taking a wargame to the masses.

19) Subbuteo
Year: 1947

The classic football game; and a standard in Europe.

20) Scrabble
Year: 1948 (As Criss-Crosswords, 1938)

While Scrabble built upon Anagrams (an Honorable Mention), it built a new complexity of word game, leading to spin-offs, clubs, tournaments, and dozens of books.

21) Candy Land
Year: 1949

The classic children’s game, with a simple central mechanism that has inspired many more complex games aimed at adults.

22) APBA Pro Baseball
Year: 1951

The game that inspired fantasy baseball, not to mention many other baseball simulations, yet still remains popular today.

23) Tactics
Year: 1954

While the game had direct influence, perhaps the largest impact of the game was the foundation of Avalon Hill, the standard in wargames for 40 years.

24) Rack-O
Year: 1956

The game which popularized the ordering problem, as seen since in games such as 10 Days in the USA and Pyramiden des Jaguar.

25) Yahtzee
Year: 1956

It’s telling that this game introduced the mechanism used in most dice games up to present, such as the recent game Saint Malo.

26) Diplomacy
Year: 1959

Took wargames in an entirely different direction, making a huge difference in their design – not to mention becoming one of the most studied wargames itself as a result.

27) Risk
Year: 1959

When non-gamers think of wargames, this is the first one they name.  Has been imitated, modified, and derived from endlessly since its release.

28) Acquire
Year: 1962

In addition to launching 3M’s line of games for adults, Acquire was vital to the development of the German gaming industry, setting a model later followed by publishers such as Pelikan.

29) Mouse Trap
Year: 1963

Every year, there are many mechanically innovative games released – each hoping to garner a portion of the fame of Mouse Trap.

30) Lines of Action
Year: 1969

It’s very difficult for a game in the public domain to gain a significant following.  It helps tremendously when Sid Sackson includes the game in a seminal board game book.

31) Uno
Year: 1971

While the mechanisms of Uno date back decades earlier, Uno both gained individual recognition (and sales) and locked in the format used by many games since.

32) Mastermind
Year: 1971

Turning deduction into a one-on-one challenge.

33) Dungeons & Dragons
Year: 1973

The classic role playing game – and the start of an industry.

34) Hare & Tortoise
Year: 1974

The first Spiel des Jahres winner, and a game closing in on 40 years of publication.  Not to mention the impact it’s had on race games, greatly broadening the scope of movement mechanisms.

35) Cosmic Encounter
Year: 1977

Eon was an exceptionally innovative place during its heyday, and there is no greater example of this than Cosmic Encounter.  Bringing together innovative gameplay, elements of negotiation, and amusing chaos, the game has gone through many publishers – but remained in print nearly continuously anyway.

36) Civilization
Year: 1980

One of the great projects of the past few decades has been the search for a short Civilization game.  No one would be putting so much effort in to the search if the original were not such a compelling game.

37) Trivial Pursuit
Year: 1981

Responsible, more than any other game, for the enormous trivia game industry.

38) Axis & Allies
Year: 1981

In and of itself, of some significance, but better known for resetting the expectations for production of a wargame.  It’s hard to imagine Fantasy Flight, as they exist today, without Axis & Allies.

39) Warhammer
Year: 1983

It’s not clear to me whether it is better to use the older, original Warhammer or the better known Warhammer 40K, but regardless one or the other must be included for their effect on modern miniature gaming.

40) Illuminati
Year: 1983

A key element in the game is the humor, a trend that has spread beyond other Steve Jackson games such as Munchkin and into Looney Labs, James Ernest’s games, and elsewhere.

41) Pictionary
Year: 1985

Here, the influence might best be demonstrated by the Draw Something app.

42) Werewolf
Year: 1986

When I first put together my list, I didn’t see a sufficient influence from Werewolf to include it, even though the game itself was very popular.  That’s clearly no longer the case, so it clearly belongs.

43) Adel Verpflichtet
Year: 1990

In addition to bringing German game design into the 1990s, Adel Verpflichtet was something of an international sensation, being one of the first games to gain a significant audience in both the United States and Europe.

44) Magic: The Gathering
Year: 1993

Again – it’s hard to argue against a game which created an industry.

45) The Settlers of Catan
Year: 1995

While Settlers wasn’t really a step forward from Adel Verpflichtet, it was a huge step forward in popularity.  I haven’t seen a recent worldwide estimate, but clearly Settlers and the various follow-ups and expansions have sold tens of millions of copies.

46) Cranium
Year: 1998

Brought games to a new audience.  While the game itself might not be revolutionary, the way it was sold – and the impact it had – clearly was.

47) Lord of the Rings
Year: 2000

This game introduced the concept of a cooperative game for adults, starting a steady stream of cooperative designs since – most notably Pandemic.

48) Carcassonne
Year: 2001

In addition to being a phenomenally popular game for more than a decade, Carcassonne has spawned many imitations and inspired many interesting designs.

49) Ticket to Ride
Year: 2004

As popular as some of their games have been, can you imagine where Days of Wonder would be without Ticket to Ride?  But like other recent games on this list, its addition isn’t just the result of the game itself and derivatives, but on the other games it has inspired and influenced.

50) Dominion
Year: 2008

I generally would prefer not to list games which haven’t had at least five years to demonstrate their place in history.  But when it seems that every company is creating their own deckbuilding game – or games – it’s hard to deny Dominion a place here.

Honorable mentions:
Euchre – 1848
Banking – 1883
The Amusing Game of Innocence Abroad – 1888
Carrom – 1896
Touring – 1906
Battleship – 1931
Anagrams – 1934
Sorry – 1934
Blockhead! – 1954
Eleusis – 1956
Concentration – 1958
Twister – 1966
Quebec 1759 – 1972
1829 – 1974
Squad Leader – 1977
Empire Builder – 1980
Bohnanza – 1997
Lost Cities – 1999
Puerto Rico – 2002
Agricola – 2007

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23 Responses to The 50 Most Historically and Culturally Significant Games Published Since 1800

  1. Worker Placer says:

    If Dominion qualifies for introducing deck building, shouldn’t there be an entry for worker placement as well? Surely it had even greater impact as a mechanic.

    • Joe Huber says:

      First – I’d disagree about the degree of impact worker placement has had. Most important, from my point of view, is the fact that worker placement is _a_ mechanism used in a game, where deck building tends to be the game, or at least the base of the game. Perhaps a subtle distinction, but one that I see as important.

      But even if I were to look at worker placement as a critical mechanism – which game would you suggest adding? Keydom is frequently pointed to as the game that introduced worker placement, but I’d have a really hard time putting it on the list. Caylus is a better choice – and one I considered, and might have named as an honorable mention had I not wanted to stick to twenty games on that list – but still, the influence has been significantly less in my opinion than that which Dominion has had. I think it’s particularly telling that people will regularly refer to “Dominion clones”, but I’m not sure I’ve once heard the phrase “Caylus clone” utilized.

  2. I don’t see an entry here for “rail games” or the category of economic games that behave in the same manner. I notice Empire Builder as an honorable mention but I would give more consideration to the likes of Steam or 1829, the game that launched an entire family of “18xx” games and inspired designs like Baltimore & Ohio.

    I don’t necessarily like rail games as well as other genres but I see how much they get played in gaming circles.

    • Joe Huber says:

      Just to note – 1829 did make the honorable mention list as well. Age of Steam isn’t particularly close at present, in my opinion. I play 18xx games regularly – about one/week in 2012 – but even though I really enjoy them, I don’t see them rising to the impact level of the other games I’ve listed.

    • huzonfirst says:

      Yeah, I’d consider 1829 or 1830 the one glaring omission from the list of 50. Those games spawned an entire genre and just like we see lots of “Civ Lite” games, there are a bunch of “18xx lite” games these days as well. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t mind bumping Tiddly Winks in favor of an 18xx game.

      I also think Caylus should be one of the Honorable Mentions. We may not see many “Caylus clones”, but we sure see a whole bunch of Worker Placement games these days and they all stemmed from Caylus’ remarkable popularity. You could argue it belongs in the top 50, but I think it should appear in the honorable mentions at the very least.

      Otherwise, I think it’s a very fine and comprehensive effort, Joe. You did a very nice job of considering a wide variety of games.

  3. Dale Yu says:

    When I first read the list, I also wondered about the 18xx/rail games, but I can see reasons for it being off the list (as well as on). In the end, limiting yourself to just 50 – there are some hard choices to be made, as there are most likely more than 50 genres/core mechanics that you could come up with.

    My list of 50 would be somewhat different than Joe’s – I’d have Euchre instead of Skat for instance (and about 10 other changes). But, that’s what’s fun about lists like this – we’re all going to have games we want on the list and other that don’t make the cut


    • Joe Huber says:

      Euchre was awfully close – I wanted to list it. But while it’s a very popular game in a portion of the US, I don’t see it having influenced other games anywhere near the level Skat has. FWIW, it made my list back in 2007…

  4. Dan Blum says:

    I would list Jungle/Dou Shou Qi instead of Stratego, since the former was a clear inspiration for the latter. (And even Stratego is really older than listed, since it’s pretty much identical to L’attaque, which dates back to 1910.) There were also other similar games pre-Stratego, e.g. Dover Patrol.

    • Joe Huber says:

      Interesting – wasn’t aware of that. But I think I’m still OK with Stratego representing the group; even if derivative, it introduced the game to a far larger audience than the predecessors.

  5. doug says:

    The points you lost for including Ticket To Ride (a well developed distillation of previously seen stuff) you made up for by including The Lord Of The Rings (although did Arhkam Horror get there first?). Every other coop I have tried seems to have a direct lineage to LOTR, apart from Legends of Andor.

    I’d yank TTR and insert an early worker placement game. Worker placement has been huge, and positive. I always seen Keydom as the first, and there would be uproar if that was there. :)

    • Joe Huber says:

      Credit to Mike Siggins for that one. It wasn’t on the list I sent around for feedback – but when he suggested it, it was obvious to me that I needed to add it.

  6. John says:

    I would argue that most of the euro/modern games on the list fail the “culturally significant” test. Outside of the board gaming community, most people still have no idea what Dominion or Carcassonne are. Outside of gamers, I know of no one who knows what miniature gaming even means, let alone what Warhammer is. Once the list got into the modern age, the criteria changed to “what has influenced boardgames today” – not an uninteresting topic, but certainly different from “culturally significant”.

    I would argue that Ticket to Ride is approaching significance, but is not quite there yet. It hasn’t reached the point of being a seminal experience in our culture like Risk, Monopoly, or The Game of Life have.

    • John says:

      I’ve realized I am being very narrowed minded about culture – I’m coming at this from a US cultural perspective. Maybe Warhammer has affected European culture?!? I have my doubts, but I’m willing to be open minded about it. I’m also assuming culture is a broader term, not a narrow one. I.e. D&D has permeated US culture – virtually everyone in the US knows about it and can understand a reference to it, even if they haven’t played it. A game like Puerto Rico has permeated gamer culture, but outside of that context, 99% people believe Puerto Rico is an island.

    • Mikko Saari says:

      John, in Finland (and I would assume this is valid in Germany and other European countries) Carcassonne is already a mass-market game. Culturally significant? Well, you can always set the bar so high Carcassonne is not included and something else is (in Finland it’s Trivial Pursuit, Afrikan tähti, Monopoly, Alias, and that’s about it for designer games).

      After all, Carcassonne has been a best-seller for ten years now. There are soon adults who have known Carcassonne since they were kids.

      Warhammer is certainly a hobby thing, only known for the hobbyists and their parents…

  7. Hanno Girke says:

    Subbuteo (1947)?
    Tipp-Kick was invented in 1921, grandfathering Subbuteo which should be included in the list of rip-offs, not iconic games.

    • Joe Huber says:

      Perhaps. But many times the game which has the greatest impact is not the innovator; Pit and Stratego, just to name two other games from the list, were clearly derivative – but also clearly (at least to me) were the games which had the greater significance.

  8. peer says:

    Im missing Milles Bounres (or is precessor Touring) – its the first real take-that-Crad game, spawning many clones and is still played today.

  9. Mikko Saari says:

    Trivial Pursuit? Or are trivia games not a big deal in US? In Finland, it would have to be on the list.

  10. John says:

    Talking about this with my wife, we thought that the Pokemon Trading Card Game was more historically and culturally significant than Magic in the US. Magic is unarguable the more influential game to gamers, but it seems to have a tiny cultural penetration compared to Pokemon. Every boy and a good share of girls move through the Pokemon world between ages 7-10 and it is all fueled by the card game. They may not play it, but they spend obscene amounts of money “catching them all”. Through their children, adults know about collectable card games through the lens of Pokemon, not Magic – and they shudder at the thought. :)

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