We here at The Opinionated Gamers clearly love shiny, new games. This fact is made abundantly clear by all the reviews of new releases that we do here and particularly by the recent roundtable discussion on the “cult of the new” phenomenon. But what you may not know is that we also love old games. Not just old games, some really old games. A reader recently asked us to take a break from obsessing over all the new stuff and take some time to talk about older titles that are still hitting the table. We’re more than happy to oblige. It’s not as tough as it may sound because many of us actually still play older games quite regularly.
But what does “old” mean? We’ve found that it means something different to different people when used in the game release context. Some thought that games released more than a couple years ago were old, while others thought the games would at least have to come from the previous millennium, and others insisted that everything post-Settlers was a new-fangled game. To accommodate all concepts of old, we’ll break it down by decade, with a discussion of “Old” games from 2000 to 2009, Older games from 1990 to 1999, and the Oldest games from pre-1990 (back around the dawn of civilization). We’ll each come up with three games from each period that we think are still worth playing today despite the constant stream of shiny new releases and we’ll explain why those old, older, and oldest titles are still hitting the table today.
“OLD” (2000 – 2009)
Opinionated Gamers Collective Top 5:
(1) Puerto Rico tied with Race for the Galaxy
(3) Through the Ages
(4) Power Grid tied with Ticket to Ride
With so many different games being chosen by the OG for this decade, there’s not a whole lot of consensus, but these five games ended up rising to the top based on the selections laid out below. Obviously the “Old” moniker is being used here tongue-in-cheek since none of these games are truly old. Then again, given the cult-of-the-new tendency for many in the hobby, it can be tough to even get games that are a few years old to the table. Puerto Rico, Race for the Galaxy, and Through the Ages are three games that are definitely still hitting our tables though, for the reasons explained below. For anyone just getting into the hobby and looking to dig around a bit in the back catalogue of game releases, these would be an exemplary place to start.
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Tom R. (1) Through the Ages; (2) Antiquity; (3) San Marco
- These games don’t even seem old to me. I still play them as often as time permits and feel as if I’m still exploring and discovering intricacies of them. Through the Ages has gotten 9 plays in the past year and continues to be a remarkable achievement in the world of civilization games. It’s a travesty to have a game as good as Antiquity in the second spot, but these two are in a virtual tie. The thrill of surviving the combined onslaught of pollution and graves in Antiquity never gets old. And then there’s San Marco, a brilliant design if there ever was one. The I-cut-you-choose mechanism is so instantly familiar and tense that it’s a wonder it’s not used more in games. The latitude and flexibility that it empowers players with makes for a devilishly open game.
Larry L. (1) Through the Ages; (2) Puerto Rico; (3) Princes of Florence
- Through the Ages is truly one of the great design achievements. Its scope is breathtaking and yet you’re constantly engaged, with no two games playing remotely the same. I expect I’ll want to play this every year for the rest of my life. Puerto Rico was my all-time favorite game for close to a decade. One reason is the superbly balanced options, but more significant is the necessity of predicting what your opponents will be doing on their turns. This keeps the game endlessly fresh and it’s so satisfying when you not only predict correctly, but are able to take advantage of your predictions. Princes has been relegated to “little brother” status for some reason, which is supremely unfair, as it fully deserves to be ranked among the great games. The tension of having to accomplish so much with only 7 bids and 14 actions is wonderful and makes this one of the tightest designs ever created.
Lorna W. (1) Web of Power; (2) Brass/Age of Steam; (3) Princes of Florence
- Web of Power, my most played game and brilliant with 3. It’s short, sweet, and to the point. Classic area majority game. Way better than China because of the asymmetry to the map and fewer face up cards to choose from.
- Brass/Age of Steam, ok, I’m cheating a bit, but hey they are both economic Martin Wallace games, right? Both are extremely challenging and you have to manage your money carefully. These games make my brain burn and it’s gratifying just to do well. I would hardly every turn a game down.
- Princes of Florence, still one of my favorite auction games. The bidding can be fierce or totally surprise you. I love trying to maximize your works in the most efficient way.
Ted A. (1) Goa; (2) Notre Dame; (3) Ultimate Werewolf
- Goa is without question my favorite auction game. Because of the changing money track for each player, each of the items up for auction actually has a value… but that value is different to each player. Trying to get inside your opponent’s heads to figure out where they’ll stop bidding and/or how much you can make them pay is incredibly engaging. Notre Dame is still the crown gem of Feld games, with his signature “avoid impending doom” mechanic in the form of a rat population that is slowing growing out of control. Each turn you want to do more than what you can, and the balance of trade-offs is perfect. I pimped my copy out with “real” Notre Dame metal coins from the souvenir coin dispensers that are in Notre Dame. Finally, Ultimate Werewolf (which I created in 2006 because all the other versions out there were lacking in many ways) is a game I will never turn down. I’m sad for all of those gamers whose only experience playing was with the very-flawed Miller’s Hollow set, and would encourage anyone who had a bad experience to give it another go with UW. Just missing the list here is Age of Steam, which I’ve played more than anything else.
Joe H. (1) 1846; (2) Race for the Galaxy; (3) Thebes / Jenseits von Theben
- I suspect I might be in the minority here, in that these aren’t my favorite games out of the group. Oh, they’re all favorites; they’re all in fact among my 10 favorite games. But I definitely prefer my “older” game list to this one, and slightly prefer my “oldest” list. Which actually brings up a key point – to me, Cult of the New implies a focus on playing new games, not a preference for new games. I love to play a wide variety of new games, in hopes of finding a gem, and I do so often enough to justify the time I spend. But it takes a while for games to become favorites of mine, and so a list of my favorites – games I get to the table year in and year out – are generally older titles.
- Among these games, 1846 took me the longest to fully appreciate; not long ago, I considered it one of three 18xx games vying to be my second favorite in the series. But we started playing it _much_ more frequently, and I’ve started to appreciate the game much more as a result. Unlike most 18xx games, there is randomness in the setup that leads to very different challenges from one game to the next. Race for the Galaxy I was fortunate enough to play from the start, and quickly captured me, in no small part because playing against more experienced players I could _not_ seem to win. That’s always a good sign for a complex game, in my opinion. I had the opportunity to play the original, first edition, Jenseits von Theben a few months after it was released, and I was _crushed_. The final scores were 48, 45, 44 – and 11. And I _loved_ it. I’d lost because I had awful luck – but I’d had a fantastic time in the process. I quickly signed up to buy the second release, and then when Queen picked the game up (and did a great job with the components), added that edition to my collection as well.
Mark J. (1) Race for the Galaxy; (2) Memoir ‘44; (3) Puerto Rico
- I think 2009 is too close… so I’ll make sure that two of my picks are pre-2005 and that all of them are still available for purchase. (Sorry, Heroscape.)
- So the one from post-2005 is the absolutely addicting Race for the Galaxy. It’s worth the time & effort to get over the “what the heck is going on here?” hump in order to enjoy a game that is decidedly NOT multi-player solitaire – the person who ignores what others are doing almost always loses. I’m willing to play this one pretty much any time someone asks.
- Memoir ‘44 is my favorite game in the Command & Colors system… shoot, it’s my favorite “war game” of all time. It plays quickly & cleanly, has a huge amount of variety in the scenarios & extra rules, and is a blast to play even when my 6 year old cleans my clock.
- Finally, there’s a reason that Puerto Rico has just been given a pimped-out 10th anniversary reprint… it’s an amazing game. Avoid playing with those who insist that they’ve “figured out the perfect strategy” and instead begin to explore the intricate series of trade-offs & tension that is one of the best Euro designs in print.
Nathan B. (1) Princes of Florence; (2) Vegas Showdown; (3) Agricola
- As a certified Cult of the Great member, my preference is to play something I consider fantastic. Toward that end, I do enjoy playing new games on occasion, looking for more great games to add to the stables. These three from the aughts would get pulled out monthly or fortnightly if I could, and sometimes they do. Usually it’s about once every two or three months.
- The Princes of Florence was a game I instantly enjoyed, but the more I played it the higher my rating of it crept up. Now it’s one of four perfect 10 games for me. There’s something about the auctioning that always makes it delicious and always makes it a challenge to actually outplay your opponents and not the game. I also really love trying to get the buildings I need on my player mat. More than a few games have turned south when I realized I forgot to plan for that, which is among my preferred ways to lose a game.
- The box art for Vegas Showdown is some of the most misleading in board gaming. It looks like it’s a gambling experience, probably something mass marketed for families of non-gamers. But inside the box is a wonderful gem about building your ideal casino.
- Nothing really much to add about Agricola, except to note that it’s yet another game I like where you build up your territory on your own little board, and you don’t have enough actions to do everything you want to do.
Erik A. (1) Ticket to Ride; (2) Heroscape; (3) Dominion
- Some time ago, I wrote an article for About.com listing my picks for the top 20 board games of the 2000s decade, and the top three games I listed were Puerto Rico, Ticket to Ride, and Heroscape, in that order. I still believe that Puerto Rico is the “best” board game published in the 2000s, but our charge for this article was to “talk about older titles that are still hitting the table” — and I must confess that I rarely (if ever) play Puerto Rico any more. However, Ticket to Ride, Heroscape, and Dominion, which I listed on About.com as the best card game of the 2000s, still get played a lot, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Ted C. (1) Puerto Rico; (2) Railroad Tycoon; (3) Power Grid
- This was very hard. There are way too many games in this year group that I really enjoy. These are the first that really stuck, but could easily be changed.
Jonathan F. (1) Race For The Galaxy; (2) Puerto Rico; (3) Ghost Stories
- I think I am supposed to write something interesting here. These are classics that are on the shorter end. Ghost Stories can go long, but you can also die quickly.
Matt C. (1) Through the Ages; (2) No Thanks; (3) Goa
- Throwing out Heroscape for being unavailable, and Dominion for still being “Too New,” I’m left with a huge list of games from this range that I enjoy and wish I played more often.
- Through the Ages is an awesome game that I just don’t play often enough. I’m amazed at how much of the civ-development can be scrunched into a (relatively) shorter playing game. The abstracted military and ignoring any sort of map was a key decision to keep this game streamlined while preserving the various tech tree options available.
- No Thanks! is my most played game ever, for good reason. I can take this deck of cards anywhere, explain it to people and have folks have a good game experience that is unlike most any other card or board game they’ve seen before. Once I hook them with No Thanks, I can often interest them in a more substantial gateway game.
- Goa is just one of many “classic” boardgames (Puerto Rico, Caylus, etc…) from the early/mid 2000s that I enjoy. I put Goa down since it has the most “tech tree” development style play while preserving the feeling of “tending and growing my own garden” without lots of player conflict to mess up my plans. I do have to “shop” effectively in the auctions, but I don’t mind weighing my costs. Having several avenues open to victory is always a plus to me, especially when each avenue grants a slightly different play style to keep the game somewhat fresh.
Patrick B. (1) Puerto Rico; (2) Power Grid; (3) Die Sieben Siegel
- These are the three from this period I’ve spend the most time playing. PR and PG are defaults that everyone seems happy to go back to when the shiny new stuff runs out. dSS is a regular late night trick-taking closer, made more fun by our home-gown ‘auction off the saboteur’ variant. All three provide good game-to-game variety, interesting competition without being confrontational, and a warm social feel where the chat flows.
Mary P. (1) Pillars of the Earth; (2) Ticket to Ride; (3) Runebound
- These are not necessarily my favorite games of this decade but they come out quite a lot. Pillars of the Earth could easily have been substituted by Macao or World Without End. I still enjoy all these games now and then, and probably more if I thought about it longer (I don’t keep track of games I play).
- Ticket to Ride is my representative “gateway” game. I play this a lot with non-gaming family and friends or people who are new to gaming. Ditto this for Carcassonne and Roll Through the Ages.
- Runebound represents a set of games that are RPG inspired. I really like this genre. I could have chosen Descent, Middle Earth Quest, or Prophecy as well.
Brian L. (1) Race for the Galaxy; (2) Small World; (3) Uptown
- Race for the Galaxy was an easy first choice for me. It is a truly epic and amazing game. I still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface.
- A somewhat surprising choice perhaps, Small World is the embodiment of taking a good idea and making it excellent. I’ve never been bored when playing it and the strategy perfectly matches the effort and play time in my opinion.
- This last one is probably going to be a unique item on this list, but the Blockers version was just nominated for SdJ in the past year. I’ll admit a slight bias as I was there for early play tests on this title, and helped the designer by being a third at the table during demos publishers. I don’t usually go for abstracts, but this one I just find addictive.
Dale Y. (1) Dominion; (2) Agricola; (3) Ticket to Ride
- Well, I worked on Dominion. Played it over 2,500 times at this point. A shoe-in if there ever was one
- Agricola has been in my top 5 since it came out. Getting a chance to fine-tune the solo game only increased my love for this game
- TtR is a game that I simply haven’t ever tired of – I’m always happy to pull this off the shelf, and the newly released map collections are refreshing the whole series
Fraser M. (1) Power Grid; (2) Agricola; (3) Amun-Re
- Power Grid would rank on the base game alone, but is not hurt with the extra maps adding flexibility. There is a magnificent dance between the auctions, the cities, and the resources going on. Some times I win and some times I get creamed, but it is still fun. The addition of the Robots expansion means that two player is now playable, although there are still better options if you only have two.
- Agricola plays well two to five and still gets plenty of play.
- Amun Re narrowly beats out Puerto Rico, Goa, Battlestar Galactica, and Princes of Florence to take the third spot. I liked it the first time I played it and I still like it now. Best with five or four. Quite a bit of playing the players in the auction and the sacrifice. I’m happy to say that Daughter the Elder plays all three of these games.
Mike S. (1) Struggle of Empires; (2) Jenseits/Thebes; (3) Uruk
- So, basically, my job here is to reduce over two thousand played ‘old’ games to just nine favourites that are regularly on the table? Yeah, that won’t take long. A doddle, really. Interestingly, this was by far the easiest group. Not that there aren’t excellent, replayable games from this era, just that they aren’t starting to come out again yet – we play far too many brand new games for mere recent games to get a look in. Apart from these three, Pillars of the Earth, Ingenious, Roll Through the Ages, Uptown, and War of the Ring all get plenty of play, but I work for their publishers! I am also nominating 1960; Wings of War; Empires; Brass; Command & Colors: Ancients; Hansa Teutonica; Reef Encounter; Wallenstein; and Maria, but they get to warm the bench. Check back with me in 2020 to see which ones stick around.
Jeff A. (1) Pickomino; (2) San Juan; (3) Traumfabrik
- Pickomino – the perfect modern light dice game, something so easy to teach and compact that I take it along on most trips. Also a good opener or closer when you want to get everyone together at the same table.
- San Juan – I never tire of playing this innovative card game version of Puerto Rico. Many have moved on to Race for the Galaxy—and I’ve finally traded for a copy myself to give it a try—but this one is still my favorite civ/engine-buiding card game, even more so than 7 Wonders.
- Traumfabrik – a great auction game that is very thematic and accessible, and therefore gets played by a wide variety of people. Other games that make the runners-up list: Hey That’s My Fish!, Domaine, Wyatt Earp, Carcassonne, and Ticket to Ride.
Jennifer G. (1) Indonesia; (2) Notre Dame; (3) Struggle of Empires
- I intentionally picked games out of the BGG top 50. I like so many of the top-ranked games that I can’t narrow them down to only three. I like economic games, and Indonesia has a good balance of engine building, development, and theme. Plus, you get to make TV dinner! Notre Dame was one of the first board games I played when I started, and I have been a fan of Stefan Feld designed games ever since (even In the Year of the Dragon and Speicherstadt). For some reason, I really like games that force you to plan for bad events as part of the game and not just to defend against attacks from other players. Struggle of Empires is one of my favorite strategic games, and I especially like the alliance mechanism.
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There you have it. The “old” games that the Opinionated Gamers are still playing despite the incessant onslaught of new releases. Check back on Wednesday for the selections of “older” games (1990-1999) and on Friday for the “oldest” games (pre-1990). In the meantime, we’d love to here what “old” games are still hitting the table at your game days and if you think we made any big oversights. It’s a constant struggle to find the right balance between trying new releases and revisiting old favorites, but the games discussed above are as clear a reason as any why the new hotness is not always the best option and why the past decade was a spectacular one in game design.