Old, Older, Oldest – Part 2

OLDER (1990 – 1999)

Opinionated Gamers Collective Top 5:

(1) Euphrat & Tigris

(2) El Grande tied with Tichu

(4) Settlers of Catan

(5) Showmanager

With this group, we finally get to some games that are actually a bit old, at least more so than those discussed on Monday from the more recent decade.  We’ve begun to dig a bit deeper into the strata of gaming history and are beginning to see the roots of modern board games, but we still have a little ways to go to see the true ancestors on Friday.

There are no real surprises here, with Knizia, Kramer, and Klaus Teuber dominating the list.  The old guard were certainly kings of the 90s, even if they were dethroned by the likes of Seyfarth, Lehmann, Chvatil, Friese, and Moon after the turn of the century.  In addition to the obvious results of Euphrat & Tigris, El Grande, and Settlers, we find everybody’s seemingly favorite card game – Tichu (although there are those of us who find that it pales in comparison to Schmiel’s Was Sticht and Dorra’s Njet).  And then there’s the little engine that could, Dirk Henn’s Showmanager (or Show Manager depending on who you ask) just squeaking into fifth place to join the giants of the decade.  No matter how you look at it, these are definitely five games that would be a great place to start building a game collection.  And they’re great proof that older games still deserve to and actually do hit the table despite the flood of new releases each year.  These classics continue to shine and continue to influence the development of the hobby many years later.

*               *               *

Tom R.     (1) El Grande; (2) Euphrat & Tigris; (3) Extrablatt

  • The king of games, El Grande, is simply peerless when it comes to combining simplicity with tension.  You’ve got an incessant bombardment of difficult and meaningful decisions to make, yet within a framework of rules that is remarkably straightforward.  Euphrat & Tigris hit the table for the 91st time last month and I was still seeing new game states develop.  The way in which the board shifts and morphs over the course of the game is beautiful to behold.  Knizia could have had a pair here with Ra, Through the Desert, or Stephensons Rocket (back from the decade in which he made great games), but Extrablatt is just too unique and quirky to pass up.  It also holds up really well today as a game that is still remarkably fun to play and sadly still played by too few given the reprint’s many delays.

Larry L.     (1) Tikal; (2) Lowenherz; (3) Euphrat & Tigris

  • Tikal was the first German game to truly blow me away and show me just what heights these new-found creations could attain.  This is a superbly polished design, where making the most of your 10 Action Points every turn is a terrific challenge.  AP does not have to be a problem with this title; with experienced players, I’ve never had a game of this go over 2 hours.  Lowenherz is Klaus Teuber’s masterpiece, in my opinion, and is one of the most contentious, nastiest games I’ve played.  It’s filled to the brim with cutthroat tactics and brilliant gambits and is not for the faint of heart.  E&T is a peculiar case.  It’s undeniably a great game and I admire it greatly, but I really don’t make too much of an effort to get it to the table.  I suspect I’d be more insistent if I were better at its very deep strategies.  In any event, this might be as close as Germany has come to one of the timeless classics like Go and Chess.

Lorna W.     (1) Settlers of Catan; (2) El Grande; (3) Flaschenteufel

  • I simply had to put Settlers down. Still fun on occasion, the games involves, dice, negotiation, and resource management, what more could you want in a game?
  • El Grande is still one of the best games with 5. Another area majority game with tons of interaction. Managing your bidding cards and the tactical play from turn to turn really makes it challenging.
  • Flaschenteufel (aka The Bottle Imp) is the most thematic card game I’ve played. Trick-taking with a twist and trying to avoid the bottle in the end is great.

Ted A.     (1) Tichu; (2) El Grande; (3) Euphrat & Tigris

  • Tichu is simply amazing. If you dislike card games, you still might love Tichu. While the hand you’re dealt is obviously a large factor in what you can do, learning when to take appropriate Tichu-calling risks is a huge rush, akin to going all-in during a game of Hold-em. El Grande is the best 5 player game out there. It’s pure area majority with a healthy dose of interaction and one-upmanship. E&T is Knizia’s crown gem. The strategies are endless, it works amazingly well with 2 or 3 players (and is acceptable with 4).

Joe H.     (1) The Settlers of Catan; (2) 2038; (3) Frisch Fisch

  • Die Siedler von Catan has now spent 17 years as my very favorite game; I reconsider the matter regularly, and it really hasn’t changed.  I still prefer the original game, and in fact while I own multiple version of the original I usually own none of expansions save for the 5/6 player expansion, which I haven’t played in a decade.  (I currently have the chocolate variant, which I enjoy more than most of the variants mostly because it doesn’t significantly affect the playing time – but I don’t have any expectation that it will remain in my collection.)
  • 2038 remains my favorite 18xx game, primarily because it combines significant game-to-game variance with much more interesting company management problems than other 18xx games.
  • Frisch Fisch (Fresh Fish) simply fascinates me.  The rules are very simple, but the implications of the rules are complex, and manipulating the implications in your favor is a wonderful puzzle.  Add in that it’s a competitive puzzle, and the game is right up my alley.

Mark J.    (1) The Settlers of Catan; (2) Showmanager; (3) Fast Food Franchise

  • It’s become “cool” in gamer circles to crack on Settlers… and the constant barrage of Settlers product (most recently announced: Star Trek Catan) makes that kind of behavior more likely. But behind all the popularity & product is a really resilient & enjoyable game system – a design that revolutionized board games & is still wonderfully playable today.
  • There aren’t many games in my collection that work well for 6 players… Showmanager is the stellar exception. The game speeds along as players invariably find themselves making difficult choices that impact not only themselves but the other folks who follow them in the turn order. There is much rejoicing & much gnashing of teeth & much, much fun.
  • Fast Food Franchise may look like a Monopoly clone – but there are a lot of wonderful innovations packed into this nearly 20 year old game courtesy of the designer, Tom Lehmann. Yes, it has player elimination & event cards – but dismissing the game because of those things will cause you to miss out on what has turned out over the years to be a consistently great gaming experience every time it hits the table – whether with my 10 year old son, a couple of non-gamer couples, or a group of hard-core gamers.

Nathan B.    (1) Show Manager; (2) Big Boss; (3) Primordial Soup

  • There are a whole lot of games from this era that I adore and play frequently: Tichu, Cosmic Eidex, Loopin’ Louie, Catchphrase, Times to Remember, Split Second, and Inspeaquence to name a few.  But the three games I listed are ones that I still eagerly anticipage the next play of.
  • We used to consider our game group as the Big Boss center of the universe.  We played Wolfgang Kramer’s hotel/stock game as a closer to end most game nights for years and years.  Lately, it’s been much more difficult to get out (still more than once a year), namely because that group has been fractured a little and I don’t get to see my friend that owns it nearly as much as I used to.  I understand that he is leaving one of his copies(!) to me in his will, so I always warn him to stay away from sharp objects when around me.
  • Like Big Boss, Show Manager got played so much it developed its own catchphrases.  With the Boss it was my friend Russell’s catchy “What the heck, go with Frecc”, when deciding which company to found.  Show Manager then brought us the “two buck flush”, which gets used in any game that allows you to clean the board, regardless of the cost.  That flushing, by the way, always leads to a fun little press-your-luck mechanism in the middle of the game that is the source of much joy and angst.  Seeing someone wipe away a card you desperately wanted is wonderfully maddening.  Just as it is when you finally get the card you wanted, only to find it costs a dollar more than what you saved back.
  • Primordial Soup really hits a few of my favorite buttons in that it has special unique abilities that you can buy for your amoeba, and it has a fantastically cool theme.  A game where you move around and eat other players’ poop cubes and carcasses, it never fails to keep me entertained

Erik A.        (1) Adel Verpflichtet; (2) Showmanager; (3) Settlers of Catan

  • Three fantastic games from the 1990s. I love the way that Adel Verpflichtet (aka Hoity Toity and By Hook or By Crook) uses a simultaneous selection mechanic as much as I love the art theft (um… art collection) theme. Showmanager may very well be the best six-player strategy game ever created, and Settlers of Catan… well, its brilliance goes without saying.

Matt C.        (1) Primordial Soup ‘97; (2) El Grande ‘95; (3) Magic: the Gathering ‘93

  • A little less difficult than choosing from the Old category, but still some honorable mentions such as the puzzle-like Ricochet Robots (perhaps my wife’s favorite game), RoboRally (my wife’s other favorite game), and the nostalgic Settlers of Catan (which brought so many of my friends and others into boardgaming).  If I’m going to go simply what I like to play I’ll have to stick to the three listed above.
  • Primordial Soup – As a science teacher type, I love the premise of sloshing about as an amoeba, trying to get ahead.  Special upgrades give each player and game a different feel and make playing with the expansion abilities even better.  The game can get a little slow – especially for new players who have to understand the entire set of new abilities all at once – but is still well worth my time.  Eating each other’s poop, starving in one’s own excrement, or simply attacking one another for nourishment are all par for the course.  I put this right next to Evo (an “old” game from ‘01) as I think Evo managed to streamline much of the best of Primordial Soup, but Evo lacks the hilarious theme.
  • El Grande is perhaps the first real meaty game I owned (and thus played.)  The fun of the mystery of the tower, the tension of balancing your court and your province people, even just deciding which number card to play (and thus turn order) made for a great game.  My memories of the game tend to gloss over its slightly long playing time (since I’m frequently teaching it to new players rather than getting to play it with experienced regulars) but I’m still a huge fan of the game both for sentimental and actual gameplay reasons.
  • I’ll end my list of this era with Magic: The Gathering.  I got into the game right before the Revised set came out and gave up playing a couple years later.  While I spent a good portion of my disposable grad student income on cards, I never got into the tournament competitiveness.  I still play the game today with my brother-in-law as it is a very satisfying game of balancing resources, strategic planning in building decks, and tactical play when playing the game.  I don’t bother teaching the game to new players as it is too complex to be worth it unless that person plans on quite a few repeat plays.  However, I enjoy immensely the “Magic Cube” version I play biannually with my brother-in-law where we draft cards out of a fixed set of rather powerful cards and then see what sorts of decks we can build to take each other on.  It simulates a sealed-deck draft tournament but costs nothing (we have the set of about 450 cards I built) and since most of the cards are “rare” types there are plenty of interesting powers and abilities to go around.

Patrick B.    (1) Lost Cities; (2) Bluff; (3) Tichu

  • All three of these still get regular play 10 years on. Lost Cities was that rare two player that everyone enjoyed, gamer or not, dragging family in, being easy to learn, easy to play but with good decisions along the way. Bluff comes out as our opener most gaming nights, allowing the trash talk to flow and getting everyone in a fun mood for the night. Tichu is a regular closer when we have exactly 4 players and an hour to spare, providing a rich card playing partnership experience with plenty of tension along the way.

Ted C.        (1) El Grande; (2) Tigris and Euphrates; (3)  Expedition

  • The first two have been discussed a lot so I will pass on these. Expedition is just a great light game.  It really shines with three players, but can expand to six.  This used to be my filler of choice for the time.

Mary P.     (1) Tichu (2) Time’s Up (3) Magic: The Gathering

  • Tichu is probably my favorite game. I play this pretty much any time I can (which is still not often enough!).
  • Time’s Up is one of my favorite party games. I think I prefer the Title Recall version but still enjoy the base game.
  • I’m not sure if I should list Magic: The Gathering here or not. I haven’t played in a couple years but I know I will again. I certainly still make decks and organize cards… sadly I still have a backlog for organizing. I don’t collect the cards anymore although I get new ones now and then when I play in the occasional sealed deck tournament (these need organizing too). I also still play other CCG/TCG games (and/or make decks) such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Middle Earth, On the Edge, and Harry Potter.
  • I wanted to list Bohnanza as well since it’s another game we play with newbies. Sigh.

Brian L.    (1) Tigris & Euphrates; (2) Tichu; (3) Ta Yu

  • I can remember eagerly awaiting Tigris & Euphrates. Talk about pre-release hype for a game! This was going to be the big one. And it did not disappoint. A game I’ve always liked far better than I’ve played it. One friend stopped playing with me because I was so bad it was not interesting to him! But, I’ll still jump at the chance when I get it.
  • There is not much more I can say about Tichu. I hope to be playing this one for another fifty years. We’ll wager our best medications at the old folk’s home and play until we reach 1,000 or someone falls asleep at the table.
  • Ta Yu, in the best printing, is a beautiful, tactile, and strategic tile laying game. Strikingly, another essentially abstract game takes the #3 spot on one of my lists. Works wonderfully whether head to head or in teams.

Dale Y.       (1) Tichu; (2) For Sale;  (3) Showmanager

  • Tichu is one of those weird games. It’s my favorite card game, but I only play it at conventions now because my local group doesn’t care for it
  • For Sale has just the right balance of skill,  bluffing, quick play but tight decision-making.  My kids and I have really enjoyed the re-release of this
  • Showmanager, with its asymmetrical card distribution and all, is way better than Atlantic Star.  The theme also fits much better.

Fraser M.        (1) Tigris & Euphrates; (2) Lost Cities; (3) Ra

  • Subtitled the Reiner decade, back when he was putting out more of the Gamer’s Games.  Tigris & Euphrates is still a great game.  I remember the “wow” feeling I got when I first played it.  A great game face to face and plays by e-mail too.  I have seven games going on BGG as I type.
  • Lost Cities.  Simple, short yet full of angst and tough decisions.  I don’t need to bother with the new variations, this still has it all.
  • Ra Ra Ra Ra!  It pretty much says it all.  Three notables that just missed the cut: Tichu, Settlers of Catan, and El Grande.

Mike S.        (1) High Society; (2) Medici; (3) Euphrat & Tigris

  • Woaahh. It was very hard to choose these. Turns out most of the ‘old’ games that I happily play most years are from this period, even if I thought they were from the Eighties. Memory going I think, which lets me politely forget about S*ttl*rs, Robo Rally and M:tG. A couple of hours on BGG sees not only a chunk of great, persistent games from the Nineties, but a large proportion from 1995; these include my favourite game ever, Middle Earth: The Wizards. Must have been something in the water. Also rans include Modern Art (yes, really); Mu (ditto); El Grande (ditto ditto); Extrablatt; Elfenland; Vernissage; Netrunner; Chariot Lords; Age of Exploration; and Silverton. Not a bad batch, eh?

Jonathan F.    (1) Magic: the Gathering; (2) Zendo; (3) Ricochet Robots.  

  • I really like Samurai, Through the Desert, Kahuna, and Bohnanza, but none of them have hit the table with any frequency.  If I really were lying, I’d list Schnappchen Jagd/Bargain Hunter and Stephensons Rocket.  Magic has recently taken our house over and it is an amazing game.  I am a newbie and loving the deck-building part of it.

Jeff A.        (1) Vinci; (2) Ra; (3) Medici

  • Vinci – maybe I’m cheating here, but even though I’ve played Small World more recently, I haven’t been able to trade my copy of the original Vinci away, as I miss some of its features—especially the longer game length, with more opportunity to try multiple combinations.
  • Ra is one of the most enjoyable auction games I’ve played, although I usually play Amigo’s Razzia! version, which is much more portable and makes more sense thematically.
  • Medici is another Knizia auction masterpiece, and it’s easy to learn as well.  Other games that make my runners-up list: 6 Nimmt, Bohnanza, Top Race, Elfenland, Settlers of Catan, Hoity Toity, Tutanchamun, and Through the Desert (the last two rounding out the “golden age of Knizia designs”).

Jennifer G.        (1) Big Boss; (2) Tikal; (3) Medici

  • Big Boss is another game that I learned when I first started playing games a few years ago, and it’s still one of my favorites. The rules are simple but there is quite a bit to consider in the decision-making process. Every game of Big Boss I’ve played has been pretty tense. Similarly, every game of Tikal I’ve played has also been tense and engaging. Medici still gets played at our groups regularly, sometimes twice in a row. All these are games that have significant player interactions but you can still plan your move when it’s not your turn.

*               *               *

We’re two-thirds of the way there now.  These were the “older” games that the Opinionated Gamers still find worth playing today.  See our article from Monday for the selections of “old” games (2000-2009).  And check back on Friday for the “oldest” games (pre-1990) that we find are still hitting the table.

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16 Responses to Old, Older, Oldest – Part 2

  1. Eric Brosius says:

    This is the toughest list for me. Two of my top 3 games come from this period (and the third, Taj Mahal, would be in the decade if one defined the decade as 1991-2000, as all right-thinking people would do.)

    My first choice is Medici (1995). This is a pure auction game that is unmatched when played by a group of strong players. Yes, it does have luck in the card flip, but it plays in less than an hour and I have a lot of tolerance for luck in a short game with great decision-making challenges. You get to predict what your opponents will do and bid accordingly.

    Second on the list is El Grande (1995). I still remember when we got this game and realized that we finally had a great gamers’ game that was perfect with 5 players. People criticize it as just another area-majority game, but El Grande is the game that made the area-majority game genre. The genius of this design is the way is provides you with just the right amount of freedom to mess with your opponents—if it were a little more, or a little less, the game wouldn’t be as great as it is.

    To pick my third game I have to prune several favorites, but it has to be Lost Cities (1999). I always liked this game, but I’ve gotten better at it in the last 10 years and have learned to appreciate all the subtleties of timing. In some games, the character of the game affects which strategies work best. In this game, you can adjust the character of the game (fast or slow) to benefit the strategy you are using and hurt the strategy of your opponent.

    It is with reluctance that I have to leave off this list not only crayon rails games Eurorails (1990) and India Rails (1998) and wargame Paths of Glory (1999), but also Outpost (1991) and Settlers of Catan (1995).

  2. Paul Lister says:

    SO many great games…

    One i’d add to the list is I’m the boss which when played with the right crowd is one the best negotiation games ever and Sid Sackson’s last great

    • Matt J Carlson says:

      I’m the Boss is a great game, but just not high enough on my radar to make my top 3 of this period… I need to get that out again…

    • huzonfirst says:

      Interestingly, just about all of my favorite 6-player games come from this decade. These include I’m the Boss, Showmanager, Medici, and Time’s Up. Another favorite with 6 is an even older game, Hare & Tortoise.

      I think there’s definitely been more of an effort to support smaller player numbers rather than larger ones these days. Good 3-player games used to be very hard to find, but now there’s a ton of them. However, now it’s even hard to find games that support 5!

      So the era of the great 6-player game may be over. The only game from this century that’s among my 6-player favorites is Wildlife (although the recent Team Asia Ticket to Ride could easily join it). Note that I do NOT include Union Pacific in this list; I think the game is markedly better with 5 than with 6 and is at its best with 4 players.

      • Dale Yu says:

        Well – as far as UP goes – I think it all depends…. on which UP stock acquisition rules you use! Which set of rules do you play by?

        • huzonfirst says:

          Played with several and it doesn’t matter, Dale. The UP stock isn’t the issue at all–it’s the lack of control and long downtime with 6. There’s so much more focus and scope for skillful play with 4, IMO. The only reason we played UP with 6 so much is that it was one of the few games at that time that supported that number, not because it played well with it.

  3. Dale Yu says:

    Though it didn’t make my top 3 — it is #4 for me — I was a bit surprised to see that Settlers was only #4 overall. I had really thought that it would be higher than that.

  4. Ben (chally) says:

    I’m intrigued by the general preference for Medici over Modern Art in this time period. I’ve only played Medici once (and I enjoyed it), but it seemed to lack the timeless elegance and patent incentive manipulation of its auction sibling.

    In general, I find this period less-than-inspiring in terms of games still “worth playing.” Euphrat & Tigris remains a classic, with Modern Art and Tichu not far behind. But the drop off to the next tier — Samurai? Bonanza? The Bottle Imp? — suggests that I have firmly embraced a more modern gaming aesthetic. Games like Settlers and El Grande, though undoubtedly praiseworthy for their contributions to the hobby, simply do not move me to want to play them over the numerous other solid titles released each year.

    • Tom Rosen says:

      a) Ra beats the pants off both of them, so who really cares about Medici or Modern Art ;)

      b) But wouldn’t you so much rather have a game day of Euphrat & Tigris, El Grande, and Tichu than Trajan, Ora et Labora, and Mundus Novus? The nice thing about these 1990s games is the great familiar feeling that they provide and the fact that you know you’re in for something good, even if they don’t have that excitement or spark of learning something new. Given that the new thing often fails to live up to expectations and can require a lengthy rules explanation, returning to the stable of great games from the 90s can be just the ticket after a few months of sampling the latest Essen crop.

      • huzonfirst says:

        Players like Ben, who prefer heavier and more contentious games, are probably worst served by the nineties than almost any other decade, Tom. Today, the smaller publishers can provide these kinds of games; and earlier, you had the really heavy, really long games that came out of the US and Britain. The nineties were dominated by the flowering of the modern Euro game, so I’m not surprised that Ben isn’t excited by them.

    • McJarvis says:

      Medici is one of the few games which works really well with 6. I wouldn’t compare it to Modern Art at all.

    • Mark Jackson says:

      Modern Art is just so darn “fragile” – subject to wild swings w/new or clueless players. Medici can have small problems with that – but to a much lesser extent.

  5. McJarvis says:

    I’m calling Larry Levy out: he may love old games, but he never lets them actually hit the table. I can think of only one time in the last two years I’ve seen him play one of his top 3. [and we never finished that game of Tikal due to it taking longer than 2 hours]

  6. Mark Johnson says:

    This is clearly the golden era for my favorite boardgames. Choosing just three is nearly impossible, but I suppose I’d have to say Entdecker, Settlers, and Bohnanza. (And Medici, E&T, Vinci…). Magic The Gathering should rightly be in this list, too, but it’s a different sort of game.

    There are still a few “1990s-style” games that are released these days, but they are often crowded out by the newer styles of worker placement, resource boards, and now deckbuilders. There are, of course, some great games with those new approaches, but I’m very pleased when a game like Pergamon or Metropolys arrives, and I recognize its 1990s roots.

  7. I only started playing modern games in 2007, but I’ve come to prefer the prevailing aesthetic of 90s designs to those of the noughties. My top 5 would be:

    1. Tigris & Euphrates, my favourite board game not just of the 90s but all time.
    2. Ra, my favourite auction game and shockingly under-represented above!
    3. 6 Nimmt, my favourite filler and it works fine for up to 10, let alone 6
    4. Tichu, my favourite ‘standard’ card game
    5. Condottiere, another one that’s great with 6 and loads of brutal fun

  8. Michael Hall says:

    1. Magic the Gathering
    2. Settlers of Catan
    3. Tigris and Euphrates

    Magic was an evolutionary game that had remarkable depth in design, theme, and deck creation. It started a whole genre of CCG games and is still successful today. Settlers was the original gateway game that introduced so many to the world of designer board games and it still gets a lot of play with the family. T&E gets the nod as the premier Knizia design in a decade where he had so many great games (Ra, Lost Cities, Modern Art, Samurai, Medici, Through the Desert, Exxtra, and nearly Lord of the Rings (in 2000)). El Grande and Tikal get honorable mentions.

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