Old, Older, Oldest – Part 3

OLDEST (pre-1990)

Opinionated Gamers Collective Top 5:

(1) Acquire

(2) Crokinole tied with Die Macher

(4) Bridge

(5) Diplomacy tied with Survive!

With this group, we’ve finally arrived at some truly old games, unlike the “old” games discussed on Monday and the “older” games on Wednesday.  Here we find some of the real ancestors of the modern hobby, and with them some of the forefathers of today’s designers, with the likes of Sid Sackson, Karl-Heinz Schmiel, and the great Allan B. Calhamer.  It’s hard to imagine a designer working today that wasn’t influenced in some way by at least one of these greats.

It’s no huge surprise to see the classic Acquire topping the podium, but interesting to see the next rung down being shared by a beloved dexterity game and a monster game on the machinations of German political parties.  While there were many different games recognized by the OG from this earliest period, these six games were selected by a good number of people and serve as fine examples of why even the oldest games can still be relevant and enjoyed today.

*               *               *

Tom R.     (1) Die Macher; (2) Survive; (3) Crokinole

  • Die Macher is timeless.  Karl-Heinz Schmiel’s masterpiece from 1986 is one that I would and have gladly given up the opportunity to play a number of shorter games in order to play one four-hour game of Die Macher.  The intricacies and machinations of the political process were never so compelling and engaging.  Survive, on the other hand, is just a blast!  It’s still a raucous good time 20 years after its release.  Many games contended for this last spot (including Diplomacy and Dune), but Crokinole is the one that hits the table most these days and I can’t imagine when that wouldn’t continue to be the case.  The game’s real virtue is that it keeps getting better and better, even after 185 plays, as the dexterity element shares center stage more and more with the strategy and decision-making element.

Larry L.     (1) Borderlands; (2) Bridge; (3) Diplomacy

  • Borderlands is a game of resource gathering and conquest and was created by the Eon designers, the same group that came up with Cosmic Encounter and Dune.  I first played it almost 30 years ago and it was love at first sight.  It was tremendously ahead of its time and, in fact, anticipated many of the innovations that would be found in Settlers a dozen years later.  Its combat system, which is deterministic and yet still features frequent surprises and brilliant plays, remains the best I’ve ever found in a game.  Bridge is the only game I’ve ever taken the time to study and it’s rewarded me with decades of engrossing play.  The challenge of bidding and playing a hand optimally makes it the King of Card Games.  I actually prefer basic rubber Bridge to duplicate, as the scoring is less artificial.  It’s still amazing to me that Allan Calhamer was able to create a game as innovative as Diplomacy 55 years ago, with virtually no other designs to build upon.  The rules can be summarized in one page and yet volumes have been written about its strategies.  Playing this via e-mail is clearly the most practical method and yet there’s no game experience quite as emersive and intense as a day-long, face-to-face game of Diplomacy with six fellow back-stabbers.

Lorna W.    (1) Mah Jong; (2) Acquire; (3) Ave Caesar

  • Mah Jong for sentimental and the pure beauty of a nice set, plus there are enough variants for everyone to find one they like.
  • Acquire is one of the best stock games out there. It can be played in a reasonable amount of time and scales well.
  • Third choice was difficult but I decided to go for the fun factor. Have had some of the best laughs and groans with good friends over this simple card driven race game. Have even gotten the non-gamer relatives to play it. Best with 5 or 6.

Ted A.     (1) Wizard; (2) Die Macher; (3) Acquire

  • Wizard is the go-to card game of choice. A great 5 and 6 player card game (of which there are very few), you have to play the German/New American version with the good art to totally appreciate this. Die Macher is a once (or twice sometimes) a year event that to me is the first real Euro game. Sure it’s long, but the steps on each turn are nicely compartmentalized and it all comes together in the final (sixth) round that builds with excitement until the final Opinion Poll has been acquired. Speaking of Acquire, who would have thought that a game that is now 50 years old (!!!) could still be so good, and stack up so well against modern games…

Joe H.        (1) Bridge; (2) Merchant of Venus; (3) Civilization / Advanced Civilization

  • One mark of a good game for me is the ability to remain interesting through many plays.  I’ve played Bridge nearly 1900 times since I started counting, and the game is of much _more_ interest to me now than it was back in 1996.
  • Merchant of Venus is a game that took a decade to really click with me.  Oh, I enjoyed it, and played it fairly regularly – but after about ten years, I started playing it much more regularly – and getting much more out of it.
  • You can argue that I’m cheating by including Advanced Civilization, and I wouldn’t disagree, though at its core it’s really the same game; I just find that Advanced Civilization tunes the system a bit better for me.  But I’d be nearly as happy with Acquire, the game which convinced me that board games weren’t just for kids.

Mark J.    (1) Dungeonquest; (2) Midnight Party; (3) Um Reifenbreite

  • When I recommend Dungeonquest, I’m not talking about the very pretty but overly complicated Fantasy Flight release – I’m in love with the quirky mongrel that is the Games Workshop edition. Never more than an hour in length, it really is multi-player solitaire (the board game equivalent of “who can hold their breath the longest?”) that still inspires eliminated players to hoot, holler & cheer as you fight against a game system that is (as I’ve said elsewhere) “like playing D&D with a dungeon master who hates your guts.”
  • Midnight Party (also released as Ghost Party) is a simple game of tag (with a benevolent ghost)… and yet has proven over the years to be one of the most-loved games in my collection. It works brilliantly with 2-8 players over an incredibly wide range of ages (kindergarten to one foot in the grave).
  • I struggled for this final spot between two sports games – and in the end chose the bicycle racing genius of Um Reifenbreite over the quick-playing Harry’s Grand Slam Baseball, primarily because of the variability in length of the various races & the ability to chain races together in Um Reifenbreite. This is a one-hit wonder by a designer who’s fallen off the map… and it manages to capture the feel of team bicycle racing without undue complication or reduction of pure grin-inducing fun.

Nathan B.     (1) Password; (2) Liar’s Dice; (3) Pig Pong

  • This final era felt a little like slim pickings than the other two.  I guess I do generally go for more modern designs in the end.  Games I grew up playing, like Facts in Five, Pente, and Acquire, still have a place in my heart, but rarely do they have a place on my gaming table, anymore.  I play Chess a lot, but it hardly seems to be in keeping with the point of this list.  Die Macher is as great as everyone says, and probably makes it about once a year.  Dune should make it more often than it does, sadly.  Another great game that I don’t get to play.
  • Speaking of great games, I get to include two of my all-time favorites here.  Password is based on the old game show, and is one of the most amazingly deep word games I know.  There’s so much going on with trying to get inside your partner’s head and work through the possibilities that you really earn a win against skilled opponents if you get it.
  • Liar’s Dice is another favorite, and it’s one of the few games I still play regularly that I played with my family as a kid.  Later, when my gaming group wasn’t ending the night with Big Boss, we were ending it with Liar’s Dice.  We have a fun tradition when we play that you get to sign the board if you win the game with all of your dice in a five or six player game.  So far, only one person has signed my board (and he never lets me forget).
  • The inclusion of Pig Pong is a little bit of silliness.  This game from my girlfriend’s childhood has now become our traditional first game of every new year.  Squeeze the rubber pig, blow the puffball at your opponent’s side of the net, laugh.

Erik A.        (1) Crokinole; (2) Acquire; (3) Diplomacy

  • Crokinole and Acquire are classics that I expect to still be played regularly when I’m an octogenarian and the the 2052 version of The Opinionated Gamers creates a similar list. For Diplomacy, I admit that I set aside the “still hitting the table” criteria, but I couldn’t leave it off. Diplomacy was the first game I played beyond those you could find in mass market stores back in the 1980s. A high school friend, his older brother (let’s call him “Jim”), and a collection of other friends played several day-long Diplomacy games — with everyone except Jim swearing an oath to team up on Jim, and then Jim somehow convincing one of us to break that oath at precisely the right time to allow him to gain the upper hand and win the game. Great memories created by a great game. (If I hadn’t broken the rules to list Diplomacy, Um Reifenbreite would have taken the #3 spot on my list. Brilliant race game.)

Matt C.        (1) Icehouse ‘89; (2) Axis & Allies ‘81; (3) Rook ‘06

  • The Oldest category was a rough one for me.  While I was an avid gamer in my youth, I don’t much play most of those games anymore.  I remember being a child and going to dinner monthly with just my dad as a special treat.  I was given $2 to spend after dinner each month and, wouldn’t you know, the local Walgreen’s was selling these kids’ boardgames (mostly Disney) for about $4 so I could buy one every other month!  I still have a couple, but most of those have fallen by the wayside.
  • Icehouse isn’t quite a game, but is a set of plastic pyramids that can be used to play a game.  I put them here on the list as I love to play the MasterMind style of game called Zendo.  One player chooses a rule (like “no green pyramids”) and then builds an example that follows and one that doesn’t follow the rule.  Other players build new structures which are judged as following (or not) the rule in an effort to deduce the secret rule.  A great game for folks who like puzzles.
  • Axis & Allies has been much improved in the past decade but I spent quite a bit of time playing the original version as a teenager with a few bouts of it in college.  (My claim to fame is the time I played 3 games of it in one night… I think I won/was on the winning side all 3 times…)  I’d much prefer to play the revised edition nowadays but this “RISK-plus” kind of game with different units and country point values is still a favorite genre.
  • Rook was chosen partly as a sentimental choice.  I played many games of Rook as a preteen with my grandparents and extended relatives.  I blame Rook for any of my adeptness that I have with trick-taking games.  Since the deck of cards weren’t “real” cards (like Jacks and Queens) it was an acceptable game to play in Midwestern farming households…

Patrick B.    (1) Diplomacy; (2) Scrabble; (3) Crokinole

  • Diplomacy is relegated to play by e-mail these days given time (and friendship) constraints on game nights, but it can still be a brilliant experience when played with good players who understand how everything all over the board is affecting everything else.  Scrabble I grew up on and still enjoy regularly with my family (we play with a small dictionary!).  Crokinole is one of those partnership games, usually played as an opener when we have exactly 4, that’s just always fun, win or lose.

Ted C.        (1) Um Reifenbriete; (2) Survive; (3) Mystery Mansion

  • This was the era of light family fair or war games to me.  This was the time I exited the war game genre and sold almost all of those style games.  Um Reifenbreite is the real standout for me here that hits the table almost annually.  Dungeonquest just missed the list.

Mary P.     (1) Crokinole; (2) Liar’s Dice; (3) Empire Builder

  • There are too many great pre-1990 games but these are probably the ones that get played the most. Crokinole gets played at our house and sometimes at conventions. It’s equally as popular with hard core gamers as it is with newbies.
  • Liar’s Dice gets played mostly at conventions (there are two or three a year that hold a Liar’s Dice tournament – I usually participate but I haven’t seemed to pull off a win; guess I’m too honest!). Take it Easy is another game that gets played a lot for the same reason.
  • I chose Empire Builder to represent the line of crayon rail games. We have most of them and pull them out fairly regularly. I include Merchant of Venus here as well since it scratches the same itch (pick up and delivery).

Brian L.    (1) Dune; (2) Survive!; (3) Scrabble

  • This is a tough category for me, because I greatly respect some of the classics such as Chess and Go. But, I’m rating for what I play and enjoy and Dune takes the top of that list. A brilliant piece of asymmetric design.
  • I played Survive heavily as a child, to the point of destruction. So, I jumped right on the reprint and discovered it is as great as I recalled. I’ve always had fun with this and its a hit with most groups.
  • And, completing the pattern, I again have a tile laying game with a strong spatial, almost abstract element in third. But, Scrabble is here because it is my family’s game, the one my mother is always eager to play.

Dale Y.       (1) Acquire; (2) Scotland Yard; (3) Can’t Stop

  • Scotland Yard ONLY as a 2p game though.
  • Acquire was the very first Euro-style game that I played. It took me years to discover Settlers from when I first found Acquire and the rest of the 3M Sackson games.
  • Can’t Stop is the quintessential dice game for me – getting even more play now due to the recent re-release that my kids and I play all the time.

Fraser M.        (1) Die Macher; (2) Civilization; (3) Diplomacy

  • I actually had more draft selections for this period than the 1990s.  Games that narrowly missed out include Acquire, Cosmic Encounter (Eon), Ogre, Bridge, Russian Campaign (Jedko), and War in Europe (SPI).  The three that made it to the top were all “wow” games and considered by many to be long games.
  • Die Macher is the shortest of the three, probably because it has almost no down time.  I feel lucky that I have managed to play this twice a year for the last few years.  We have it down to about four and bit hours with five players and a rules refresh.  Go for the Moskito version with an English rules translation for maximum enjoyment.
  • Civilization – In my opinion you need seven players and ten to twelve hours, but it is a great gaming experience.  One that happens all too rarely.
  • Diplomacy is another one that doesn’t get played often any more, but in my youth we went through a period of playing it weekly.  Some of the other games that didn’t make the list would get played more often, but Diplomacy is a better game and better gaming experience.  In the ideal world you have seven hours and seven committed players.

Mike S.        (1) Take It Easy; (2) Sechs Tage Rennen; (3) Tales of the Arabian Nights

  • This era surprised me. I had thought there would be way too many titles from my Golden Age, but that turned out to be the Nineties after all. Realistically, apart from the odd play to see if we are missing anything, games from this era just don’t get out much.  However, I will make a special mention of Die Macher here, because I think we all admire it but no-one wants to face it. I suspect it is more than ten years since I played with those thumb counters. I’ll add extra nominations here for all the ‘obvious’ classics: Metric Mile; 1830; Squad Leader; Can’t Stop; Liar’s Dice; Flat Top; Acquire; Wildlife Adventure; Railway Rivals; Scrabble; Balkoski’s Fleet series; and a slew of party, sports, and card games.

Jonathan F.     (1) Black Vienna; (2)  Bridge; (3) Tales of the Arabian Nights

  • Honorable mention – The AMAZEing Labyrinth and Wildlife Adventure.  I was amazed that I would be fine being on a desert island with 10 of these pre-1990 games.  My kids are growing up, so Labyrinth goes by the wayside as TotAN takes the top spot in family play.  Thanks to Greg’s amazing BV server, BV is in the uncontested 1st spot.

Jeff A.        (1) Ave Caesar; (2) Barbarossa; (3) Eurorails

  • Ave Caesar – I am so happy that I was able to track down a copy of this game for a few Euros, back when I saw it going for $100 in the U.S.    It’s still one of the best racing games ever published and is loved by everyone to whom I’ve ever introduced it.  This title definitely deserves a better reprint.
  • Barbarossa – this remains one of our favorite party games, and the fact that the innovative scoring mechanism is still being copied (as recently as Spiel des Jahres winner Dixit) proves how great a design this still is.
  • Eurorails – this is the only game of the Empire Builders series I own and play, and since the series began pre-1990, I’m including it on this list.  The idea of drawing on the game board seems to have been recently resurrected, but his was still my first experience with that innovative idea.  It was also my first experience with network-building and pick-up-and-deliver games, and still gets played every year.  Nothing will beat the 5-player game we once played on the train from Prague back to Berlin, which we just finished in time after our 5-hour journey.  Bonus points were awarded to the players who connected Prague with Berlin, of course.
  • A couple of other older classics that are still worth bringing to the table are Hase und Igel, Can’t Stop, and Acquire.

Jennifer G.        (1) Merchant of Venus; (2) Sleuth; (3) Acquire

  • Merchant of Venus is another classic economic game that requires both strategic and tactical planning, which keeps me engaged the whole time.  I love deduction games (Hanabi is one of my favorite games), and especially like that in Sleuth you have to figure out which search card to use to get the most information from a player.  Acquire still hits the table a few times a year.  Although I only learned the game a few years ago, I found out later that my parents had a shelf-full of 3M bookshelf series games (including Acquire) that they would play with friends after the kids had gone to bed.  So maybe I will get to play the game with my parents one of these days.

*               *               *

And there you have it.  The OG picks from the pre-1990 time period to go along with the “old” games (2000-2009) and the “older” games (1990-1999) discussed earlier this week.  It’s been really interesting to see everyone’s selections.  Quite a few oddball surprises in there.  These exercises are always a fun way to learn a bit about your fellow gamers.  I know we were all surprised to learn that cult-of-the-new grand master Larry was even able to remember games from before 2000.  And then of course there were our fearless leader Dale’s off-the-wall picks, but we’ll keep him on as head honcho anyway.  To recap the week’s selections, we collectively highlighted the following games:

“Old” (2000-2009)

  • Puerto Rico
  • Race for the Galaxy
  • Through the Ages
  • Power Grid
  • Ticket to Ride

Older (1990-1999)

  • Euphrat & Tigris
  • El Grande
  • Tichu
  • Settlers of Catan
  • Showmanager

Oldest (pre-1990)

  • Acquire
  • Crokinole
  • Die Macher
  • Bridge
  • Diplomacy
  • Survive!

And with that exclamation point, we bring this series to a close.  Hopefully you’ll find some time to take a break from new releases to revisit these classics (and classics-in-the-making).  For anyone just starting out, these 16 would be a great entry point into the hobby.  For anyone else, please feel free to share your own favorite old, older, and oldest games below.

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14 Responses to Old, Older, Oldest – Part 3

  1. Eric Brosius says:

    In this category I have a number of games that don’t really fit the classical Euro definition, perhaps because the classical Euro was just being invented toward the end of the period.

    My top really old game is Empire Builder (1980). It’s one of my three favorite crayon rails games, but the other two aren’t old enough for this list. I have a lot of fondness for games with substantial luck (in Empire Builder, it comes from the contract cards) but a lot of skill as well.

    My second choice is Titan (1980), especially as a 2-player game. It really plays faster than people think it does, and it’s a deep game despite the luck

    Finally, I think I’ll choose Napoleon at Waterloo (1971). It’s a quick but always tense little wargame that you can play multiple times in a single evening.

  2. Dale Yu says:

    Just played Acquire again last week. Man, that game still has it.

    • Joe Huber says:

      As many folks know, I’m aiming to play Acquire 50 times this year, in honor of the its 50th anniversary. I’m up to 16 plays currently, and it’s going – very smoothly. I wasn’t sure how well the game would hold up to that many plays in a short time, but it remains very enjoyable. (I’m now working on a second challenge for myself, playing it in at least 10 different states. [I love the idea of playing it at least once in each state this year, but that’s just not happening.] I’m up to 4 so far – Massachusetts, California, Ohio, and Tennessee.)

      • Eric Brosius says:

        The joke is that the person who plans to play Acquire 50 times this year didn’t even include in his list of top 3 pre-1990 games!

        • Joe Huber says:

          Ah, the difficulty of a top N list. (Acquire also has a sentimental value for me that goes beyond my enjoyment of the game.)

          FWIW, if I were to continue my list, it would look like:

          4) Acquire
          5) Sextet
          6) Numeri
          7) Can’t Stop
          8) Wildlife Adventure
          9) Entenrallye
          10) Mr. President

          There are a _lot_ of pre-1990 games I play regularly…

  3. No Cosmic Encounter? Come on people!

    Mine would be:
    1. Cribbage
    2. Acquire
    3. Cosmic Encounter
    4. Liars Dice/Perudo
    5. Scrabble

  4. Josh Miller says:

    Martin, I’m also baffled by the omission of Cosmic Encounter!

    The three games I play the most from this period are:

    1. Cosmic Encounter
    2. Titan
    3. Password

  5. jeffinberlin says:

    Mine are the games from this era that I still play, but I did not even know they existed until after 1990. Pre-1990 all I every player were the typical mass-market fair: Monopoly, Risk, etc., party games, and Chess.

  6. Michael Hall says:

    I didn’t really play Acquire or Die Macher until much later after I learned about Euro Games. Some of my favorites from this era are not typical Euro games…

    1. Axis and Allies – This game got me into more advanced board games (beyond Chess, Monopoly, Scrabble, Risk, etc.).
    2. BattleTech – We would play this game for whole weekends with custom drawn maps and terrain and lots of exploding Mechs.
    3. Bridge – This is still the best trick taking card game.

  7. Ryan B. says:

    Scotland Yard, Acquire, Survive and Diplomacy are all great choices.

  8. peer says:

    Skat is hands down the winner for me. No game comes even close on the number of games I played with this one (and still does).
    Second would be Cant Stop, still my favorite dice game – and the namessake of a whole push-your-luck-catgory (at least in German).
    Then a very distant third would be either MERS (if Roleplaying games are allowed) or Focus (if not).

  9. Matt J Carlson says:

    While I bow to the abstract idea of Cosmic Encounter and how awesome it can be in the right place and time, I’ve seen it crash and burn as a practical game far too many times for it to be high up in any top X lists of mine. To me it is an unstable game that can produce a huge amount of fun, or a suffering hour or two of painful fiddliness… I prefer to have my luck within the context of a game, rather than play with luck in whether the game itself will be fun… (Granted, the key factor here is typically the players in the game rather than the game itself, but still…)

    However, I do recall Illuminati very fondly and I’m quite sure it would look similar to me if I were to look at it without the blinders of nostalgia…

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