Five years ago, Erik Arneson published an article (http://boardgames.about.com/cs/gamehistories/a/timeline.htm) 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: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/18219.
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:
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.
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.
While wargames have never had great mainstream appeal, they have had great influence, and this one influenced them all.
4) The Mansion of Happiness
A critical game in the development of the gaming industry in the United States.
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
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
The game that effectively founded Milton Bradley as a game publisher.
A dexterity game that has lasted for well over a century – and continues to influence new game designs today.
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.
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.
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
The progenitor of miniature gaming.
13) Contract Bridge
How many 85 year old games still warrant daily newspaper columns?
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.
Once, this rivaled Bridge. While no longer played so widely, it brought new audiences to Rummy-like games.
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.
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.)
Taking a wargame to the masses.
The classic football game; and a standard in Europe.
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
The classic children’s game, with a simple central mechanism that has inspired many more complex games aimed at adults.
22) APBA Pro Baseball
The game that inspired fantasy baseball, not to mention many other baseball simulations, yet still remains popular today.
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.
The game which popularized the ordering problem, as seen since in games such as 10 Days in the USA and Pyramiden des Jaguar.
It’s telling that this game introduced the mechanism used in most dice games up to present, such as the recent game Saint Malo.
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.
When non-gamers think of wargames, this is the first one they name. Has been imitated, modified, and derived from endlessly since its release.
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
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
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.
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.
Turning deduction into a one-on-one challenge.
33) Dungeons & Dragons
The classic role playing game – and the start of an industry.
34) Hare & Tortoise
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
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.
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
Responsible, more than any other game, for the enormous trivia game industry.
38) Axis & Allies
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.
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.
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.
Here, the influence might best be demonstrated by the Draw Something app.
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
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
Again – it’s hard to argue against a game which created an industry.
45) The Settlers of Catan
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.
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
This game introduced the concept of a cooperative game for adults, starting a steady stream of cooperative designs since – most notably Pandemic.
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
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.
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.
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