Masterpiece, Part 3

Some of the OG writers have been giving their opinions of which game represents the masterpiece of a bunch of well known designers.  We’ve reached the letter K and, as most of you know, that’s a very prominent initial among modern designers.  So let’s continue with our list.

Michael Kiesling – Joe: Vikings;  Larry: Tikal
Joe: I think the real question, with regards to Kiesling, is how to treat his co-designs in comparison to his solo offerings. I’m happy to consider a co-design – but given my druthers I must admit to viewing a solitaire design as more of a masterpiece. This makes Vikings an easy selection for me.

Larry: While Vikings has a nice reputation and is one of Kiesling’s few solo designs, I see no reason why his remarkable work with Wolfgang Kramer should be excluded from this discussion. Tikal is one of only two games to sweep all three major gaming awards and it still gets plenty of play today. While other Kramer collaborations, including the excellent Maharaja should be considered, I think the first game of the Mask trilogy is the best choice as Kiesling’s masterpiece.

Reiner Knizia – Larry, Joe: Euphrat & Tigris;  Liga: Medici
Larry: In spite of the amazing number of great games that Knizia has created, I think E&T is a reasonably straightforward choice as his masterpiece. Almost from the beginning, it had the reputation as one of the great game creations and the passing years have done nothing to diminish that. It’s interesting to note that 10 years ago, Modern Art would have received serious consideration and 5 years ago, there probably would have been significant support for Ra or Lost Cities. But today, I think E&T is a fairly easy selection.

Liga: Master Knizia designed a lot of outstanding games like E&T, Lost Cities, Ra, Modern Art and Through the Desert. But I think his masterpiece is Medici: the best auction game ever that handle 6 players, takes 5 minutes to explain, and is appealing both for gamers and casual players.

Corey KonieczkaBattlestar Galactica
Joe: Konieczka designs outside of the space of most interest to me – but that hasn’t prevented many of his games from drawing my attention. And none has stood out so much as Battlestar Galactica. I was amazed to discover, a couple of years ago, a very large and active play-by-forum Battlestar Galactica community on BGG. Any game that can do that has some claim on being a masterpiece – and Battlestar Galactica has much more going for it as well.

Wolfgang Kramer – Joe: 6 Nimmt!;  Larry, Matt: El Grande;  Dale: The Princes of Florence
Joe: The BGG ratings, ranks, and number of copies owned would all point to El Grande as Kramer’s masterpiece, and it’s a reasonable selection. But I believe 6 Nimmt! is actually the greater accomplishment. It’s notable for the number of sequels and related designs it’s inspired from Kramer, but it’s even more notable for winning the Deutscher Spiele Preis – the only small box card game ever to do so.

Larry: Like Knizia, Kramer has created an astounding number of great games. And yet, El Grande is the obvious choice as his masterpiece. The interesting question is why this game has shown such staying power, while other designs of his that were equally renowned when they were released, like Tikal and Princes of Florence, have faded just a little bit. (Princes is a particularly interesting case, since it’s such a wonderfully designed game.) Maybe it’s because El Grande came right on the heels of Settlers, at the beginning of the so-called Golden Age of Gaming, and for many it was their first heavy eurogame. Possibly its status as the first area majority game helps. I find it somewhat surprising, given that most games of El Grande‘s vintage have lost much of their popularity (even including Settlers). But there’s no question in my mind that it’s readily recognized as Kramer’s masterpiece.

Matt C: I’m one of the people Larry mentions, El Grande was one of my first heavier euro designs that I came across after playing Settlers. For me it was my first area majority game and is the only game of that era that sees the table regularly. I have to side with Larry and El Grande.

Dale: For me, I see Princes of Florence in play more than El Grande, and as a result, this would be my choice. Though PoF, El Grande and Tikal would all be excellent choices…

Serge Laget – Larry: Mare Nostrum;  Joe: Shadows Over Camelot
Larry: It may seem peculiar for me to go against Shadows Over Camelot, when I chose it for the game’s co-designer, Bruno Cathala. I just associate Mare Nostrum much more strongly with Laget. Probably it’s because of the big buildup the game got (one of the first titles I can recall that was tagged with the dreaded “2 hour Civ” label), the disappointment when it didn’t quite live up to its billing, the realization that it was still a good game, and the satisfying resolution when its expansion really made the game shine. That’s a pretty compelling story and the reason why I think more people will think of Mare Nostrum for Laget than Shadows.

Joe: While I generally prefer to select solo designs, in this case the argument for Shadows Over Camelot is simply too strong a candidate to ignore. On BGG, it’s his highest average rating base game, and his most owned and rated game by a factor of two. And while Mare Nostrum was received with some disappointment, Shadows Over Camelot has been very positively received from the start. Adding it all up, I think the case for Shadows Over Camelot as Laget’s masterpiece is clear.

Gordon & Fraser LamontSnow Tails
Joe: The Lamonts have been one of the regulars at Essen for some years now, starting with abstract, animal-themed games and building in complexity over time. But while they’ve had success with many of their designs, clearly their greatest success has been with Snow Tails. Snow Tails wasn’t the first of their designs to move away from the abstract realm, but it did so particularly well; the underlying game might still be very abstract, but the race theme helps to disguise this very well.

Eric Lang Larry, Joe: Chaos in the Old World;  Liga: A Game of Thrones LCG
Larry: I’m not that attuned to Lang’s output, but I still feel fairly confident in going with Chaos. It’s his highest rated and most popular game by a fairly wide margin and none of his other games inspire me to buck this trend.

Liga: I think Eric Lang will be remembered as the father of the LCG genre, something that was able to bring gamers not used to things like collectables into this world. Two games are really fighting for the title of Eric’s masterpiece: Warhammer Invasion and A Game of Thrones LCG. I think the second one has something more innovative and so it gets my choice.

Matt LeacockPandemic
Joe: While Matt has had reasonable success with all of his games, Pandemic has clearly stood out as his masterpiece. I played the game during its development, and while I thought it would be successful, I would never have guessed just how big a hit it would become. But that’s often what a designer’s masterpiece does. (Much, I would note, as with Larry Levy’s Deduce or Die.)

Larry: Thanks for the plug, Joe. But I suspect that Matt has had just a bit more success with Pandemic than I’ve had with my little deduction game.

Liga: No doubt Pandemic needs to be considered Matt’s masterpiece. It was the title able to start the era of collaborative games.

Tom LehmannRace for the Galaxy
Joe: I find it reasonably challenging to pick out my favorite from among Tom’s designs – but selecting his masterpiece is a far easier task. Race for the Galaxy hasn’t just been his biggest hit – it’s the clear culmination of his transition from his designs with Prism Games into more German-style design, a move which has brought him a much larger audience while still allowing him to remain true to his design principles.

Liga: Race of the Galaxy is one of the greatest designs ever. It would have been able to get more awards if it were not released in the year of Agricola. It is of course Tom’s masterpiece and a sure evergreen.

Doris Matthäus & Frank NestelMü & Mehr
Joe: In the case of Matthäus and Nestel, picking their masterpiece is not an easy task – so it’s surprising that Larry and I came to the same answer, of . You can make a reasonable argument for their first hit, Igel Ärgern. Boardgamegeek would point you in the direction of Ursuppe. But in my own experience, Ursuppe is usually hard to get to the table – while has become my third most played game ever. It takes a group that enjoys trick taking – but given such a group, is the ideal game for a group of five, rewarding experience but without offering a barrier to entry such as with Bridge.

Jason MatthewsTwilight Struggle
Larry: Matthews’ record as a designer is a remarkable one, with every one of his five published designs being hits and most of them being award winners. And yet, how can you go against Twilight Struggle, which has merely been the top-rated game on the Geek for several years and which is still actively played, and actively praised, today? With all due respect to games like 1960, you can’t.

Ludovic Maublanc Joe: Ca$h & Gun$;  Larry: Mr. Jack
Joe: This is another case where the advantage I give for a solo design makes the difference. Either Ca$h & Gun$ or Mr. Jack is a reasonable pick for Maublanc, but in my mind Ca$h & Gun$ is clearly his masterpiece – even though my personal preference would be for Mr. Jack.

Larry: I understand that Ca$h & Gun$ was the runaway hit of the 2005 Essen fair. And yet, I still have to go with the award-winning Mr. Jack, which has the reputation for one of the best two-player games of recent years.

Andrea Meyer – Joe, Dale: Hossa;  Larry: Freeze
Joe: While Andrea has designed many different games, including a number of strategic games, she’s made a greater mark in social games, and so clearly her masterpiece is the greatest of those games. I can see the case for Freeze – but when I think of Andrea, the game that first comes to mind is Hossa, so to me that’s her masterpiece.

Larry: Most of Meyer’s designs fall into the niche category, with ad acta probably being the one exception. So her masterpiece, by necessity, will be a game that doesn’t have wide coverage. Hossa!, quite possibly the first party-style game centered around singing, is a good choice. But I’m going to go with Freeze, a very original game which allows the players to perform improvisational comedy. The game was recommended by the SdJ Jury and Ravensburger recently released a mass produced version called Bühne frei!, so that should allow it to catch up and surpass the older game in coverage.

Dale: Hossa would be my choice here. The funny thing is that… it’s a game that I’ll never see myself playing. Mostly because of my singing voice.

Alan Moon Ticket to Ride
Larry: With Ticket to Ride still widely considered to be the best gateway game ever designed, this is a pretty obvious choice. Again, the passage of time has affected this decision. 5 years ago, Union Pacific would have gotten serious consideration, while 10 years ago, there would have been a solid contingent behind Elfenroads. Today, however, I suspect most would view TtR as a slam dunk.

Philip OrbanesCartel
Joe: I’ve been exploring Orbanes’ designs the last few years, and I think Cartel clearly stands out as the definitive Orbanes masterpiece. The game has been republished in various editions, and remains a very enjoyable game four decades after its initial release. It’s not Orbanes’ highest ranked game on BGG, but much as his contributions to Canasta Caliente might have added to the parent game – it’s not, in my mind, primarily an Orbanes game.

Emanuele OrnellaOltreMare
Joe: It’s interesting to see how often a designer’s masterpiece is their first – or at least a very early – published design. This seems to be much less often the case with the most successful designers – no one points to Reiner Knizia’s earliest designs or Alan Moon’s earliest designs as their greatest efforts. But for second-tier designers, the best design often seems to come very early in their design career. Such – at least for now – is the case with Ornella, whose second published design remains clearly his masterpiece. OltreMare sold out of its initial print runs, and was soon picked up by a major publisher. Ornella’s subsequent designs have generally been initially published by larger designers than Mind the Move – but none has quite captured the same magic.

Christian Petersen Larry, Liga: Twilight Imperium, 3rd Edition;  Joe: A Game of Thrones: The Board Game
Larry: Petersen is probably better known as a publisher and the driving force behind Fantasy Flight Games. But he’s also been a successful designer. In the Eurogame world, A Game of Thrones is the clear favorite. But I think his signature design is the more AT-ish Twilight Imperium, the game that put FFG on the map. The third edition of the design is easily the best received, so that’s the one I’m going with.

Joe: For me, this isn’t a close one – Petersen’s clear masterpiece is A Game of Thrones. The game has gone through two very successful editions, and while not a short game, has a significant advantage over Twilight Imperium in recorded plays on BGG, in addition to a small advantage in rank.

Liga: As an old gamer, I’ve been tempted to point out Battlemist as Christian’s masterpiece, but there is no doubt that Twilight Imperium is his outstanding game and something Christian will be remembered for. Not least, as Larry says, because it put FFG on the map.

Alex Randolph – Joe, Dale: Twixt;  Larry: Hol’s der Geier
Joe: What’s the first game you think of when you think of Alex Randolph? (Assuming, of course, that you’re familiar enough with his designs for some game to spring to mind.) Even though Ricochet Robots is clearly my favorite of his designs, the game that springs to my mind is his brilliant design Twixt. It’s not my kind of game – Randolph’s design style doesn’t closely align with my preferences – but Twixt was nearly as critical as Acquire in defining the classic German design style back in the 1960s.

Larry: Randolph is a tough case for me. None of his many SdJ nominated games of the 80’s and 90’s particularly stand out. Twixt is certainly a possibility, but does it really get much play these days? I’m tempted to suggest his last great design, Ricochet Robot, but that really only appeals to a subset of gamers. I finally decided to go with the very simple, but very influential auction game Hol’s der Geier (also known as Raj), mostly because so many gamers, and particularly designers, continue to express admiration for it. But I can’t say I’m all that satisfied with my choice.

Michael RieneckPillars of the Earth
Joe: I’m really rather surprised by just how many licensed games show up on this list, given the general disdain such games usually receive. But when looking for many of these designer’s masterpieces – including Rieneck’s, which to my mind really isn’t in dispute – they’ve really done their best work with the restriction of tying in to a book, movie, or television show.

So that’s the bunch for today.  Tomorrow, we’ll finish up our extensive list, starting out with a designer known for both beans and 17th century farming.  Which of those games will our intrepid writers decide is his masterpiece–or will we choose yet another one?  The only way to find out is to check with us tomorrow.

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8 Responses to Masterpiece, Part 3

  1. Frank Hamrick says:

    Speaking of El Grande and Euphrat & Tigris: It’s interesting that they are currently the two highest ranked games from the 20th Century on the ‘geek!

    El Grande (at 20th) closely followed by Ephrat & Tigris (T&E) at 23rd.

    This seems to point out how quickly games are left behind in the quest for the new. Sad, really. Are today’s games actually better than those produced 15 years ago? Or is it simply that we are always enamored with the new?

    • huzonfirst says:

      Frank, I believe there’s a built-in bias in the rating of older games on the Geek, although not everyone agrees with this. But it’s also true that there’s a whole new generation of gamers who have had only limited exposure to older games. Basically, there’s many factors which lead to the dominance of newer games in the ratings, so this doesn’t necessarily imply that the older games are inferior.

      • godfeather says:

        I don’t that’s the main reason. People want different things in their games. Theme integration have become much more important and auctions, especially pure auction games are not considered fresh. Another thing is that some of these older games takes a few plays to “get”.

        • huzonfirst says:

          That’s a good point about theme integration and it probably has an effect on the ratings of newer games. Of course, neither Terra Mystica nor Tzol’kin is particularly thematic and both of those are in the top 20 on the Geek.

          The rest of your comment is part of what I consider the “built-in bias” against older games. For example, newer gamers may well consider an older game not to be “fresh”, even if that game was very innovative at the time of its release. So they may lower their rating of that game, even though it isn’t a reflection of its quality.

          • godfeather says:

            I have written about why I think auctions are cold right now at which sums up my view on now and then. There is a rating bias for sure (newer games get higher ranks), but I think people generally want a less opaque gaming experience, having a great first play. My first experience with both Taj Mahal and Princes of Florence was terrible and it has affected my game rating and even though I would try them again (just by curiosity) it is nothing I seek out to do. The reason Terra Mystica and Tzolk’in are highly ranked? In the first case, I think the individual player powers makes the game exciting and adds variation, in the second case, I think the gimmick and the fast game flow makes it. The bottom line is that I think people are less patient today and want games that goes with that.

          • Matt J Carlson says:

            Not sure what you need to make a game thematic, but Tzol’kin is thematic in my book… Perhaps not a thematic as a quest based rpg type game, but the bits and other concepts are a good fit within the theme…

  2. Dave Vander Ark says:

    While I respect Joe’s proclivity to make odd choices, picking Pillars of the Earth over Around the World in 80 Days as Rieneck’s masterpiece makes absolutely no sense to me.

    • huzonfirst says:

      Both Joe and I choose Pillars, Dave, and no one else bothered to object. I’m a fan of 80 Days and feel it should have won the SdJ in 2005. But Pillars is also much admired and it won both the DSP and Games Magazine GotY awards (an unusual pairing). I just think it has a higher reputation in the gamer community. 80 Days is also a reasonable pick and certainly would be my second choice.

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