Here we are at the end of our journey to discover which games are a particular designer’s masterpiece. And we’ve saved some of the best for last, as we lead off with five highly renowned designers. Our final installment includes almost two dozen names, so let’s not waste any time!
Uwe Rosenberg – Joe: Bohnanza; Larry, Matt, Liga, Dale: Agricola
Joe: According to BGG, my selection of Bohnanza is clearly and unequivocally wrong. Bohnanza’s a very popular game – but 10,000 people more list Agricola as owned on the site, and Agricola ranks more than 200 places higher. But as I still rate Rosenberg’s card game designs as his greatest accomplishment (and am willing to discount the ownership difference as owing primarily to the fact that Bohnanza pre-dates BGG), Bohnanza is the only choice in my mind.
Larry: I sympathize with Joe’s choice—Bohnanza is not only a seminal design that was hugely innovative, but it continues to be extremely popular today. And it emphasizes just how good Rosenberg’s early card games were, even if many of them are now little known. But as big a design as the bean game was, Agricola was bigger. Much bigger. It’s a way of life for many gamers and did what many thought was impossible: finally knock Puerto Rico off the top of the BGG rankings. Most gamers will always associate Uwe with Agricola and that’s why it has to be his masterpiece.
Matt C: Agricola, hands down. I suspect there are more copies of Bohnanza floating around than Agricola (with the BGG data leaning towards more complex games) but Larry hit it on the head that there are those that consider the game “a way of life”. I just can’t see Bohnanza doing something similar.
Liga: Agricola is one of those games able to shake the market. The first one able to depose Puerto Rico from the throne. I prefer much more Le Havre and Ora et Labora, but there is no doubt that Agricola is Uwe’s masterpiece.
Sid Sackson – Larry, Joe, Dale: Acquire; Matt: Can’t Stop
Larry: As great as Sackson was and as long a career as he had, the only real choice for his masterpiece is Acquire, the game that many consider to be the first “Eurogame”, because of its revolutionary structure and its influence on the German gaming industry. Can’t Stop and I’m the Boss are at least worth considering, but Acquire, still going strong more than 50 years after its release, reigns supreme.
Matt C: Put me down as sour grapes, but I’d put both Can’t Stop and I’m the Boss ahead of Acquire. I never played it in its earliest incarnations, and came across it in the early 2000’s. I think it shows its age when compared to other modern games of the same weight. However, Can’t Stop is as strong as ever for a lightweight, casual gamer filler. Simple concepts, put together masterfully – doesn’t that make it a masterpiece?
Dale: Acquire is the clear winner here for me. As simple and elegant as Can’t Stop is, Acquire is one of the first complex games to be made and produced in America. Long live the 3M bookshelf line of games!
Michael Schacht – Joe: Zooloretto; Larry: Web of Power
Joe: Coloretto and Zooloretto have very similar statistics on BGG, so in my mind the greater depth of the boardgame and the Spiel des Jahres it holds make it the choice for Schacht’s masterpiece. But I’d grant that it’s a close call.
Larry: The more recent Zooloretto is a reasonable choice (after all, it won the SdJ). But I suspect there are enough folks who go back far enough to remember that Web of Power was one of the first super-fillers, noted for packing a lot of gameplay in a short duration. The game has held up very well and remains popular. Schacht has a lot of games to choose from, but I think Web of Power, one of his first, remains his masterpiece.
Karl-Heinz Schmiel – Die Macher
Joe: While all of the data on BGG supports this selection, it really wouldn’t matter if it didn’t – Die Macher is clearly Schmiel’s magnum opus. It’s a brilliant design, which draws people to it in spite of the length and complexity of the game.
Andreas Seyfarth – Puerto Rico
Larry: Before I put the stamp of approval on this choice, let me remind everyone that Seyfarth is far from a one hit wonder. Manhattan and Thurn and Taxis both won SdJ’s and San Juan is a highly regarded card game. But Puerto Rico is still his supreme achievement. For close to a decade it was considered the ultimate strategy game in the world and its “everyone shares in the active player’s action choice” remains both an admired and imitated innovation. And it still sells quite well. Masterpiece.
Eric Solomon – Black Box
Joe: Puzzle games rarely stand out – particularly one such as Black Box which is truly a multiplayer solitaire game. But Solomon’s brilliance is in the abstract, puzzlely space, and Black Box is really the only one of his designs to have escaped the gamer community and had some larger impact, making it a clear choice for his masterpiece.
Reinhard Staupe – Basari
Joe: If you look on BGG, Havana is Staupe’s highest ranked game – but this in an artifact of Basari and Edel, Stein & Reich having separate entries in spite of being essentially the same game (or, at worst, closely enough related as to combine the credits). Basari has already had a longer life in print than Havana is likely to achieve – and clearly rates as Staupe’s masterpiece.
Andreas Steding – Hansa Teutonica
Larry: Steding had released some earlier games that had gained admiration from those who don’t mind digging deep for their gaming treasures. But for the vast majority of the gaming public, Hansa Teutonica is his one great game. A straightforward choice.
Vladimír Suchý – Last Will
Larry: Both Shipyard and 20th Century are reasonable choices here. But Last Will is the more accessible title and seems to appeal to gamers of all stripes. I think it’s the best choice as his masterpiece.
Touko Tahkokallio – Eclipse
Larry: Tahkokallio has shown the ability to design many kinds of games, from all genres and all weights. But Eclipse is unquestionably his most acclaimed game.
Kenichi Tenabe – Inotaizu (Kaigan)
Joe: Some of the most interesting design work these days is occurring in Japan. Tenabe hasn’t really been discovered yet – none of his games has reached a very large audience, and only Inotaizu has connected with even a reasonably sized audience. (His other twelve games have a total of less than 100 ratings – in spite of every single one of them that I’ve played having proven a worthwhile experience at worst.) But even ignoring the size of the audiences, Inotaizu would still stand out – it’s a brilliant design, which takes advantage of a strong theme to deliver a game in the German style – but distinctly Japanese.
Klaus Teuber – The Settlers of Catan
Larry: Despite Teuber’s brilliant career, which includes 4 SdJ and 4 DSP awards, there can be no doubt that his masterpiece has to be the design that spread the news of the German gaming revolution to the rest of the world. The real point of interest is just when during the nineties the consensus of what his seminal work was switched to Settlers instead of Adel Verplichtet, another worldwide sensation that Teuber designed five years earlier.
Francis Tresham – Civilization
Larry: How amazing is it that Tresham has given us not just one, but two designs that have not only been wildly popular and stood the test of time, but which have also given rise to an entire genre of games? I speak, of course of 1829/1830 and Civilization. While I wouldn’t blame anyone who sided with the 18xx titles, I think most people would consider Civ to be Tresham’s greatest gaming achievement. It’s a pretty tough choice, though.
Ignacy Trzewiczek – Larry: Stronghold; Joe: Robinson Crusoe
Larry: Trzewiczek really came to the attention of most of us with his asymmetric two-player game Stronghold. I still think that’s his most notable design, although Prêt-à-Porter also deserves consideration and his new co-op Robinson Crusoe might well overtake it in time.
Joe: It’s easy, in many ways, to pick a masterpiece for someone like Sid Sackson – his output is a known quantity, with all of the games having been available for many years. With active designers, their masterpiece could just as easily be a game that’s recently released which is still finding its audience. In selecting Robinson Crusoe, I’m doing nothing more than guessing; it’s entirely possible the game won’t be nearly as well regarded as Stronghold in the end. But – I have this sneaking suspicion it will be, so I’ll take a chance on it.
Richard Ulrich – El Grande
Larry: Michael Kiesling is Wolfgang Kramer’s most famous and prolific co-designer. But Ulrich was Kramer’s partner for what are probably his two most renowned games, El Grande and Princes of Florence. Ulrich is rarely mentioned anymore when great designers are discussed, probably because Princes was his last adult design, but he has an enviable resume (with other fine games besides these two). El Grande ranks as his masterpiece, for the same reasons as were given for Kramer.
Donald X. Vaccarino – Dominion
Larry: Any time a designer has multiple SdJ wins, the choice for masterpiece can’t be completely straightforward. But even though Kingdom Builder is a fine design, Dominion created an entire genre of games—and that doesn’t happen too often. With deck-builders still being very popular in the gaming world, there can be no question that Dominion is the game you think of when Vaccarino’s name comes up.
Corne van Moorsel – Factory Fun
Joe: Only a few designers really stand out for the wide variety of types of games they design. Knizia and Teuber do – but each over the course of a long career. Corne van Moorsel has designed across a similarly wide spectrum over a much shorter time. One might expect that this would make it difficult to pick out his masterpiece – but it’s actually surprisingly simple. While many of his designs have been successful, none has had anywhere close to the impact or reception that Factory Fun has.
Craig Van Ness – Heroscape
Joe: Oddly, while Larry and I agree that Heroscape is Craig Van Ness’ masterpiece, we also disagree. I preferred to put Van Ness together with Daviau, selecting Heroscape as their joint masterpiece from their days with Hasbro, while Larry considered them separately.
Martin Wallace – Age of Steam
Larry: In spite of the huge number of successful titles Wallace has released, this pretty much comes down to two choices: Age of Steam or Brass. AoS‘ case is complicated by the many different spinoffs that have popped up over the years. But I still think it’s the better choice as Wallace’s masterpiece. I can’t argue too strenuously with anyone who wants to go with Brass, however.
Aaron Weissblum – Joe, Dale: Spinball; Larry: San Marco
Joe: I know Spinball is an odd pick – but I think it’s Aaron’s signature game, even if there aren’t many copies around. It might not be his most popular or successful game – but it’s the game I think of when I think of Aaron, and the unique artwork on the boards is very fitting.
Larry: Yes, that’s a very odd pick, Joe. I even understand it to some extent, since Weissblum has always been somewhat overshadowed by his longtime design partner, Alan Moon. But it’s impossible for me to overlook the tremendous output that Moon and Weissblum produced in their time together. Of those games, San Marco is easily the most highly regarded and has to be considered Weissblum’s masterpiece.
Dale: I still pull out my copy of Spinball at least once a year.
Kevin Wilson – Joe: Arkham Horror; Larry: Descent: Journeys in the Dark
Joe: It definitely feels more difficult to judge a masterpiece for designers I’m less familiar with, such as Wilson, than for designers from whom I’ve played many games. But here – it still feels like there’s a clear choice. Nothing against Descent, but Arkham Horror seems to have a far larger fan base, and has supported a very wide variety of expansions – and in spite of the length engenders plenty of play. While I haven’t played the game, I’ve watched it being played, and I have no difficulty in understanding why it appeals so broadly.
Larry: An interesting choice between these two games, which both appeared in 2005. But Arkham is strongly based on the earlier game of the same title by Richard Launius, which diminishes its tie to Wilson a bit in my eyes. In addition, Descent seems to be the game that has had greater exposure, as one of the most successful attempts to bring the roleplaying experience to a boardgame. I’m choosing at this point to go with the original game, rather than the second edition that was released last year, in spite of the higher ratings of the later game. I just don’t think that the changes added to the second edition are so compelling to make people forget the original game when they think of Wilson’s accomplishments. Maybe in a year or two I’ll change my mind about that.
Reinhold Wittig – Joe: Das Spiel; Larry: Piratenbilliard
Joe: Unfortunately, BoardGameGeek is not a useful place to judge the popularity of Wittig’s designs. Fortunately, it’s not difficult to find his signature game. Das Spiel is really more of a game system than a game, but includes a huge number of Wittig’s own designs at the core. Consisting of nothing more than a base and a huge number of dice, there are strategic games, dexterity games, press your luck games, and more – and the welcome to design your own. The game has remained in print for most of the past thirty years, a testament to it’s quality.
Larry: While I’m familiar with Wittig’s place in the history of German games, I know little of his specific output. So I’m going to go with Piratenbilliard, which easily has more ratings on the Geek than any of his other games, a significant consideration for a designer who had most of his success in the eighties and early nineties. I’ve actually played it and it’s a pretty good dexterity game.
Klaus-Jürgen Wrede – Carcassonne