Over five years ago, this site published its list of 138 games to play before you die, and last year, we published a list of 10 games we’d recommend new gamers play first. But we’ve never published a list of classics, those games stand the test of time as shining examples of modern game design.
In today’s marketplace, where thousands of titles are released each year, finding good games can be a challenge. It’s easy to find lists of recent hot games: we in board game media do a great job of appeasing the cult-of-the-new. But what are some modern classics that are worth trying? What not-so-new games stand the test of time? What classics do we keep coming back to?
We had 25 Opinionated Gamers vote, with just under 100 games receiving votes. Most of the people voting have played thousands and thousands of games, and as a group, we’ve written thousands of reviews over the past couple of decades (or longer in some cases).
Due to the length of the series, we decided to write about our findings in five articles, discussing the top fifty games. This article will discuss #50 to #41. We have an additional article coming every day this week, plus a recap at the end with some interest statistics.
I limited the list to only games post-1995. For better or worse, 1995 is seen as a shift towards modern games, in part because of the success of Catan. And to prevent recent hotness from making the list, I only allowed games released through 2015. So we’re covering a 20-year band.
Each member of the OG was offered the chance to vote for up to 15 games. They could give one game a 20, one game a 19, one game an 18, all the way down to giving one game a 6. We all put our votes into a spreadsheet. Any OG writer could add games, provided that they were willing to give it a vote.
We then added up the points for each game and picked the top 50.
We left the criteria for selecting games to the individual, with my only request being that the games picked be subjectively good (i.e. the writer liked the game) and a little objective (i.e. they’re well regarded and available in the modern hobby). These (intentionally) ambiguous instructions led to quite the debate on our internal email list.
To get on the list took a minimum of two writers rating the game decently well. That wasn’t a rule, but rather how the breakdown naturally worked out. There’s actually great consensus towards the top of our list, where it took decent ratings from about a dozen of us to make the cut.
Without further ado, here are the games that were voted #50-#41 on our list (although the list technically starts with #48 because of a three-way tie).
— Chris Wray, May 2018
#48 (Three Way Tie) – DUNGEON LORDS
Designed by Vlaada Chvátil, Released 2009
Michael Weston: Hire imps, buy traps, build a dungeon and populate with (freelance) monsters and try to prevent that stupid party of do-gooder adventures from destroying it all. Bonus points if you can kill (I mean imprison) that bloody arrogant paladin.
The trappings of Ameritrash fantasy belie the complex, meaty Euro this really is. The action takes place over two game years, each consisting of 3 rounds of placing workers to gather your assets and finding out which adventurer-type (fighter, cleric, thief, or wizard) will join the party attacking you, followed by a round of puzzle-y no-luck combat to minimize the damage said party does to all your effort. Level everything up for the second round.
Mark Jackson: Everything that Michael wrote is absolutely correct – but I have to add that Dungeon Lords has a near-perfect melding of game design and theme that make it easier to teach and a delight to play.
Liga: One of the greatest Vlaada creations. The perfect mix between american and german
Jeff Lingwall: I almost love Dungeon Lords. The theme is playful and clever, the puzzles of how to deal with adventurers are ingenious, the artwork is great, and so on. We just found the game so darn tight that it squeezed a little fun out of the theme.
Dungeon Lords – Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Mark Jackson, Michael W.
- I like it. Patrick Brennan, Craig Massey, Matt Carlson, Liga, Larry, Jeff L.. Tery Noseworthy, Alan How, Patrick Korner, Doug G., Brian L., Fraser, Melissa
- Neutral. James Nathan, Dale Y
- Not for me… Joe H., Nathan Beeler
#48 (Three Way Tie) – LEGENDS OF ANDOR
Designed by Michael Menzel, Released 2012
Chris Wray: Legends of Andor is an adventure-themed cooperative board game for two to four players. It comes with five scenarios — though several additional scenarios are available via expansions — which create story-driven quests. The players take on the role of heroes, and they face hordes of invading enemies, but in each tale they also have side quests that must also be achieved. Ultimately, this cooperative game is a solid mix of a puzzle and a storytelling game.
Designer Michael Menzel is known for his beautiful artwork in games, and that is a strong feature here. But Legends of Andor also had innovative gameplay that has seemingly inspired numerous cooperative storytelling games.
Legends of Andor won the Kennerspiel des Jahres Award in 2013.
Legends of Andor – Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Chris Wray, James Nathan, Patrick Korner
- I like it. Patrick Brennan, Mark Jackson, Jeff L.. Tery Noseworthy, Dale Y, John P
- Neutral. Matt Carlson, Liga
- Not for me…
#48 (Three Way Tie) – PIECE O’ CAKE
Designed by Jeff Allers, Released 2008
Chris Wray: Piece o’ Cake, which was later re-released as New York Slice, is a simple yet tense “I divide, you choose” game designed by Jeff Allers. Each round, a cake with 11 slices of different varieties are divided by the starting player. The other players — starting to the left of the player doing the slicing — then pick which pieces are theirs. The slicer gets what is leftover.
Players are trying to collect majorities of the slice varieties for end game scoring. But if a player doesn’t think he or she can get there, when they take a piece, they can flip it over to take points equal to the number of whipped cream dollops it has.
Piece o’ Cake is a highly interactive game that is all about watching what your opponents collect. It plays quickly in a short timeframe and is easy to teach, making it perfect for starting or ending a game night.
As a fun fact, the game was once mentioned on the CBS Sunday Morning News as part of the station’s Gen Con coverage.
Piece o’ Cake – Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Chris Wray, Doug G., Melissa
- I like it. Mark Jackson, Nathan Beeler, Dale Y, Patrick Korner, John P, Fraser
- Neutral. James Nathan, Joe H., Craig M., Michael W., Larry, Tery Noseworthy
- Not for me…
#47 – KING OF TOKYO
Designed by Richard Garfield, Released 2011
Chris Wray: In King of Tokyo, each player takes the role of a monster that is attempting to become the King of Tokyo. The game is a cross between Yahtzee — there’s a heavy element of rolling dice for sets — mixed with that king-of-the-hill game you probably played on the playground as a child.
On a player’s turn, they roll six dice, which show attack, heal, energy, or 1, 2, or 3 victory points. The attack is used to hurt the player in Tokyo or, if you’re the player there, all other players. Heal is used to heal, which is important since you can die. Energy is saved up to buy special powers. And points are — predictably — points, but you need to get three of them to count. The first player to get 20 points wins, or alternatively, the last player standing wins.
This Richard Garfield classic is now a signature gateway game in the hobby. There are several expansions and spinoffs — most notably King of New York — and it is easy-to-learn, dice-chucking fun.
Liga: One of the greatest dice games ever.
King of Tokyo – Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Joe H., Craig M. , Matt Carlson, Liga, John P, Brian L.
- I like it. Chris Wray, Patrick Brennan, Mark Jackson, Tery Noseworthy, Jeff Allers, Alan How, Melissa
- Neutral. Michael W., Nathan Beeler, Jeff L., Dale Y
- Not for me… James Nathan, Larry, Patrick Korner, Doug G.
#46 – BARGAIN HUNTER (a.k.a. Schnäppchen Jagd)
Designed by Uwe Rosenberg, Released 1998
Chris Wray: Back before Uwe Rosenberg became known for heavy worker-placement (like Agricola) and polyominoes games (like Patchwork), he got his start designing card games. Bargain Hunter, known in German as Schnäppchen Jagd, shows how innovative Rosenberg could be with cards.
At first glance, Bargain Hunter seems like standard trick taking fare. There are six suits numbered 1-9, with two of each card. Players must follow suit if they can, but if they can’t, they are able to declare the card trump.
The interesting part is in the scoring and in how the strategy changes over the course of the game from “collect as much as you can” to misere. At the start of the first hand, each player picks a rank that is good for them: each card they capture with this rank is worth one point. Each card in other ranks is bad, except there’s a twist: each round you can discard cards of one rank, and if you discard more than 2-3 (depending on player count), it becomes your new positive rank – you’ll want to be collecting those in the next hand. But there may not be that many left to collect!
It’s simple, but as the gameplay unfolds, it makes for interesting choices. Good trick taking games avoid a both feeling of obviousness and chaos, and Bargain Hunter is always interesting.
Larry: One of my two favorite three-player trick taking games. Trying to decide when to trump and when not to, and when to take tricks and when to avoid them, is always great and challenging fun.
Bargain Hunter – Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Joe H., Patrick Brennan, Mark Jackson, Craig M., Larry, Tery Noseworthy, Patrick Korner, John P
- I like it. Chris Wray, Michael W., Alan How, Dale Y, Doug G.
- Neutral. Nathan Beeler
- Not for me… Liga
#45 – THE BOTTLE IMP (a.k.a. Flaschenteufel)
Designed by Günter Cornett, Released 1995
Chris Wray: The Bottle Imp is a beautifully themed trick-taking game based on the short story of the same name by Robert Louis Stevenson. There are 37 cards numbered 1-37, and each card has one of three colors, except the 19, which sets the starting price of the bottle.
Each hands starts with all cards dealt out, and when cards are played, players must follow suit if they can. The highest card wins the trick, except that any cards below the bottle price (19 at the start of the game) are trump. The highest of the trump cards wins, the bottle price is reset to that card, and the player playing the winning card takes the bottle. The player last holding the bottle at the end earns negative points. Other players earn positive points as shown based on the coins printed on the cards they won. The game is played over a number of hands to a predetermined point threshold.
The Bottle Imp is a clever twist on the trick-taking genre. Although it kept two of the genre’s more famous rules — the “must follow” rule and the idea of a trump — it completely changed up gameplay. It has a little bit of a risk-reward aspect, as players can play conservatively to avoid taking the bottle, but in doing so, they may be sacrificing points.
The Bottle Imp was recently reprinted by Stronghold Games.
Larry: And here’s my other favorite 3-player trick-taker. Highly unintuitive, with unique gameplay, this is a real mindbender, but well worth the effort to master it.
The Bottle Imp – Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Chris Wray, Alan How, Joe H., Patrick Brennan, Craig M., Michael W., Larry, Tery Noseworthy, Jeff Allers, Dale Y, Patrick Korner, John P
- I like it. Nathan Beeler, Jeff L.
- Neutral. Doug G.
- Not for me… Mark Jackson
#44 – GOA
Designed by Rüdiger Dorn, Released 2004
Larry Levy: In Goa, the players are 16th century Portuguese spice traders trying to make their fortune in the Goa region of Northern India. There are two main parts of every round. First, some tiles are auctioned off, including plantations, which provide the spices, as well as tiles that confer special abilities. The players get to choose the tiles that will be auctioned each round and that is an interesting subgame in itself. Once that round’s auctions are complete, the second part of the round has the players carrying out actions one by one. Most of these involve five development tracks that each player has on their player mat. You can carry out a type of action with each of these (doing things like building ships, harvesting spices, and founding new spice-bearing colonies). You can also take an action to improve your status on a development track, which will cost you ships and spices, but will make the track’s associated action more powerful. Most rounds, you only have three actions to carry out, and there are only eight rounds in the game, so you need to be efficient. Needless to say, there’s always more that you want to do. Fortunately, there’s a lot of scope for clever plays and fruitful combinations.
Goa is definitely a gamer’s game and features engrossing play that rewards skill and sound strategy. It was one of the Geek’s top 10 rated games at its height of popularity. Z-Man released a new edition of the game in 2012 that included slightly altered rules.
Melissa: One of the things that I really enjoy about Goa is that it plays so differently with two than with other numbers of players. Especially with two, the tension is palpable.
Goa – Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Joe H. (original), Patrick Brennan, Matt Carlson, Larry, Patrick Korner, Melissa
- I like it. Alan How, Nathan Beeler, Jeff Allers, John P, Doug G., Brian L. , Fraser (original)
- Neutral. Mark Jackson, Craig M., Liga, Tery Noseworthy, Dale Y
- Not for me… Joe H. (revised edition)
#43 – BRASS (now known as BRASS: LANCASHIRE)
Designed by Martin Wallace, Released 2007
Chris Wray: Brass, now known as Brass: Lancashire, is a heavy economic game that takes place in the early days of the industrial revolution in Britain’s Lancashire County. Players are competing to make a fortune in the cotton industry. They do so by playing cards allowing them to build cotton mills, ports, coal mines, iron works, and shipyards. The game’s key mechanism is that you only get credit for a building if it is used. For example, a cotton mill is used if it ships to a port (this uses the port as well) and coal mines and iron works get used if the product they produce is depleted. This gives the building player income and VPs. You can use other players’ buildings (sometimes you’re forced to), so temporary alliances are often useful. There is also a technology tree provided; the rules for advancing technology levels are extremely simple, but work very well.
To quote Larry Levy, “Brass is Wallace at the top of his game. . . Like many of Wallace’s games, the object is to survive the beginning and score at the end.”
Brass – Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Alan How, James Nathan, Michael W., Larry, Liga, Patrick Korner, Melissa
- I like it. Joe H., Patrick Brennan, Craig M., Matt Carlson, Tery Noseworthy, John P, Fraser
- Not for me… Mark Jackson, Dale Y, Doug G.
#42 – KEYFLOWER
Designed by Richard Breese and Sebastian Bleasdale, Released 2012
Alan How: Keyflower was a merging of systems from the two designers – worker placement around a set of tiles (Bleasdale), combined with cube conversion systems development (Breese). The competitive nature of acquiring tiles and workers provides some original game systems and when added to a village building element means that the game has some very clever systems in operation. The game is played over four seasons with the last season focusing on victory point options. The large number of tiles, secret drawing of different coloured workers mean# that you can rarely be certain of winning a tile in the first phase of play; the village development side adds a further aspect to bidding as resources are collected, transported and converted into better scores. Keyflower deserves a top 50 rating for its innovative and depth of design.
Keyflower – Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Alan How, Craig M.
- I like it. Joe H., Patrick Brennan, Michael W., Larry, Liga, Jeff L., Tery Noseworthy, Dale Y, Patrick Korner, John P
- Neutral. James Nathan, Doug G.
- Not for me…
#41 – SAMURAI
Designed by Reiner Knizia, Released 1998
Chris Wray: Samurai is a tile placement game by famed designer Reiner Knizia. The islands of Japan form a hex-gridded game board, and players are trying to gain control of three resources that fill certain spots: rice, Buddhas, and helmets.
A resource is taken when the land spaces around it are all occupied by player’s hexes, which show either one of the resources or a samurai. The player with the most influence wins the resource, and influence is determined by the number on a player’s tiles. Most of those tiles show just one of the three resources, but some show the powerful samurai that count towards all resources. There are also special tiles, such as ship tiles which can be placed on water. Some tiles also let you play more than one tile at once, adding to the strategy.
As with many Knizia games, the innovation is in the scoring: to win outright, you need a majority in 2 of the 3 resource tokens, but if no player achieves that, they have to have a majority in one of the resources to be eligible. Their tokens of the other kinds then break the tie.
It’s tense. It’s simple. It’s highly interactive. In short, Samurai feels like classic Knizia.
This Knizia classic was recently reprinted as part of the Euro Classics line by Fantasy Flight games.
Samurai – Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Chris Wray, Doug G.
- I like it. Alan How, Craig M., Jeff Allers, Dale Y, John P
- Neutral. Joe H., Patrick Brennan, Mark Jackson, Michael W., Larry, Tery Noseworthy, Patrick Korner, Fraser
- Not for me…
OTHER ENTRIES IN THE “50 MODERN CLASSICS” SERIES: