This is our second entry in our list of 50 modern classics, those games we think hold up as shining examples of game design over the past two decades. We discussed the aims of this list in our first entry, but in short, we are trying to identify modern classics that stand the test of time and are worth trying. You can find links to the rest of the series at the bottom of the page.
We detailed our methodology in our first entry, but to recap, each Opinionated Gamer was allowed to vote for 15 games (from a list of more than 100 nominated) released between 1995 and 2015. 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).
Without further ado, here are the games that made #40 to #31 on our list.
— Chris Wray, May 2018
#40 – STONE AGE
Designed by Bernd Brunnhofer, Released 2008
Liga: Stone Age is one of the more “classical” worker placement and resource management games. You are the leader of a stone-age tribe and you have to use your 5 workers to gather resources, commerce, get food, plant new fields and improve the tribes with new workers and tools. Along the river you can trade getting short and long term benefits. The main road to victory is using the resources to build huts, but also the trade can make the different in the end game scoring. At the end of each turn you have to feed your workers.
A simple but deep game with many different way to win. Stone Age is a great game, fun to play and tense. I’m also used to use it in schools (with kids from 10) to teach problem-solving, resource management and strategy
Jeff Lingwall: I went into Stone Age looking for something Agricola-lite, and was generally pleased. It got a bit mathy for the whole family in the end, and we stuck with the Agricola family game for that niche.
Melissa: Stone Age is not a game I would ever reach for in real life. I loathe the end-game point salad fiasco, and feel that it takes too long for what it is. Having said that, I’ve played it solo on my phone a few times and don’t hate it as much there.
Fraser: It is quite light and an intro to a type of worker placement. Start people off on it before they more on to something else. These days I am going to choose something else, for two main reasons. It is not solved per se but huts, huts, huts would seem to be best strategy, at least in two player. Also I am not a fan of games where 70% of the points can occur as end game scoring.
Stone Age – Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Nathan Beeler, A. Ligabue
- I like it. Patrick Brennan, Jeff Allers, Tery Noseworthy, Greg S., Mark Jackson, Alan How, Larry, Jeff L., Craig M. , Dale Y, John P, Doug G., Brian L., Fraser, Lorna
- Neutral. James Nathan, Patrick Korner, Melissa
- Not for me… Joe H., Michael W.
#38 (Two Way Tie) – CARABANDE (a.k.a. PITCH CAR)
Designed by Jean du Poël, Released 1995
Chris Wray: Pitch Car and Carabande are nearly identical games with non-compatible pieces. Both are dexterity “flicking” games that take place on large wooden tracks. The track pieces come in various shapes, most notably with curves in different directions, and can be built into structures that resemble race car tracks. On a player’s turn, he or she ficks a small disk down the track, and the first to make their way around the track (or a predetermined number of laps) wins.
Dexterity games are often eschewed by gamers, but Carabande and Pitch Car remain popular, in part because of their toy factor, but in part because the gameplay is fun and intuitive. Both are staples of the board game convention scene, where elaborate tracks are often built for a tournament setting.
Carabande won a special award from the Spiel des Jahres jury in 1996 for dexterity games.
Carabande – Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Jeff Allers, Mark Jackson, Doug G., Brian L.
- I like it. Chris Wray, James Nathan, Joe H., Alan How, Matt C., Michael W, Larry, A. Ligabue, Fraser, Melissa, Lorna
- Neutral. Patrick Brennan, Tery Noseworthy, Greg S., Nathan Beeler, Craig M., Dale Y, Patrick Korner, John P
- Not for me…
#38 (Two Way Tie) – NOTRE DAME
Designed by Stefan Feld, Released 2007
Chris Wray: Notre Dame is one of the more renowned titles by designed Stefan Feld, who is known mostly for his “point salad” approach to game design. In Notre Dame, each player controls a family and a borough in Paris in the 14th Century. Using action cards, players can take various actions to earn points. There are various buildings that can help them along the way, and they need to watch the health of their borough — represented by the presence of dreaded rats — in their mission to succeed.
Notre Dame is prototypically Stefan Feld. There are various avenues to victory, and the game feels like a combination of several smaller (and interesting mechanics) rather than a grand play on one mechanic, a novel idea at its time. The game has been incredibly popular over the years, receiving a tenth anniversary edition last year.
Notre Dame – Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Patrick Brennan, James Nathan, Greg S., Larry, Craig M., Melissa, Lorna
- I like it. Chris Wray, Jeff Allers, Michael W, Nathan Beeler, Jeff L., Patrick Korner, John P, Doug G. A. Ligabue, Brian L., Fraser
- Neutral. Tery Noseworthy, Joe H., Mark Jackson, Alan How, Matt C.
- Not for me… , Dale Y
#37 – FRESH FISH
Designed by Friedemann Friese, Released 1997, Reimplemented & Re-released in 2014
Joe Huber: Fresh Fish is a truly brilliant design from Friedemann, in which players try to place their four stores as short a drive as possible from their respective outlets. Often described as a brain-burner, the original requires acute visualization to understand where the two simple rules for road placement (every store and outlet must have road access, and all roads must be connected) force roads to be built. The reimplementation in 2014 makes the game much more accessible, by simply filling each tile with roads once a certain number of structures have been built.
Regardless of which version you choose, however, the challenge of knowing when to bid aggressively for a store, knowing you have a perfect location for it, make the game unique – and one that’s still played after more than twenty years.
Larry: Fresh Fish is a truly unique game. The expropriation rule has got to be one of the most original mechanisms ever created and even experienced gamers routinely miscalculate its subtleties.
Fresh Fish – Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! James Nathan, Joe H., Larry, John P, Brian L. , Lorna
- I like it. Tery Noseworthy, Alan How, Craig M., Dale Y, Fraser
- Neutral. Patrick Brennan, Greg S., Mark Jackson, Michael W, Patrick Korner, Doug G.
- Not for me… Nathan Beeler
#36 – TALES OF THE ARABIAN NIGHTS
Designed by Anthony J. Gallela, Eric Goldberg, Kevin Maroney, & Zev Shlasinger, Released 2009
Mark Jackson: Tales of the Arabian Nights is what gamer types call an “experience game” – meaning while there are a number of decisions to make, the game plays you as much as you play the game. If going along for a wild & capricious ride (based on the game system) doesn’t appeal to you, you should avoid this at all costs.
OTOH, if you enjoy storytelling & a bit of roleplaying, this is a delightful way to pass an evening. If you remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books from the late 70s/early 80s, you’re going to be familiar with the engine that drives this game – a HUGE book full of paragraphs, many with choices that lead to other paragraphs (and possible fortuitous or calamitous results). Add a board for movement, a card deck & dice to randomize the process and you’re whisked back into the magical milieu of the Arabian Nights.
Tales of the Arabian Nights – Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Mark Jackson, Nathan Beeler, Patrick Korner, Lorna
- I like it. Alan How, Jeff L., Brian L.
- Neutral. Patrick Brennan, Joe H., Michael W, Larry
- Not for me… Greg S., Dale Y, Doug G.
#35 – THROUGH THE AGES
Designed by Vlaada Chvátil, Released 2006, Revised & Re-released as “Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization” in 2015
Chris Wray: Through the Ages is a card-driven, tableau-building civilization game played over four ages (Antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Age of Exploration, and the Modern Age). In the center of the table is a displayed row of available cards. The game is largely based on buying these cards, getting them into your tableau, and then using them. For a civilization game, many players are surprised to learn that there is no map.
The game is essentially one of resource management. Players have a population — they start with several workers (represented by yellow pieces) and can get more by producing food — and must deploy those workers to manage production on farms, mines, and various buildings. Players need to produce food (to get more population), resources (generally to build and improve buildings, military units, and wonders), science (to discover new technologies and governments), happiness (to keep the workers content), and culture (the game’s victory points).
Through the Ages is — as the International Gamers Award jury said — a “highly challenging and satisfying” experience. Playing this game is to experience an epic journey through the history of humankind. Players feel like they’re building a civilization, not just tossing cards into a tableau. It is easy to see why this game has cracked the upper echelons of the BGG Top 10.
Through the Ages won the International Gamers Award (Multiplayer Category) in 2007.
Larry Levy: My all-time favorite game. And the updated version is even better! Guess that means I rate it an 11…
Jeff Lingwall: A masterpiece. This is everything a deep, strategic, long-arc game should be. The new app makes it accessible to a whole new generation of players.
Patrick K.: One of the finest designs ever produced by one of the most impressive designers ever. Period.
Through the Ages – Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Chris Wray, Patrick Brennan, Tery Noseworthy, Alan How, Matt C., Michael W, A. Ligabue, Nathan Beeler, Larry, Jeff L., Craig M., Patrick Korner, Brian L. , Lorna
- I like it. Greg S., Mark Jackson
- Neutral. James Nathan, Joe H., Dale Y, John P
- Not for me… Doug G.
#34 – MEMOIR ‘44
Designed by Richard Borg, Released 2004 (Game History)
Chris Wray: Memoir ‘44 is a 2-player lightweight war game in which one player controls the Allies, and the other player controls the Axis. The game comes with several historical setups of World War II battles, and once players have put the appropriate terrain and units on the board, the battle can begin. The game board represents the battlefield and is divided into three sections, giving each player a left flank section, a center section, and a right flank section. Like real battles, gameplay is controlled not only by where units are, but also by terrain, and Memoir ‘44 comes with several terrains.
On a player’s turn he or she plays a command card — the number of cards in their hand depends on the scenario — and announces orders. Players move, then they battle. When the last figure from a unit is killed, it is given to the prevailing side as a medal. Each scenario designates a number of medals that must be captured for the scenario to end. The first player to capture this number of medals wins.
Memoir ‘44, and indeed the entire Commands & Colors system, is a brilliant and timeless design. I don’t know that it is capable of aging: I think I’ll still be playing this a couple of decades from now. The game takes the two big advantages of wargaming — history and realism — and implements them in a fast-paced, approachable format. Gameplay is tense, with plenty of strategic and tactical decisions to make. It is easy to see why this has been such a hit for designer Richard Borg and publisher Days of Wonder.
Memoir ‘44 won the International Gamers Award (2-player Category) in 2004.
Liga: For me on of the greatest game ever, I played it hundreds of time with friends and with my kid. Every scenario is different and also the campaigns are great. It is a game able to give you an idea of the history and the main aspect of each battle with simple rules. One of my preferred 2-players game ever,
Memoir ‘44 – Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Chris Wray, Patrick Brennan, Jeff Allers, Mark Jackson, Matt C., Jeff L. A. Ligabue
- I like it. Tery Noseworthy, Greg S., Alan How, Michael W, Patrick Korner, Brian L.
- Neutral. Joe H., Dale Y, John P, Doug G., Lorna
- Not for me… Nathan Beeler
#32 (Two Way Tie) – DESCENT: JOURNEYS IN THE DARK
Designed by Daniel Clark, Corey Konieczka, Adam Sadler, & Kevin Wilson, Released 2005, Second Edition Released 2012
Mark Jackson: Descent: Journeys in the Dark is a dungeon crawl game that combined some of the best elements of Space Hulk/Heroquest (the puzzle-cut dungeon boards & the nifty miniatures), Lord of the Rings: Sauron (with one player “running” the game, attempting to thwart the adventurers), and Runebound (the fatigue system & the fantasy world – “Terrinoth” – setting of the game), and then added innovative new design ideas first created for FF’s Doom: The Boardgame– in particular, the “one roll combat” mechanism.
Fantasy Flight Games managed to knock off the “rough edges” with the release of the second edition – simplifying the Overlord system, losing the transport glyphs, etc. Most importantly, they broke adventures down into bite-size (read: playable in 60-90 minutes) pieces… and then connected them via a simplified campaign system that works like a charm.
The variety of expansions and the brilliant app (that allows the game to be played cooperatively) have expanded the quality and variety of the game system.
Descent: Journeys in the Dark – Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Mark Jackson, Alan How, Dale Y
- I like it. Patrick Brennan, Tery, Matt C., Nathan Beeler, John P, A.Ligabue
- Neutral. Jeff L., Craig M., Patrick Korner, Lorna
- Not for me… Greg S., Michael W, Doug G.
#32 (Two Way Tie) – TEAM PLAY
Designed by Johannes Schmidauer-König, Released 2015
Chris Wray: Team Play is a card game played on teams in which you and your partners are trying to accomplish certain goals which may be public or private. The game is abstract, and over the course of the game, you’ll draw, discard, and pass cards in the hopes of completing rummy-style runs, flushes, or other card combinations. But there’s a twist: you can’t communicate with your partner about what you’re holding in your hand.
Team Play is simple yet tense, and the joy is primarily driven by the game’s teamplay aspect. The game plays quickly (generally less than half an hour) and is easy to teach, but it is the sort of game that rewards repeated play with the same partner.
Team Play – Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! James Nathan. Tery Noseworthy, Mark Jackson, Dale Y, John P, Fraser
- I like it. Chris Wray, Jeff Allers, Greg S., Larry, Brian L., Melissa
- Neutral. Joe H., Michael W, Craig M., Patrick Korner
- Not for me…
#31 – LA CITTA
Designed by Gerd Fenchel, Released 2000
Tery Noseworthy: La Città is a civilization building, area control game set in the Renaissance where you compete with the other players to have the largest population living in the most advanced cities. There are six rounds during which you are trying to expand the size of your cities, improve the health, culture and education of your cities and attract more residents by developing them or stealing them from neighboring cities that are not as well-developed as yours as well as ensuring you can feed all of these citizens and give them what they are looking for.
Brian L: La Citta creates a tension not replicated in many other games. Actions which make your city more desirable attract citizens, but you also need enough food to feed them all. The balance between when to build farms and other buildings becomes an ever more precarious dance between you and the other players.
Melissa: I haven’t played La Città for years! We played it every week for about a year, not long after it first came out, and loved it. This list is reminding me of all the great games that I want to play.
La Città – Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Tery Noseworthy, Joe H., Michael W, Craig M., Doug G, Brian L., Melissa , Lorna
- I like it. Patrick Brennan, Greg S., Mark Jackson, Alan How, Larry, Dale Y, Patrick Korner, John P, A.Ligabue, Fraser
- Not for me…
OTHER ENTRIES IN THE “50 MODERN CLASSICS” SERIES: