50 Modern Classics: #10-#1

This is our fifth and final 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’ll have a wrap-up post tomorrow, where we do a short list of pre-1995 classics and give the OG writers the chance to discuss games they think should have made the list.

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 #10 to #1 on our list.

— Chris Wray, May 2018

Agricola

#10 – AGRICOLA

Designed by Uwe Rosenberg, Released 2007 (Revised Edition Released 2016)

Chris Wray: In Agricola, each player takes on the role of a farm family.  At the start of this worker placement game, everybody has two family members (workers), a wooden shack, and undeveloped farmland.  Slowly players must build a successful farm — and a food engine to feed themselves — by gathering building resources, grain/vegetables, farm animals, and other improvements.  The game is played over 14 rounds, and each round, a new action space is revealed, opening gameplay to new elements.

Agricola is notable because of its sheer replayability.  Each player starts with a small deck of occupation and minor improvement cards that can alter their strategy.  The game comes with hundreds of these cards, but hundreds (if not thousands) more are available through the game’s many expansions.

Agricola has the will-I-or-won’t-I tension of worker placement games, plus the added pressure of having to feed your family for their agricultural efforts.  Agricola can be unforgiving, but that is part of the charm: this is a deeply strategic game that rewards planning.

Agricola is considered by many to be Uwe Rosenberg’s masterpiece.  The game held the #1 spot on BoardGameGeek for years, and it won numerous game awards, including the International Gamers Award (Multiplayer Category), the Deutscher Spiele Preis, and a special award from the Spiel des Jahres jury.  

Chris Wray: Agricola is my all-time favorite game.  My preferred way to play is the the 3-player family variant (with no cards), but Agricola is great at any player count.  It even has a truly exceptional solo variant. I’m always gleeful when I get this to the table.

Jeff L.: Agricola has it all: depth, theme, replayability, a reliably good experience at multiple player counts, an honestly engaging solo game, and a great digital implementation. It’s the kind of game that makes me not want to buy new games, because I’d rather be playing Agricola.

Agricola – Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  Chris Wray, James Nathan, Dale Y, Jeff L, John P, Matt C., Fraser, Melissa, Nathan Beeler, Larry, Brian L.
  • I like it.  Jeff Allers, Patrick Korner, Doug G., Patrick Brennan, Lorna
  • Neutral.  Craig M., Tery
  • Not for me… Michael W, Joe H., Greg S.

PowerGrid

#9 – POWER GRID

Designed by Friedemann Friese, Released 2004 (Game History)

Chris Wray: Power Grid is the revised edition of Friedemann Friese’s crayon game Funkenschlag. The goal of Power Grid is to build — as the name implies — an electric grid.  The game comes with two maps, but countless maps are available as expansions. To build the network, players auction off power plants, buy resources, and buy into cities.  The winner is who powers the most cities at the end of the game.

The game is an auction, resource management, and network building game at its core.  It has one of the strongest catch-up mechanics in gaming, to the point where good players sometimes try to hang towards the back of the crowd by not having the most cities on the board.  The winner tends to be the player who correctly values power plants during the auction and builds their grid up at just the right moments.

Power Grid enthusiasts abound, and the game is a hallmark of the gaming scene in the past couple of decades.  Hailed as one of the finest auction and economic games, it is deeply interactive and deeply strategic. It has rightfully been in the upper echelons of the BGG Top 10, and it has garnered commercial and critical success every since its 2004 release.  

Melissa: Fraser and the Bigster love this so much that there’s not really room for me to be any more than middling about it. I think they would happily play this all the time. When I play, I enjoy it, but it’s not one that I am inspired to get to the table – and I worry that if it did get to the table, it would never get off it.

Larry:  I like Power Grid, but I love the game it was derived from:  Funkenschlag. I realize this is very much a minority opinion.

Fraser: I am the opposite of Larry, I love the game and like Funkenschlag (although I haven’t played Funkenschlag as much) :-)

Power Grid has this lovely complicated dance of competing factors, building connections, buy resources, buying power plants at auction and having enough money to do one or more of the above in any given turn.

The auction is not only about what is good for you, but what is good for somebody else, can you make them pay more than they want to for what they want or need and then still be in within a chance for something that you want later on? It is up there with Amun Re in terms of great auction phases.

Also to my mind the expansion maps are expansions done right.  They just tweak the base game a little, so you are still playing fundamentally the same game but with a small change to add some flavour or diversity.

It also has some great gaming memories for me, the time Daughter the Elder, Gerald and I played every published map (at the time) back to back over 2 ½ days at a convention and the time that I tried to get every single map in play simultaneously (we got 19 out of the 22 available maps going at PAX Aus in 2014).

Power Grid – Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  Chris Wray, Dale Y, Michael W, Craig M., Greg S., Jeff Allers, John P, Patrick Korner, Patrick Brennan, Fraser, Tery, Brian L.
  • I like it.  James Nathan, Joe H., Jeff L., Doug G., Melissa, Nathan Beeler, Lorna, Larry
  • Neutral.  Matt C.
  • Not for me…

Catan

#8 – SETTLERS OF CATAN (a.k.a. CATAN)

Designed by Klaus Teuber, Released 1995 (Game History)

Chris Wray: The Washington Post has called it “the game of our time.”  Wired described it as a “Monopoly killer.” The game has inspired songs and a novel, and there are dozens of references in pop culture.  With more than 22 million products sold in more than 30 different languages, there is no Eurogame with as big of a footprint as Catan.

In Catan (formerly The Settlers of Catan), players try to be the dominant force on the island of Catan by building settlements, cities, and roads. On each turn dice are rolled to determine what resources the island produces. Players collect these resources—wood, grain, brick, sheep, or stone—to build up their civilizations to get to 10 victory points and win the game.  Along the way, they’ll trade with other players.

Catan has a lot to love, and among board game fans, the game is a timeless classic.  Catan is easy to learn (though more challenging than most games on this list) and features a great balance of luck and skill.  The modular game board enhances replayability, and the theme — settling an island — is fun.

Catan is routinely held out as a great “gateway game.”  That reputation is deserved: I suspect Catan has done more than any other game to bring new players into the U.S. hobby.  A couple of its gameplay elements — dice rolling and trading — make it a natural starting point for people who have played Monopoly all their lives.

Catan has numerous spinoffs, and you can find it on iOS, Android, and various other digital platforms as well.

Catan won the Spiel des Jahres in 1995, as well as the Deutscher Spiele Preis that year.  

Settlers of Catan – Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  Chris Wray, Dale Y, Joe H., Greg S., Jeff L., Jeff Allers, Patrick Brennan, Lorna
  • I like it.  Craig M., John P, Patrick Korner, Doug G., Matt C., Fraser, Melissa, Brian L.
  • Neutral.  Michael W, Larry
  • Not for me… James Nathan, Nathan Beeler

Carcassonne

#6 (Two Way Tie) – CARCASSONNE

Designed by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede, Released 2000 (Game History)

Chris Wray: Carcassonne is another massive hit in the boardgaming world.  Perhaps the most famous game in the “tile placement” genre, Carcassonne has won numerous gaming awards (including Germany’s Spiel des Jahres) and sold millions of copies.

Players draw and place a tile (from a set of 72) with a piece of southern French landscape on it. Tiles have differing combinations of cities, roads, cloisters, and/or grasslands.  Each tile must be placed adjacent to tiles that have already been played, in such a way that cities are connected to cities, roads to roads, and so on and so forth. Having placed a tile, the player can then decide to place one of their meeples on one of the areas on the tile: on the city as a knight, on the road as a robber, on a cloister as a monk, or on the grass as a farmer. When that area is complete, that meeple scores points for its owner.

Carcassonne is an ideal gateway game, and it is easy to see why it has been so popular.  The game is easy to learn and new players tend to pick up the basics with ease. Carcassonne is a modern classic, in part because it is so family-friendly, well-presented, and fun to play.  This one will be played decades from now.

As a fun historic tidbit, this is the game for which the meeple was invented.  Carcassonne has numerous spinoffs, and you can find it on iOS, Android, and various other digital platforms as well.  

Carcassonne won the Spiel des Jahres in 2001, as well as the Deutscher Spiele Preis that year.

Carcassonne – Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  Chris Wray, Dale Y, Joe H., Jeff Allers, John P, Doug G., Patrick Brennan, Lorna
  • I like it.  James Nathan, Craig M., Greg S., Jeff L., Patrick Korner, Matt C., Fraser, Melissa, Larry, Tery, Brian L.
  • Neutral.  
  • Not for me… Michael W, Nathan Beeler

Ra

#6 (Two Way Tie) – RA

Designed by Reiner Knizia, Released 1999

Chris Wray: Ra is an Egyptian-themed auction game mixed with a press-your-luck game.  Players draw tiles from a bag, and sets of these tiles are worth points at the end of an epoch.  The tiles drawn are auctioned off, and the auction can be triggered by drawing a Ra tile, or by a player calling Ra.

The auction is simplified because there are 13 auction tokens (or 16 in a 5-player game) in the game — numbered 1-13 (or 1-16) — and the auction is simply a once-around event in which players can use one of the tokens they have.  The winner of an auction takes the auction token from the previous round, making the auctions exceptionally simple.

The game lasts three epochs.  Some tiles score at the end of each epoch, and some score only at the end of the game.  Some tiles stay between epochs, while some don’t. Part of the challenge is deciding what tiles you need.

Ra, along with Modern Art and Medici, is part of Reiner Knizia’s auction trilogy.  Ra is arguably the most streamlined of the set, as its auction mechanic is extraordinarily simple.

Ra is both engaging and approachable.  The only part of the game that bears any complexity is how the different types of tiles score, but well-designed player aids help players remember those details.

The game is all about learning to value the different sets of tiles that come out, and learning when to call Ra.   Even among experienced players, the press-your-luck aspect of the game can lead to cursing the pharaohs. Overall, this is fast-paced fun that can be played in less than an hour.

Ra – Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  Chris Wray, Michael W, Craig M., Jeff Allers, John P, Patrick Korner, Patrick Brennan, Fraser, Melissa, Brian L.
  • I like it.  Matt C., Nathan Beeler, Lorna, Tery
  • Neutral.  James Nathan, Dale Y, Joe H., Greg S., Doug G., Larry
  • Not for me…

PuertoRico

#5 – PUERTO RICO

Designed by Andreas Seyfarth, Released 2002 (Game History)

Chris Wray: Each player is a colonial governor in Puerto Rico, developing part of the island that is shown on their board.   The board has 12 island spaces, which will be used to build plantations (which grow crops) and quarries (which reduce the costs of buildings).  Each board also has 12 city spaces, which will be used to build buildings (which give each player special abilities during the game). The goal of the game is to achieve the greatest prosperity, as judged from victory points earned by shipping goods and constructing buildings.

Puerto Rico is an action selection game.  Each round, each player will select one of the “roles” that form the core of the game. These roles allow a player to get additional plantations/quarries, build buildings, produce goods, trade for doubloons, ship goods, or, in games with higher players, take money.  The player with the “governor” card starts the round. After taking the action of the selected role, play proceeds clockwise. After everybody has finished, the player to the left of the governor selects a different role, with the process repeating it until everybody has selected a role, at which point the round ends.  Each role has a special privilege associated with it that may be optionally used, and this game becomes all about efficiently. The game ends when the supply of colonists is exhausted, when one player fills their city spaces, or when the victory point supply is exhausted. At that point, the player with the most victory points is the winner.  Victory points come from the victory point chips (obtained via shipping), the victory point value of the buildings (if any), and the extra victory points from occupied large buildings.

Puerto Rico was the #1 game on BoardGameGeek for several years, and deserved its long reign at the top.  Puerto Rico is a brilliant design, with tense, addictive, and strategic gameplay that always makes players want to play again and again.  Given its renown for seamlessly integrating several mechanisms and a fun theme, it is little wonder that Puerto Rico is considered one of the hallmarks of German game design.  

Puerto Rico won the International Gamers Award (Multiplayer Category) in 2003 and won the Deutscher Spiele Preis that year.

Larry:  This ranked as my all-time favorite game for a very long period of time.  The fact that the players essentially choose the order of the phases of the round is simply brilliant, as is the idea that you gain a special bonus by choosing each type of action.  I still love playing this one.

Fraser: We still enjoy getting this out and playing at any player count. It is still the traditional beach holiday 2-player game with Melissa.

Puerto Rico – Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  Chris Wray, Michael W, Joe H., Greg S., Jeff Allers, Patrick Korner, Patrick Brennan, Matt C., Fraser, Melissa, Nathan Beeler, Lorna, Larry
  • I like it.  James Nathan, Craig M., Jeff L., John P, Tery, Brian L.
  • Neutral.  Dale Y, Doug G.
  • Not for me…

PrincesofFlorence

#4 – THE PRINCES OF FLORENCE

Designed by Wolfgang Kramer & Richard Ulrich, Released 2000 (Game History)

Chris Wray: In The Princes of Florence, three to five players each become the head of an Italian aristocratic dynasty during the Golden Age of the Renaissance.  Each player must support builders, artists, and scholars (called “professions”) so that they complete works and bring their family fame and prestige.  

The Princes of Florence is played over seven rounds, with each round having an auction phase and an action phase.  The player with the most prestige points (PP) at the end of seven rounds is the winner. Throughout the game, each player controls a principality, which is represented by their game board.  The game rewards careful planning: to earn PP, players must complete “works” by matching their “profession cards” to the buildings, landscapes, and freedoms in their principality.

The Princes of Florence is full of interesting decisions, tense auctions, and tight gameplay.  The theme is fun, and the game is wonderfully deep and strategic. It is easy to see why The Princes of Florence won the IGA and is still so revered in the hobby, even after fifteen years.  

The Princes of Florence won the 2001 International Gamers Award (Multiplayer Category).

Melissa: I don’t know whether The Princes of Florence is actually my favourite game, but I think it is practically perfect in every way. I love the tension, the interesting decisions, the dilemmas that this game engenders. It’s a true 10 for me – I can’t imagine ever knocking back the chance to play.

Larry:  A fabulous game and one that is consistently enjoyable.  It’s insane that this isn’t better known, or that some people feel that it was “fired” by Puerto Rico–the two games have almost nothing in common, other than that they’re both amazingly good.  If you’ve never played it, do yourself a favor, hunt down a copy, and give it a try–you’ll be glad you did!

Princes of Florence – Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  Michael W, Craig M., Joe H., Greg S., Jeff Allers, John P, Patrick Brennan, Melissa, Nathan Beeler, Lorna, Larry, Tery
  • I like it.  Chris Wray, Dale Y, Patrick Korner, Doug G., Matt c., Fraser,
  • Neutral.  James Nathan
  • Not for me…

Pandemic

#3 – PANDEMIC

Designed by Matt Leacock, Released 2008

Chris Wray: In Pandemic, players are disease-fighting specialists who must cure four diseases that have broken out across the world.

On each turn, a player can use up to four actions to travel between cities, treat infected populaces, discover a cure, or build a research station.  They get cards that can help with this mission, but the team has to work quickly: the disease is spreading, and sometimes when you flip a card, you get a terrible outbreak in a new city.  Each player has a unique role on the team giving them a special ability, and using their powers, the players must work together to save the world.

Few games have had the impact of Pandemic, which popularized “cooperative” games (which are games where all of the players play together against the board, so there is no individual winner).  Pandemic kicked off a wave of cooperative designs, and it remains a beacon of the genre. Pandemic has gone on to sell millions of copies. There are several offshoots, including an iOS version, and most notably Pandemic Legacy, which was (until recently dethroned by Gloomhaven) rated as the #1 game on BoardGameGeek.

Pandemic is an addictive strategy game.  The game is difficult to win, yet easy to learn.  Plus, because players aren’t competing against each other, experienced Pandemic players can help newer players.

Pandemic – Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  Chris Wray, Greg S., Jeff L., Jeff Allers, Patrick Brennan, Matt C., Brian L.
  • I like it.  James Nathan, Michael W, Joe H., John P, Patrick Korner, Doug G., Fraser, Melissa, Lorna, Tery
  • Neutral.  Dale Y, Larry
  • Not for me… Craig M., Nathan Beeler

Dominion

#2 – DOMINION

Designed by Donald X. Vaccarino, Released 2008 (Game History)

Chris Wray: In Dominion, you take on the role of a monarch ruling a small but pleasant kingdom.  You’re ambitious, trying to build your kingdom, but you’re in a race against other rulers to gather up lands.  To achieve your goals, you will hire minions, construct buildings, spruce up your castle, and fill the coffers of your treasury.

Dominion is a pure card game, and the entirety of its components is 500 cards.  You start the game with 7 “copper” cards (which can be used to purchase other cards) and 3 “estate” cards (which are victory points).  On your turn, you draw five cards from your deck, play one action card (you don’t start with any, but you can buy them), make one purchase, and then do a clean-up phase.  The goal is to keep buying better and better cards for your deck, thus expanding your actions, purchasing ability, and number of victory points. Everything is in the deck, which is why the game is called a “deck building” game.  You’ll keep cycling through the cards, and hopefully you’ve got enough good cards — or at least enough purchasing power — to help you get victory points.

Setup is variable: you only use 10 kingdom cards in a game, but the game comes with 24 different ones.  The result is a game that can be played endlessly.

The fast and addicting gameplay unite to create the sort of game that people rarely want to play just once.   The fundamental concept — that you’re building a deck with literally everything in the deck (the actions, the money, the victory points, even the rules) — is brilliant.  Dominion is slightly more advanced than most games on this list, but it is still playable by gamers and non-gamers alike. After all these years, Dominion is still a go-to deck building game for much of the hobby.  

Dominion won the 2009 Spiel des Jahres, as well as the Deutscher Spiele Preis that year.  

Dominion – Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  Chris Wray, James Nathan, Michael W, Jeff L., Patrick Brennan, Matt C., Nathan Beeler, Tery, Brian L.
  • I like it.  Greg S., Jeff Allers, John P, Doug G., Fraser, Melissa
  • Neutral.  Craig M., Joe H., Lorna, Larry
  • Not for me… Patrick Korner

TTR

#1 – TICKET TO RIDE

Designed by Alan R. Moon, Released 2004 (Game History)

Chris Wray: Ticket to Ride was the clear winner in our voting.  Consensus is rare among us here at The Opinionated Gamers, but we really love Ticket to Ride.  

Ticket to Ride is a cross-country train adventure in which players compete to connect different cities by laying claim to railway routes on a map of North America.  The goal of the game is to place track and complete “destination tickets” connecting various cities. On a player’s turn, he can either draw “train cards” (used to complete track), claim a route (by paying train cards), or draw more destination tickets.  The game ends when somebody comes close to running out of trains, and at that point, players add up the points from their track, their destination tickets, and possibly the bonus for longest train.

Ticket to Ride is beautiful in its simplicity.  It is a game that virtually anyone can learn — there aren’t many rules, and the ones the game does have are intuitive — yet there is enough depth here for both non-gamers and gamers alike.  Ticket to Ride is a versatile game, one that fits in a variety of gaming situations, everything from a family game night to a tournament setting. Throw in the amazing production value — beautiful artwork and plastic train pieces — and it is easy to see why Alan Moon’s most famous design is so beloved.  

Ticket to Ride has won countless game awards, and it is widely praised around the hobby.  When we did a re-review of Ticket to Ride a couple of years ago, we called it the king of gateway games.  With millions of copies sold in both print and digital form, and with numerous offshoots (including several maps and variants), Ticket to Ride is the definitive modern classic.  

Ticket to Ride won the 2004 Spiel des Jahres.  Its spinoff, Ticket to Ride Europe, won the 2005 International Gamers Award (Multiplayer Category).  Ticket to Ride also topped our “Play These Games First” list last year.

Fraser: It is simple, elegant, approachable and fun to play.  Also it fits into 15 minutes per player. This is still the version I play the most.

Ticket to Ride – Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  Chris Wray, Dale Y, Greg S., Michael W, Craig M., Joe H., Jeff L., Jeff Allers, John P, Doug G., Patrick Brennan, Matt C., Melissa, Fraser, Brian L.
  • I like it.  James Nathan, Patrick Korner, Nathan Beeler, Larry, Tery
  • Neutral.  Lorna
  • Not for me…

————————————–

OTHER ENTRIES IN THE “50 MODERN CLASSICS” SERIES:

Intro & #50-#41 ○ #40-#31 ○ #30-#21 ○ #20-#11 ○ #10-#1 ○ Wrap-up & Pre-1995 Classics

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14 Responses to 50 Modern Classics: #10-#1

  1. Pingback: 50 Modern Classics: #20-#11 | The Opinionated Gamers

  2. Pingback: 50 Modern Classics: #30-#21 | The Opinionated Gamers

  3. Pingback: 50 Modern Classics: #40-#31 | The Opinionated Gamers

  4. Pingback: 50 Modern Classics: #50-#41 | The Opinionated Gamers

  5. Surprised to see BGG’s long-time #1 Twilight Struggle entirely missing from the list. Sure, it’s less accessible than most of the games here, but then again, Agricola or Age of Steam are not exactly gateway games either ;-)
    In any case, thanks for the list! Must have been quite some work to conduct and analyze the poll, get so many people to write summaries etc.!

    • Chris Wray says:

      I was also (incredibly) surprised by that. In fact, I think it is probably the most interesting commission. I think part of it is that 2-player games get short shrift: there are a few on here, but not that many. Another part of it might have been that it was sitting below the 15-game cutoff for a lot of people. (I was one of them.) I was also surprised that Tikal didn’t make the list, since it holds the distinction of being the only game to have ever won the SdJ, IGA, and DSP.

  6. Surprised to see Princes of Florence so high too – I haven’t seen it played for years.

    • Marcel says:

      You hang out with the wrong people :)
      It’s my favourite game of all time, I make an effort to play it regularly (that comes down to about twice a year, because there are so many other great games) and I was pleasantly surprised to see it so high on this list, showing that I’m not alone in loving it.

  7. apertotes says:

    Thanks a lot for this list! Like all lists, it is impossible to agree on everything. I miss Twilight Imperium and Castles of Burgundy, and maybe Cosmic Encounter, Caylus and Die Macher. Still, this is a fantastic set of games.

  8. Pingback: 50 Modern Classics: Statistics, Pre-1995 Classics, and What We Missed | The Opinionated Gamers

  9. Eric Brosius says:

    Princes of Florence is a great game, but it takes players who have a reasonable degree of experience to make it shine (as auction games often do.) I aim to play it at least 5 times a year, a target I don’t always hit.

  10. ianthecool says:

    This top ten is a good list. These are definitely the modern classics. Princes of Florence seems like the odd one out, though I do love it.

    And it will always be SETTLERS of Catan to me, no matter what Asmodee says.

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