Reiner Knizia is one of the most prolific and accomplished game designers of the modern era. Many of his designs have achieved commercial success and critical acclaim, and he has several titles that are doubtlessly modern classics.
He’s also a favorite of game award juries each year. He has won the Deutscher Spiele Preis a record-setting four times and the International Gamers Awards twice. He is also a favorite of the Spiel des Jahres jury, receiving countless nominations and winning for Keltis in 2008.
But what are his 10 best games?
Today’s article is the second in our “10 Great” series that features 10 great games in a given subcategory. I pick a mechanic, theme, publisher, etc. We here at the Opinionated Gamers then all vote behind the scenes to create a list of 10 great games that meet the criteria. We’re aiming for an article a month, and I’d love your suggestions about future lists.
For purposes of this project, I simply asked everybody to vote for 10 great Knizia games. I made no attempt to offer a definition of greatness: they just had to be designed by Knizia. Each member of the OG was offered the chance to vote for up to 10 games. They could give one game a 15, one game a 14, one game an 13, 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 10.
We had 26 OG-ers vote, and 41 different games received votes. To get on the list took a minimum of eight 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.
Below you’ll see designations for gold, silver, and bronze. Those represent the number of voters that put a given game in the #1, #2, and #3 spot, respectively.
Without further ado, here are the 10 Great Games by Reiner Knizia!
Honorable Mention (Games That Barely Missed the List):
- Amun Re
- High Society
- Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation
- Taj Mahal
- The Quest for El Dorado
#10 – Samurai (1998)
2 Gold, 1 Bronze
One of Knizia’s tile placement games with elements of area majority, Samurai is perhaps best known for its scoring mechanic. There are three types of pieces in the game, and a player who captures two of them wins, but that rarely happens. Instead, this game is often decided by the tie breakers. Samurai also has a card game adaptation.
#9 – Ingenious (2004)
Ingenious is decidedly abstract, and like many of Knizia’s titles, it is also known for its scoring mechanism: players are trying to place doubled hex-tiles to move up on colored tracks, but their score at the end of the game is equal to the track they’ve moved along the least. The game was recently remade using square tiles (instead of hexagonal tiles) in Axio.
#8 – Lord of the Rings (2000)
4 Gold, 2 Bronze
Known as one of the first cooperative games, Lord of the Rings is based on Tolkien’s book, with players attempting to destroy the One Ring while avoiding Sauron’s influence.
#7 – Tigris & Euphrates (1997)
5 Gold, 2 Silver
Thought by many to be Knizia’s tile-laying masterpiece, the game is civilization building abstracted, featuring wars, internal strife, and building various aspects of a burgeoning empire. Like Ingenious, it also features the so called “Knizia scoring,” where players are judged by scoring element they have the fewest points in. Recently, the game inspired a “sister” game in Yellow & Yangtze.
#6 – Lost Cities (1999)
Thought by many to be one of the great two-player games, and often called the “ultimate spouse game,” Lost Cities is a set collection game and hand management game. It was later converted into Lost Cities: The Board Game and Keltis, which won the Spiel des Jahres.
#5 – Modern Art (1992)
4 Gold, 2 Silver, 1 Bronze
Knizia is known for his use of the auction mechanic, and Modern Art is one of his defining games in the genre. It is called the “auction-iest” of the auction games, but it also has elements of set collection. The game has been printed in various editions around the world, each featuring different artwork. Modern Art has also inspired a card game called Masters Gallery.
#4 – Through the Desert (1998)
1 Gold, 4 Bronze
Considered to be Reiner Knizia’s homage to Go, Through the Desert is partially a game of surrounding territory, but it is also a game where players rush to resources and collect majorities.
#3 – Dream Factory (a.k.a. Traumfabrik) (2000)
1 Gold, 2 Silver, 3 Bronze
Traumfabrik is another one of Knizia’s famed auction games, this one featuring zero-sum auctions: you pay the price to the other players, keeping a fairly constant amount of currency in the game. Players are completing film strips, earning bonuses along the way.
#2 – Ra (1999)
2 Gold, 4 Silver, 3 Bronze
Perhaps the simplest of Knizia’s auction games, Ra is at its core a set collection game with an exceptionally streamlined auction mechanic. Players are collecting monuments and other tiles to score points over three rounds. The game has inspired a dice game, plus Priests of Ra, which features double-sided tiles.
#1 – Medici (1995)
2 Gold, 5 Silver, 3 Bronze
Medici is another auction game. Players are filling their ships, attempting to have the most valuable ship, but also attempting to have the most resources in five different types. There’s a bit of a press-your-luck mechanic in choosing how many cards to put up for auction. Like many of Knizia’s auction games, it is easy to learn, but challenging to master. Most of the OG voters had Medici somewhere on their list, and 10 of us had it in our top three. Medici has also inspired a card game.
Thoughts from Opinionated Gamers:
Chris Wray: Congratulations to Dr. Knizia for developing such a great collection of games over the years. I’ve played nine on the list above — I’ve never quite gotten to Lord of the Rings — but I love (and own) the other nine. All but two of the games I voted on made the list or the honorable mentions. The only exceptions were Battle Line (a.k.a. Schotten Totten) and Blue Lagoon.
Joe Huber: I’ve played all ten of the games listed – but only 4 received my votes. And, in a shock to no one – only one of my five favorites (Euphrat & Tigris) made the list above. (The missing titles were Res Publica, Africa, Neue Spiele im Alten Rom, and Clash of the Gladiators.) I think the most telling data from the survey is that more than 40 games received votes. No matter what your tastes – there’s likely a game Knizia has designed to suit you.
Larry: I can only imagine the bemusement of many of our readers at the subject of this list. “Reiner Knizia?” they might ask, followed either by, “Who?”, or “The guy who cranks out a dozen versions of the same mediocre game?”, depending on their age. And as this list shows, there’s indeed been very little of note over the last 15 years (even though The Good Doctor seems to be making something of a comeback over the last couple of years). But as the list also shows, before that time, the man was a marvel, easily the best designer in the world at that time and considered the best ever by many. Despite the intervening years, he still has to be considered one of the greats.
There wasn’t much agreement between my list and the group’s. I included only three of these games in my list (Traum, Medici, and Tigris) and none of my top four made the article (including the amazing Stephenson’s Rocket, the extremely intense Medici vs. Strozzi, Amun-Re–still one of the best games ever for 5–and the highly contentious Taj Mahal). As a group, the OG writers seemed to like our Reiner a touch lighter than at his heaviest, but he made so many great games, a little disagreement is hardly surprising.
What is surprising, at least to me, was our pick for the top spot. I’m a big fan of Medici and it’s been a popular game for almost a quarter of a century. But I can’t think of any time period where it was roundly considered to be Reiner’s best. I figured Tigris would win fairly handily, and if not that, maybe Ra, Modern Art, or Lost Cities. But there’s good old Medici, on top by a comfortable margin, while T&E finished well back. Has Tigris lost some of its luster over the years? Is it too hard for this generation of gamers? Or are there just a declining number of us who grew up with it, so to speak? I’d be curious to hear what some of our readers think of this choice, along with the rest of our top ten.
Matt C: As a very delayed cult of the new player, I was pleased that I’ve seen and played most of the games on this list. I’ve always considered Knizia as a designer of fairly dry (skimpy on theme) games. That is a strike against most of his games, but some of them are good enough to overcome it. I consider my dislike of T&E as a badge of honor, although in actuality I admit it is a great game that I simply do not like. Medici was a surprise to me as well. I had it high in my list but did not expect to see it make it to the top. Ingenious is great, but a bit dry for me. I like Ra, the auction mechanics are great. It would normally be a great introductory-level game but the somewhat convoluted scoring make it less attractive to pull out for newish gamers. Modern Art is another one I enjoy but it needs a very specific set of gamer to go over well (and as with most auction games – it is really only good the second time around…)
Tery: I am not a fan of bidding games, but I am a big fan of both of our top two picks – Ra and Medici. I think that speaks to the quality of both of the designs, in that they are both so well-done that the mechanic is seamlessly integrated into the game play and it works for me. This theory falls apart a little bit for Modern Art, a game I don’t hate but I definitely don’t love.
Craig M: Several of the games I cast ballots for were just outside the top 10 (Amun Re, Lord of the Rings: Confrontation, Quest for El Dorado, and Stephensons Rocket), but I’m definitely on board with several in the top 10 like Ra, Traumfabrik, and Medici in particular. The thing that makes Knizia’s games stand out is the simplicity of the mechanics and lack of anything extraneous. His games always have tantalizing tough decision points which create a lot of tension in turn fostering indirect player interaction.
Maybe more than any other designer, the depth of play is revealed after multiple playings. There are many times when I have played one of Knizia’s games the first time and found it lacking, but upon further plays and reflection have seen how strong these games really are. There is a large number of Knizia titles that have become evergreens and see continued play year after year.