This is the first of a series of articles that will involve a bit of gaming history. Okay, maybe a little more than a bit—it’ll cover 120 years!
In his classic book A Gamut of Games, Sid Sackson stated that it was a shame that archaeologists, who examine every aspect of ancient civilizations, including their food, clothing, jobs, religions, and courtship rituals, invariably pay no attention to the games they played. Here at the OG, no such criticism can exist, although our focus is more on recent history than the ancients. In order to examine that history, we have created a Gaming Timeline, composed of the games we consider to be notable or historically significant, covering the period from 1900 to the present. All told, there are 172 games in the timeline and we’ll be writing about the significance of each of them in the weeks to come.
1900 was chosen as the starting point for three reasons: 1) it’s a nice round number; 2) a number of interesting games debuted during the first decade of the twentieth century; and 3) the frequency of interesting games debuts were far lower prior to 1900. It just worked out well for multiple reasons, so we went with it.
So here is the gaming timeline in its entirety. Most of the items of interest are games, but there are also some books and some events sprinkled in. Some of the games also have notes next to them that briefly explain their significance.
|1906||The Landlord’s Game; Precursor to Monopoly|
|1910||Lichtra (aka Electro); First known electric board game|
|1913||H.G. Wells publishes “Little Wars”, first miniatures rules|
|1920||Mahjong imported to U.S., becomes a major fad|
|1936||Go to the Head of the Class|
|1941||All Star Baseball|
|1943||Chutes and Ladders|
|1946||Sid Sackson’s first design (Poke)|
|1951||APBA Pro Baseball|
|1954||Tactics; Creation of Modern Wargaming|
|1960||The Game of Life|
|“Abbott’s New Card Games” published|
|1964||Acquire; Introduction of 3M Bookshelf Games|
|Rudi Hoffman’s first design (Calcul)|
|1969||Sid Sackson’s “A Gamut of Games” published|
|Backgammon Becomes a Craze|
|Lines of Action|
|Fischer-Spassky Chess Championship Makes Headlines|
|1973||Hare & Tortoise|
|1974||Dungeons & Dragons; Creation of Roleplaying Games|
|1829; Creation of 18xx|
|Wolfgang Kramer’s first design (Tempo)|
|1979||SdJ Awards Begin|
|Western World Gets First Exposure to Climbing Games|
|Empire Builder; Creation of Crayon Rail Games|
|First Essen Game Fair|
|1984||Axis & Allies|
|Advanced Squad Leader|
|Mafia; First Social Deduction Game|
|Merchant of Venus|
|Klaus Teuber’s First Design (Barbarossa)|
|1990||Adel Verplichtet; Worldwide Impact of German Games|
|Reiner Knizia’s First Designs (Digging, Goldrausch)|
|Alan Moon’s First German Design (Airlines)|
|1991||Tichu; Popularization of Climbing Games|
|History of the World|
|1993||Magic: The Gathering; Creation of Collectible Card Games|
|1994||We the People; Creation of Card Driven Wargames|
|1995||The Settlers of Catan|
|1996||Pokemon Trading Card Game|
|GIPF; Introduction of GIPF Series|
|First Cheapass Games|
|1997||Tigris & Euphrates|
|1998||Through the Desert|
|Keydom; First Worker Placement Game|
|1999||Paths of Glory|
|Apples to Apples|
|Ra; First Alea Game|
|Princes of Florence|
|Lord of the Rings; Popularization of Cooperative Gaming|
|Battle Cry; First Command & Colors Game|
|“Word Freak” published, examines competitive Scrabble|
|Age of Steam|
|2004||Ticket to Ride|
|War of the Ring|
|2005||Caylus; Popularization of Worker Placement|
|Pickomino; Popularization of Sophisticated Dice Games|
|Wits & Wagers|
|Antike; Introduction of the Rondel|
|2006||Through the Ages|
|Race for the Galaxy|
|2008||Dominion; Creation of Deckbuilding Games|
|Cards Against Humanity|
|2011||The Castles of Burgundy|
|Risk Legacy; Creation of Legacy Games|
|Andean Abyss; First COIN Game|
|Qwixx; Popularization of Roll & Write Games|
|2015||Pandemic Legacy: Season 1|
|EXIT Games; Popularization of Escape Room Board Games|
As you can see, there were no real restrictions on how many games can appear in a year. For most of the timeline, we just listed the games we considered to be significant; if that meant some years had no games, while others had five, so be it. The last 20 years or so are a bit different, though, as they’re more about “most impactful games”, as opposed to those with historical importance (with a few exceptions). So we did impose a requirement on ourselves that there be at least one game representing every year of this century. As it turned out, every year from 1979 to the present has at least one representative, so there’s plenty of recent history to examine as well.
We’ll be adding at least one game for 2020, but at this time, it’s too early to say what the most significant title for last year was. By the time we write the article for that time period, we’ll be able to come up with a good choice and add it to the list.
We’ll be posting articles irregularly for the next few months. Each article will cover a contiguous period of time—usually a 5 or 10 year period, but other time periods may be used. Each game in that period will receive its own write-up. Some of those may be brief and some may be more extensive, but we’ll devote at least a paragraph to each game and won’t get too crazy with any one game. Just enough to give you an idea of what each game was about, where it fits in the history of gaming, and possibly some personal notes about what the author feels about it. Hopefully, a bunch of you will find the series enjoyable and worth reading.
The first article will cover the period from 1900 to 1909. Get ready for a trip through the Wayback Machine. If you appreciate the history of games, we hope your reaction will be, “It’s about time!”.
Including Stratego and Othello in this list flatters them, since both are reimplementations of earlier games (L’Attaque and Reversi, respectively) with only minor changes.
Very true, Stuart, and that will be discussed in our writeups of those two games (actually, L’Attaque itself is derived from traditional Chinese and Japanese games). But Stratego and Othello are included because both had major impacts on gaming culture, much more so than either of their antecedents. Stratego has been a leading family game since its introduction in the late 40’s and Othello led to a small gaming fad during the 70’s. So I think their inclusion is quite justified, particularly since we will outline their histories and the games they were derived from.
It’s again a very male and very Western list.
What’s about Qwirkle. A smash hit designed by a woman?
What was the first SdJ designed by a woman? Was it Scotland Yard?
What were major games in Asia since 1900? What happend in other countries?
This following your great white male designers list is a bad sign.
I see a pattern in your lists and think I don’t like it…
There are some female designers sprinkled throughout the list, including those for The Landlord’s Game, Stratego, and Candy Land. But this is a discussion of history. We can pretend that, historically, gaming wasn’t dominated by White males and only focus on the few successful designs that were created by women and minorities. Or we can present things as they actually were and show, for example, how the female designer of Monopoly was denied any credit and almost all profits for this massively successful game, simply because the fiction of its purported male designer was more acceptable to the customers of the day. I think presenting the truth is always the better course and by shining a light on how one-sided things were, we can inspire the gamers of today to try to change things. I also hope that we don’t become so wracked with guilt over the past that we can’t enjoy looking back at the extraordinary creations that came in prior years.
As for the Western focus of this list, there may be some truth to that. There are games from China, Japan, South America, and other non-Western locales in our list, but most of them originated in Europe or the U.S. Almost all of our writers are from those areas, so perhaps there’s a natural tendency to consider such games. I will say that we’re looking almost exclusively at commercial games, since they have a far greater impact, and I’m not sure if there was a thriving commercial gaming industry in the East for much of this time. But the fact that I’m not even certain of that shows a bit of a blind spot.
I agree only partly, because there were major achievements by woman that you neglect in your timeline. As for other countries and commercial success, I’m not an expert on this, but I cannot imagine that nothing happend in Japan, in South Africa in Russia in one hundred years that was commercially successful.
So your reply sounds a little like a lazy excuse. Sorry to put it that harsh…
I am from South Africa.
Nothing happened here.
Great, so that’s settled.
I like the ‘one dude’s impression saves the day” approach. Why do research?
Yeah! Journalism is dead…
First App assisted game?
or should I say App required game?
I’m not sure what a good candidate for that would be, Brian. Maybe one of the Werewolf games? (Bezier has been one of the pioneers with app-assisted games.)
It also just occurred to me that it would be interesting to cite something about the explosion of solo games, but again, I’m not sure if there’s one design that truly made this popular. Friedemann Friese’s Friday is one possibility, but I don’t know if it quite fits.
Chronicles in Crime or Alchemists for online or tech integration and perhaps Dark Tower or Stop Thief! back in the day.
Solo gaming is a tough one as it has gradually become a bigger part of the gaming landscape. Friday is one such game but did it change the focus on solo games … I don’t think so.
A few others:
Also, what about minis integration (step up in production values that showed what could be done? … Zombicide (or maybe Mechs vs Minions) might be the title
Online gaming? Brettspielwelt?
Kickstarter rising in prominence? Alien Frontier, Zombicide or ?
Thanks to everyone for the excellent suggestions for additional events on the Gaming Timeline. As I mentioned in the introduction, I kind of viewed the entries for the most recent years as the most impactful games for those years, as opposed to historical trends, but thanks to the comments here, I see that there were some trends that needed to be included. So after some discussion with the OG crew, we’ve decided to add the following items to the timeline:
1981 – Dark Tower (Early Electronic Game and a Big Hit)
2000 – Brettspielwelt Public Release (first major online gaming site)
2000 – Tokyo Game Market Debuts
2004 – Fairy Tale (Introduces Drafting, First Mainstream Japanese Designed Game)
2006 – Qwirkle (Susan McKinley Ross Becomes First Female Solo SdJ Winner)
2011 – Mage Knight Board Game (Rise of Solo Gaming)
2012 – D-Day Dice (Significance of Kickstarter to Boardgaming)
2012 – Zombicide (Emphasis on Elaborate Minis in Boardgames)
2014 – Alchemists/One Night Ultimate Werewolf (Popularization of App-Assisted Boardgames)
That brings us to 181 items on the Timeline! There’s still room for more, so if anyone has other suggestions, feel free to post them here. Thanks!
Great that you included these.
And thanks for listening to our feedback.
You’re welcome! There’s nothing better for us than to get comments on our articles. The involvement of our readers is great to see!
This is my idea of useful content, especially the articles you’re planning on writing and publishing that will be focused on more specific time periods. It would be interesting to conduct a poll to see which game is the favorite of this website’s readership. That might reveal some fascinating insights.