Through the Years: A Gaming History (Revisited)

Some of us here on the OG have been playing games for a long time. Personally, my history as a gamer pre-dates the release of Terraforming Mars (2016), Dominion (2008), Carcassonne (2000), Catan (1995), Magic: The Gathering (1993), Talisman (1983), and Squad Leader (1977). Yes, my goatee is white – why do you ask?

So, what follows is a historical list of my most played games by their year of release. (The original version of this post on my personal blog was inspired by an email conversation about “favorite games by year” – but that was 12 years ago so I’ve played a few more games since then.)

I’ve also included some commentary on each of the games… cuz that’s the way I roll. There’s even some links to stuff I’ve written on some of the games. (Note: When a game has the notation “X plays+”, that means I played the game multiple times before I began tracking all of my game plays in 1998.)

  • 2022: Return to Dark Tower (14 plays)
    • While the technology for the original Dark Tower was “state of the art” for 1980, the gameplay was just so-so… which makes my love for Return to Dark Tower such a surprise. Yes, it’s a cooperative fantasy game (with an option for competitive play that we haven’t tried yet) and the tower/app do make a lot of noise… but that’s like saying Premier League soccer is just a bunch of guys kicking a ball around in the not-so-lovely English weather. The statements are both true – but that misses so much of what makes the things great. (Come on you Spurs!)
    • The team at Restoration Games used the extensive development/playtesting time to hone the game design to a fine edge. No design choice seems out of place or overly wonky – and the app facilitates large chunks of play without ever overwhelming your focus on the board. The artwork is splendid and the graphic design/UI of the physical pieces/cards as well as the app make sense.
    • Read my review of the game right here on the OG: I Was Victorious!
  • 2021: Imperium Classics/Legends (20 plays)
    • Imperium Classics/Legends packs in the game mechanics: deckbuilding, resource management, tableau building, asymmetric factions, multiple game timers, keywords to differentiate similar actions… whew, I’m exhausted just typing all of that. Let me try a different way to describe the game – using theme as the anchor. Each player is leading an ancient civilization from barbarian nation to sophisticated empire, working to achieve the most Progress (victory points) in a variety of ways, often dependent on the unique structure of their civilization’s multiple card decks as well as the cards they have drafted from the market.
    • I find the game absolutely fascinating both as a multi-player game and as a solo game.
    • Read my review of the game(s) right here on the OG: Imperium Classic and Imperium Legends: A Dual Review!
  • 2020: My City (26 plays)
    • This feels like a bit of a cheat, as my younger son & I played this legacy game 2-player, which means we were clocking through games in 10-15 minutes and typically played a chapter together (3 games).
    • The second most plays for a game released in 2020 was Lost Ruins of Arnak, which will show up in tomorrow’s “Through the Years” post.
    • That said, it’s a fantastic Tetris-y game that stayed pretty close until the last couple of chapters.
    • I’m looking forward to My Island and My City Roll’n’Write to see if Dr. Knizia can keep the good things going.
  • 2019: Unmatched: Battle of Legends (103 plays)
    • What the team at Restoration Games dreamed up is a complete overhaul of the original Star Wars: Epic Duels game … like you took your ’72 Ford Pinto into the shop and they sent back a Porsche 911. Both of them run on internal combustion engines, granted… but one has an annoying tendency to explode when it get rear-ended while the other is one of the finest pieces of automotive machinery ever designed.
  • 2018: NEOM (39 plays)
    • My initial rules read of NEOM (prior to seeing the game) made me think it would be an interesting but difficult to play 7 Wonders knock-off. I’m happy to say that the first day I taught/played (a few weeks after Essen 2018), I was proven wrong… and ended up playing it 3 times in one day. As soon as it became easily available in the U.S., I jumped on a copy… and it’s now in regular rotation here at Chez Jackson.
    • I’m a huge fan of both 7 Wonders and Suburbia – enough so that I own every expansion for both games and plunked down a C note in order to get the Collector’s Edition of Suburbia. So, when a game can easily be described as combining some of the best bits from both of those games, I’m in.
    • Also nice – it plays well with 2 players (using a similar system to Fields of Green), balances nicely with 3-5 players, and even has a really solid solo mode.
  • 2017: Jump Drive (95 plays)
    • Jump Drive is fast (the longest game I’ve played went 8 turns)… but is surprisingly meaty for a filler. You have to make real decisions about what you’re going to buy, the wisdom of exploring to find appropriate cards vs. the loss of a turn, and finding the synergy in what you have in your hand. It’s not as layered as Race for the Galaxy – but Jump Drive is more than just “build the most expensive card you can build.”
    • Jump Drive is NOT The City dressed up in sci-fi clothing… and I say this as someone who LOVES The City and has played it 110+ times. While the basic structure of the game is similar, they are not identical. In our experience, Jump Drive has slightly smaller tableaus and more synergistic relationships between cards.
    • Read my review of the game right here on the OG: 10 Questions + 1 About Jump Drive!
  • 2016: Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure (69 plays)
    • Smoosh Dungeonquest and Ascension together and you’d get something close to this fantastic deck-building dungeon crawl… with the very clever “clank” mechanic binding the two together and acting a game timer and source of tension.
    • Those 69 plays don’t include 11 plays of Clank! Legacy and 37 plays of Clank! In! Space!.
    • Read my review of the game system right here on the OG: Welcome to the Clank-iverse!
  • 2015: 7 Wonders Duel (71 plays)
    • There was a 2 player variant in the original 7 Wonders box… but it wasn’t particularly interesting. Enter 7 Wonders Duel, which managed to capture the drafting “feel” of the original game but work perfectly for 2 players.
    • I like both of the expansions: Pantheon and Agora… but haven’t played them together as my sons each like one and dislike the other.
  • 2014: Star Realms (146 plays)
    • It’s a simple combat-oriented deck-builder that is unbelievably playable… it didn’t hurt that they made a really solid app that my sons and I used for a good bit of pass-n-play.
    • Some of the expansions are excellent – others are just OK. And there is more coming…
  • 2013: Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legneds (32 plays)
    • An inventive pattern building mechanic helps create a fluid game of combat & positioning. The core mechanic is very abstract – and yet by the use of cards & subtle theming choices, Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends has more “story” involved than you realize at first glance.
    • I like “High Form” better than “Deathmatch” – but the game works well in either mode.
    • Read my review of the game system right here on the OG: Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends!
  • 2012: DC Comics Deck-Building Game (134 plays)
    • Mix the Ascension deck-building lineup with some fantastic “straight from the comics” DC superhero art… and add just enough thematic touches to the design (player heroes, super villain attacks, etc.) to give it the comic book feel. It’s not rocket science – but we’ve played it nearly 200 times in the various incarnations (Confrontations, Rivals, Teen Titans Go!, etc.)
    • I’m a huge fan of the Multiverse box/cards which allow you to play a massive game across all the sets you own… but not everybody enjoys that.
  • 2011: Sentinels of the Multiverse (112 plays)
    • A cooperative comic book game that uses multiple card decks (heroes, villain, environment) to tell the story of a “battle royale”. It’s enhanced by a well-developed mythos and a plethora of sly references to various “real” (read: DC/Marvel) superheroes.
    • OblivAeon was the final expansion for the original game… and it’s a table-eating 3.5-4 hour slugfest against multiple foes. It’s an attempt to recreate the full-on nuttiness of the original comic book Crisis on Infinite Earths… and it succeeds. It’s not for the faint of heart… but my eldest son and I love it. (Out of 10 plays, we’ve only twice once.)
    • This total does not count 6 plays of the Definitive Edition that was just released earlier this year… which is actually really good… and if you’re new to the game, I’d start with the Definitive Edition.
    • You can read about a variant my sons and I created called The Bloodsworn Arena over on my personal blog.
  • 2010: 7 Wonders (105 plays)
    • Card drafting meets civilization building… and it’s playable with 3-7 players in a pretty consistent 45 minutes. No “wonder” it got all those awards…
    • You don’t have to jump on the science train to score big points – but you do need to burn up science cards for cash or wonder building to prevent others from doing it.
    • Military still doesn’t make sense to me – the worst point loss you can take is -6… and it can be less than that if you can talk your neighbor(s) into a truce.
    • The new edition is nice – I’ve only had a chance to play it online but the symbols are easier to teach/use. (They are based on the system used for 7 Wonders: Duel.)
  • 2009: Summoner Wars (208 plays)
    • Summoner Wars was a “hey, I got an Amazon gift card & I don’t want to spend it on mp3 downloads” post-Christmas purchase back in the day… well, at least the first two boxes were. Then I went kinda nuts… and a year later, I own everything Plaid Hat Games had published for Summoner Wars.
    • Short game summary: Kill or be killed with cards & dice
    • Slightly less short game summary: a fantasy battle board game that involves positional board play, deck & hand management, and dice combat.
    • The newest edition makes some big changes but still keeps the charm/cleverness of the original game.
    • Read my review of the Summoner Wars Master Set (first edition) right here on the OG: Summoner Wars Master Set!
  • 2008: Dominion (80 plays)
    • For a game I’ve played this many times, I’m not a particularly big fan. I am in awe of the genius design idea at the heart of the game (the first deck-builder)… but I have a bunch of other deck-builders I’d rather play.
    • That said, it’s still worth playing and for many folks it is their favorite deck-building design.
    • Our own OG head honcho Dale Yu was a developer on the original game and the first few expansions!
  • 2007: Race for the Galaxy (486 plays)
    • After you climb the iconography mountain to figure out the game, Race for the Galaxy is an amazing adventure in hand management & reading your opponents’ mind – made even better by clever card design & interaction as well as great sci-fi art.
    • Between the iOS app powered by Keldon’s AI and the version of Keldon’s AI online, I’m comfortable estimating that I’ve played Race against an AI over 2k-3k times.
  • 2006: To Court the King (33 plays)
    • Though I’ve transferred my To Court the King loyalty over to Favor of the Pharaoh now, for a period of time, this was one of my favorite go-to dice games.
    • Imagine Yahtzee crossed with Magic: The Gathering. You use dice to obtain card powers in order to manipulate dice to obtain more power (and dice) to finally win the favor of the King (well, Pharaoh).
  • 2005: Pickomino (73 plays)
    • Yeah, it’s a math-y dice game about chickens eating at a worm diner that manages to be a lot more fun than the description sounds.
    • I still call it Heckmeck am Brautweck (the original German name).
  • 2004: Memoir ’44 (232 plays)
    • IMHO, the best version of Richard Borg’s light wargame Command & Colors system – of course, the theme (WWII) helps, as does the incredible Campaign Book expansions and the excellent support by the publisher, Days of Wonder.
    • 2004 was a really special year for board games – in addition to Memoir ’44, I’ve played Ticket to Ride 144 times and Heroscape 114 times – both of which were also published in 2004.
    • Read my reviews of the various Memoir expansions and events right here on the OG: Campaign Book, Volume 2 & The Chattanooga Open.
    • Read more reviews of expansion materials on my personal blog: Breakthrough, Winter Wars, & the Equipment Pack!
  • 2003: Smarty Party (71 plays)
    • There are probably better party games (in gamer terms) but none that I’ve enjoyed as much as this one… and I have the rare honor of having played the original prototype. This is a classic example of development taking an interesting idea & turning it into a great game.
  • 2002: StreetSoccer (179 plays)
    • It doesn’t so much simulate soccer (like Pursue the Pennant attempts to simulate baseball)… instead, it uses a backgammon-ish mechanic to simulate the feel of a soccer game – and does so brilliantly.
  • 2001: Transamerica (82 plays)
    • Great game for 4-6 players of connecting railroads… the mini-expansion (Vexation) actually makes it less fun, though.
  • 2000: Carcassonne (104 plays)
    • With too many spin-off games & expansions, it’s easy to overlook how enjoyable this now classic tile-laying game can be.
    • I used to own the original and a bunch of the expansions… when I (sort of) purged my collection in 2013, I ditched most of them and hung onto Carcassonne: Wheel of Fortune which works well as a one-box version of the game with some interesting twists.
  • 1999: Lost Cities (134 plays)
    • The game itself is a stunningly simple 2 player card game… the tension comes from how difficult it is to keep from helping your opponent.
    • Yes, I’ve played almost all of the variations of Lost Cities – many of them are enjoyable (I like Keltis with the expansion and the Lost Cities Roll’n’Write) but the best is Der Weg der Steine.
  • 1998: Zirkus Flohcati (67 plays)
    • This excellent little filler card game goes through periods where I don’t play it very much – and then it reappears.
    • I like the original cartoon-ish German art much more than the creepy flea art design of the most recent U.S. edition.
  • 1997: Arriba (56 plays)
    • Now called Jungle Speed, this is a one-stick variant of Spoons crossed with the pattern recognition game Set… and it’s possibly the game that’s done the most physical damage to players (and household valuables) while playing.
    • I once taught this to a group of high school football players at a church youth convention who decided that Arribaton was still “active” even if it fell off the table… and ended up with a rugby-like scrum underneath a nearby table at one point.
  • 1996: Dish It Up! (44 plays)
    • A great little memory game that my boys enjoyed… it’s a clever design that makes it accessible to younger players while reducing frustration.
    • You can read my review of the game over on my personal blog: Dish It Up!
  • 1995: Catan (150+ plays)
    • The game that launched the European “game” invasion… the first true “franchise” game for Kosmos & Mayfair… a game so simple & yet so innovative that it could inspire devoted play with almost any crowd. This infinitely variable game of trading & building is still a personal favorite, even when way too many gamers have left it behind.
    • While your first game may take 90+ minutes, it’s not unusual for experienced players to knock out a game in 60 minutes or less. A lot of that depends on how quickly trading goes and how “aware” the people you’re playing are – example: it doesn’t matter how many times you ask for “brick”, if we haven’t rolled it in two rounds, it isn’t there for trade. Sigh.
    • My most recent bit of writing about Catan is a review of Klaus Teuber’s memoir which you can read right here on the OG – Book Review: My Journey to Catan!
  • 1994: 6 Nimmt (49 plays)
    • Probably better known now as Category 5 or Slide 5, this is a very abstract card game that scales well up to 10 players, which probably explains why I’ve played it so much.
    • I actually like Tanz der Hornochsen (a board game version of 6 Nimmt) better than the card game…
  • 1993: Attacke (54 plays)
    • Thankfully, this great little filler game has finally been re-released as Gem Dealer… instead of the horribly over-chromed monstrosity that was Ivanhoe.
  • 1992: Fast Food Franchise (120 plays)
    • Imagine if the designer of Race for the Galaxy decided to take making a roll’n’move that both gamers & non-gamers could love… that combined some very Monopoly-ish elements with tactical board play. And then you can wake up & play it, because this is actually Tom Lehmann’s first game design!
    • This game appeared in the OG series 138 Games to Play Before You Die.
  • 1991: My First Uno (43 plays)
    • My boys liked it when they were little. So we played it. A lot.
  • 1990: Igel Ärgern (23 plays)
    • I came to this adorable dice game late… but I’m very glad I own a copy.
  • 1989: Cafe International (98 plays)
    • While I worry that the art in this game has some pointed stereotypes, the fact that every culture is poked fun at (even the Germans) leads me to believe that the humor is good-natured. The game itself is one that seems chaotic & luck-driven at first, but reveals some surprising depth over time.
  • 1988: Yahtzee Jr (22 plays)
    • Surprisingly enjoyable mass market “junior” dice game.
    • I think our copy was a Toy Story-themed version.
  • 1987: Shark (13 plays)
    • Shark is an obvious homage to Sid Sackson’s classic game design, Acquire… and I like it better than Acquire.
    • The version we play is not the one published in ’87 by Flying Turtle, but the improved version published by Ravensburger.
  • 1986: Liar’s Dice (88 plays)
    • Richard Borg’s rendering of the classic “dollar poker” bar game… for years, a favorite closer for game nights.
    • Yes, I prefer this to Perudo.
  • 1985: Dungeonquest (90+ plays)
    • I have always described this game as “similar to playing Dungeons & Dragons with a DM who hates your guts” – it’s a short (no more than an hour…and often shorter!), brutal & intensely fun experience game/dungeon crawl.
    • Queen Games has a new dungeon game coming from designer Dan Glimne that (according to the KS) “captures the same system [Drakborgen aka Dungeonquest] which is designed to kill players in a shorter, dice game format.” Yep, sounds like a spiritual heir to Dungeonquest.
  • 1984: Bounce It In (57 plays)
    • Tupperware’s only game… and it’s a great dexterity game with 4 different ways to play.
  • 1983: Luck Plus (47 plays)
    • A Uno-ish card/dice game that Shari, my lovely wife, really likes.
  • 1982: Sequence (38 plays)
    • Another Uno-ish card game (this time with a board) that Shari enjoys.
  • 1981: Fill or Bust (94 plays)
    • The classic dice game “500” with an added set of action cards… yet another Shari favorite.
  • 1980: Can’t Stop (178 plays)
    • Sid Sackson’s masterpiece… probably the best pure push-your-luck game ever published.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the games each year that I’ve spend the most time playing!

About Mark "Fluff Daddy" Jackson

follower of Jesus, husband, father, pastor, boardgamer, writer, Legomaniac, Disneyphile, voted most likely to have the same Christmas wish list at age 57 as he did at age 7
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2 Responses to Through the Years: A Gaming History (Revisited)

  1. Steve Marano says:

    Superb list, Dale. Reminded me of so many great games I should take out to play with my family (yes, I have a disturbingly high percentage of them, grin).

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