I graduated high school back in 2010. Between the homework, Varsity basketball, and school dances I didn’t really get the chance to go hunting for a new hobby. Even if I did, I don’t think board gaming would have been at the top of the list. Looking back, there weren’t exactly a lot of games being released each year pre-2010. Despite the lack of quantity, it turns out there was no shortage of quality.
With so many new games being released each year, each one with more rules and pieces than the last, it is easy to forget about the classics from yesteryear. While their art style may not be the most striking or their components the most luxurious, mechanically these games are just as solid, if not more so, than anything currently being released. Every time I think I’ve moved on from one of these older titles, when I get a chance to play it again I am once again blown away with the simply yet engaging these designs are. I wish more game designers would take inspiration from older games and feel less of a need to compete with the deluxe kickstarts we all have come to love. I think it’s worth calling some attention to some of these classic games that perhaps you’ve never tried or have nearly forgotten even exist.
5. Power Grid (2004)
Power Grid allows players to assume the role of a greedy money-hungry power company. Players will be auctioning off power plants, buying the necessary fuel, and supplying a network of cities with power. The money generated from powering cities will be able to be invested to further the dominance of your continually growing ‘power grid.’
Many refer to this as the game of ‘math.’ And while there is a fair amount of math in the game, that’s not all there is. With the mechanics of auctioning and network building, players will not just have to read the board state but need to read the intentions of the other players if they want to play well. The fact that the game plays up to 6 players is also a big plus in my book.
4. El Grande (1995)
What’s the Spanish word for ‘beige?’ While the board may not impress, being competing grandes in medieval Spain been so much fun. Players will have to carefully manage their hand of cards in order to both obtain and place their caballeros that will be used to control the various areas of the board. Having majority will score you the most points, but there are also points to be awarded for second and third most caballeros.
I love a good hand management game. The fact that you only get to play a card once is very interesting. Lower value cards allow you to go sooner but give you less caballeros to work with creates some great tension. The game is incredibly simple, but there is no doubt that the player who played best will end up the winner.
3. Puerto Rico (2002)
This, out of all of these games, is probably the one that I find the most dull to look at. There is virtually no art and the graphic design is on par with projects I did in the third grade. This coupled with the idea of playing the game as a colonial governor makes for a hard sell to non-gamers.
The player interaction in this game is through the roof. Due to the lead/follow style action selection players will need to constantly be evaluating the best moves not only for themselves but also for their opponents. As odd as it may sound, the best move or action for you to take might be the one that doesn’t necessarily benefit you much just so long as it doesn’t benefit an opponent at all. The pacing and high levels of player interaction make this a very intriguing, albeit, intimidating euro game.
2. Twilight Struggle (2005)
Once again, don’t let the artwork here fool you. This is one of the most tense, competitive games I’ve ever played. The game is set during the Cold War with one player representing the USSR and the other the United States. While no wars actually ever occur, countries are still controlled by one player or another based on their influence/presence. Clever card play and hidden agendas are the name of the game here.
I love that the actions in the game use black and white photographs, it really helps bring the theme to life. And while the game does feature a fair amount of dice rolling, it is quite easy to assess the situation and determine just what your odds of success are. Also it is easy to feel frustrated when you draw a handful of cards that benefit you opponent, but you need to remember that they probably drew a similar hand and are thinking the same thing. In the end this is a masterpiece in game design and one I’ll never turn down a game of.
1. Agricola (2007)
I never knew that what I truly wanted to be when I grew up was a 17th century farmer. While you might think a theme like this would lead itself to a calm, relaxing experience, it turns out a lack of time and a bunch of hungry family members just don’t allow you to get as much done as you would like to. When it comes to ‘worker placement’ games, Agricola is not only one of the first, but also one of the best.
Mechanically the game is very simple. Place a worker on a spot that either allows you to collect resources or perform an action using previously collected resources. The scoring in the game is also quite clever. Players are rewarded for doing a little bit of everything, while punishing them in areas in which they do nothing. I don’t think there is any other game that has left me so fulfilled and yet so eager to play again. What the theme lacks in sex appeal, the game make up for 10 fold in gameplay.