The Daily Worker Placement

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Spoils of the Golden Age

by | published Friday, February 24, 2017

Last week I watched a video put out by Man Vs Meeple called “What’s Next Top 10 Games of All Time” (you can watch it here). It was a roundtable where the two anchors (Jeremy Salinas and David Waybright), joined by series regular Gary Chumbley, each counted down their picks for the top ten boardgames of all time.

You can fast-forward to 48:32 in the video to see their lists. I have copied them here.

Gary David Jeremy
Blood Rage 2015 Orleans 2014 Troyes 2010
Pandemic: Legacy 2015 Five Tribes 2014 Tzolk’in 2012
Orleans 2014 Castles of Burgundy 2011 A Feast for Odin 2016
Five Tribes w/expansion 2014 Santorini 2017 Sid Meier’s Civilization 2010
Grand Austria Hotel 2015 Voyages of Marco Polo 2015 7 Wonders 2010
Gloomhaven 2017 7 Wonders: Duel 2015 Blood Rage 2015
Russian Railroads 2013 Terraforming Mars 2016 War of the Ring: Collector’s Edition 2004
Great Western Trail 2016 Stone Age 2008 Nations 2013
Isle of Skye 2015 Quarto 1991 Gloomhaven 2017
Times Up Deluxe & Total Recall 2008 Seasons 2012 Terra Mystica 2012

 

Although each had slightly different criteria for their choices, each of them was

articulate and even eloquent in explaining their choices. These are good lists. But what struck me as I watched was how recent most of their choices were. It was enough of a burr in my saddle that I decided to draw on my stats background and do some number crunching.

In statistics, the median of a list of numbers is the “middle number” once you arrange all the numbers from least to greatest. 50% of the data is less than the median, and 50% is greater. It gives you slightly different information than the mean, or average. In this case of this data set, using the median gives us some very interesting information.

Gary’s Games David’s Games Jeremy’s Games All Games
Median Year of Publication 2015 2014.5 (rounding up to 2015) 2014 2014

 

In other words, half of Gary’s and David’s top ten games of all time came out in 2015 or later and half of Jeremy’s games came out in 2014 or later. Taken as a group of 27 games (3 were duplicated), according to this Man Vs Meeple panel, half of the best boardgames of all time have been published in the last two years and 2 months.

As good as I thought the lists were, this conclusion brought me up short. “Really? Half of the best boardgames of all time have only been released since 2014? That can’t be right.”

Or could it?

I mean, it has become past clichéd to say that we are living in a Golden Age of tabletop gaming. They are more popular (and arguably hipper) than ever, even with the competition from video games. Board game cafés have sprung up in many major cities around the world. More are released every year than ever before. The art of board game design has evolved to the point that games that were once groundbreakers and classics, from Catan to Puerto Rico to Agricola to Dominion, are now considered dated and stale when compared to their spiritual descendants.

On the other hand, the very success of the board game industry can be considered a kind of trap. More games does not equate to better games—as many Kickstarter backers will tell you. Games come out so fast and furiously that there isn’t really the time to “digest” them before the next one comes down the conveyor belt. Those of us who try to keep up with the state of the hobby end up feeling like Lucy and Ethel trying to wrap chocolates as they come down the conveyor belt.

New tabletop fans have come on board in the middle of this cornucopia, so many of them haven’t necessarily had the time or inclination to check out older designs. So maybe the abundance of new games has imposed a kind of cultural amnesia, as older-but-still-excellent games slowly get forgotten.

Well, you can’t get more “cognoscetious” as a group than BoardGameGeek users, and so I decided to turn to them as a point of comparison. Looking at the top-rated games of all time on BGG, which encompass a decade and a half of player ratings, the current Top Ten games of all time, as of February 18, 2017, are:

Game Year Released
1 Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 2015
2 Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization 2015
3 Twilight Struggle 2005
4 Terra Mystica 2012
5 Star Wars: Rebellion 2016
6 Scythe 2016
7 7 Wonders Duel 2015
8 Caverna: The Cave Farmers 2013
9 The Castles of Burgundy 2011
10 Puerto Rico 2002

The median year of release is—you guessed it—2014, matching Man Vs Meeple’s lists. 2002’s Puerto Rico (which was #1 for roughly five years and as recently as December, 2010), clings to the tenth spot. 2005’s Twilight Struggle (which was #1 as recently as January, 2016) sits solidly at #3. The remaining 8 games are from 2011 or later.

Looking at the top 100 games on BGG, what some would call the crème-de-la-crème of tabletop gaming, the skew towards more recent games is almost as pronounced. The median drops to 2012, but the overall frequency is clear. Only ten of the games are fifteen years old or older.

The ten pre-2002 century games still in the top 100 are:

  • Go (c. 2200 BCE)
  • Crokinole (1876)
  • Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective (1981)
  • Tichu (1991)
  • El Grande (1995)
  • Tigris & Euphrates (1997)
  • Paths of Glory (1999)
  • Princes of Florence (2000)
  • Puerto Rico (2002)
  • Age of Steam (2002)

How many of these have you played? (I’ve played them all except Crokinole and Paths of Glory).

I’m aware that comparing BGG rankings with a curated Top Ten list is a bit apples-and-orangey. More than a bit dodgy, stats-wise. Agreed. All I’m hoping is that this little investigation has awakened in you, as it has revived in me, a thirst to go back and break out some of the older games in my collection. Or to seek out some of the older games in the BGG Top 100, just to see what all the fuss is and was about.

Oh, what’s that? You want to see my all-time Top Ten? Stay tuned.


5 thoughts on “The Spoils of the Golden Age

  1. Susan Davis says:

    Alternative hypothesis: recent converts to the hobby, and the new gaming press, have a “cult of the new” that leads them to focus on the latest and shiniest things, and to overlook classic older games.

  2. Steve T says:

    I have a very nice Crokinole set. Come over some time.

  3. Ben Kutcher says:

    What do you do about Cosmic Encounter? Older than the 2008 FFG version. I know it isn’t a straight reprint, but it feels like we should count that game from the era from whence it came.

  4. […] my last article I bemoaned the fact that many great older games have gotten left behind in what some people call […]

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