Every year, a bunch of new titles come out and for a brief period they make it onto the BGG Hotness list. Everyone is talking about them and asking ‘have you tried **** yet?’ As time passes, it’s on to the next big thing, and in a few years, people aren’t even playing many of those titles anymore. Very few games have real staying power. Of that select few, some have such a huge impact they change and inspire the direction of the industry. We’ve seen it a few times in the past several years, games that introduced an idea or mechanic that had never been seen before and from that point forward, the face of modern gaming would be changed forever. The following is a list of some of the games that have had that sort of influence.
Settlers of Catan
For many people, myself included, Settlers of Catan was the introduction to modern gaming. It featured many different elements that were new to people, like resource collection, trading, involvement on other player’s turns, and no player elimination. Catan wasn’t the very first ‘Euro’ game to make it to North America, but it certainly was the most successful. People were playing it everywhere, and it was responsible for opening up people’s eyes to what gaming could be. In recent years, snobs that we are, we tend to look down on Catan, preferring the newer and shinier objects arriving in our FLGSs daily, but it’s worth going back and playing this classic title. I try to once or twice a year. It’s still a lot of fun and still a great way to introduce new players into the hobby.
David mentioned recently the industry-wide impact that Dominion had when it was first released in 2008, but it can’t be overstated just how influential a game it was. I like to say that I lost two years of my life to Dominion, and I’ve never asked for them back. I used to wait for the new expansions from Seaside, to Intrigue, to Prosperity, and so on. Each new one added fresh life to my favourite game at the time. What Dominion did so well, was level the playing field in card-based games. You didn’t need to have a fat wallet to succeed, just a winning strategy. In the past decade, we’ve seen tons of new deckbuilders hit the market. Some are awesome, and introduce new elements that improve upon the original concept of Dominion. Others are simply clones or inferior knock-offs. One thing remains true, I will gladly play the original deckbuilder anytime I have a willing opponent.
Although it was preceded by Risk Legacy, Pandemic Legacy is where the idea really took flight, and took the gaming world by storm. Until recently, it was the number one ranked game on Board Game Geek, slipping all the way to #2. The idea of a legacy game is one that is not played in a single session, but is returned to again and again. Aspects of the game will remain the same, but some things will be changed forever. Legacy games introduced altering or even destroying game components; something that was hard to swallow at first for gamers that like to keep everything in pristine condition, but also surprisingly satisfying. Pandemic Legacy completely revolutionized the way game nights could be approached, without it, titles like Seafall, Charterstone, Rise of Queen’s Dale, and many more would never have been attempted. It seems like the Legacy trend is slowly down, or at least evolving, but there’s no denying the impact it’s had on gaming.
At a time when the majority of games coming out were dry, mechanics-based Euros or dice-chucking, area-controllers, Dixit showed that a game could be successful based on art, imagination, and communication. This was a such a unique title for its time, I think, despite winning the Spiel des Jahres, it doesn’t get the full recognition it deserves. Dixit taps into your creative side and forces you to think about how you share your ideas. Many games since have used a similar approach, like Concept, Codenames, Hanabi, Mysterium, Muse, and many more. Games like this exist in a neutral area between competition driven titles and themeless abstracts. It was a genre of game that a lot of people were clamouring for and one that continues to grow and expand today. Not everyone is going to love a Blood Rage or a Castles of Burgundy, at least not all the time. It’s nice to know there are a whole ton of options for them when they want to exercise their artistic communicative side.
Cards Against Humanity
I didn’t say that every game on this list changed the hobby for the better. Years ago, CAH was only being sold on Amazon, which would not ship to Canada. I was working at Snakes & Lattes at the time, and we went to Chicago to meet with the creators of the game, becoming the official Canadian distributor for years. That was one of the most insane periods at that job, when people would go after this game like it was crack. It’s one of the most divisive titles to come out in recent years. Hardcore gamers often dismiss it as an offensive party game, others claim it’s fun, hilarious, and endlessly replayable. I don’t think it’s a great game (really just a dirty knock-off of Apples to Apples), but its impact is undeniable. It got a heck of a lot of people to play a tabletop game that maybe never would have before. If even a small percentage of those people went on to explore what other games the hobby had to offer, that’s a good thing. Does it deserve a place of honour or distinction? I leave that for you to decide, but it sure made a splash, one that is still felt today.