In this three part series, read about the League’s secret mission in coordination with Stonemaier Games to select the top 10 games every designer should play at least once!

Jamey Stegmaier

My name is Jamey Stegmaier, and I run an independent board game publishing company called Stonemaier Games. I’ve designed and published our games so far (Viticulture, Euphoria, and Tuscany), as the roots of my passion for games is in game design.

Stemming from that passion is my desire to contribute to the game design community as a whole. I write a lot about Kickstarter on my Kickstarter Lessons blog and I’ve recently started to use my YouTube channel as a place to talk about game design, but I’ve been itching to do more.

So a few months ago I decided to create a new event in St. Louis called:

Stonemaier Games Design Day

The idea was to combine the Unpub and Protospiel style of open playtesting with something else that would help designers elevate and expand their skills in an interactive way.

That “something else” was rooted in the idea that I think it benefits game designers to play a wide variety of published games. Every time I play a new game, I learn something about game design. For years I pretty much only played one type of game (medium-weight Euro games), and I’m so glad I started trying new types of games—they’ve had a huge impact on me as a designer.

The result of this idea was that the Design Day would combine prototype playtesting with the opportunity to learn some games from the “Top 10 Tabletop Games Every Game Designer Should Play at Least Once.

I decided right away that I shouldn’t be the one to create this list. I didn’t want to impose my biases upon the 70+ people who signed up for Design Day (and yes, signups are closed, but if you’re interested in a future Design Day, let us know here). So I turned to the League of Gamemakers (corresponding with Peter Vaughan).

As I discussed the idea with Peter and in turn the League, we honed the goal of the list to the following guidelines:

  • 1. The games on the list should teach a specific design lesson (or lessons).
  • 2. The games on the list should be exemplars of certain parts of the craft.
  • 3. The games on the list should accelerate a novice designer’s knowledge of tabletop game design in a short amount of time (30-45 minutes).

I knew this process would be difficult, because there are thousands of games from which to choose. Little did I know the intricacies and challenges of what the League of Gamemakers would encounter next.

The League Rises to a challenge!

Ok, Peter here, bringing you the results. Picking only 10 games that every designer should play out of 70,000 titles and agreeing on that with 12 judges? Pssshaw… that’s nothing! Ok, ok… it was a bit of a challenge.

Do not try this at home kids. The League members donned their thickest skins, evaluated carefully various criteria and embarked on a journey to find the answer together. Let’s discuss briefly the three main models we used to find the answers.

Facebook Poll – aka, the dartboard method

The League maintains a healthy Facebook private group where we discuss all manner of things, and when we had at least 10 contributors to this contest all chatting on Facebook, I opted to start there and throw out a poll – whereby each member was to contribute only their absolute top 2 games.

When 10 of us had done this, we had 20 games – already DOUBLE our allotted goal. So I asked everyone to pick 10 from this list, as if this were the only games they could choose from. The results were close to our final picks, honestly. But something about this method felt too… uncurated? We had kept the choices small and tight, but each of us all had low input.

Trello boards – aka the collaboration approach

Stephen Debaun suggested we shift gears to a workspace he uses often and highly recommends, Trello. Trello is already board game designer friendly – you take ideas on digital index cards and organize them, creating discussions that can be contained within each entry. In our case, we shifted the ideas and game submissions from left “suggestion” to middle “discussion” and finally right, “fully voted”.

We focused heavily on what lessons each game teaches, linked cards to images/videos and we sought to collaborate and select games as a team, so that all of us stood behind the final picks. In part 2, we will highlight a particularly superb set of criteria that Mark and Christina Major came up with for selecting games.

Had we another few months and perhaps a lower number of schedules to coordinate, this may have indeed worked. We had an invigorating chat here, and picks which again are close to our final system.

Drafting – aka the fantasy football pool

Turns out, fantasy sports have very solid core mechanics for coordination between large groups of people, and ranking games in a confidence pool had immediate advantages for weighing in everyone’s vote quickly and accurately.

What I asked everyone to do is rank their top 15 game titles (above the goal to cover ties) where no vote value was duplicated. In this way, you could give one game 15 points (top score), one game 14 points, 13 points to the next and so on until your last choice received 1 point. All the values were added together, and then there was a bonus round 2 for additional discussion and further ranking. This drafting sought to eliminate pure favorites from any one designer and yet find the intersection of common lessons that we all feel strongly about for designers to learn.

Declassifying the Data

In part 2 and 3, we’ll dive deeper into our individual lists, feature various top games that appeared in all three methodologies and present to you the final TOP 10 Games Every Designer Should Play, as featured in the 2014 Stonemaier Games Design Day. Until then, we’ll leave you with some trivia/discussion points.

Which Game Designer has two or more games in the Top 10?
designer with 2 final picks
The unique nominations in the final rounds totaled 94 games. Even though we could only pick 10, the top 20 and even the entire 94 candidates are an interesting list to think about. We’ll be posting these 94 on BGG. EDIT: due to a lively FB discussion, we opted to post instead a growing BGG list from the community. That list is here if you want to contribute titles and vote

Knowing that some of our group LOVE Worker Placement games, how many Worker Placement Games made it into the top 94? BONUS points if you can guess how many WP ended in the top 10?
top ten worker placements
Lastly, which of these 3 games made our list EVERY TIME (in all three methods listed above)?
three consistent picks

Now it’s YOUR turn to pick the 10 games that Every Designer Should Play at Least Once. BONUS POINTS – list your top 10 or even top 15 in the comments, and see how it compares to various League members and our final 10.

Thanks for playing!

Part II, criteria for selecting games, and individual league picks.

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Peter Vaughan

Game Developer at Breaking Games

Peter eats games for breakfast! Founder of First Play LA, Squirmy Beast and League of Gamemakers, and Director of Development for Breaking Games. First published designs include What the Food?! and Nightmare Cove, and development credits include Letter Tycoon, Boomtown Bandits, Sparkle*Kitty and Rise of Tribes.

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  1. Jan Zalewski on October 20, 2014

    Interesting idea, here are some of my picks:
    1. Splendor – you can learn how powerful reduction can be for a design
    2. Coloretto – elegance, simplicity is your best friend
    3. Any major Feld’s game preferably Castles of Burgundy – to see how you can implement many different paths for victory also to see how tight your math need to be.
    4. Dominion – introduction to deckbuilding, nobody’s done it better since
    5. Pandemic, Ghost Stories or Hanabi – introduction to coops,
    6. Magic the Gathering – too many reasons to pick just 1. 🙂
    7. Chess.

    • Peter Vaughan Author on October 20, 2014

      Thank you Jan for sharing your list! In particular, thanks for sharing your reasons.

      I love seeing some that aren’t even in our 94 nominees, because truly there are so many interesting games out there which can teach us lessons.

      Of your list, Coloretto, Ghost Stories and Chess did not make any of our judge’s lists. I believe because the lessons (elegance/simplicity, co-op intro) we found elsewhere. Chess may be the biggest shock there. Perhaps some nominees will cover pure, abstract strategy…

      • Jan Zalewski on October 20, 2014

        Thanks for the reply! I’m shocked there were no Chess on the list. 🙂

    • Luke Laurie on October 20, 2014

      Great choices Jan- your comments mirror some that I brought to the table, especially regarding Feld games.

  2. Christian Strain on October 20, 2014

    I thought about it for my list, but in the end decided that there were games that taught the same sort of strategy while adding more to be learned. Chess is a great foundation game.

  3. Gamer Dave on October 20, 2014

    1) Mission to Redlanet: role selection and area control. Get both in for one!
    2) Dominion: deck building and simplicity of a game, a game built from one mechanism, but so versatile worth just going for this basic one
    3) Apples to Apples: I think a party game is great for a designer to see other interaction, in this case the judge mechanism. But if you want people talking and laughing party games are a geat source
    4) Alien Frontiers: the quintessential dice manipulation game. Shows the potential of dice, also more area control.
    5) Settlers of Catan / Ticket to Ride: this is just playing a major hit just to see what a blockbuster game is like.
    6) Tigris & Euphrates: tile laying and the interesting winning condition of having the highest lower points of a color tile
    7) Lords of Waterdeep: worker placement and set collection
    8) Through th Ages: action point system, plus a long game to play one of those
    9) Love Letter: pretty much the opposite, short simple
    10) battlestar galactica: traitor mechanism plus semi coop

    Super hard to boil down. One thing that comes out is that my mind naturally goes to big hits. Which is good in one way to see what is out there, but them it may constrain the imagination.

    • Peter Vaughan Author on October 20, 2014

      Thanks Gamer Dave! Awesome points! I nominated Alien Frontiers myself. I can tell you that BSG was a huge discussion for us. It was nominated, but many of us did not carry it to the finals only for the unique time limits of this event. Lessons need to be learned in 30 minutes, and cylon discovery can take a lot longer.

      On your list, Mission: Red Planet and Through the Ages were overlooked. I actually just played Through the Ages, and there are definitely strong lessons in there for designers, although the length again rules it out I think.

      • Gamer Dave on October 20, 2014

        I understand time, but I think it is important to play a few long games. Also Jamey’s criteria was that a person learn the lesson in 45 minutes, not necessarily finish the game. So I guess I was confused (and that doesn’t help BSG as you pointed out). In that case I’d throw in Pandemic or Shadows over Camelot, and probably throw in Discworld: Ankmorpork to show how much fun hidden information and different victory conditions is.

  4. Jamey Stegmaier on October 20, 2014

    Thanks for posting this, Peter! The responses have been really interesting so far. Gamer Dave made an interesting point about party games (somewhat related, that’s why I thought a game like The Resistance would make the list), and I love me some Splendor (from Jan’s list).

    Also, I’m glad you all used Trello! I really like Trello.

    • Gamer Dave on October 20, 2014

      I almost said Resistance, but my original list had BSG which gave the traitor mechanism in there, but yeah Apples to Apples or Resistance for sure! Our group loves Resistance Avalon.

      Use Trello at work, pretty useful tool, especially in smaller groups,

  5. Great post! I’m looking forward to seeing the list you guys actually came up with!

    • Peter Vaughan Author on October 21, 2014

      Thanks Jessica! We’re going to publish part 2 next Monday, and part 3 on Nov 3. Glad to have you in the conversation!

  6. Jason Glover on October 20, 2014

    Here goes my list:

    Coup, Lost Legacy, or No Thanks! – To introduce small games with depth.
    Battle Line, Jaipur, or Lost Cities – To introduce solid two-player games.
    Carassonne, Tsuro, or Alhambra – To introduce tile-laying games.
    Incan Gold or King of Tokyo – To introduce press-your-luck games.
    Lords of Waterdeep, Le Harve, or The Castles of Burgundy – To introduce Worker-placement.
    Pandemic, Castle Panic, or Forbidden Desert – To introduce Coop games.
    Dominion, Star Realms, or Thunderstone – To introduce Deck-builders.
    Small World – For an area-control game.
    Ticket to Ride or Power Grid – To introduce network-building games.
    Rampage or Catacombs – To introduce dexterity games.
    The Duke or Qwirkle – For an abstract game.

    That’s all I can think of for now. I do not play super heavy games, so I have no input for such.

    • Peter Vaughan Author on October 21, 2014

      Thanks for the list Jason – I love how you’ve given a couple in each category that you would include in the exercise. I haven’t played a few on your list, which tells me I have some work to do. (The Duke, Catacombs I’ve recently heard of and want to try), Star Realms, Incan Gold, No Thanks and ALL of your 2 player games. I don’t get 2 players solo to the table it seems.

  7. Aaron Lim on October 20, 2014

    This is a really interesting endeavour. I’m still mulling over my own choices, but I would love to see something like a Next 10 list. There are a few games that I think have really cool features/lessons, but would almost require you to play other games beforehand to really appreciate the lessons. The one that got me thinking along these lines is Copycat by Friedemann Friese. It’s an interesting study in how to integrate different successful mechanisms into a single game, but I think I wouldn’t recommend it until you had some exposure to the games it draws inspiration from. Also, I find I learn more in contrasts. I like comparing 7 Wonders and Sushi Go which both use the same base mechanic but apply them differently. So too with the Shadows Over Camelot board game and card game, which implement the traitor mechanic in two very different ways.

  8. Aaron Lim on October 20, 2014

    Also, I know Magic: the Gathering is going to be on my list for sure but I will note that it’s there because of flexibility and robustness of an underlying system, and how non-game mechanics can influence how you play a game. You can play Magic in a multitude of ways: one on one, free for all multiplayer, Star, EDH, Emperor, Type4/DC10/Limited Infinity, Cube, Constructed, Draft, Sealed etc. It’s an exercise in having flexibility in a system such that more than one game can be played with the same components. Also, Draft and Sealed play are facilitated by the decision to sell the game via randomised booster packs. In addition, if anyone has ever read the comprehensive rules for Magic, it’s an eye-opener on how rules can be written to cover various scenarios.

  9. Jamey Stegmaier on October 20, 2014

    Aaron: This is a bit of a spoiler, but Magic made the Top 10 list before I cut it. 🙂 Magic absolutely should be on the list–there are so, so many innovative elements of game design in the game and the whole experience of playing Magic as you mention. But with only 45 minutes to teach and play each game at the Design Day, I didn’t think that hardly any of those elements would be able to be conveyed. The basics could be taught pretty quickly, but it’s not the basics that I think designers need to be aware of. So I totally agree with all of your points, but I decided to veto it for the sake of the time constraints of the Design Day. It would be cool to have an entire Design Day built around the various mechanisms and constructs of Magic, though. Really, it’s a game that every designer should play.

    • Aaron Lim on October 20, 2014

      That’s fair. I’ve been thinking of it more in the abstract and without considering the restrictions imposed on having it playable at the Design Day. I’ll have to reconsider my list for this particular exercise :p

    • Luke Laurie on October 21, 2014

      Magic is a must for designers. The right way to do it would involve months of exposure – deck building, drafting, playing various archetypes, learning about layering of effects and card interactions. A designer can learn a ton from that. I can see how in this context, it doesn’t really fit.

      • Scott "Sco" Holm on October 22, 2014

        Interestingly enough, other games have improved on the base that Magic created. Not necessarily through changes in rules or design though. They just changed the distribution model and *bam* the LCG was born. Examples being Android: Netrunner and A Game of Thrones LCG.

        • Isaac "KindFortress" Shalev on October 22, 2014

          Maybe this is a quibble, but the change in distro model IS a change in rules. In a card game, the cards make up the bulk of the rules, and the rarity or availability of those cards significantly impacts the game. GoT was a different game as a CCG than as an LCG!

          • Scott "Sco" Holm on October 23, 2014

            I’ll definitely take you on this quibble 😉 In the end though, the game itself didn’t change. The metagame however was significantly affected, and deck building was made much more accessible. My test for this: If people had the disposable income to buy any card or cards that they wanted when the game was a CCG, would the game be the same as it is today as an LCG? I would argue that would. The game mechanically did not change, but the factors that surround the game certainly did. And that may be a design lesson in and of itself.

          • Isaac "KindFortress" Shalev on October 23, 2014

            Hey Scott, looks like we reached the end of the reply-levels, so I’m replying to my own post.

            The problem with your test is that it cannot be true. The rarity of the card runs themselves means that there is a limited supply of them, such that it is impossible for everyone who wants to have those cards to have them, dollars aside. The difference between LCG and CCG can first be expressed as a change in the supply of cards. which would make their price drop. which would make for no profitable aftermarket, which would thus demand a different distribution model, and thus the LCG is born.

          • Scott "Sco" Holm on October 24, 2014

            Gotta love these discussions! The problem with your assertion is assuming that the supply for the limited resource is lower than the demand of those that want it. Take a game like the Star Trek or Star Wars CCG by Decipher. I could buy an entire set of rares for either of those games extremely cheaply because the supply massively outstrips demand, even though each card that I’m buying is considered “rare”. My point though is that mechanically the game does not change. In AGoT, the phases are still the same, the plot deck is still the same, challenges still work in the exact same way, etc. The only today difference is that before I’d spend a lot more money and buy boxes or look for high priced singles to compete decks, and now I buy single packs that contain exactly what I need. In the end though, either path still gets me to the exact same point: A deck that I can use to play the game. Furthermore, while I feel that the increased supply of rares is a factor, I feel that the non randomized pack is a much larger factor. The price of cards isn’t necessarily down because there are more of them in circulation, it’s the fact that if you’re making a deck and need certain cards, you can find where they exist and order them. You don’t have to sift through a number of booster packs, or buy boxes to get singles to sell or trade.

          • Isaac "KindFortress" Shalev on October 24, 2014

            I agree that at the point where supply is greater than demand, there isn’t much difference between an LCG and a CCG. But until that point, they are different games. I think I could come up w a credible argument that Magic draft format is really a different game than Legacy or Vintage.

  10. Alan Wong on October 20, 2014

    Love this idea! Not only is it a great thought experiment, but the fact you’re going to use the list makes it useful too! I of course couldn’t resist making my own list – 45 minutes would include the rules instruction, as well?

    Top 10:
    Lords of Waterdeep – A well built work placement that’s easy to understand.
    Settlers of Catan – I think there is a lot of magic that has made it so popular – particularly good lessons about luck and player agency.
    Go – Open information, and how much complexity can blossom from simple rules.
    Dominion – I don’t think it’s the best deck builder, but it’s one of the simplest to understand, and a great lesson on the fun of building and combos.
    Shadows over Camelot – The idea of a co-op. And if you’re doing co-op, might as well do traitor as well – that kind of mistrust is a great way to build tension.
    Citadels – Variable player powers, different play order and next leveling. Plus, it’s fast!
    7 Wonders – Simultaneous play with large groups, to keep the game short.
    X Wing miniatures game – Playing a game because of the flavour – How much ‘theme’ and style matters. Plus, minis and space-less movement!
    One Night: Ultimate Werewolf – Distilling an experience to its core, negotiation lying, and how important the social aspect of a game can be.
    King of Tokyo – Just rolling dice can be fun! It’s not always about deep strategy.

    Honourable mentions to Chaos in the Old World (truly variable sides), and Poker (betting – but almost not worth playing since most people know this game). There truly are a TON of games you could choose – I’m looking forward to seeing the ones decided upon!

    • Jamey Stegmaier on October 21, 2014

      Alan: I think Go is a particularly good suggestion here. We didn’t end up with any “ageless” games like that on the list, but that would have made sense. However, a much newer abstract game made the list that I haven’t played–I’m curious to learn more about it.

    • Peter Vaughan Author on October 21, 2014

      Go was nominated, but indeed many of us weren’t thinking of it. I myself chose poker for something with endless strategy/replay. (and I wasn’t worried about if people had played to death). Some judges did think we needed to be innovative with choices, but truly as you say – there are a TON of games, so innovative and ageless and can tug in opposite directions.

  11. Nicholas Yu on October 21, 2014

    Great list, but I’d never even heard of Zendo prior to this article. Time to see if I can hunt down a copy!

    • Peter Vaughan Author on October 21, 2014

      Admittedly, I had not heard of Zendo either Nicholas. My fellow Leaguers, particularly Tom, Mark and Christina educated me.

      To be clear, the list above is not the final list. Just a bit of trivia – 3 games in that list ALWAYS came up.

  12. Andy Lenox on October 21, 2014

    I think limiting this to table top games is also probably another bias. So many cool table top games come from riffing on digital designs (and vice versa of course). There are also things that digital games do exceedingly well that tabletop has a hard time overcoming. That contrast can be highly informative… especially when looking for fertile design space in which to play!

    • Jamey Stegmaier on October 21, 2014

      Andy: That’s a really great point. I’ve learned a lot from iOS games, but I didn’t want people at the Design Day sitting around hunched over an iPhone. I think that deserves it’s own list–the Top 10 Digital Games Every Tabletop Game Designer Should Play at Least Once. What would you put on the list?

      • Andy Lenox on October 21, 2014

        Makes sense! It would make a good second list. I think a good start would be to have a great open world exploration game. Something along the lines of Super Metroid or a Zelda. Those games are great at making you feel like you have every option available to you, but gently nudging you in the right direction with subtle level design. A real time team game like League of Legends or Team Fortress 2 is great. Something that uses time as a resource like a lot of mobile games (although I haven’t found a great one that I love yet, I think the mechanic is ripe for innovation). I haven’t played it yet, but I’ve heard great things about Going Home. It’s basically a story, told by exploring a house full of visual and audio artifacts. I’d also throw a text adventure, or point and click adventure in there. Those have become majorly niche, but there are great things to learn from games like that.

        I’m just fascinated by these experiences because they are underrepresented in table top… Maybe because some of them are impossible to do… but I doubt it. A lot of my inspiration for tabletop design comes from trying to map those same experiences to an in-person group experience.

        • Jamey Stegmaier on October 21, 2014

          These are great ideas, Andy. The guys over at The Board Game Design Roundtable spoke highly about Going Home. There are a lot of iOS games that make me want to play another game right away (perhaps due to a slight upgrade or bonus)–I like to find ways to instill that element in tabletop games too.

        • Peter Vaughan Author on October 21, 2014

          As a digital as well as a tabletop game designer, I agree that there are a lot that video game experiences can teach us. Andy, you made me glad you threw in a text adventure – my first published design was a CYOA horror stories RPG game. It was so interactive and full of great player choice, and I’ve been trying to think of ways to inject some of those elements into static tabletop experiences ever since. I think this is also why a lot of us fought to keep an RPG on the list, because it is as close to an open world as you can get in a game on the table.

  13. Royce Banuelos on October 21, 2014

    Magic the Gathering is a must, a lot of great designers started with Magic and people who play MtG are great for play testing. Pandemic is a good board game that utilizes interesting mechanics to get your brain going. D’n’D is another game many game designers cut their teeth on since you are practically designing a game. No Thanks is the type of game that will make you jealous you didn’t think of it. It’s a simple game that invokes a lot of player interaction. Just about any miniatures game is good too since compiling a team forces you to think about design. Outside of those it’s good to just play as many games as possible.

  14. Anders Nordström on October 21, 2014

    Ok, here’s my top 10 list:

    Magic: The gathering (don’t like the game much myself, but from a design perspective it has loads of stuff)
    Puerto Rico
    The Resistance

    but since I was allowed to include some more games, I’d chose:

    Lost Cities
    7 Wonders

    to get to 15. I’ve tried to pick a variety of game engines that execute it well. I also tried to find neat details and ways to look at a game that differ for all of these. For instance, I was instantly fascinated with the way Puerto Rico feels like an ever changing state machine with the flow of wares, money, ships and colonists. Likewise I’m very thrilled by Roborally’s deduction of how to handle the other players quite a few steps into the future. A few co-op games would need to be represented, and Hanabi’s hiden information and deduction engine is truly a great lesson.

    • Peter Vaughan Author on October 21, 2014

      Since you bring it up, I really really love Puerto Rico and the depth it has. I tried so hard to get it into the top 10. 🙂

      • Anders Nordström on October 21, 2014

        I think one of the most interesting things about Puerto Rico is the lack of a winning strategy, what is important is to have a winning behaviour against other types of behaviours. It’s all in the flow of the game and that there is a counterstrategy for each strategy. Just brilliant, and my hat is off for this masterpiece.

  15. Scott "Sco" Holm on October 22, 2014

    Very interesting article!

    Here is my top 10 list:

    1. Viticulture (No, I’m not trying to suck up to Jamey!) – This game (to me) is the pinnacle of a worker placement game. It also shows great design choices in modularity of systems, making each part of the game interesting. You get multiple design lessons based on player timing, resource management, resource conversion, and worker placement. In addition, you get design lessons in having a board with rules on it, and a “sanitized” board that focuses more on the art for advanced players.

    2. Coup – This is an excellent game to explore two different design concepts simultaneously. At its heart, this game is a bluffing/identity deduction game. However, it shows the viability of microgames. Finally, it is an excellent example of elegant game play. Easy to learn, difficult to master.

    3. Space Cadet – This game is a ton of fun to play, and teaches a few interesting design choices. This is the perfect game to use to explore dexterity based game mechanics, and also doubles as being a helpful introduction to Co-op gameplay.

    4. We Didn’t Playtest This at All: Legacy – I would have preferred to put Risk Legacy in this spot, however I don’t think the design lesson can be effectively learned in 45 minutes. This game can be used to explore and research the idea of Legacy mechanics (Mechanics that change the game after repeated plays). It also doubles as a good intro on the topic of filler games (short, sometimes luck based games that are very swing-y and fun in short bursts)

    5. Eclipse – This is *really* stretching the 35-45 minute game limit. However, this is probably one of the most fun and innovative 4x games that I have ever played. In 35-45 minutes, I believe that each player can get a grasp of the mechanics, and see the lessons of resource management, individual unit customization, exploration, tech tree research, etc. The rules are also very elegant, to the point where the game practically plays itself mechanically (albeit having very arcane rules when you look at it).

    6. Dominion – This is the daddy of all deckbuilders. Really, I’m not sure what else I can say. If you have any interest in making a deckbuilder, or learning the mechanics you need to play this game. Rules are elegant (ABCD) and most rules are right on the cards.

    7. Monopoly (without house rules!) – This entry serves a number of design lessons [See a pattern yet? 😉 ]. First and foremost, it is a historical board game, and can serve as a window to how far the industry has really come. In addition, it can show the pitfalls of roll and move design. It can also show how rules variants and house rules can take a fun game and make it reviled. Finally, as a good lesson you can show how strategy of the meta game can change the game (Example: Houses are a limited quantity. If you buy all the houses, no one else can build houses!)

    8. Dixit – This entry can serve to show a textless game. It’s an interesting design choice that can make games more accessible, or more difficult. It also touches on the party game/ judge mechanic that is used in Cards Against Humanity and Apples to Apples.

    9. Zombies!!! – This game shows off the idea of miniatures games (with strategic movement, pickups, and dynamic enemies that move), as well as a terrain/tile placement game.

    10. A Game of Thrones – This game touches on non randomized, simultaneous movement games like Diplomacy. It also shows concepts of a competitive game that has a shared external threat that you have to team up with your enemies to fight. It also does a wonderful job of showing bidding mechanics. Finally, to me this is the epitome of a licensed property being done right.

    So, that’s my list. probably a few curve balls that didn’t make it on this list. However, I aimed to try and use games that would demonstrate multiple design and development goals at once.

    Let me know what you think!

    • Randy on October 22, 2014

      The lesson I find in Monopoly: Find a way to make players invested in *other* players’ turns. The absolute best thing that can happen to you as a player in Monopoly is for someone else to land on your improved property, your hotel on Boardwalk being the best.

      • Scott "Sco" Holm on October 22, 2014

        One way to help that actually already exists in the rules, at least in the early/mid game. If you land on a property and choose not to purchase the property, the property goes up for auction. Players then are able to all participate in the bidding. Granted, this solution only works until all the property is taken. But it helps.

        Changes the whole cash dynamic of the game, and makes the decision on if you should buy, or mortgage property more dynamic.

        And that exists out of the box, rules as written 🙂

        • Randy on October 22, 2014

          Sorry, I must not have been clear. :-/ I think one of the BEST things about Monopoly is that players ARE invested in other players’ turns. The auctions are good for that, yes, and it’s rare in a game for the BEST thing that could happen to you to be on someone else’s turn. Monopoly is an inspiration in this regard that we designers can draw on.

        • Jamey Stegmaier on October 22, 2014

          Scott: This is a great list, and I’m honored that Viticulture made it there. I like what you and Randy said about Monopoly, especially the part about engaging players when it’s not their turn.

    • Peter Vaughan Author on October 22, 2014

      Interesting list Scott, thank you for sharing. I picked Risk Legacy in my 15 even though I know it can’t get the lesson in 30 min. My hope was that just the rules and knowledge that a game does this would potentially infuse better design. 🙂

      I love the lesson on Dixit. I was building something from Ikea and thinking about how well the instructions were able to communicate to me. Games can definitely benefit from this lesson.

      I would have added Viticulture myself, but ruled it out due to the host probably having it around by default. (or if not, why not?). I agree it’s a WP worth studying for sure.

      I will admit I am of the camp that the overwhelming bad lessons in Monopoly outweigh any gain, but you all are making some interesting points. AND Monopoly is leading our BGG poll right now!

  16. Isaac Shalev on October 22, 2014

    I want to express my appreciation for the commenters who spelled out the lessons they believe each game teaches. In my experience, the models you use for teaching a lesson, in any field, are sometimes not great works within the field. They just happen to illustrate some concept very well – sometimes because they are deeply flawed.

    For example, Marvel Legendary illustrates the problems and attempted solutions of co-op games and alpha players. It fails, I think, to solve the problem, but I would argue you can learn more from it than from Pandemic, whwhich doesn’t try to solve the problem at all, and maybe even from Hanabi, which solves the problem, but in a way that fundamentally alters the social character of the cco-op game.

    Other good teaching games on my list include:
    Power Grid, which illustrates all the problems inherent in turn order and 2nd place syndrome.
    Munchkin for teaching about the bash the leader problem.
    Space Cadets (and v Dice Duels) for showing how real time makes simple very complicated, and for showing that creating many simple subsystems is still a big barrier to adoption. SC:DD solved that problem by unifying the mechanisms of each station.

    Finally, I’ll suggest monopoly as a case study in a reasonable design gone horribly awry when left to players to house-rule. Looking at each of the common changes and seeing how they undermine choice , weaken consequences, and lengthen game time is a rich study. Plus you can see why roll and move and player elimination can be so bad for a design.

    • Jamey Stegmaier on October 22, 2014

      Isaac: These are some really examples of anti-lessons to learn from games! (especially since many of the games mentioned are very solid games that manage to overcome their design-lesson shortcomings) Thanks for your comment!

    • Peter Vaughan Author on October 22, 2014

      Hey Issac, thanks for the reply! I too appreciate the lessons spelled out. I agree that there is merit in dissecting these in context. (this is similar to what Aaron wished for and alluded to in a “next” list – games that inspired other games). Even among a designer’s own work, we thought about this. For example, we struggled with nominating Agricola knowing that Uwe came back to the table and but Caverna out there.

      As far as anti-lessons go, I should point out that early on the league added a another internal criteria (more on this in our next post) to the 3 that Jamey lists above, which is that we should focus on positive lessons only. It would be easy to point out the good and bad in say Betrayal (a game I enjoy despite it’s issues), but for a new designer, I think it’s far more valuable to teach what you should do first.

    • Gamer Dave on October 22, 2014

      Really like this point! Race for the Galaxy can teach the importance of graphic design amd how if you throw in too much it can be overwhelming.

      • Gamer Dave on October 22, 2014

        As for Peter’s point I can understand that. At least even in the games picked for positive reasons, you can still point out things that may be improved. I think that is just as helpful. Dominiom makes most the lists, but bringing up its limited player interaction can help show someone the direction they want to take their game.

  17. Peter Vaughan Author on October 22, 2014

    There’s a BGG related BGG list that everyone can add titles to and thumb up their top 10:

  18. David Hampton on October 22, 2014

    I’m new to the board. But I have some thoughts.

    On the Guessing. I’d guess that Antoine Bauza has 2 items on the list, 7 Wonders and Hanabi but Reiner Knizia is so prolific it’s probably him. [If I had to guess, in the 92+ list], 10+ games are worker placement. However for the final list of 10, I’d imagine no more than 3 games will be worker placement, there are a lot of worker placement games, and definitely some fantastic ones but you are probably looking for more diverse games for the final list.

    Top 10, in under 45 minutes. Choices are a wider ranger of mechanics than I’m always in the mood for. Once upon a time I could play two games of SoC – Cities and Knight in an evening.

    In no particular order.

    1. Drunk Quest. – While sober. I find this game to be unplayable either way. But the rules don’t hold up, this is my choice for “Worst Example”, yes I chose this over Betrayal on the Hill.
    2. Puerto Rico. – (Despite reservations I have.)
    3. Power Grid. – Quick economics, quick game play, and a great example of how planning is a satisfying part of any game played.
    4. 7 Wonders. – Excellent draft mechanics. Satisfying depth.
    5. Dominion. – It’s on my play list as highly recommended.
    6. Yggdrasil. – I can not believe how difficult this game is, the contrast between the simple premise of the mechanics, the artwork, and the chances taken, the game stands widely apart from other probability pouch games.
    7. Wizard. – This game takes the trick among all trick taking, trump using, poker deck inspired card games. Don’t forget to notice that it won a Mensa award.
    8. Timeline. – It’s not the most complicated of games, but it’s always a hoot and that’s part of why it’s on here.
    9. Rex. -A new personal favorite. I love the way Dune has been updated, the different races are unique, while the complex diversity of mechanics and risks you are able to take makes the game on paper seem asymmetric and a bit chaotic the actual game feels balanced, and very well thought out. It should be played at five or six players however, for the best experience.
    10. Medici. – Definitely a favorite, but also one that’s rather unique. From a simple premise and almost too easy mechanics comes a surprisingly interesting game. It may hold a special place in my heart because a friend once one despite over bidding – everything he had – simple to ensure another player could not get one tile, and he won despite this bid.

    5 Runner Ups.
    Settlers of Catan and then Cities & Knights of Catan, for a positive example of board game expansion as well as an exa ways. (I am not of the opinion these fit within the time constraints.)
    Through the Ages: The full game is hardly 45 minutes. But it’s a definite suggestion.
    Citadels. It’s one of the few Grief-er games that manages to balance building and includes deduction, it’s another great card draft game.
    Diplomacy / Titan. It’s always a good idea to play a few of the original and uncompromising Avalon Hill games, but their length definitely creates a burden.

    • David Hampton on October 22, 2014

      Good lord. I apologize for the extreme concurrence of errors. Too excited.
      @Puerto Rico. Parenthesis should have come after the same reasons as Power Grid.
      @ Settlers of Catan, and then Cities & Knights. “as well as an example of the difficulty dice probability poses to fun.
      @ Medici. One, should be “Won.”

    • Jamey Stegmaier on October 22, 2014

      David: This is a great list. I’m a big fan of Medici (on my iPad–I actually haven’t played it with humans). Rex has been described to me as a great example of an “epic” game, so I need to give it a try sometime.

    • Peter Vaughan Author on October 26, 2014

      David –

      Thanks for the list, but also thank you for taking the time to guess answers to my trivia questions! (answered separately). Very interesting choices on your list. Yggdrasil is one that I played once and I don’t quite know how I feel about what happened! I may have to give it another go, it was indeed a super challenging and unique game. I’m going to check out Rex and Medici now too!

  19. Ryan Iler on October 24, 2014

    My Top 10
    – Magic: The Gathering – Innovative in countless ways, an example of how new mechanics and ideas can be constantly added to bring depth and variety to an “old” game without altering the base gameplay.
    – Dominion – While not my favorite deck building game (mostly for a lack of theme really) it really does a lot of things well.
    – Wits & Wagers – Taking a ridiculously simple concept and making it instantly fun.
    – Dungeons & Dragons – A game that happens mostly in your mind, while not technically a “board game”. I think game designers in other genres can learn a lot from by trying to understand what it FEELS like to play D&D and possibly applying those concepts to other games.
    – Scotland Yard – Hidden movement mechanics are a particular interest of mine and this was one of the first places we saw it.
    – Pandemic – Co-op games are an interesting breed and pandemic is doing a lot right. I would even add the dice rolling version (Pandemic: the Cure) to this list as it boils the concept down even further without losing the theme.
    – Settlers of Catan – The Grand-Daddy of gateway games along with Ticket to Ride combines a lot of “new” concepts (to traditional american board gamers). Its social, competitive and fun.
    – M.U.L.E. – A computer game from way back MULE was a multi-player economic, trading and bidding semi-co-operative games that still stands the test of time. It broke a lot of ground in its time and is consistently looked to as one of the greatest computer games ever made. Many of the concepts are pretty universal.

  20. Jamey Stegmaier on October 24, 2014

    Ryan: I like a lot of these contributions, as they cover a wide variety of games. Scotland Yard’s hidden movement and team vs. 1 mechanisms are great, and I recently had a blast with Wits & Wagers. I’m not familiar with MULE at all, but I’ll have to check it out.

    • Ryan Iler on October 24, 2014

      I realize that Wits and Wagers is a stretch but to me it’s a reminder that an idea doesn’t have to complicated. Mashing together stuff we already know (and hopefully like) can create some new and interesting experiences. 🙂

  21. Gamer Dave on October 25, 2014

    It will be interesting to see how the reveal will compare to this: from James Mathe. Makes me want to include cosmic encounter, but the time frame might be tight.

  22. Peter Vaughan Author on October 26, 2014

    Trivia answers:

    Who has 2 or more games in the top 10 – Antoine Bauza, a versatile designer pulls it off, but Garfield was close with 2 titles, as was Leacock. Reiner Knizia makes our nominees, but not any of the top 10!

    Worker Placement in the nominations is indeed 10+ as David guesses. But a shocker – 0 made it in the top 10! (votes were spread out) Now, did we keep it that way, or force one in because that’s unacceptable?

    And in the assortment of games listed, three games that made the list no matter how we organized our process (and despite not everyone agreeing about them): Hanabi, Love Letter and Diplomacy.

  23. Randy on October 27, 2014

    I finally put together my list of ten. I know I’m a bit late on this, and I expect my list is more of a reaction to other people’s lists than if I had participated in the original exercise. These aren’t the 10 games I think are the best games ever or anything. If you ask me this question again next week or next month or next year, I’m sure this will change. I focused most of my lessons on finding the fun in games; I’m still convinced that’s the hardest part of the whole game design process.

    (1.) 7 Wonders – (a) Good card layout and iconography make a huge difference. (b) There are lots of methods for scores to grow in games, and it’s fun as a player to balance between multiple methods in one game: blue cards have their own static values, green cards get more valuable together, purple cards and yellow cards are dependent on cards of a different color in an additive way, red cards’ value are dependent on other people’s red cards in a zero-sum tug-of-war way. (c) If you are losing a game, it’s fun not to know it until the very end. (d) Limited downtime in a game is fun.

    (2.) Dominion – Planning for a card combo makes you feel clever; drawing the cards for the combo you planned together makes you feel like a genius! (Feeling clever and feeling like a genius are both fun.) It’s hard to appreciate with only one play, but studying the initial set of ten kingdom cards and exploring how they all work together in order to develop a plan of attack is a lot fun.

    (3.) Bruges – Multiple uses for cards, that balancing of the trade-offs between using a card for one of its uses instead of all the others, is fun. Drawing cards with information about some of the uses but not all of them and with a choice between two cards is fun. Dice with universal effects based on color is really unique and fun. (Some will find the randomness in Bruges infuriating and others will find it properly mitigated and even fun; even if people don’t enjoy this game, I think it’s one of the best points on the randomness spectrum for discussion.)

    (4.) Scotland Yard – Working together as a team is fun. Being sneaky and clever is fun. Beating everyone else (not just a bunch of individuals but a team of people working against you) is really fun.

    (5.) Hanabi – Doing something unexpected with familiar components (holding cards backwards) is just so much fun.

    (6.) King of Tokyo with Power Up – Fun is fun! Theme plays an important part in making a game fun. Eliminating another player is fun. Waiting around for other players to be eliminated is not fun, and having another way to win than eliminating everyone else is good. The Yahtzee dice-rolling mechanic provides a nice balance of randomness/surprise/uncertainty with an ability to temper it with some mitigation.

    (7.) Pictionary – Drawing pictures is fun. Lots of people talking at once with a timer going is fun. That spark of recognition, when one person has put a word into your brain without using any words at all, is fun and even kind of magical. When you get people to guess a really hard word, you feel REALLY clever. (One of my most fun gaming memories is when I got people to guess “mutate” with a drawing like this one: [pic.twitter(.)com/98DM8EdXnc]. I felt so clever that I still tell people about it. Like I’m doing right now.) The option to steal keeps players engaged even when it is not their turn. When you are on the inactive team and you know the answer for a steal, you feel REALLY REALLY clever; the slight fear you have that they will guess the answer mingled with the hope you have of scoring on their turn mingled with people shouting mingled with the anticipation watching that timer run down is really fun.

    — I’ll try something a little different for my final three, lessons that can be learned from playing PAIRS of games. —

    (8.) Settlers of Catan -and- Catan Jr. OR Pandemic -and- Forbidden Island: Settlers of Catan and Pandemic each have a lot to offer on their own, but playing these alongside simpler versions of themselves you can learn a lot about (a) how similar mechanics can be scaled up or down in complexity and (b) how important it is for mechanics/complexity/depth and theme to work together in harmony in a finished product.

    (9.) Spades AND Hearts together – Playing a few hands of these two games back to back provides a great lesson in how the exact same mechanic and turn structure (trick-taking) can lead to very different games and decisions. (Players on their own vs players on teams, positive points for taking tricks vs negative points for specific cards, passing cards to mitigate a bad combination vs playing the cards you are dealt.)

    (10.) CandyLand AND Hoot Owl Hoot. Adding a couple of choices can change an awful game into a fun game. The main mechanic between these two games is the same: move a piece forward to the next space with the color on the card. But it works if you have (a) a choice in the card and (b) a choice in the piece you move.

    • Peter Vaughan Author on October 27, 2014

      I love the list driven by fun and cleverness. I think due to that focus in your choices, it’s one of the most cohesive lists, and would make a great design course. Indeed, what makes a game fun to play? And clever is a great piece of the puzzle – make a person feel good about themselves, and SURPRISE, they want to do that again. Thanks for sharing the list!

    • Peter Vaughan Author on October 27, 2014

      I also dig the comparisons. I have long been on a quest to fix Candyland from the worst game ever made. (Brad can confirm our early game nights included discussions of Candyland Armageddon, to bring it to modern gaming). When my sister and nephews introduced me to Hoot Owl Hoot, I felt satisfied that someone had indeed upgraded it, and I own that one for my son now.

  24. Colum Higgins on November 23, 2014


    My 10 cents.

    1. Settlers of Caton
    2. Dominion
    3. Werewolf
    4. Go
    5. Takenoko
    6. Dobble
    7. Diplomacy
    8. Pandemic
    9. Dungeons and Dragons
    10. Any LARP


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