A Reflection on Best of Board Game Lists

Music was better in the 60â's. It had value, was original, and produced such hits as Hey Jude, I'm a Believer, Twist and Shout, I heard it Through the Grape Vine, and so much more. 60's Music was amazing, until the 70's. The 70's is when we were treated to a real development in rock, ballad and funk with classics like American Pie, Stayin' Alive, Hotel California, Stairway to Heaven, and the amazing Bohemian Rhapsody. Of course, 70's only made possible the genius of the 80’s with memorable songs like Take on Me, Billie Jean, When Doves Cry, Beat it, Livin’ on a Prayer, and Sweet Child of Mine. Oh the 80's. And then, of course the 90's came and astounded us with Smells like Teen Spirit, Wonderwall, Nothing Compares to You, and Vogue. Music was always better in the past. It seems that music today can hardly compare. I say this satirically because I grew up through several of the last decades of music and every generation complains that music was better when they were kids. This is usually followed with a list of titles such as those above and compared to whatever trashy hit is being blasted across the air waves at the time.

Hits of the 80's Oh Dear

Remember these guys, weren’t even singing.

The fact is that each generation of music has a glut of songs all competing for attention. Those that last beyond their decade of release are the ones we remember and include on such lists. Yet for each song people point to as a classic of 'insert decade' there is a hundred songs that were easily forgotten, or outright terrible. The truth is that we forget all the trash we heard growing up and remember only the classics. The problem with this is we do not often know what those enduring songs will be until they endure.

Music being released today all hope to make it into the charts, but I won't really know what music defines this generation until ten years from now. Sure I know of some popular songs that I think will remain, but that is no guarantee. Ask any young man from the early 90's and they may have said that Step by Step from New Kids on the Block might endure as a classic, but sadly they would have been wrong.

step by step

Step by Step or The Right Stuff…
Who doesn’t love some New Kids.

I bring this up because when I see lists of board games that indicate what the Best of 2016 I often reflect on my experience of trying to predict the best music of the last several decades. The fact is that the best we can really offer is what games I enjoyed playing for the first time the most in 2016. The reality is that it is too soon to indicate what games will truly be the best. It is even too soon to indicate what games will endure in our own collection. When I played Forbidden Island I thought it would be a favourite that would hold pride of place in my collection for years to come. Yet as my experience grew and my tastes changed I have now happily traded my copy away for different games that suit me better. That is, the me now, cannot know what my taste will be like in a decade, or even a year from now.

The volume of games that came out this year is startling and all these games are competing for attention. Some of these games are very well promoted generating significant attention drowning out maybe some great games still waiting to be discovered. Factor in Kickstarter and the Endowment Effect (look it up) and it is likely that many games on top 2016 lists may not be there in several years form now. I say this as someone who also did a best games I played in 2016 list.

I am not suggesting people should not reflect on the games that inspired them, I am only ruminating on what is a common pattern. In my mind this is even more exciting because what it means is that 2016 may not have revealed it's best game yet. It may be waiting for an audience to suddenly realise its genius and catch on. It may already be known but time may elevate it still to be a show piece from this year. We may see a whole new franchise boom out of a game we are yet to truly appreciate. Who knows. I love best of lists, but the best part for me is the thought that a best of 2016 list written today may be very different to the best of 2016 lists written ten years from now. I want to finish with a look at the last few decades and list three classic games from each decade that I feel endured. This is not even the best of that year, just a couple of notable mentions.

Best Tabletop Games of The 80's:
Werewolf: Easily one of my favourite social deduction games. Many games are based on this classic and I suspect it last many years to come.
Survive: Escape from Atlantis: A great game that has some wonderful reprints. I love the hidden information, player interaction, and shear survival aspect.
Can't Stop: an easy to play abstract dice chucking game. Its a good one to use with kids to explore probability. It's also irresistible to avoid pushing your luck in this game.

Best Tabletop Games of The 90's:
Catan: Or Settlers of Catan when I bought my copy. This may not be everyone's top pick, but it certainly started a trend in Eurogaming introducing many people for the first time to resource management, trading, civilisation building, and victory points.
Magic The Gathering: I'm only new to MtG and I must say it is one hell of a learning curve, but without MtG there would never have been Yugioh, and without Yugioh I may never have become the gamer I am today. A true trend setter.
Lost Cities: Classic Two player abstract game that hits high into top ten two player games lists in fact I did one recently that included this game.

Best Tabletop Games of The 00's:
Twilight Struggle: I promise I will shut up about this game. Go check out anything else I have said on it in any number of articles or YouTube posts. I love this game. Plus, being no1 on BGG for as long as it was is no small thing.
Dominion: It is hard to argue that this game did not ignite a genre as well as making one of the most enduring franchises in recent history. Just try and see if you can name all the expansions for this game without looking them up.
Ticket to Ride: Again, a huge favourite and considered a quintessential gateway game. By the way, the Europe map is the best.

Best Tabletop Games of 2010-2016:
A little harder, but so far some good games I think will last the distance:
7 Wonders: Really brought drafting mechanics to the fore, despite never really being surpassed. Good to see it reinvigorated with 7 Wonders Duel, a wonderful 2 player envisioning of the game.
Love Letter: Not that I adore this game, but it did spark a whole move towards micro games that is still hugely popular years later. The simplicity of this game really made a statement about how eloquent design can make for endless play.
Pandemic: Pandemic will appear at the top of many best of lists for gateway games and with Pandemic Legacy it's contribution to the gaming world has been set in concrete. It elevated collaborative gameplay making it a hugely sought after mechanic.

To keep my lists to 3 games each decade meant I passed over many great games. Yet like decades of music, it meant passing over many many unknown and even bad games. I would love to hear what games from those decades would appear on your list. Hit up our Facebook page or get me on Twitter below.