Spoilers: 7 Wonders & Scythe
December 30, 2019 11:47 AM   Subscribe

While we've already discussed the definitive list of best board games of the 2010s, gamers are naturally also interested in the most influential games of the decade, so Polygon assembled four leading game developers to "weigh in on a decade that changed tabletop forever".

If a few games from each of four people isn't enough detail, here's Kurt Refling's look at the 100 Most Important Board Games of the 2010s.
posted by Etrigan (27 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I loved Pandemic Legacy. The replay value was not great, however, probably because we knew what twists were coming, even with the possibilities opened up by trying out a different world arrangement. Though different, the result seemed balanced, as a testament perhaps to how thoroughly the game must have been play-tested.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 12:55 PM on December 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm a bigger fan of legacy games than I used to be. Replay value is still very nice, but there are many more games I want to play than time that I have, especially given how hard it is to gather friends. It's nice to "finish" a game.

An $80 game sounds expensive. Ten sessions for 4 players is $2/play. If the game's good, that was quite the bargain!

I've got plenty of games that were cheaper still, but if you chop the cost among all of the players, it's not too bad.
posted by explosion at 1:12 PM on December 30, 2019

I have a bunch of these games, but never played some of them. I have a hard time finding board gamers with a similar schedule, and enough friends/family who are willing to learn a new game.
posted by Chuffy at 1:14 PM on December 30, 2019

Interesting to see Azul but not Sagrada make the list. Also keen on the board game Troyes, but it went out of print for awhile so i guess it never got as popular as I think it deserves to be.
posted by likeatoaster at 1:53 PM on December 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Huh. I played 7 Wonders a couple of times at gaming night, and it didn't seem that memorable. Not bad, but nothing I would expect to be picked out as the best game.
posted by tavella at 1:54 PM on December 30, 2019

I find 7 Wonders intriguing but I've struggled to work out a strong strategy. Took me ages to even win a game. I do keep playing it though.
posted by biffa at 2:15 PM on December 30, 2019

I have a lot more feelings, but I'll start off by saying that the high ranking of Exploding Kittens is ... suspect. The problem with any Kickstarter led by someone who is already famous is, the average person cannot actually follow the same path they did, because it amounts to: "Step 1: already have an enormous fanbase that will throw money at anything you produce".
posted by tocts at 2:22 PM on December 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

This is actually very helpful to me.

Years ago I was a hard-core grognard wargamer/Call of Cthulhu RPGer. I fell away from both (children) and am now getting back in. This gave me insight into games to try.

Also, I'm planning a game design for education class this summer. Handy for that, too.
posted by doctornemo at 2:47 PM on December 30, 2019

Wow yeah Exploding Kittens was very influential because it laid bare the fact that any garbage game can make millions on Kickstarter if it’s by someone famous. I have myself been subjected to it and it was bad enough that I genuinely would have preferred to play Uno.

What year did Dominion come out, anyway? I feel like it deserves to be considered one of the most influential games of its time, for the way that it created what we now know as the deckbuilder genre (even if plain ol’ Dominion itself wasn’t nearly as good as what followed in its footsteps)
posted by DoctorFedora at 2:48 PM on December 30, 2019 [7 favorites]

On the upside, at least the designers they called in for opinions didn’t choose Exploding Kittens, but on the other hand maybe someone did and Polygon did the ethical thing and removed their contribution entirely after they demonstrated that they could not be trusted to have opinions about games
posted by DoctorFedora at 2:54 PM on December 30, 2019

Dominion was published in 2008.
posted by dfan at 3:03 PM on December 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

The secret to 7 Wonders is to stumble upon 7 Wonders Duel at the last minute before decamping to a cottage in rural Maine for two weeks, during which time you have no internet access to cheat strategize and so you have to systematically figure out how to beat your wife at this accursed game that should be SO EASY TO MIN-MAX but just when you think you've blocked her access to stone to build all her wonders she always plays the ^&%)#* mid-age stone source out of GODDAMN NOWHERE and now it's 3AM and the kids are going to be up in like two hours but it doesn't matter because I just played this card worth a bunch of victory points and GODDAMNIT WHERE DID THAT MILITARY ENCAMPMENT COME FROM?

Thank you for coming to my TED talk.
posted by Mayor West at 3:05 PM on December 30, 2019 [23 favorites]

On another negative note (I apologize, I swear I'll say nice things eventually!): I think it is a mistake to try to have a list of influential [art/pop culture/etc] that covers a whole decade if the decade is only just finishing. The problem is simply that we don't have the benefit of time to know what really stuck and what didn't for the more recent stuff.

I think Root is a prime example of this. The game isn't even 2 years old. I know people love it. I have not played it. I have seen people attempt to play it at conventions, though, and spend 5 hours and barely finish it. It seems to be a very specific kind of game for a very specific kind of boardgamer, and it may both be true that it is more accessible to a wider audience than earlier conflict-heavy asymmetric wargames but also that 5 years from now it won't have nearly the shine it has today. Or maybe it will? I don't know. It just seems too soon to say.

I would put Wingspan in that same boat. I really loved it the few times I played it. I don't yet own it, because for a long time getting it was pretty hard. But, it's like a year old -- to say at this early date that it is the 14th most influential thing in the last 10 years is crazy.
posted by tocts at 3:10 PM on December 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

Yeah, that’s a great point. I have strong suspicions — which I’m already seeing borne out — that Splendor is a flash in the pan, as popular as it was in its heyday
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:21 PM on December 30, 2019

I have seen people attempt to play Root at conventions, though, and spend 5 hours and barely finish it.

My friends and I like to joke about playing a rousing game of “Set up Arkham Horror.”
posted by jedicus at 3:24 PM on December 30, 2019 [13 favorites]

I don’t know much about Exploding Kittens, but I do know that my nearly 10-year-old nephew LOVES it and its sequel without any particular investment in The Oatmeal, so maybe it’s not for you but it is for somebody.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 3:26 PM on December 30, 2019

7 Wonders is, indeed, kind of ok as a game. But it is amazing! You can play a game with seven people in almost the same time as it takes with three! Almost every turn based game, ie, almost every board game, kinda sucks once you get to five players. You just wait too long for a turn.

A couple games do an ok job of delegating "off turn" actions to help with this... Scythe is a pretty good example: the decision making in second half of your turn can mostly overlap with the next player. Terraforming Mars just makes actions so quick that you don't wait a real long time for the next one (usually). But managing five players successfully is an awesome feat; it's worth paying attention when a game does it well.

Also, i luuuuuurve Terra Mystica. It's the best game about juggling 3.5 economies at once. Can't wait to try the Gaia Project.

7th Continent is also absolutely fantastic. It has been sufficiently hard to get (and fantastically expensive) that I understand how it isn't in anyone's list. It's not influential as a result. But it'll be cool to see the next iterations. It's basically Fighting Fantasy as board game, with games taking >20 hours, over many sessions. Kinda like a legacy game, in that regard, but with more replay value.
posted by kaibutsu at 4:12 PM on December 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

If someone likes Exploding Kittens, that's fine -- different strokes and all. My contention is simply that it was not influential -- neither as a game nor as a crowdfunding project. Its big innovation was being crowdfunded by someone who already ran a website read by millions of people. It's cool if people like the end product, but it did not start nor meaningfully expand any crowdfunding strategies, nor do I think it's remotely possible to say it influenced huge numbers of boardgame kickstarters (an arena that was already oversaturated when it arrived) in game design or launch strategy.

On to nice things I promised:

I think calling out Castles of Burgundy as an exemplary game is long past due. I feel like it just does not get the recognition it deserves. It manages to use randomness in very engaging ways (to limit options, but not to dictate outcomes), and has incredible replayability. It constantly puts you in tough spots where you're having to make meaningful decisions, and very rarely do you feel like you accomplished nothing on your turn (though you may have had to choose to change strategies on the fly). It's just an incredibly solid game, and I think designers could learn a lot by studying it.

I also think King of Tokyo doesn't get enough credit, though admittedly I think it could use a minor re-work (some of the power-ups are wildly variable in utility which can make for weird circumstances). I have talked at length previously about, but why not talk at length again?

Short version: it's an immensely clever solution to politics in games with more than 2 sides.

Longer version: any multi-sided competitive game (i.e. a game with >2 sides) in which you can meaningfully affect other sides is a political game, because whatever the supposed rules to win are, if you can convince everyone else (outside of the written rules) to hurt other players more than they hurt you, you will win.

What KoT does that's brilliant is, it manages to be multi-sided and yet avoid this problem. It does this because while the victory condition is multi-sided (only 1 of the N players can win), all player vs. player interactions are actually 2-sided (the person occupying Tokyo vs. Everyone Else). The makeup of these 2 sides changes during the game, as new people take Tokyo (and thus kick the prior occupant out) -- basically, it's a multi-sided game that morphs into a 2 sided game when it needs to.

I really love that aspect of it, even though I haven't seen it a ton in other games.

In other notes, I'm surprised at the multiple mentions of TIME Stories, mainly because somehow it has flown under my radar? I'll have to take a look, I'm intrigued by it, as someone who has played a lot of the Exit (escape room) games cooperatively with family.

And last thought for now, being mean again: yeah, Splendor is an odd duck. Big big splash, but I think if you play it a few dozen times (not hard, it plays very fast) you start running out of particularly interesting things to do with it. I would definitely put it in the category of, "not as big a deal now as people thought it was when it came out".
posted by tocts at 6:15 PM on December 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

This was the decade that turned boardgames into Kickstarter/stretch goals/ FOMO trash.

I have like, 2000 games. Almost none are from the past 5 years, though I've thrifted a bunch of them, Scythe for $16.50 a couple of months ago, for example. Legacy games are the antithesis of what games are for me. If I like a game, I want to play it forever, not just once, because I've destroyed cards/stickered the board. Don't care what the cost per play is...

Kickstarter is a way to make cash from flashy minis and hype...

It's been a disappointing few years.

And yes, 7 Wonders is awesome because it's a solid game, that can play any number of players without taking 5 hours.
posted by Windopaene at 6:16 PM on December 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

Games have really come into their own as a diverse hobby this decade. In prior decades you could sum up the nature and general course of innovation of gaming rather succinctly, even as the decade ended. The variety was relatively constrained and to the extent that there was diversity there were also relatively distinct 'camps' of players. That is all long shattered with much greater variety in types, styles, and mechanisms of gaming and no clear lines where one ends and another begins. I think this is a very good thing. The physical quality of games is also remarkably improved. I remember when La Citta was an amazing bargain. Now it seems like tiny cardboard pieces and undersized plastic figures.

My game of the decade is Star Wars: Rebellion, but I can hardly argue that it is important and influential. It is just the game that was made for me. I do envy the people who can look at a Legacy game and complain that it won't last long enough for them. I work at scheduling and struggle to get even the 10-12 plays in that they take to complete - over the course of a year or more. I'd be delighted if even a fraction of the games I own had been played 10 or more times.
posted by meinvt at 7:02 PM on December 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

Whoa... is the Keith Law who wrote the Paste list in that first link Keith Law... one of the very most prolific and respected writers about baseball? Because it looks like it is and... wow.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:13 PM on December 30, 2019

The physical quality of games is also remarkably improved.
Yeah, this is the decade that board game geeks and graphic design geeks found each other. Not in every example (side glance at family favorite 7 Wonders) of course, but in general games are more approachable and have broader appeal today than a decade ago at least partially due to more refined graphical interfaces.
Also, whenever someone suggests a round of 7 Wonders, someone else must always add in a low, rumbling movie-preview voice "of the ancient world."
posted by St. Oops at 10:18 PM on December 30, 2019

Hey likeatoaster, I love Troyes too!

I like Istanbul but it always seems to make all of us frustrated and tense by the end.

To me, 7 wonders and Splendor both feel like nice games that are good for mixed groups (and play fairly fast!) but not like amazingly influential.

I personally didn't get into the Legacy games trend (was Pandemic first?), but it was definitely influential.

This also felt like the decade of secret identity games (another trend that didn't hit home for me though).
posted by mkuhnell at 2:58 PM on December 31, 2019

This also felt like the decade of secret identity games (another trend that didn't hit home for me though).

Oh LORD, yes. I hate these social deduction games so much. We signed up for secret hitler at origins a couple of years ago not really knowing what it was, and it was room full of giggling late teen/early twenties mini hipsters who just thought the genre was fantastic and were bragging that they had spent the whole day in that room playing the same games (werewolf, the rebellion etc) over and over. So we played secret hitler and I would randomly go "why are you questioning ME?! THAT (random dude) seems SUPER suspicious...and guaranteed at least one person at the table would go "Hey, YEAH..." and that guy would get taken down. At a neighboring table there's a loud argument over whether making an accusation based on hearing someone's sleeve move when eyes are closed counts. Bah. No thanks.
posted by hearthpig at 12:23 AM on January 1 [1 favorite]

I don't know where Wingspan will end up in the grand scheme of things but it's become my family's favorite activity. Light on the competitiveness and violence endemic to most games, but heavy on artistry and connection to how birds actually live, it's a huge hit around here. I hope it influences others to design more games that match mechanics with reality in such a charming way.

That said, gimme any old silly concept when I'm playing with my game friends. Just got a taste of 7th Continent and I can't wait to blow 6 hours trying and probably failing to beat it.
posted by look busy at 5:06 PM on January 1 [2 favorites]

King of Tokyo is great, I agree with Windopaene said above.

I loved Pandemic Legacy as well. We never even considered replaying it, but 4-5 players, 16 sessions, about a year of calendar time (we are busy), and CAD$120 makes it better value than almost any other game I have ever bought with the exception of the short games I play over and over again with the kids (I'm looking at you Dungeon Mayhem). The beer consumed during playtime far outcost the game itself. Unfortunately the followup, while good, didn't hit the same heights.

I have one issue with 7 Wonders and other modern games in that it sometimes feels like playing your own game of solitaire while the other players play their own game. Then the game ends, and you have no idea who is winning or losing until points are counted. It seems anti-climactic. I know a lot of people don't like the "Take That" aspect of games, but for me there needs to be interaction and give and take for a game to be enjoyable. Co-op games excepted of course.

Wingspan has been recommended recently to us as well. It looks like we should give it a shot. Although my wife bought Clue for the family for Christmas and we've actually got a fair amount of mileage out of that.
posted by sauril at 9:09 AM on January 3

Missed the edit window - I mean what tocts said above.
posted by sauril at 9:19 AM on January 3

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