The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

To Boldly Go...

Dave Shapiro

August, 2003

Everyone reaches a state in life where they are allowed to ruminate, speculate and pontificate on any subject they desire. You can recognize this special time by certain social indicators. For men it is simple:

  1. You have investigated the age requirement to qualify for the senior citizen's discount at McDonald's .
  2. You have basically dropped out of the genetic pool.
  3. Locating your bifocals is far more important than clean socks.
  4. You begin to appreciate naps.
  5. You simply cannot "see the logic" in thong underwear.

Having reached the afore mentioned stage in life, I am, by some very obscure law, allowed to express my views on any subject. Following a recent game session, we had a short discussion on Wiz Kid's Clix system and the potential effect it could have on miniatures in general. Never having delved into miniatures did not disqualify me from offering my opinion as once you turn 50 you believe you know everything. (Most 18 year olds believe they know everything also—the difference is that at 50, you really do.) The discussion that follows is the result of that conversation.

In every human endeavor there are actions or events that precipitate dramatic change. The creation of money, the printing press, the steam engine, harnessing electricity, and the transistor are just a few examples. Each of these discoveries or inventions altered the course of civilization. Sir James Burke has written extensively on this topic in his The Day the Universe Changed later detailing the sometimes odd chain of events in his The Pinball Effect. These types of events are, by their very nature, unexpected; they are usually not evolutionary but rather mutations that rock the foundation and move civilization in new directions.

On a significantly smaller scale, the world of games mirrors this phenomenon. Through the years, certain games have been introduced that dramatically altered the gaming world; revealing virgin areas for play and competition. They are not derivative games that sell well due to some movie/book tie in or fad frenzy generated by an advertising agency; these are games that are unique transformations. In the past 100 years, the car, airplane, telephone and electricity have been introduced the combination of which has so altered society that generations past would be lost. The last 100 years have seen a similar transformation in the game universe. There are claims that this is a "golden age" for gaming; that more people play games today than ever before (of course there are more people living today than ever before so make of it what you will). How then could we identify the games that were significant in creating and changing the game world we know today?

For purposes of this discussion there must be criteria that limits the eligibility of the game-candidate or it could be argued that every game is unique. There are four parameters that have been employed:

  1. The game must have been produced in the past 100 years.
  2. The game must have sold a significant number of copies (100,000+).
  3. The game system must have produced derivatives either as variants or scenarios.
  4. The game must have significantly altered the face of gaming.

Using this criteria to explore the thousands of games produced in the period specified results in ten "hits". The games have been listed in chronological order with a short history and their impact on gaming. I assume that anyone sufficiently interested in games to be reading this article would be generally familiar with the mechanics of these games so any discussion of the mechanics of a particular game will only be mentioned if they are relevant. Certain favorites may be missing and in most cases it will be because they failed one of the first three parameters. I admit that the fourth qualifier is subjective.

First Generation

Prior to Monopoly, the few board games available tended toward children and often had religious or moral themes. Introduced in 1934, during the "dark days" of the depression it offered players the opportunity to wield wealth and had a screw-your-neighbor approach that was not common to games of the day. Though considered to have flaws, Parker Brothers began publication and within one year was selling in excess of 20,000 copies per week. This is an amazing number of games given the financial situation of the times. (It actually saved Parker Brothers from bankruptcy.) There are many theories offered as to why Monopoly sold as it did; the most common is that given the economic situation, it was cheap entertainment. Others have suggested that it allowed players to fantasize about achieving great wealth. Whatever the reason it introduced an entire generation to commercial board gaming. It was the right game at just the right moment in history. Most gamers today will acknowledge that if it were introduce today, Monopoly would fail miserably. It requires too much time, has an exorbitant amount of luck and minimal player interaction. The model T Ford was not the first automobile but it managed to found an industry. Monopoly was not the first commercial board game but, like the Tin Lizzy, it managed to create an entire hobby.

For many years Charles Darrow has been credited with designing Monopoly. There is evidence that he may have "borrowed" the game from one published thirty years earlier. Elizabeth Maggie Phillips designed and published Landlord in 1904. "Coincidentally", Monopoly contained the same number of spaces (some with identical names) and a very similar mechanic. Legal battles have ensued. It is interesting that in the history section of the Hasbro/ Monopoly web site, they do not credit Darrow with having "designed" the game but merely as having "showed" it to Parker Brothers.

Monopoly clubs abound with the internet expanding the possibilities to meet and play. There is no shortage of analysis, strategy tips, suggestions and debate; and there is one heck-of-a-lot of debate. There are numerous "house rules" found among Monopoly players. The two most common are some form of monetary gain when landing on "Free Parking" and alternate victory conditions. A common misunderstanding is that the player with the most money wins the game. Monopoly, like Risk, is an elimination game: the winner is the player who has bankrupted all of his opponents thus eliminating them from the game. Through gaming generations, the original concept has been twisted and mutated into several strong series of wealth accumulation games. Derivatives such as Rail Baron have morphed into the Empire Builder series. Touches of Monopoly can be found in the 18xx series as well as dozens of other games. Monopoly was the first commercial board game to successfully challenge the classic games of Chess and Go for playing time. It created the opportunity for all that followed.

Monopoly money With more than 200 million games sold, Monopoly is simply the best selling commercial board game in the world. It is published in 26 different languages and in 80 different countries. In the original game, the spaces are street names from Atlantic City but there are dozens of other versions available that use street names from other major cities. There is even a make-your-own kit. In recent years themed versions have appeared ranging from sports (NASCAR and NFL) to comics (Spiderman and X Men) to sci-fi themes (Star Wars). With so many copies and versions in print, one can be had for next to nothing at garage sales or thrift shops. For those so inclined, Franklin Mint offers a deluxe version with gold plated pieces.

"Bingo"

Arthur Butts, an architect by profession, did not so much invent a game as construct one. He began by examining the game market, determining the types of games available and then with deliberate plodding proceeded to construct a game. He discovered that there were no "word games" on the market and decided to construct a crossword style game. Unfortunately he was unable to find information detailing the frequency of the appearance of specific letters in English words. So Alfred sat down with the front page of the New York Times and began tabulating the frequency of every "A", every "B", every "C" … and he did not stop with just one issue of the Times! His final results determined the mix of letters available in the game and his method resulted in a relatively accurate accounting.

ScrabbleThe original version was introduced as Lexicon which, with a few changes, became Criss-Cross Words. Finally, with further refinements he created the world's first tile laying game: Scrabble. Unable to produce sufficient units on his own he partnered with James Brunot who is credited with the "Scrabble" title. Introduced in 1948, it was sold to Selchow & Righter in 1952. In 1986 Coleco bought the rights but bankruptcy soon followed with Hasbro picking up the pieces three years later. To date Scrabble has sold in excess of 100 million copies and continues to sell one to two million each year.

Following Chess and Go, Scrabble has the greatest number of organized players with thousands of clubs around the world, major tournaments (offering significant monetary prizes) and a ranking system similar to Chess. There are books and newsletters where strategies are debated and tile combinations are examined . There are word lists for two through nine letter words with special emphasis being place on two, three and seven letter words (seven letter words, when placed, are known as "bingos"). The aficionados play only two player games, have memorized (at a minimum) all of the two and three letter words and will readily explain that tile placement is at least as important as word knowledge. An excellent description of the world of Scrabble can be found in Stefan Fatsis' book: Word Freak.

Scrabble introduced two new concepts to board games: the word game and the tile placement game. The game is published around the world in a variety of languages and has generated so many variants it boggles the mind.

High Crimes

Clue piecesCluedo (Clue) mixes a variety of seemingly unassociated elements into an elegant but simple game. It is the "who-done-it" novel of the game world. The game system is a straight forward logic puzzle; a simple exercise in deductive reasoning. The theme allows each each player the opportunity to become a Sherlock Holmes, finding clues and determining the culprit. Logic puzzles are not new; some can be found in the Bible and the time of Alexander the Great. Cluedo was the first board game to successfully blend the elements of a logic puzzle with an appealing theme while, unlike previous attempts at this, the game was not diminished by repeated plays.

Cluedo was designed by Anthony Pratt in 1944. Unfortunately, due to the war and the subsequent lack of materials it was not published until 1949. Waddington published in England while Parker Brothers covered the North American market. The Cluedo name is based on Latin for "I play" so the American audience, with Parker Brother's name change to Clue, was deprived of the pun.

Clue: The Great Museum CaperThe basic game is published in 40 countries under similar names (Clue, Cluedo, Master Detective, etc). There have been 3-D versions, VCR versions, expanded versions and pop culture versions (Simpson's Clue for example). From country to country the play remains the same but the characters and the locations change. For example, the Spanish and Swiss versions include a bedroom and bathroom. One item that has remained inviolate for each game is the reason for the murder; none is ever given.

Every mystery game produced since Cluedo must acknowledge the influence of the grand daddy of all mystery games. All of them, from Sackson's boardless Sleuth to Faidutti and Laget's Mystery of the Abbey are variants of a sort (and in many cases superior to the original).

Note: it has been my experience that mystery games, be it Clue or one of the many derivatives, are welcomed by all gamers. This is an unusual phenomenon as most gamers seem to have some genre that they simply do not care for. I have yet to cross a gamer that refuses a good mystery.

Armageddon

Risk was designed by Albert Lamorisse ( A French film maker) and released in France in 1957. Two years later Parker Brothers released the first edition in North America. Risk was unique in several areas. It was the first popular game where movement was not determined by a die roll. Though commonly accepted today, this was revolutionary for the times. Having grown up with the likes of Monopoly and Life, the novice Attila was suddenly confronted with the problem of where to move.

The depth of Risk was well beyond the average commercial game. Sophisticated gamers played Chess and Go, where the average player elevated Monopoly to the apex of the gaming mound. Risk fell somewhere in between; deeper than Monopoly but less elaborate than Chess or Go. It grew extremely popular on college campuses. Entering a student union in the evening and one would find a few, very quiet, games of Chess and Go being played but the crowds surrounded the tables with Risk games. Brassy, macho and loud, Risk was a game that was testosterone driven; it was the bad boy on the block. Risk was the first "nasty" commercial game where there was no pretense of civility. In Monopoly the object is to eliminate the other player's holdings; it was one step removed. In Risk you directly attacked other players; it was personal.

Many games have house rules, for example the tax/ free parking payout in Monopoly. Being so popular on college campuses, the house rules for Risk became intricate and in many cases historic. Scenarios for re-enacting many historic battles were developed and the demand for these eventually gave birth to the war game industry. (Yes, I know that Charles Roberts designed Tactics II, considered by many to be the first commercial war game but, as my kids would say, "Let's get real." More people were introduced to war games through Risk than have even heard of Tactics II.)

The final innovation in Risk was unintentional; it was the first negotiation game. Monopoly offered the opportunity to trade properties but Risk inadvertently offered alliances (i.e. temporary co-operative play), treaties and deception. This introduced a bold new concept to games. Changing the combat system while retaining the remainder led to the development of a new genre of diplomatic games beginning with Diplomacy. And after forty years a touch can still be seen in some of today's games.

Though Risk continues to sell well, and continues to be a great introduction to more sophisticated gaming it is not extremely popular among die-had gamers. Time has taken a toll on the game and the derivatives play significantly better. Those interested in the historic conflicts introduced in Risk have moved on to war games. Those interested in the negotiating aspects play Diplomacy or Machiavelli for example. For the rest of us, games such as El Grande and San Marco (area control games) have improved on the multi player conflict aspects of Risk resulting in simply a better game.

At the time of its publication, no one realized that Risk would signal the end of an era in gaming. A new generation of more sophisticated games were on the horizon.

The Next Generation

1962 is an epic year in the history of board games. All of the games published prior to this, and many more to follow, could be considered first generation board games. These first generation games followed a rigid format where turns alternated in a strict pattern, there was little player interaction, a minimal number of choices per turn and, with rare exceptions, no real need for players to remain at the table when it was not their turn to play.

This would all change beginning with a game published by a company better known for selling tape (3M - Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing). 3M published a line of adult strategy games presented in bookcase boxes (versus the long flat boxes common to that point). These games were sold in hobby shops and book stores and offered the players games with more complex strategy and adult themes. One of the games published in this group would alter the board game world.

Sid Sackson's Acquire was published by 3M in 1962. The components appeared very similar to Scrabble - a grid formed the board and letter/number tiles were placed in the squares of the grid and that is all they shared in common. Acquire was unusual in many ways; there were no random generators (dice, cards or spinners), players were faced with multiple choices each turn and each could be the "right move", no player could afford to leave the table as the game changed rapidly and finally, players shared ownership! It was a stock market game where player actions determined the stock valuation. Unlike all previous games the system was layered; what occurred off of the board was as critical to play as what occurred on the board.

3M would eventually publish six additional games by Sackson but none would have the impact of Acquire. With a less than acceptable level of performance, 3M sold the entire line to Avalon Hill who reprinted Acquire in 1976. It became one of Avalon Hill's better sellers and for a short time could be found in toy and department stores. The latest version, published in 2000, has the finest components to date.

The significance and impact of Acquire cannot be overstated. It was the first of what 40 years later would be deemed German style games. An entire genre of gaming would grow from this seed. Sid Sackson was the founding father of the German style game. During an interview Sackson was asked what makes a good game and he replied:

"It should be easy to learn yet have infinite strategic possibilities, give you the chance to make choices, create interaction among players and take a maximum of one and a half hours to play".

Enter the Dragon

One day about thirty tears ago, two war gamers decided to mix miniature war gaming with Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. The result shook the gaming world. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson constructed an open architecture gaming system. Each game would be unique as there was one player, later known as the game master or dungeon master, that controlled the flow of the game.

In 1973/1974 Gygax and Arneson published the rules to their game. The company they formed was called Tactical Studies Rules better known as TSR. The name for the game was selected out of four possibilities: The Fantasy Game, Swords and Spells, Magic and Monsters and the one they finally settled on, Dungeons & Dragons. The explosion of interest in the game was amazing. As the game grew in popularity so did the strength of its detractors. The media frenzy was inexcusable with suggestions of Satanic influence and blood rites to the root cause for psychological problems in some college students. (Personal note: if a game could "put you over the edge" then you had some serious problems long before you ever rolled the first die.) But Dungeons & Dragons grew and as it expanded it began to influence every genre of gaming.

In addition to the basic game, TSR published scenarios, board versions, card versions, player aid books and a variety of derivatives. At one point Dungeons & Dragons could be found on the shelves of Toys-R-Us. In order to promote the game TSR began a small convention known as Gen Con and in 1978 they introduced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Money flowed but not always into the proper areas and by 1996 TSR was in serious financial trouble. Like the proverbial white knight, Wizards of the Coast (Magic: The Gathering) rode in and rescued TSR and the Dungeons & Dragons franchise. In 1999 they introduced the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons and in 2000 introduced the d20 system. d20 is a licensed version of Dungeons & Dragons and has become the default standard for all role playing games.

Dungeons & Dragons regenerated a long lost interest in fantasy and no game company could ignore it. War game companies such as Avalon Hill and SPI offered fantasy games ranging from role playing to war games. Other companies jumped on the new role playing wave and soon role playing games were available in near infinite variety. There were space RPGs, time travel, western, WWII, movie tie-ins and more; nothing was safe from the RPG onslaught. 30 years later the fascination with fantasy has not subsided; Tom Jolly has indicated that Cave Troll was reworked from an archeological theme to one with a fantasy setting. Role playing aspects have been incorporated into many games. Even the German style games have not been immune; witness the minimal influence in Puerto Rico or Knizia's Lord of the Rings which is basically a board, role playing game.

Just as Risk drew many players into war gaming, Dungeons & Dragons introduced thousands of high school and college students to the fun in gaming, eventually moving into card and board games.

Aliens

In 1972 a small group of friends sold "The Universe Game" to Parker Brothers who decided against publication as it was their belief that science fiction doesn't sell. Then in 1977 Bill Eberle, Jack Kittredge and Peter O'Lotka reworked their game and released it as Cosmic Encounter under their own Eon label. They followed the basic set with nine expansions. In 1987 West End Games published a version of the basic set. In 1991 Mayfair Games acquired the franchise and eventually published the original game, all of the expansions and more. With the turn of the century Avalon Hill/Hasbro published a basic set with the finest components to date. (Somewhere in here Games Workshop published a set but I was unable to locate any information beyond that.)

The impact of Cosmic Encounter simply cannot be ignored. The original concept it introduced has permeated every genre of gaming from war and card games to video games. It is a single , simple idea: every player is allowed to break a rule in a unique manner. Prior to Cosmic Encounter every player in every game played by the same rules set; equality was assured. With Cosmic Encounter every player began with an identical set up and a card that allowed them to "break" one of the rules of the game.

This was revolutionary.

Shortly after its introduction a debate began between two gaming camps, the purists who believed that any "fair" game demanded that all players begin the game equally equipped and those who found Cosmic Encounter to be something just this side of nirvana. The purists deplored the chaotic nature of the game; deriding the game for the lack of strategy and what they viewed as an exorbitant dependence on luck. The game lacked structure, lacked discipline; it was the ultimate beer and pretzels game, it was a game for hippies-no strategy required.

The Cosmic Encounter "cone"The proponents of the game, praised it for the variety and chaos; mechanics that offered the player a multitude of options but only one choice. ( This would later develop into an entire subset of gaming known as German style games). The faithful were less vocal and generally lacked an outlet for their support. There were a variety of Chess and war game magazines and newsletters but only Games Magazine for the "non-purist." Two unrelated events elevated Cosmic Encounter from cult status to a legitimate contender. Consumer Reports, a magazine that tests, evaluates and reports on products, published an article praising this little known game. At roughly the same time one of the two leaders in the publishing of war games, Avalon Hill, released Dune; Dune was serious Cosmic Encounter and it brought war gamers into the fold.

Cosmic Encounter has been published in eight different languages with fifteen versions found around the world. Unlike some of the earlier games found in this report, Cosmic Encounter is as fresh today as when it first appeared and offers legitimate competition to the German style games market.

Let there be light

Who would have thought, 31 years ago, that playing ping pong on a TV screen would lead to a multibillion dollar industry with huge electronic firms jockeying for position. Nolan Bushnell first introduced the game on a college campus and the virus-like spread of the game changed the way people play games all over the world. Founded by Bushnell, Atari was not the sole player in this arena but managed to dominate the industry for several years.

The popular stand-alone arcade unit soon morphed into the home video game machine; later expanding to personal computers. Many classic games found their way to monitors and to screens followed by video translations of popular commercial board games. For those lacking an opponent , one was provided; the elusive and insidious arch enemy simply known as A.I. (artificial intelligence). As time passed, A.I. grew smarter, developing styles of play. Programs such as Chessmaster XXXX or Risk II offered a variety of opponents with styles of play that ranged from coffee house to warmaster with appropriate degrees of aggressiveness. Soon, no game was safe from A.I.'s desire to challenge the player. Even role playing games were sucked into the electronic arena.

Thanks in part to computer geeks and hackers methods for head to head play were developed and then a magic moment in game history, occurred: internet play.

With the introduction of gaming on the internet a player was never at a loss for opponents. Somewhere in the world there was always someone willing to play, rain or shine, night or day, 24/7. Those seeking opponents in classic games could play on Yahoo Games or The Zone, and with a common interface, language was not a barrier. Anyone, anywhere who had access to the software and a phone line could play (and did). Game specific sites opened where players having a particular interest could find like minded opponents. This would eventually lead to genre intensive sites such as Brettspielwelt (BSW) that caters specifically to German style games. After a very rocky start, Sony managed to introduce what is quite possibly, the most unusual game of all; the MMRPG.- the massively multi-player role playing game. Thousands of players participating in a game that never pauses, that never ends. Everquest became the Dungeons & Dragons of the electronic age offering a virtual fantasy world.

Electronic gaming struck a blow, a big blow to board gaming. No board game company was immune. Smaller companies failed to survive. Familiar names in board gaming such as Westend Games, GDW, SPI, TSR and Avalon Hill all closed or were absorbed. (Avalon Hill made a valiant but futile attempt at entering the area of electronic gaming with their computer division.) Even the giants Milton Bradley, Selchow & Righter and Parker Bros. succumbed to the onslaught. Though their logos still appear on game boxes it is simply artistic license; as independent entitles they have ceased to exist.

By the early 1990s board gaming was in retreat. This was a dark time for the purist, the player who sought flesh and blood opponents, the player who wanted to touch real pieces not flick an arrow across a screen and click . For these players this was a bleak time and the prognosis was not positive. It would take a miracle to revitalize the industry.

Or an act of magic.

The Gathering Storm

By 1990 computer gaming had surpassed board gaming. The board game companies that survived were struggling to stay in existence and would not expend precious resources on untested ideas. New releases were simply a rehash of a previous game. At this time, a man with a doctorate in combinatorial mathematics was shopping around a board game he had designed. Every company he approached, rejected the game and it would be years before Robo Rally would be published.

Richard Garfield continued his quest to have Robo Rally published. He approached Peter Adkinson, an engineer that published role playing aids part time and was , once again, rejected. However, Adkinson suggested that Garfield design a game that was inexpensive to publish, fast to play, and portable. Enter Magic: The Gathering.

Magic: The Gathering cardsMagic is a mix of Dungeons & Dragons and Cosmic Encounter. It is a fast playing, card game with endless possibilities. The game was introduced at Gen Con (now owned by Adkinson) in 1993 and sold out. It ignited an interest in non-electronic games that had not been seen since the late 1970s. In particular, it appealed to a very important segment of the gaming market; young men. Males ages 14-18 are the core of the video game industry and Magic seduced them.

Within a single year Magic: The Gathering had sold more than one million cards. By 1994 it would be sufficiently popular that some high schools would ban it from play on school property. The lure of Magic brought young players into game conventions and exposed them to board games. Sales began to increase. Magic created an industry: the collectable card game (CCG). Not every card was readily available; the insidious design emulated that of baseball card collecting with common and rare cards; addictive and difficult to obtain, Magic became the drug of gaming. To date, more that 7000 individual cards have been published with an 8th edition soon to be released.

Not to be left behind, publishers began producing a plethora of CCG's. Everything from Star Trek & Star Wars to Vampires and Lord of the Rings was fair game. Mayfair Games combined CCG's with the very popular computer game SimCity. Convention attendance grew with mini-cons popping up all over the country and board gaming tagged along.

Electronic gaming (console and computer) had nearly decimated board games. Magic: The Gathering was the first bright spot in years; it was a crack in the dike, a shot across the bow.

Magic not only revitalized an industry it introduced an entirely new concept with the CCG format. Game publishers finally began to re-establish themselves in a market that had been lost to electronic media. At one point, Wizards of the Coast splurged on television commercials. Magic proved that it could be done; the joystick could be toppled. Magic was the first half of a one-two punch; just three years later a game would debut that demonstrated that "unplugged" gamers would no longer be forced to settle for scraps.

It Takes a Thief

There is a branch of Mathematics that explores chaos theory. One of the tenants of the theory suggests that the flapping wings of a butterfly in China could result in a storm elsewhere in the world. In 1995 a "butterfly" in Germany flapped and unleashed a storm in the North American market that has expanded and continues to grow today.

Prior to 1995 there had been a few German games imported and sold in the United States. Those who purchased these games were devoted, probably fanatical gamers as the burdens represented by cost and language had to be surmounted in order to play. One of these games, Die Siedler von Catan, moved mountains. Simple to teach , yet with sufficient depth to interest family gamers and grognards alike, Die Siedler von Catan opened the North American market to eurogames. What began slowly, quietly has grown with each year and has begun to revolutionize the game industry. The influence of these designer games can be seen in many non-German style games such as Risk 2210 with some of the mechanics even invading the war game market. Eight years ago there were no eurogames found in the World Boardgame Championship; today there are. Eight years ago there were no eurogames found in the Games 100; in the 2003 Games 100 more than 50% of the games found are either Euro games or show indications of eurogame influence.

Die Siedler von Catan

Why Die Siedler von Catan? There were other German style games that had been imported but none has had the impact of Die Siedler von Catan. The simple answer is: no one knows. Other, previous games have had modular boards or player trading or simple rules but none seemed to integrate them as well as Settlers. Die Siedler von Catan is a near perfect game system and maybe, just maybe, the number of sophisticated gamers has grown to where they actually may have an impact on the market. Whatever the reason Die Siedler von Catan has sold more than any other German style game.

The original Risk system, with modifications, allowed production of everything from historical scenarios to fantasy and space. The Settlers system repeats this process with historical scenarios (Cheops, Alexander, etc.) to fantasy (Dragon Slayer) to space (Starfarers and Starship Catan). It is the 21st century Risk. Settlers has even branched into the religious realm with Settlers of Canaan and the proposed Settlers of Zarahemla. (Of course Risk has yet to enter this arena.)

Legend has it that it all began with a dental technician named Klaus Teuber who designed a game that was so big the publisher split the game in two and published both (Settlers of Catan and Entdecker). Settlers became more than the sum of its parts and this may be the result of the design process itself. Unlike the process employed in the design of most games, Teuber does not use outside play testers; he designs for and plays with his family. This may account for the warmth of the game compared with the mechanical, sterile systems that accompanies so many other games. It is a family game with depth.

Mayfair version of The Settlers of CatanSettlers began selling in very respectable numbers and then in large numbers. The basic game has now sold in excess of 3 million units and when all of the basic game sales are combined with the sales of all derivatives, more than 10 million copies have been sold. The success of Settlers has allowed a plethora of German style games to be released in North America and has renewed the world of board gaming. An article in the New York Times (April 2003) reported that game sales of "non-electronic hobby games, which do not include mass market stalwarts like Monopoly and Scrabble, have more than tripled since 1994, from $720 million to roughly $2.6 billion"

It is an exciting time for gamers.

The Third Generation

Whenever someone compiles a list such as this, it is inevitable that there will be some dissenting opinions and there should be. Allow me to address two items prior to dismissing this article as so much rubbish. First: why were Pong, Magic and Dungeons & Dragons included when it is obvious that they don't even have a board? (Hey, I'm old, not blind.) I admit that I hesitated to include them but in review, each had a significant impact on board games; they could not be ignored.

The second item involves the "missing" games; games that others feel should have been included. There were three that were considered and then rejected. Stratego has sold a good number of units and has spawned three derivatives (Stratego Legends, Hera and Zeus and Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation). However, the impact of Stratego on board gaming in general was minimal. Empire Builder was excluded because of its lineage; Monopoly to Rail Baron to Empire Builder; it is simply a Monopoly derivative. The 18xx games were excluded for a similar reason; these are greatly modified versions of Acquire. Are there other games that should have been included? That is open for discussion.

Where or when the next "impact" game will arrive is pure speculation. Changes occur more rapidly today than in the period of the first generation games. The internet has joined the gaming world, spreading information and ideas faster than ever before. There are hints of enhancing board games with computer chips. The potential for radical change is present; we may be at the dawn of the third generation game.

Encore

While verifying the information on the various games discussed above, I encountered game related trivia that, though it was not pertinent to the discussion, was interesting nevertheless. So, lacking a better introduction...here it is.

  1. At one time Sid Sackson had the world's largest game collection.
  2. Atari produced more Pacman cartridges than they had sold basic units.
  3. The sponsor for the World Scrabble Championship has alternated between Hasbro and Mattel. Hasbro owned the North American rights to the game and Mattel owned the rights for the rest of the world.
  4. At one point TSR had spent so much on creating television commercials that there was no money remaining in the budget for purchasing ad time. The ads were never run.
  5. The latest version of Acquire includes a chain named for Sid Sackson.
  6. Per capita, South Korea has the greatest number of computer game players.
  7. Everquest characters have been auctioned on eBay. The characters are imaginary.
  8. During the electronic downturn in 1983, "Atari took millions of cartridges out into the desert of New Mexico and buried them".
  9. There have been 5 billion green houses produced for Monopoly since 1935.
  10. There is $15,140 in a standard Monopoly game.
  11. In the 40th Anniversary edition of Risk there was an artistic error on the board; the Middle East was no longer connected to East Africa (for 40 years they were connected). As the artist for Risk 2210 began with this board, the error was duplicated.
  12. The original name for Die Siedler von Catan was just Die Siedler. This was changed when it was discovered that a game with that name already existed.
  13. It has been suggested that "Catan" was taken from a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode. Klaus Teuber has stated that it was selected from a list of names and has no meaning or connection.

-Dave Shapiro

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