When I’m explaining a new game to someone, many times I find myself saying things like: “It’s simultaneous role selection that you can share, like Race for the Galaxy” or “This part of the game is much like the auction mechanics of Power Grid.”, etc. What this tells me is that few new games are truly new and it’s common to have mechanics shared between games to the point of being able to explain the game using the other as a reference. What this also tells me is that game designers should be aware of most of these mechanics and the seminal games that represent those mechanics. I have attempted through some posts in our Card & Board Game Design Group and a survey of over 225 designers, to come up with a listing of games a game designer should play for each popular category/mechanic.
The goal of the survey was to find the top games of each category/mechanic that each designer should play to get an understanding of that category/mechanic. It was not a popularity or favorite game vote (though I’m sure some of that happened) and we only asked game designers to participate. We were shooting for a list of the most educational to a designer for that category/mechanic. But since my time is limited I could not include every game in the votes. I took mainly the highly ranked games (from BoardGameGeek.com) for each category/mechanic. So this will skew the results a bit toward what BGG users value and modern games. That should be all right as you’ll have an easier time finding games (and people to play them with) if they are from a selection of modern games still for sale.
The below list is not meant as the complete analysis of all games, but more of a reference for new game designers to help them understand the major/popular mechanics in today’s modern hobby board games market. This will in turn help you create your own games that are going to have a higher chance of being picked up by hobby game publishers. In short, I highly recommend that every game designer attempt to play all of the games on all the lists below. I have listed only the top few games in each section with their vote count in the ().
Abstract Strategy: Chess (74), Go (63), Hive (27)
Action / Dexterity: Crokinole (41), Jenga (39), Rampage (25), PitchCar (15)
Adventure: Betrayal at House on the Hill (29), Descent (28), Eldritch/Arkham Horror (24)
Bluffing: Poker (59), Werewolf (54), Coup (32), Love Letter (17), Cosmic Encounter (16)
City/Empire Building: Settlers of Catan (49), Puerto Rico (39), Sid Meier’s Civilization (26)
Collectable: Magic: The Gathering (140), Star Wars: X-Wing / Star Trek: Attack Wing (14)
Co-operative: Pandemic (85), Forbidden Island / Desert (23), Hanabi (17)
Deduction: Love Letter (42), Scotland Yard (38), Hanabi (26)
Economic: Power Grid (97), Acquire (32), Le Harvre (15)
Educational: Freedom: The Underground Railroad (47), Timeline (42), Chrononauts (18)
Exploration & 4X: Eclipse (41), Twilight Imperium (34), Sid Meier’s Civilization (17)
Memory: Hanabi (89), The Magic Labyrnth (15), Pyramid (8), Chicken Cha Cha Cha (7)
Miniatures: Warhammer 40k (56), Star Wars: X-Wing / Star Trek: Attack Wing (36), Heroscape (19)
Note: I neglected to include Warmachine which should get an honorable mention here.
Negotiation: Diplomacy (75), Settlers of Catan (34), Cosmic Encounter (24)
Party Game: Cards Against Humanity (44), DiXit (37), Werewolf (34)
Note: I neglected to include Munchkin which should get an honorable mention here.
Puzzle: Ricochet Robots (31), Jenga (25), Mansions of Madness (23)
Real-Time: Galaxy Trucker (50), Escape: The Curse of the Temple (44), Space Alert (35)
Sports / Racing: Formula D (83), Thunder Alley (13), Blood Bowl: Team Manager (12), K2 (12)
Traitor: Battestar Galactica (67), The Resistance (64), Shadows over Camelot (25)
Trivia: Wits & Wagers (77), Trivial Pursuit (54)
Wargame: Axis & Allies (30), Risk Legacy (29), Memoir ’44 / Battlelore (26)
Action / Movement Programming: RoboRally (88), Star Wars: X-Wing / Star Trek: Attack Wing (35), Shogun / Wallenstein (12)
Area Control / Area Influence: El Grande (35), Small World (35), Dominant Species (13), Tigris & Euphrates (11)
Auction / Bidding: Power Grid (41), Modern Art (23), Ra (22), For Sale (20)
Betting / Wagering: Poker (60), Wits & Wagers (21), Liar’s Dice (21)
Card Drafting: 7 Wonders (104), Magic: The Gathering (26), Ticket to Ride (12)
Pick-up & Deliver: Steam / Age of Steam (28), Merchant of Venus (22), Istanbul (17). Empire Builder (14)
Deck / Pool Building: Dominion (135), Thuderstone (11) Eminent Domain (8)
Note: I neglected to include Quarriors which should get an honorable mention here.
Modular Board: Settlers of Catan (46), Carcassonne (32), Forbidden Island / Desert (12), Heroscape (9)
Press Your Luck: Can’t Stop (54), Zombie Dice (28), Incan Gold (26), Formula D (19)
Role Playing: Dungeons & Dragons (101), FATE (11), Apocalypse/Dungeon World (10)
Roll / Spin and Move: Formula D (55), Tailsman (25), HeroQuest (14), Merchants of Venus (12)
Route / Network Building: Ticket to Ride (91), Power Grid (20), Terra Mystica (10)
Note: I neglected to include Thurn and Taxis which should get an honorable mention here.
Set Collection: 7 Wonders (22), Bohnanza (18), Ra (16), Splendor (14), Coloretto (11)
Simultaneous Action Selection: Race for the Galaxy (41), 7 Wonders (34), RoboRally (12), Libertalia (11)
Storytelling: Once Upon a Time (48), Tales of the Arabian Nights (40), Dixit: Journey (25)
Take That: Smash Up (34), Ca$h ‘n Gun$ (23), Fluxx (22), Coup (18)
Trading: Settlers Of Catan (82), Bohnanza (32)
Trick-taking: Hearts (43), Tichu (28), Spades (20), Bridge (18), Euchre / Sheepshead (15)
Variable Player Powers: Cosmic Encounter (33), Terra Mystica (22), Small World (19), Pandemic (14)
Voting: The Resistance (62), Werewolf (31), Lifeboats (18), DiXit (17)
Worker Placement: Agricola / Caverna (45), Lords of Waterdeep (43), Stone Age (13), The Manhattan Project (10)
Note: I neglected to include Caylus which should get an honorable mention here.
We also ran a more open ended poll on Facebook about which games designers should play. The discussion stemmed from a post made over at the League of Game Makers site called: TOP 10 GAMES EVERY DESIGNER SHOULD PLAY, PART 1. Though I didn’t provide the games for this list of 100, it’s interesting to note that just about all of the top ones are also in my lists above. The top 30 games from this poll (in descending order) were:
Settlers of Catan
Magic, the Gathering
Ticket to Ride
Lords of Waterdeep
King of Tokyo
Battlestar Galactica Board Game
Race for the Galaxy
Betrayal at House on the Hill