Name a truly great board game from before 2008

BTW, if you’re at all interested in the board game and comics business and especially how it impacts retailers and FLGS, Dave has done two great podcast interviews in 2020 for Why We Game.

Here’s episode 1, from June of 2020 (And hear Dave totally shut me down and totally endorse @tomchick by saying that games today are SO MUCH BETTER than they ever have been.)

And December, 2020:

I still have my copy. was a great writeup of the competitive scene for electric football.

I agree with Tom in a general sense – board games have gotten a lot better since we were kids. Especially non-wargames. I still have friends and family who think “board game” means roll-and-move games like The Game of Life, Chutes and Ladders, Monopoly, etc. I don’t find those games interesting.

That said, I’m currently playing a wargame that debuted in 1985, World in Flames. It’s a terrific strategic-level treatment of WW2 on a global scale. And a couple years ago I was back into Advanced Squad Leader, another creature of the 1980s. These games still have obsessive audiences today.

I feel like board games got out of the Monopoly/hardcore-wargame duality after D&D blew up in the early '80s. There were a lot of designs after that which may not have been great but were at least aspirationally staking out new territory. I refer mainly to the US/UK markets as I don’t know what continental Europe was doing pre-Knizia. Much less Japan (are boardgames big in Japan?).

Never feed the trolls, they say, but its a fun thread to have, given how the completely BGG gets dominated by the “cult of the new”, so I’ll bite. Before 2008 is too easy, though, so I’ll bite with four timeless designs from before 2000:

Definitely not perfect, but a unique political game that no one else has ever come close to replicating (and not for a lack of trying). For gamers that enjoys political gameplay, there is really nothing that comes close to this delightful contest of achieving pre-eminence in Rome while the game system tries to crush you under the elephant’s foot.

The only game that I have multiple copies of. Card-driven games have become more or less their own genre, but perfection was achieved already with the second of the CDG - Mark Simonitch’s finest hour. Twilight Struggle isn’t even close. Fight me.

Not the best game I have, but definitely one of the most fun. One of the best beer and pretzels games ever made, IMO - I’ve had it along on company retreats almost every time I’ve been on those, and it has always been a success. Shoving an opposing player’s robot into a pit or seeing the perfect plan go wrong is never not going to be fun.

Biggest problem is that some of the reprints have “improved” the game. So much for progress…

It may not be 100% historical, because the game can be brutally unforgiving, but that is also what makes this Butterfield design an extremely tense experience, where every decision counts and you just have to play “one more turn” just to see what happens when you get that Squadron back. Which is one of the reasons why, IMO, this is one of the best solitaire designs ever.

John H. Butterfield also designed Ambush! (mentioned above) and has a strong claim, IMO, to being one of the greatest solitaire boardgame designers of all time. Anecdote: He also designed a little known 1979 game called “Freedom in the Galaxy: The Star Rebellions”. The game was originally intended to be a licensed Star Wars game, but SPI bungled it and it ended up getting rushed out without the license. The game mechanics were pretty clear inspiration for the later rather unique strategy game Star Wars: Rebellion (aka Star Wars Supremacy in the USA) - the computer game which served as the inspiration for FFG’s more recent Star Wars: Rebellion board game.

Candy Land. At first, you assume it’s simply a deterministic outcome based on the position of the cards in the deck and therefore there is no game. But peer deeper, and the true depths of the systems reveals itself.

As I first detailed in my ebook Next Level Candy Land (2011), the variety of fundamental ways the game teaches kids how to lie and cheat puts even the most sophisticated modern aimbots and wallhacks to shame.

I mean, sure, you can stack the deck to make sure you get the special card that puts you closest to the finish, thus ensuring your victory. But do that two or three times in a row, and your opponent will cry foul at your constant two-turn wins. Then you must move on to subtler but more difficult deck-stacking that gives you a beneficial color sequence rather than an outright win. Or you may even “take the L,” as the kids say, and post the occasional loss to throw your opponent off the scent while ensuring an overwhelmingly lopsided record. The more complex the stacking, the more advanced sleight-of-hand is required.

This is all fine and good, but what happens when your opponent has stepped up their game as well? What next, when you are faced with an opponent who also knows how to stack the Candy Land deck? You move on to the next level, of course! This is where the true depth of Candy Land is revealed, as you are no longer playing the game but are instead playing your opponent.

It begins with the simple “Thanks for shuffling, I’ll cut the deck” move, ensuring that you are the last one to touch the deck. This allows you to stack the deck, though it is easy to get caught in a “Deference Loop,” wherein both players endlessly offer to be the last one to touch the deck. Once it is clear that neither player trusts the other to handle the deck, then you graduate to the more advanced techniques, such as the “Oops I dropped my card, let me pick it up, (and replace it with the one in my sleeve)” or the “Sorry I bumped the table, which space were you on?”.

The Candy Land Pro Tour is a sight to behold. Players fly in from all over the world to show off their new tech. In the last tournament before Covid, the champion snuck in thin color e-ink displays instead of cards so that he had total control of the board at all times. In the finals, he narrowly defeated his opponent, who seemed to have devised some sort of quantum piece that automatically advanced when no one was observing it.

Wild stuff, and from the early 20th century! To suggest that good board game design was invented in 2008 suggests a perverse mind and a deeply diseased psyche.

Fortress America
Star Fleet Battles
War of the Ring
Kings & Things
Puerto Rico
Power Grid

I had this when I was a kid and yeah it had a very Star Wars feel - which is why I got it. However I was a bit young, maybe 9 or 10, so it was all quite overwhelming and I don’t think I ever fully finished a game. :P

I cannot speak to the design of this one, but goddamn we enjoyed the shit out of this game.

Snit’s Revenge
King of the Tabletop

I kid. Or do I?

Owned this one too, and it definitely had the Star Wars thing going on. And unfortunately, it tried to do too many things at once and ultimately just dragged the entire game into a spiral of dense rules and mechanics.

Looking forward to the 2031 thread “Board games before 2019 were all KRAP!”

This is a long thread, but I don’t think anyone’s mentioned Imperial (2006) yet. Its fusion of 18xx stockholding and Diplomacy is fantastic. Nexus Ops obsoleted basically every ‘dudes on a map’ game for me when I first played it, though I expect it too has been improved on. Shadows Over Camelot is still far more elegant than most every subsequent co-op game I’ve played. We can probably add Martin Wallace alongside Knizia—well, maybe a bit below Knizia—for having designed lots of interesting games from Tom’s ‘dark ages’ period.

Also, essentially every Alea game holds up fairly well. Puerto Rico was mentioned upthread as a dead end, which is bizarre given how revered it was (I still think it’s excellent; definitely in my top ten if not higher). I wonder why Caylus’ mechanics took off while Puerto Rico’s didn’t?

But, I do think there’s something to Tom’s general premise. I could pluck a random board game off a store shelf now and I would likely find it palatable. Probably not particularly inspiring, but playable for me and people I game with. I do not think that was the case 15 years ago or (before my time) 30 years ago.

Can’t mention Advanced Civ without a nod to @Lorini (who may have her own ideas for this thread)!

I haven’t played that one, but here are a fewer older games that really shine for me. These are all from playing over the past few years, since I wasn’t a boardgamer in olden times.

Bus (1999) - Super tight, super interactive route-building and passenger delivery (with a side of time manipulation). Best of all, if you don’t like long games (Tom), it’s over in 90 minutes. It was recently republished in an edition that leaves the rules untouched, but gives it a much cleaner graphic design.

Santiago (2003) - The Cape Verde irrigation game you’ve always dreamed of. A simple ruleset for making the most of scarce resources, driven by a central bribery mechanic. Each turn, one player is in charge of expanding the island’s irrigation network. The other players desperately try to bribe her so that the network reaches their fields before their crops shrivel to dust. (One caveat is that it really needs a full 5 players to shine.)

Intrigue (1994) - More bribery! This time you’re bribing other players to hire your family members for their businesses. Utterly cutthroat, which will turn off some people, but I loved it.

I love RoboRally. It’s not my favorite board game, but it does approach my ideal form of board gaming with its combination of intricate planning and emergent chaos. I wonder what became of the guy who designed it? I heard he made a few card games.

I’ve only played RoboRally one time, but dear god it was hilarious.

I forgot who it was that used this gif a couple of times, but I figured was appropriate for this thread. Who better to send you guys and your outdated games packing than Humphrey Bogart?



I can think of a couple games that came out before 2008 that I’d still hold up as unshakably great today, notably Race for the Galaxy and Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective (those boxes you can buy today really are just reprints and (I think) retranslations of the 80s French game, for the most part - I’m not clear on if any of them contain new cases as the original game did have 2-3 expansions). But only a couple. Some of the stuff people have listed here like Talisman I’d still play out of nostalgia but were never actually good games. Some were, for the time, but I couldn’t expect someone new to them now wanting to play them (Knizia’s LOTR coop, IMO) over today’s entries in the genre. Some I’d just never play to begin with.

I definitely take issue with the idea that “plays faster” is enough to obsolete a game, though. Long games are often long for a reason and while I know all too well how it can make them harder sells, I just really find a meaty 3+ hour session more compelling and enjoyable than even the most elegant 30 minute game played 6 times. Race for the Galaxy is a relative anomaly for me in being really deep and varied and consistently interesting at its quite short game length…but I’d still rather play a round or two of that and then move on to a nice long evening of something more sprawling than do a bunch of it all night.