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Classic Board Games that have Held Up to the Test of Time

April 24, 2012

When the contemporary board gamer stocks his closet with the likes of Catan, Puerto Rico, Small world, and Arkham Horror, there doesn’t seem to be a place for the “classic” games we’ve seen in the past. Monopoly, Risk, and Sorry get kicked to the curb when players start to understand that good game design stems from interesting decision making and not from rolling dice. However, I recently had the chance to revisit some older games, and found that they are actually as good as I remember.

Clue:

We broke out Clue for a laugh at a game night, sure it was fun to play detective as a kid, but certainly the game couldn’t compete for a bunch of board game geeks. Surprisingly, it could. While there is certainly a novel aspect to the deductive genre, we actually found Clue to be better balanced and engaging than we thought. Though dice rolling does make for a random element, there is still quite a bit of strategy off the board so to speak. When traveling between rooms, there is a certain risk verses reward factor involved depending on what you know and what you think your opponents know. Sometimes making the long run across the board is a game-winning move, sometimes a safer bet is to reserve your movements around a certain side of the board and wait for your opponents to exhaust some possibilities while they are afar. It may not be an incredibly tight system, but it is fairly balanced and offers players legitimate decisions which will influence their chances of winning. Sounds like good game design to me.

Stratego:

When I say old games that stand the test of time, I’m obviously excluding the likes of chess, go, and many old German war games. In many ways, these games are outside of the general “board game lexicon” not because of their design, but because of their culture and history. However, the era of Monopoly and Risk is still very much rooted in people’s minds as the era of board games, as much as it pains hardcore gamer to hear it.  Stratego is another “classic” board game that I find has held up incredibly well with time. There are a lot of old hardcore war games out there, Stratego isn’t alone in this. There are a lot of interesting, well-balanced, and potent systems, but Stratego is that and it is also accessible. Stratego rules are simple, arrange your army, move one piece at a time, bigger pieces destroy smaller pieces, but the strategy is at a good depth. Certainly my chess friends will beat me at Stratego every time, but the difference in skill level isn’t as pronounced as in chess (where my friend could probably beat me without his queen). It’s an incredibly honest game, and it’s mechanics feel powerful and intuitive.

Acquire:

I’ll be honest, when I came across Acquire, I had no idea that it was 50 years old. It doesn’t feel like an old game, because the mechanics are sophisticated while still being engaging. There isn’t much that’s technically surprising as to why this board game is still good, all of it’s design foundation is rock solid. It has a random element with tile drawing, but significant strategic elements in regards to the best way to play those tiles. Furthermore, player interactions seem paramount to the tactical elements to the game, and the decision making process in regards to other players, keeps the game fresh.

In summary, I think there is such a bitter taste in people’s mouths when they move from Monopoly and Risk onto “modern” games, that they easily dismiss the “classic” era of games. I’ve only really breached the surface of classic games that seemed to find their way into my hands, but I’m sure if you look, there’s a great deal more to find from the past.

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