Following on from the timeless boardgames feature, I now want to praise the Modern Classic Board Games; the games that changed the face of our hobby and got us to thewonderful world of modern gaming pleasure we know today.
Trivial Pursuit 1984
Trivial Pursuit changed the whole face of Board Gaming. It hit the UK in January 1984, grew into a huge hit and transformed the way people thought about boardgames. Its launch price would be the equivalent of just under £80 today. That’s what us hard core gamers are now prepared to pay for the very best or Kickstarter games but back then it was unheard of. I was a middle-class, Yuppie in my 30’s and whilst I’d been a keen gamer all my life it was something I almost kept secret. Board Games were for kids and usually only tolerated by adults at Christmas.
Now that famous, six-spoked wheel turned and the world turned with it! Suddenly it was acceptable to play a game with your friends. Acceptable? It was almost mandatory after suburban dinner parties to break out the board and quiz each other over the coffee, port and cheese. Talking of cheese (and how’s that for a segue?!) let’s consider the design: board, questions, dice and those infamous cheese wedges.
I won’t presume to tell you how to play Trivial Pursuit but I will point out a few of the clever design features which often get overlooked. First the questions, all 6,000 of them in their now famous 6 categories. These are a delight and so well thought out. There’s always a bit of something on offer to make it worth an educated guess if you don’t know outright and most of the facts are Quite Interesting. Setting such questions is the hard part as many would be imitators found out when their cheap alternatives flopped.
Then there’s the Board such an elegant design. Each spoke of the wheel has the 6 categories laid out in alternative patterns so on that 1st throw of the die you can land on whichever is your favourite subject. Then the 6 “cheese” spaces are 7 squares apart so you can’t immediately hop from one to another. Finally with the addition of the 2 “throw again” spaces on each arc there is a golden position on the 2 spaces in between them. From here whatever you throw on the die you will land on a “cheese” space or a “throw again”! Go on, work it out, see!
Finally, the components, themselves, are all top quality. You get what you pay for. If you are going to attract the middle classes you need it to feel right. The fact that the question boxes bore a striking resemblance to “After Eight” mint boxes, a popular, post prandial affection at the time certainly didn’t do any harm either!
Trivial Pursuit has gone on to sell over 100 million copies and I’m pleased to say that designers Chris Haney and Scott Abbott did eventually make a lot of money after originally selling at a loss. The only two things wrong with their original was people calling it “Trivial PursuitS” and “GenIus Edition” Grrrrr! But that’s hardly their fault.
(Settlers Of) Catan 1995
Klaus Teuber’s masterpiece, now simply Catan, is regarded by many as the springboard for bringing board gaming to the wide world but, as you have seen I’ve already given that accolade to Trivial Pursuit over a decade earlier. However it definitely pioneered the acceptance of what we now call Eurogames to the populace at large and with 40 million units sold in nearly 50 languages it’s done a pretty good job. There are now many variants and add-ons, ZATU list 43, most of which are stocked and everyone should have at least one.
Again I’m not going to tell you how to play, if you don’t know there’s a perfectly good Product Description, Review and How To Play Video on the store page. But what made Catan different and established it as a Modern Classic?
It brought the concept of resource management to the world at large in an easily learnt and digestible way. Also the introduction of interchangeable large hex tiles that give an almost infinite number of “board” layouts (I’m not going to work out the exact number but it’s enough, alright!) so you don’t have to play the same game twice and you won’t run up against pedants who’ve worked a perfect strategy. You are obliged to think on your feet and take advantage of what opportunities are given to you. Area control is another factor as you snake your roads and settlements across the island to cut off opponents from choice locations.
It's not faultless, the resource allocation is a bit uneven and the level of luck can be annoying for some whilst a boon for others. Trading, too, can be problematic if you play with someone who won’t trade or who gives ridiculously good deals to their favourites. There are now many additions and expansions which can address some of these issues and, indeed, Catan has been the progenitor of swarms of more sophisticated titles.
So in summary Catan wears the mantle well of Modern classic and I didn’t mention the “got wood for sheep” line once - Oh! Blast!
Carcassonne designed by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede and inspired by the ancient walled city in the Aude department in France was released in 2000 in both German and English and has gone on to delight millions ever since. Not only the elegant base game, which epitomised the simple to learn but tricky to master principle, but also the numerous add-ons, expansions and variations.
Having embraced the idea of having tiles instead of a board with the set up of Catan we are now given control of the tile placement. This tile placement, plus the worker placement of little men, that we would from hereon in dub meeples, is the whole raison-d-être of Carcassonne. Given a fairly arbitary theming of mediaeval towns, knights and monastries it is actually all about shape and pattern matching. When my children were young they had a Galt toys game called Rivers, Roads and Rails (interestingly 30 years before Carcassonne came out!) where you had to match tiles together containing the three linear features. Whilst they enjoyed it, I played with it for hours! There’s something deeply satisfying about making everything join up. The addition of a scoring mechanism by placing your meeples, seals the deal and makes Carcassonne the modern classic it is today.
The fact that it has virtually zero set up time and that it can be taught in 5 minutes helps too. It is a great gateway game that has proved a firm favourite in the Seniors gaming group I host and can lead on to other tile-laying greats like Takenoko. I’m not sure I’ll get them to Undaunted: Stalingrad but it won’t be the tile-laying that’s the difficult concept!
Ticket To Ride 2004
Ticket to Ride, Alan R. Moon’s railroading brainchild and Spiel des Jahres winner was released by Days of Wonder in 2004. My two main hobby interests are Board Games and Trains so I was enthralled! Now as it happens Ticket to Ride wasn’t necessarily as deeply about trains as you might think. It is an almost rummyesque card drafting and set collecting game but the little model trains, artwork and route planning across an early US map board gave it a lot more theming flavour than most.
So this game scratched an itch for a lot of people. There are many long-lived games that thrive on the basis of collecting sets: the aforementioned Rummy, the tile-based Rummikub and even the great Chinese Mah Jongg and Ticket to Ride elegantly combined this with plotting rail routes across a picturesque and familiar landscape.
The seeds of Ticket to Ride had been sown by Alan R. Moon himself in his earlier design “Union Pacific” released in 1999. It had a game board remarkably similar to the original US Ticket to Ride and with identical model trains. The aim of the game was different in that you vied to control corporations supplying rail lines for the Union Pacific and make the most money along the way. Different, then, to the VP gathering of Ticket to Ride itself but it was definitely its parent (it’s OOP now and commanding high prices on the second-hand market. I picked my copy up for a tenner at a train show!) Arguably, Dean Morris’ PacificRails Inc is more about railroad building but it hasn’t captured the public’s attention the way Ticket to Ride has.
Of course there are now dozens of different countries available to lay your tracks across and city-based and other themed variants available. Not to mention the keenly awaited Ticket to Ride Legacy – Legends of the West the hottest game this Christmas. If you’ve yet to try any, then Ticket to Europe (shown above) is said to be the best. So get yourself going on this modern classic.
Pandemic! Talk about life imitating art!
Brought out in 2008 it posited the scary but unthinkable scenario of a pandemic disease, well four actually, sweeping the whole world with its cargo of megadeaths. How likely was that? Well with the benefit of, quite literally, 2020 hindsight we all know the answer to that.
Designed by the prescient Matt Leacock (Note Leacock not Hancock!) it introduced the concept of co-operative games to the masses. While there were earlier co-op games, like Arkham Horror, Pandemic brought a more recognisable theme, easier rule set and shorter play time. It enabled many more people to enjoy co-operative play or, as I prefer multi-player solo, until other mainstream designs like Forbidden Island and its successors came along.
Pandemic basically has 2-4 players each assuming one of the 7 possible rôles that can help quash the 4 deadly diseases that have broken out. As one of: Medic, Dispatcher, Scientist, Researcher, Operations expert, Contingency planner, or Quarantine specialist you contribute with your colleagues to boost the overall effort to find cures, stop the spread and ultimately eradicate each of the diseases.
Again there have been many expansions and variations, ZATU currently list 19, and the concept has been used with other genres such as Star Wars and World of Warcraft. It has also become the leader in Legacy games with its Pandemic Legacy series: Season 1 (Red) and (Blue); Season 2 (Black) and (Yellow) and the apparently colourless and sub-numbered Season 0. Millions have played Pandemic around the world but, sadly it would seem, given the findings of the current COVID inquiry, our own leaders were not amongst them!
So there we have my suggested 5 Modern Classic Board Games that have each in their own way changed the face of boardgaming as we know it today. There are others, of course : Hare & Tortoise, Camel Up!, Terraforming Mars etc to name but a few and I’m sure you each have your own favourites and maybe we’ll have another feature but these five will always hold a place in Board Game History.