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Top Games For Annual History Day

Tiny towns feature image

The 19th of November 2020 is the Institute of Historical Research’s annual History Day. This gave us a crazy idea for a feature article. Imagine for a second that some of the most famous figures in history were board game geeks like us! From antiquity to the industrial revolution, the twisted and cardboard obsessed minds of the blogging team were unleashed on this flight of fancy. What follows is the highly fictional favourites of factual figures from former times. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed putting it together. You never know, if Henry VIII is your spirit animal, you may even have some new games to add to your wish list.

Marcus Aurelius

By Rob Wright

Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome, military tactician and stoic philosopher was quite the individual and his Meditations are still relevant today. A gamer? Possibly, but certainly not a table flipper – you’d be okay with Marcus.

Pandemic – The Fall of Rome

“Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.” Marcus would definitely like the idea of co-operative gaming, and what better than a game depicting the fall of his empire… ah, maybe not completely tactful, but a key element of stoicism is that nothing lasts forever, not even Rome. He would certainly get a kick out of trying to save the empire from the rampaging barbarians and might not resort to quarterbacking…


“Death smiles at us all, but all that a man can do is smile back.” The classic game of unhappy families would certainly bring a wry smile to the lips of a man who faced war and plague during his reign. The idea of visiting as much calamity as possible to his own fictional family would also be a source of amusement – despite being the most powerful men in the Roman Empire, the paths of the emperors rarely ran smoothly – and though he was not a callous or vengeful emperor, he might consider killing off members of his family as… cathartic.


“The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.” What game could be more stoic than one where the rules are always changing and the only way to succeed is to accept what you have and control what you can. He might consider such a game overly flippant, but he would find it hard to argue with the life-echoing nature of this ever-changing game.

Alfred the Great

By Mikey Jenkins

Next up on History Day, we've got King Alfred the Great. This old Saxon king had a reputation for wisdom and level-headedness - a formidable board game opponent!

878 Vikings: Invasions of England

Of course, what wouldn’t Alfred love more than a game in which he could play his beloved Anglo-Saxon people as they desperately defend against the Viking threat? Complete with strategic choices, variable player powers that resemble the estranged kingdoms of the late-9th century England, and plenty of chance to rue the pagan ‘dice’ gods (or praise them, if he fancies a change of heart…). Oh, and have I not mentioned the miniatures? Any excuse to play soldiers at the table for our illustrious king!

Kingdom Builder

If there was something Alfred the Great earned his lofty title for, it was the vision he had for a united England; one great kingdom of the English people. What better way to practise his expansive ambitions than Kingdom Builder? This is an area control game that sees players place their buildings on a terrain type of their choice out of 9, aiming to control the most land and gain the most gold by the end of the game. It also has the benefit of being incredibly replayable. It has enough kingdom-building simulation for Alfie to while the cold, dark evenings away with!

Tiny Towns

Alfred was also known for his obsession with preserving Wessex, and by extension Winchester, as the main seat of power in his new unified England. With this in mind, I’m sure he would love a game like Tiny Towns. This game sees players placing cubes onto a grid, attempting to form the recipes for buildings to then place on that same grid, trying to position them carefully. Players are rewarded for getting the best combos of buildings they can onto their grid, and I’m sure Alfred would enjoy seeing what combinations of buildings make for the best ‘Winchester’ possible.

Leonardo da Vinci

By Tom Harrod

Leonardo da Vinci was one of the Renaissance’s true maestros. He painted some of the world’s most recognisable art. He also was noteworthy for his superior knowledge of science and inventions. If ever there was a phrase to summarise this genius, it would be ‘ahead of his time’. It's only fitting to include him in this History Day feature.

Lorenzo il Magnifico

What board games would LdV love, then? The obvious answer that springs to mind is Lorenzo il Magnifico. This crunchy dice placement game has the cultural backdrop of the Italian Renaissance. It’s da Vinci’s time, and in his own back yard, to boot. You spend your dice – which represent your family members – to buy cards in Florentine towers. It’s likely Leonardo would have rubbed shoulders with the Leader characters, themselves. (In fact, there’s a da Vinci card in it!) This medium-heavy Euro-style strategy game would massage that big brain of his, for sure.

Old Masters

I reckon Leo would enjoy a game about art itself. There’s plenty to pick between, but some games are out of print (or between print runs) at the time of press. Fresco, by Queen Games, would have been my first pick. Or The Gallerist – another skull-scratcher – a game about displaying art by Vital Lacerda. But on the lighter side of things is Old Masters. Set in Montmatre, Paris, this game features worker placement around a rondel. You compete to try and paint a masterpiece – your very own Mona Lisa.

Timeline: Inventions

We’ve established da Vinci likes his Euro-style strategy games, then. What does he do if he fancies something a little lighter? No doubt he’d get a kick out of something like Timeline: Inventions. This is a semi-educational card game, where you have to place invention cards into chronological order. Each card features a different invention throughout the course of history. I bet da Vinci would marvel at the abundance of innovations created by mankind since his passing in 1519…

Niccolò Machiavelli

By Joe Packham

Machiavelli is often termed the father of modern political philosophy. The guy was all over the intrigues of the golden age of the Italian renaissance. His famous book The Prince was a fairly controversial handbook for tyrants. But his most lasting legacy has to be the adjective Machiavellian, which describes a cunning and unscrupulous quality. I know what you’re thinking, this guy would love a heavy euro!

Through the Ages: A new story of Civilisation

I bet Niccolò would dig this game. No inconvenient human lifespans, no irksome Popes, no meddling Medici or bothersome Borgias. He'd be free to form his civilisation however he pleased. This epic card-based civilisation game covers 3 eras of human history and is all about balancing the various facets of your society. Science, aggression, culture, great works, inspiring leaders, it has it all. It’s highly competitive too, just the kind of thing Machiavelli would love to dig his teeth into!

Twilight Struggle: The Cold War 1945-1989

I can’t help but wonder what the Mach would’ve thought of the various political ideologies of the 20th century. A philosopher and diplomat at heart, no doubt the world wars would have petrified him like they did everyone else. The Cold War that followed though, surely there’s been no more Machiavellian conflict in all history. Secret, stealthy, manipulative and unscrupulous - he’d have been in his element! What better game for Machiavelli than the two-player, highly thematic, card-driven area control game, Twilight Struggle.

Twilight Imperium: 4th Edition

The Prince is known for its pragmatism and divergence from traditional morality. No doubt Machiavelli would’ve loved a good old 4X game that left the idea of humanity far behind to spread through the stars. Forget the city-states of Italy, to administrate a whole race with the galaxy as his playground, now there’s an idea Niccolò could’ve run with.

Henry VIII

By Hannah Blacknell

I absolutely LOVE Tudor history. I’m getting that out there first, if anyone wants to make a Tudor themed game, I am here for that. The biggest (literally) baddest (lopped off the heads of his wives to bin them off) king in British history has to be Henry VIII. As soon as the idea of this History Day feature came up, I was quick to jump in with this one.

The Bloody Inn

The first pick was so easy. In the Bloody Inn, you need to bribe, kill and bury as many bodies as possible to get as much money as possible to win. But don’t get caught with dead bodies by the police or you’ll be for it. Well Henry VIII was pretty kill-happy just like many of the kings of his time. If you disagree with me, then I’ll chop your head off, no questions asked. The Bloody Inn is card drafting and management that has some great strategy with a quick turn structure and it is bloody (pun) brilliant.


Henry VIII was a king, and obviously would never do his own dirty work, so I think a worker placement would be hot on his top games list. A king only deserves the best when it comes to beautiful components and artwork, so my second pick for old Hazza is Everdell. Everdell has such presence on the table, it is utterly beautiful and an excellent game to boot!


Henners was a womanizer. He invented a whole new church so he could get divorced from his old wife to marry the young Anne Boleyn. Didn’t work out well for her (see first game choice above). So, my third pick is a game full of beautiful women: Hanamikoji. It is a game of winning the favour of beautiful geishas. A simple two-player light filler game to round off quite a big set of games for Henry VIII.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel

By Carl Yaxley

When Joe first pitched this History Day article, my thoughts went straight to one of Britain's most notable engineers, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Remembered most for his designs for the Clifton Suspension Bridge, the Great Western Railway, and the SS Great Britain - The longest passenger ship of her time, and first propeller-driven, iron ship to cross the Atlantic.

At first glance, compiling a top three for Brunel should be easy. Board games with themes that lean into engineering are numerous. However, few are readily available right now. With that in mind, I've opted for a few you have a reasonable chance of picking up and playing!


Player Count 2 - 4 | Play Time 60 - 120 min | Medium Complexity

Transatlantic is a card-driven, economic game that utilises action retrieval and deck building to shape gameplay.  Players are each responsible for their own shipping company and work throughout the game to generate victory points from transporting materials. For your company to prosper, you will need to invest in new steamships and acquire fuel and trade posts to support your transport network.

Irish Gauge

Player Count 3 - 5 | Play Time 60 min | Light Complexity

The first of the Iron Rail series from Capstone Games, Irish Gauge is a simple economic game with a surprisingly level of strategy. Elements of network building, auction, and stock holding combine to create interesting gameplay that is engaging and easy to learn. Invest in railroads, grow their networks and reap the rewards. Fans of rail themed games will enjoy Irish Gauge, and its successor: Ride the Rails.

Steam: Rails to Riches

Player Count 3 - 5 | Play Time 90 min | Medium Complexity

Steam is a network building economic game from designer Martin Wallace. Your aim is to complete profitable deliveries. To do this you will need to grow your rail network, improve your engines, upgrade towns and secure goods to transport. Each successful delivery will enable you to score points, or receive income. Do you cash in the points, or take the income and try to improve your network?