Dicebreaker recently put out an article about the most influential games since Settlers of Catan which arguably began the modern boardgame renaissance. While I didn’t agree with every game on that list, seriously Star Realms?, it got me thinking about games that have been an influence on me, my tastes in games, and, in a lot of ways, my writing. I’ve never really done a list style article so I thought it would be a good opportunity to experiment with the formal.
I’d always played boardgames with my family and holidays abroad had given me access to Ravensburger games like Goldgrabber and Sagaland. These were fun but of a particular style that would be closer to what we call eurogames. It was Heroquest that introduced me to the other side of boardgames: a messy, chaotic, and deeply thematic side.
Heroqeust is a game I have a huge amount of nostalgia for, and at one point I owned nearly everything for it. I played that game a lot and it gave me a taste for the role of Games Master that I would take on again and again as I found RPGs, ran groups, and started to write about games.
Having played it again recently, it is a mess of a game that should not be brought back without some major updating. Sometimes nostalgia should stay where it is, as a warm memory of good times without the need to actually try to recapture what was. You never will.
Settlers of Catan
The game that arguably gave birth to the modern boardgame renaissance, this was the first game that I bought when I came to University. I played the hell out of it. Late nights in friend’s rooms, having a drink or two and trading sheep for wood. It’s maybe not aged the best but it showed that games with simple, gentle themes could be brutal, cutthroat affairs.
Like many UK kids who were into sci-fi, fantasy and other nerdy pursuits, I grew up reading Fighting Fantasy books. These were choose your own adventure books and they were awesome, allowing you to pick your own path through the story for good or bad. I even got into the Advanced Fighting Fantasy series that was my first exposure to being a GM.
I could have chosen those as something influential, but for me it was the original Deadlands from Pinnacle Games that really got me into the GM saddle. A compelling setting rode on the top of a bonkers system that I found incredibly compelling. It showed me what was possible, what I could do as a storyteller, and was the first game I ran for an extended campaign. You should absolutely not play that version though. The more recent Savage Worlds version, Deadlands Reloaded, is a much, much more approachable game.
Where Heroquest got me interested in GMing, and Deadlands was my first exposure to doing so for an extended game, Inspectres was the first game that showed me the more collaborative side of roleplaying. Inspectres, by Jared Sorenson, is totally not Ghostbusters the RPG. That would be a libellous accusation. Playing as a franchise branch, you go out on supernatural calls armed with all sorts of nonsense you make up on the fly (goulash gun anyone?).
What made Inspectres unique for me was the central mechanic that gave narrative control to the GM or player, or somewhere inbetween, based on the outcome of a roll. This was a revelation to me and it set me on a path where I encourage players to inject their ideas into our shared story. I have never looked back.
King of Tokyo
For a long while I didn’t really play boardgames, letting RPGs take over most of my gaming time. Although I had a few games they were not really getting played, my copy of Settlers of Catan was gathering dust.
At some point, I don’t entirely recall when, I became aware of the new resurgence in board games and I started to look at what was coming out. King of Tokyo was one of the first games that I added to my new collection, a seed that would see me buying more and more games and eventually lead to this very site.
Although it is effectively a simple push your luck game, it is one that has lasted many years on my shelves, through multiple purges of my collection. It is a beautiful production with bright colours, chunky dice, and a simple set of mechanics that are easy to teach. It showed me what a game with love and care poured into could be, a quality I still look for in games. Although probably not falling into the small box category, it set me down the path of seeking out perfectly formed, laser focused experiences.
Show me yours
There you have it, five games that strongly influenced my love of gaming and my current tastes. Everyone will have their own opinions on these games, but each holds a strong place in my heart, even if critically I can acknowledge their weaknesses. We should never underestimate the power of a single experience to change someone's perspective, and that is why it is good to be kind when talking about games. What you don’t like, might be what got someone else through the door, and that is something we should be grateful for, every time.