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There Will Be Games

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.

HeroQuestA new version of heroquest is on the way

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.

Deadlands RPG

Deadlands RPG coverDeadlands RPG cover

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

King of Tokyo Cover

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.

There Will Be Games

Iain McAllister  (He/Him)
Associate Writer and Podcaster

Iain McAllister lives in Dalkeith, Scotland with his wife Cath and their two dogs, Maddie and Gypsy. He has been a keen member of the local gaming scene for many years setting up and participating in many of the clubs that are part of Edinburgh's vibrant gaming scene.

You can find more of his work on The Giant Brain which publishes a wide range of articles about the hobby including reviews, previews, convention reports and critique. The Giant Brain is also the home of the Brainwaves podcast, a fortnightly podcast covering industry news that Iain hosts with his friend Jamie Adams.

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Articles & Podcasts by Iain McAllister


Iain McAllister
Associate Writer and Podcaster

Articles & Podcasts by Iain



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Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #315175 15 Oct 2020 12:14
I'm always a little curious when Dungeons & Dragons, which completely revolutionized table gaming, video gaming, movie making and popular fiction, a multi-billion-dollar market each year, is not a part of a list like this.

Two of the games on your list are direct descendants of it.

Your list is more about influences on you personally, so that's a different story. But the list you link to is almost absurd in nature, requiring a minimum number of buyers to be considered. It's almost as if they were concerned about citing games that readers wouldn't have heard of. Perhaps they were concerned they wouldn’t get linked to?
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #315177 15 Oct 2020 12:50

The list is games since Settlers of Catan (1995).

I quibble with Star Realms, and note the absence of Ticket to Ride.
thegiantbrain's Avatar
thegiantbrain replied the topic: #315181 15 Oct 2020 13:24
@sagilarus Yeah it would be a very different article if I was listing 'most influential games ever'. I thought this was more interesting, and also people can't really argue with me, as it shows the kind of games that affect what I play now and why. I'm hoping to get some interesting conversation out of it for sure, and I would love to know what the other writers on the site consider the games that have had the biggest influence on them.
dysjunct's Avatar
dysjunct replied the topic: #315184 15 Oct 2020 14:08
Since 1995? Hmm. For me:

1. Puerto Rico. Popular whipping boy but it is such a tightly-designed game.

2. Dogs in the Vineyard. Every RPG I run tends to turn into this now.

3. Werewolf. As a stand-in for social deduction games generally.

4. No Thanks. A lovely light game that is great for gamers and non-gamers alike.

5. Mutant Year Zero. Where I'm at RPGwise, for the most part. "Trindie" designs (traditional + indie) that blend a tried-and-true structure with a reward cycle that incentivizes the core thematic activity of the game.
thegiantbrain's Avatar
thegiantbrain replied the topic: #315185 15 Oct 2020 14:15
I mean it can be over your whole life, but for me my gaming life starts pretty young but starts into what I describe around 1995. Dogs in the Vineyard is great and was one of the early more narrative led games. One of these days I might actually run it as oppose to play. I've been eyeing Mutant Year Zero for a while now as something I might want to run for my regular group.
dysjunct's Avatar
dysjunct replied the topic: #315186 15 Oct 2020 14:28
It is a really, really good game and I'm happy to talk about it if you like. I will say that to my tastes, the core book is best and each one gets progressively less interesting along the way. MYZ is great, Genlab Alpha is good, Mechatron is blah, and I haven't read Elysium or whatever the newest one is.

I'm interested in hearing why you think Heroquest doesn't stand up. I've been eyeing it to play with the kid.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #315188 15 Oct 2020 15:03
More euro-bias thanks to the hobby overlords at BGG. 1995 seems pretty late in history to start looking for influential games, unless you think that the sun revolves around eurogames. Let's just pretend that Risk, Dungeons & Dragons, Cosmic Encounter, and Magic: the Gathering are irrelevant. Also, it seems like certain post-'95 games were not so much influential as blatantly and shamelessly ripped off, especially since the advent of Kickstarter.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #315191 15 Oct 2020 15:57
I think they also wanted to get in some of those Amazon links so they could get some commission from sales.
Jexik's Avatar
Jexik replied the topic: #315194 15 Oct 2020 16:28
Star Realms' inclusion is definitely an eyebrow raiser, but otherwise I can't really fault the rest of the list given the 1995* or later premise. Not sure if X-COM is influential or just a flash in the pan though. I might look to something like Alchemists when it comes to app integration in a less obtrusive way. For me personally Heroscape was more influential than X-Wing or anything else for that matter.

*Ignoring MtG from 1993 then including Android: Netrunner, 7 Wonders, Dominion, and Star Realms is kinda funny though. They wouldn't exist without the former.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #315197 15 Oct 2020 16:43

Jexik wrote: For me personally Heroscape was more influential than X-Wing or anything else for that matter.

Heroscape is OOP, so you can't have a link to Amazon for it and make money.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #315215 15 Oct 2020 23:46
Most influential in my life? That's a long list. RPG-wise, it's D&D (obvsly), Gamma World(!), TORG, and two that I created myself. Those are what taught me to tell stories and, thus, to write. Board games? Well, let's start at the beginning. Panzerblitz taught me about history and strategy. Talisman taught me that you could create stories from more confined areas than what RPGs encouraged. Cosmic Encounter taught me that you can break the rules to good effect. Poker taught me to play people as much as the game.

Since 1995?
Warhammer 40K and Fantasy. Those games taught me patience and that I actually had some creative talent outside the written word (The avatar I use on this site and several others is something I found on the Web for my Space Marine chapter, the Ryujin Legion.)

MTG. I was a serious tournament player for much of the 90s. It taught me both focus and increased my tendency to think outside the box.

Blue Moon. It was a step down from the complexity of MTG, but still had tremendous depth and strategy. I'd played a couple Knizias before that, but that was the one that really opened my eyes to how simple mechanics and direct language could still make a great game. Like...

Neuroshima Hex and its endless variability.

Finally, Chaos in the Old World and the obvious bridge between the not-so-disparate worlds of Euro and Ameritrash. (Plus, Warhammer.) I'd remain a huge Eric Lang fan even if he'd never followed CitOW with other great games.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #315216 15 Oct 2020 23:51
Kingdom Death Monster. We're just beginning to see the seeds of its influence take root in the likes of Aeon Trespass and Oathsworn but in another ten years people will recognise it for the landmark it truly is.
thegiantbrain's Avatar
thegiantbrain replied the topic: #315220 16 Oct 2020 03:57
I think for me Heroquest is one of those things that should stay in childhood. I think if you are playing it with kids there are fewer issues. For me though I played it again recently, admittedly via TTS, and it just really showed the cracks in its design: roll and move for movement is just not great, we ended up getting stuck in corridors and not in a funny way, and it just wasn't that great for me anymore. I still have really fond memories of it and will always treasure those, but my gaming tastes have just moved on.

I think the Dicebreaker list is interesting as I wouldn't definitely tag Settlers as bringing boardgaming to a much wider audience. Sure there are games earlier that influence some of the choices in the list but that wasn't what their list was about. I agree with most of their choices, but yeah there are some noticeable absences like TIcket to Ride, which is probably the closest Settlers follow up in terms of bringing 'hobby games' to the mass market.

KDM is an interesting point. Seen it influence a lot of games recently as you say.
mezike's Avatar
mezike replied the topic: #315224 16 Oct 2020 05:10

thegiantbrain wrote: I think for me Heroquest is one of those things that should stay in childhood.

Totally agree. Teenage me thought that this and the slew of similar titles that followed at the time were fantastic. Adult me acquired a copy a few years back and had a complete nostalgia fail.
jason10mm's Avatar
jason10mm replied the topic: #315241 16 Oct 2020 11:34
Interesting that they give credit to Pandemic:Legacy but not Pandemic itself (or maybe Shadows over Camelot) for the card driven AI co-op game plus minus a traitor. I think the legacy aspect is separate from the co-op part.

I'm still waiting for a co-op game that can deliver a consistently satisfying play experience, but I've not kept up with many of the new ones like Gloomhaven so maybe that has already happened.

I've yet to play a legacy game enough to really dig into the "legacy-ness" to determine if it is really a legit mechanic versus a gimmick that could be replaced with a scenario book.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #315244 16 Oct 2020 11:42

jason10mm wrote: I'm still waiting for a co-op game that can deliver a consistently satisfying play experience, but I've not kept up with many of the new ones like Gloomhaven so maybe that has already happened.

Although I am notorious here for being an Arkham Horror 2nd ed fan, I think that the best co-op game in my collection is probably Space Hulk: Death Angel. It's a very compact and reasonably-priced product that sets up and takes down quickly. The game is easy to learn but always challenging to beat, and it does a nice job of solving the alpha player problem that threatens most co-op games. The base game offers a decent amount of replay value, and the several small expansions add a surprising amount of replay value. The rule book is okay, but careless players often get some important rules wrong at first. Unfortunately, Death Angel has been out of print for years, so the price is less reasonable now.
jason10mm's Avatar
jason10mm replied the topic: #315259 16 Oct 2020 13:47
I have the complete set (I think?) of SH:DA and I agree.

I'd like to see that system get rethemed. I think you could do a lot with it. Same with Blood Bowl:Team Manager. A rollerball or wrestling themed version would be dope.
the_jake_1973's Avatar
the_jake_1973 replied the topic: #315269 16 Oct 2020 16:08
Instead of rollerball, a Roller Derby reskin of BB:TM would be amazing. Especially if the players licensed their likenesses to the All-star cards and such. Smaller clubs could get custom team prints like Impact Miniatures did with their roller derby game.
jason10mm's Avatar
jason10mm replied the topic: #315275 16 Oct 2020 19:59
So what is the difference between rollerball and roller derby? I've seen the movies and that 80s/90s show. They all seem pretty similar to me.
RobertB's Avatar
RobertB replied the topic: #315277 16 Oct 2020 21:01
I remember watching roller derby as a kid, and I don't recall there being motorcycles in roller derby.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #315278 16 Oct 2020 21:32
Plus, uh, Rollerball is excessively brutal and basically a critique on violence as sport.
the_jake_1973's Avatar
the_jake_1973 replied the topic: #315279 16 Oct 2020 21:58
If you check out the WFTDA, that will show you the Women's Flat Track Derby Association. It's played internationally now. On a flat track rather than a banked one, although there exist banked leagues.

I could go on for quite a bit with game explanations and such, but it is easier to google and youtube it if you are curious.