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"Ancient" Games

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board games

Game Information

Game Name
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There Will Be Games

Were you born 200 years too early, or 200 years too late?

I had a teacher that asked the class that question years ago.  You had to pick one or the other, and I selected 200 years too late, one of maybe half a dozen students out of 30 to do so.  In the discussion that followed I came to the conclusion that I value old things more than most people.  This happened when I was in my teens, I'd wager that becomes more pronounced with age.

Listening to the It Came from the Tabletop podcast this week I could clearly hear a joy for Moon's old game Andromeda in the broadcasters’ voices, as if they weren’t merely taking joy because it’s a good game, but joy because it was old as well.  That may have been a misread, but I couldn’t help but think I heard a sense of discovery coming through between them.

We live in an age of extended progress in the state of things, but that's not always been the case.  There was a period for centuries where much of Europe lived in the shadow of “old” where the word meant "magical".  Aqueducts that towered over the landscape, impossibly high buildings and concrete piers poured under the seawater were just part of day-to-day Roman operations in AD 150.  But the people living on the land 1000 years later looked at these structures as something beyond . . . not beyond their understanding, but beyond their ability to duplicate.  They were treasures.  Old was valuable.  That is not the case anymore.  Old is seen as outdated or obsolete.

I'm curious to know how many newer table top game players look at an old game on a shelf and wonder if it might contain something magical, some arcane wisdom, versus how many look at it and just think "old."  Granted the difference between hidden treasure and hidden garbage depends on what box you open, but taking that part out of the picture, how do you view old things in general?  When you see an old game on a shelf, do your eyes linger on it, or do they move on?

Just curious.

There Will Be Games board games
board games
John "Sagrilarus" Edwards (He/Him)
Associate Writer

John aka Sagrilarus is an old boardgame player. He has no qualifications to write on the subject, and will issue a stern denial of his articles' contents on short notice if pressed.

Articles by Sagrilarus

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ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #292820 21 Feb 2019 10:09
I find delight in opening up an older game. I especially like the ones that were printed in Germany , back before every thing was being done in China. The component quality is just so amazing.

It's also fun to open up old games that were printed as cheaply as possible. I like to show younger gamers the serrated edges of the cards and explain how back in the old days when we were kids, we had to carefully punch out all the cards - an activity that clumsy siblings were barred from participating in.
Space Ghost's Avatar
Space Ghost replied the topic: #292825 21 Feb 2019 10:40
I'm also a fan of older games. Lately, we have been playing a lot of Old Western games (50s - 60s), and while the totality of the game play can't compete with what modern games offer, there are often mechanisms or some subtle ideas that would benefit newer titles.

To understand the present, I think it is vitally important to understand the history of your field of specialization. For these games, I was playing The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp and immediately thought how a couple of its mechanics could benefit Western Legends. Then, I begin to wonder, how many designers (especially younger designers*) even bother to go back and play older games...my guess is not many.

*I don't mean that as derogatory. I see the same thing in scientific fields of study. Mine is statistics, and there is a shift to graduate students relying almost solely on what they can get on the internet (no more trips to the library). Likewise, since everything is electronic, nobody gets paper copies of journals any longer -- which means that they only read the articles they are looking for and never discover anything by accident. This is compounded by not looking to other disciplines -- often time the most useful insights can be gained by seeing something you think you know a lot about in a different context -- it can be quite humbling and spark creativity.

Sorry for the discursion; this, along with how I think email is making us stupider, have been at the forefront of my thinking lately. Great article.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #292827 21 Feb 2019 10:49

Space Ghost wrote: Great article.


Dude, great response!

Care to provide a short list of Western Games from the 50s and 60s to take a look at?

Years back I stumbled across Bratz Babies Stylin' Scavenger Hunt, a game designed for young girls. It was . . . remarkably good, like, way better than it should have been. Games with three year olds in fishnets should suck, but it had some cool concepts in its gameplay. I contacted MGA to find out who the designer for it was and got a polite response that they don't give out employee names as a matter of policy. Book slammed shut in short order.

A couple of years later I found out who designed it almost by mistake -- Dan Verssen of DVG. He was a contract designer for MGA for several years. When he mentioned that he was I asked him who designed Stylin Scavenger Hunt and he said, "yep, that was me."

My point is this -- those games from the 50s and 60s may have had big names doing the conceptual work on them, or if they aren't big names they should be. A game with Hamblen or Butterfield on the credits list gets a look regardless of how old it is. How many games out there have a name of equal measure not listed?
Saul Goodman's Avatar
Saul Goodman replied the topic: #292832 21 Feb 2019 11:52
Uba and Al introduced me to Yacht Race. That game is phenomenal. Good as any game that's come out in the past 20 years.
Colorcrayons's Avatar
Colorcrayons replied the topic: #292835 21 Feb 2019 13:16

Space Ghost wrote: I'm also a fan of older games. Lately, we have been playing a lot of Old Western games (50s - 60s), and while the totality of the game play can't compete with what modern games offer, there are often mechanisms or some subtle ideas that would benefit newer titles.

To understand the present, I think it is vitally important to understand the history of your field of specialization. For these games, I was playing The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp and immediately thought how a couple of its mechanics could benefit Western Legends. Then, I begin to wonder, how many designers (especially younger designers*) even bother to go back and play older games...my guess is not many.

*I don't mean that as derogatory. I see the same thing in scientific fields of study. Mine is statistics, and there is a shift to graduate students relying almost solely on what they can get on the internet (no more trips to the library). Likewise, since everything is electronic, nobody gets paper copies of journals any longer -- which means that they only read the articles they are looking for and never discover anything by accident. This is compounded by not looking to other disciplines -- often time the most useful insights can be gained by seeing something you think you know a lot about in a different context -- it can be quite humbling and spark creativity.

Sorry for the discursion; this, along with how I think email is making us stupider, have been at the forefront of my thinking lately. Great article.


I take great joy in finding a new-to-me game through thrift shops that have been yellowed by time and many game loving hands.

Since "the board game renaissance", this is no longer a real option now since finding old games is a business model for some folks.

Regardless, I agree about exploring old titles. I've seen older games that have newer analogues that play better than the newer analogues. I'm not a designer, but it is refreshing to see what 'new' mechanisms existed and now gone by the wayside. It's almost as if you took these old titles, and built of off them you could come up with an entirely new way of expressing a game. It happens all the time nowadays, but only with contemporary titles. New version of Dominion. New version of Descent. But nary a sighting of a new version of Curse of the Mummy.

I think your postulation about newer designer not delving into old games as merely part of gaining a vault of knowledge will only increase. Most likely because there are so many games churned out nowadays that it would be next to impossible to explore them.
mezike's Avatar
mezike replied the topic: #292846 21 Feb 2019 15:15
One of our favourite family games is Plus and Minus which was printed in the 1930s but feels like something far more modern. Most people I show it to think that it must be a little known Knizia title which I find amusing. Definitely some old stuff is good stuff.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #292851 21 Feb 2019 15:52
Do classic abstracts count? I always felt on the "born too late" scale it was something closer to 500 or 1000 or longer. I'm a huge history fan, but largely prior to the modern era. And two of my favorite games that I rarely get the chance to play are Mahjong (17th century) and Go (um, some time BCE.) I think there's still a fair amount of elementary design that can be derived from both.
engineer Al's Avatar
engineer Al replied the topic: #292942 23 Feb 2019 12:22
Great article Sag, and some thought provoking questions.

So first, I am definitely in the “born too late” camp. Yes, I probably would have died early in a war or from untreated asthma 200 years ago, but nonetheless I think I would have felt more comfortable. Books instead of video, face to face instead of texts, time relaxing on the porch instead of a constant rush, playing music together with friends and family instead of blasting a stranger’s music from tiny speakers on a telephone. All of it. Perhaps I’m romanticizing a bit, but still. . .

When it comes to games, yes my eye does linger on the older game on the shelf. Sometimes it’s from nostalgia and memories, yet sometimes just from the “magic” that comes from engaging with a time that’s long gone. Saul mentioned Yacht Race, a game from the early 1960’s. Sag, I believe you’ve mentioned this game in the past as well. A BEAUTIFUL game that embraces the concept of “elegance” in games in as graceful a manner as I’ve ever seen. Yes, some of the cards are a bit “dated” from a modern gamer’s point of view. I never teach the game without warning new players they could “lose a turn”, for example. But even where a modern eye can point out flaws, Yacht Race has everything I want in a game and still gives me the feeling of leather bound books and homemade lemonade. Love it. Chess is an even more ancient game that connects me to my father and to his father and is rooted in time and history as well as being perhaps the greatest game ever conceived of. Really, what game of the “designer” era even compares?

To take this all a step further, I think that as board gamers perhaps we are all pushing against “modern” sensibilities. There is something about the analog experience of cardboard and friends that we relish despite the allure of bright colors, flashing lights and instant satisfaction that are available through video gaming. Sure, to some extent or another we are all sometimes drawn to video games. But we are also still drawn to this incredibly ancient form of entertainment that is older than recorded history. We are all time travelers to the past!