Friday, January 05, 2007

The Gaming Canon

No, this isn't about big guns. That's spelled "cannon." I only know which is which because I checked on wikipedia.

Jeff's recent post about gaming in the new year and the top 200 got me thinking. What are games that define the center of our hobby? No fan of science fiction hasn't seen Star Wars. If you are a fan of jazz, then you own a copy of Kind of Blue, and if you are a music lover generally then you own Beethoven's 9th. In literature these central works have been termed the Western Canon.

So what's our canon? What are the games that opened new boundaries, that set milestones, that created a new idiom? I thought we'd let the ideas simmer here, then maybe next week some time I'll take the stew over to BGG as a geek list.

These are not games that everyone has to love, but these are seminal games that are excellent in some way. If you love games, then you owe it to yourself to learn to play these at least passably well.

- oldest game still being played- next best abstract, chess, has more rules for a single move, castling, that all the rules of go together
- I don't know if some games are art, but if any game is art then go is.
- If there's life on alien planets, it's possible they could have invented the *exact* same game we play, whereas there's really zero chance they invented the exact game of Puerto Rico.
- Within your first game or two, the rules disappear and you think mostly about larger ideas: shape, structure, tactics, and strategy.
- If you had to, you could play on the ground w/ two kinds of rocks
- If I could only play 1 game (thank God I don't), I would pick Go w/o any hestitation.

Monopoly, Risk, Trivial Pursuit
- While these games are not impressive compared to contemporary offerrings, these are the cultural touchstone games.
- If a non-gamer sees a game, there are only three categories. If it's a party game, it's like Trivial Pursuit. If it's a wargame, then it's like Risk. If it's neither, then it's like Monopoly.

Settlers of Catan
- arguably the game that started the current euro-game revolution.

Puerto Rico
- top rated game on BGG for several years now
- has become a touch-stone game and point of comparison for gamers

After that, I'm not sure. Other games are either too recent or too niche or I'm not sure of their significance to the hobby. Some ideas were:

El Grande
- highly rated, especially among "power" gamers

Tigris & Euphrates
- highly rated, especially among "power" gamers



At 3:04 PM, January 05, 2007, Blogger Dennis Ugolini said...

Ahead of El Grande and T&E, I would add:

Diplomacy - for its purity; I once heard it described as "a seven-way conversation to decide who wins."

Poker - for its history, and its combination of math, luck, and bluff.

Hearts - because it's more widely played than Bridge, I think, and some kind of trick-taking game has to be in there.

At 6:33 PM, January 05, 2007, Blogger Simon said...

Sweet, I'm a "power" gamer!

(but not a "power grid" gamer...)

At 7:22 PM, January 05, 2007, Blogger Ben said...

Risk - The mother of all conquer the world with a bag of dice games, and probaly still one of the best. I want to add Axis and Allies to the list, but Risk probably covers it.

Stratego. Okay, so its not an amazingly complicated game, but could you call yourself a fully developed strategy gamer if you didn't have this as part of your mental toolbox?

Ticket to Ride: The ultimate gateway game.

Lost Cities: The ultimate non-gamer spouse game.

Other games that I'm tempted to add include Squad Leader, 1830, and Magic Realm, as these were all seminal works from which whole families of games are decended... Still, I think you can live without going back to these roots so I'm keeping them out of my list for now.

At 7:51 PM, January 05, 2007, Blogger Brian said...

Well, there are Canons and there are Canons. The 'classical gaming' cannon would include Poker, Bridge, Go, Chess, Backgammon, etc.

Classic Boardgaming Canon would include Monopoly, Clue, Scrabble, etc.

Classic "Good Boardgames" would include Dip, Acquire, etc.

The Modern "German Games" Canon would be Settlers, PR, El Grande, etc. [It's arguable that some of those have made the leap to the "Good Boardgames" level, but age matters.

At 12:58 PM, January 06, 2007, Blogger Simon said...

Well, let's not be too Western centered here. There's Mahjong, Mancala, and XiangQi to name a few that are equal if not greather contenders for the canon...

At 2:49 PM, January 06, 2007, Blogger Ted Kostek said...

Good additions.

Let me see if I can add anything by slightly restating the question.

There are some movies people should see because they are amazing (The Third Man, Apocalyse Now, etc). There's other movies you should see because they are important historically, even though modern audiences probably won't enjoy them (Birth of a Nation).

Monopoly is an example of the latter in the gaming world. Not a great game, but it's nice to understand how games evolved.

PR and E&T are examples of the former. A person who really loves games but hasn't been paying attention is in for a real treat.

So here's the question. What games would you immediately recommend to a gamer. You've never played X? You've got to try it out.

While Diplomacy is a tremendous game, and it clearly belongs in the canon, I'm not sure I would immediately recommend it to someone.


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