Landmark Games, Part 1

I am in Niagara Falls for a convention this week. Roomie Walter Hunt and I have taken to enjoying this weather with a morning walk every day.  The air is crisp. The sky is clear. The breeze is cool. The conversation is engaging and interesting.  We make no effort to discuss games or gaming–and usually don’t since Walter is a history buff and enjoys sharing his knowledge–but today we did.

We were approaching the Rainbow Bridge into Canada this morning when he made an interesting remark. He stated that many boardgame posts respond to the latest product by referencing an older seminal game.  When a follow-up post responds that he has not played it, Walter then asserted that “It’s funny; I do not hear anything he says after that.”

Wow.  that’s a bold statement.

We probed this opinion in great depth while the miles rolled by under our feet.  Walter’s view is that to form meaningful opinions about the latest game, fans should understand its ancestry.  This strongly echoes the position Austin Kleon took in one section of his book Steal Like an Artist (book report coming soon!); that we should all strive to learn from our artistic ancestors.

For me, this raises an essential question: What ARE the essential games?  What are the landmarks everyone should play in order to put modern design into context?

And since you’re reading this blog, you get to read my answers.

With absolutely no further ado, here is the first in my series on landmark games.


Advanced Civilization

Adv CivCivilization was originally released in 1980, designed by Frances Tresham and Mick Uhl. The expansion Advanced Civilization released in 1991.  Civilization is a solid game on its own but I suggest you find the time to try the expanded version offered by Advanced Civilization.  It is a solid example of the right way to create a game expansion.

There are a number of things a twenty-first century gamer such as yourself will learn from playing this 34 year-old game.

The game rules are quite deep.  Avalon Hill rulesets are written in legalese.  They are not an exciting read.  Look past that at the core of the rules.  Reduced to the essentials, they are not terribly long but offer remarkable depth.

Trading brings players into direct contact regularly.  Examining your resources, trying to find a player who has what you need, convincing that player she wants what you to offer, all keep the interaction in the game high.  This is particularly important when you understand that the game generally takes about eight hours to play.

Calamities force players to constantly struggle with the game in addition to the other players .  Advanced Civilization is a game that requires players be proactive and reactive.  Some calamities will strike.  The player who can best prepare for and respond to these calamities is the player who has mastered Advanced Civilization.

settler_of_catan-34-rightHow has Civilization influenced modern design?  International sensation The Settlers of Catan is a perfect example.  Notice how the trading phase and the robber can both be seen as direct descendants of Civilization.

What are the landmark games?  Which titles should every game enthusiast play at least once?  Advanced Civilization is my first suggestion.  Return Tuesday to see what you think of my second.

Have you played Advanced Civilization?  How do you feel about holding it up as a landmark game?  What other games do you see as notable ancestors to newer games?  Which ones were the (ha-ha) game changers? Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create and account with WordPress and follow this blog.  If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.


11 thoughts on “Landmark Games, Part 1

  1. Dwight says:

    If those Catan mechanics are a direct descendant why isn’t it now the landmark I care about? Especially since the drive to see it is several hours shorter?

    • I’m not sure that’s necesaarily true. One of Advanced Civilization’s features is engaging play despite that longer play time.

      I would suggest that playing AC at least once will expand your understanding of Catan and AC’s other descendants.

  2. sirvalence says:

    Advanced Civilization is one of the first games I fell in love with. I’ve played without the “Advanced” expansion and it’s not worth it: make sure you play Advanced. If nothing else, buying the advancements goes much faster.

    It’s also worth noting that adapting this game to the computer made Sid Meier a titan in the computer game industry. And that this game is probably the first game in the “4X” genre.

    Avalon Hill did their own computerized version of the game, which isn’t as well known as the Civilization series, but it’s quite well done. Well worth hunting down.

    I hadn’t thought of the connection to Settlers of Catan. Interesting.

  3. sirvalence says:

    Other candidates for landmark games (your mileage may vary):
    Cosmic Encounters
    Dark Tower
    Magic: The Gathering
    Lord of the Rings (the co-op boardgame)
    Betrayal at House on the Hill
    Apples to Apples
    Car Wars and/or Ogre
    Werewolf / Mafia
    Empire Builder
    Mouse Trap
    Trivial Pursuit
    Lost Worlds

  4. Dwight says:

    I have played it, and I’m going to have to disagree. There is a lot of desert in there. I have played worse. Far worse. If you are hankering for an all-day game, sure. *shrug*

    But I spent literally hours wondering when the game was going to end, and I was in lead pack if not winning. Not one of the players just killing time getting crushed.

    But if you want to observe and experience a mechanic in action/detail you could literally play a selection of games in the same time covering all of AC’s in successfully stolen form.

    • sirvalence says:

      It is an extremely long game, and I haven’t played it at the table for years because I can’t set aside a full day to do so. My buddy Scotto says it’s played in real-time.

  5. Dave Vander Ark says:

    I appreciate the direction you’ll be going in this series, Kevin. I haven’t played Advanced Civ because in the days when I had the time to devote to an all day game, I never had the chance to play it. At this point in my life, there’s not much chance I’ll try it. My budget of gaming time is limited. I try to limit the number of new games I play, so that I can spend my time playing favorites.

  6. Ryan Hennesy says:

    Thanks for this post (and this blog), Kevin. I’m relatively new to board gaming having just gotten serious about it as a hobby within the last 18 months or so. I’m excited to read this series; while I will have likely played some of the “descendants” of these landmark games, I haven’t even heard of Advanced Civilization. (I have, however, logged /months/ of real time player Sid Meier’s Civ series.)

    Thanks for shedding a little light on the historic development of games and their mechanics. I plan to check these games out.

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