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The Best and Worst of the “BEST BOARD GAMES OF THE CENTURY” (2002-2009)

Well, that title is a bit confusing. In case you don't recognize it, the “best game of the century (of the year)” is a take on Dan Patrick's bit about how ESPN and the rest of the mainstream sports media hypes at least one college football match up every year as the “game of the century.” We are guilty of that on the board game front also. Since I started writing about the hobby in 1994, we have gone through just about one collectively-endorsed “best game of all time” every year, judging by the hype on rec.boardgames, spielfrieks, and, eventually, Boardgamegeek and /r/boardgames. I thought I'd take a look back at some of those games. As time passes, other games distinguish themselves as the actual best game of a given year, so it can be a bit hard to recall which game had the hype in a given year. Still, I'm pretty sure that the list here reflects the zeitgeist of the years in question.


  • (2002) Puerto Rico by Andreas Seyfarth. The hype surrounding this game was enormous. It  was the first game that really rocked the hobby game world in the way that Settlers of Catan did in 1995 (though I guess it is unfair to skip 2000's Carcassonne). Puerto Rico didn't see that kind of mainstream success, but it was a huge hit with euro gamers and was the perfect game to accompany the rise of Boardgamegeek.com which was initially just a new, better home for the guys who hung out on Spielfrieks. I had as many as a dozen gamers tell me Puerto Rico was the best game they had ever played before I even had a chance to buy it. Does the game still live up to that original hype? I'd say, yes. With repeated play, the game becomes a bit programmed, and there is a huge problem if you follow an idiot less-experienced player in turn-order, but until you have played it to saturation, it is a deep, rewarding game with multiple paths to victory and some really synergistic mechanisms. We have put the game away for a while, but I'm to the point now that I'm ready to dive into it again over the next year. You don't have to take my word for it. Eleven years after its release, the game still sits at #4 on Boardgamegeek's board game rankings. My favorite game from 2002, however, remains Age of Steam by Martin Wallace which only doesn't make this list because the Puerto Rico hype was bigger and louder.

  • (2003) New England by Moon and Weissblum. Wait, maybe it was Santiago by Hely and Pelek. Or, was it Merkle's Attika? In actuality, Age of Steam probably occupied the minds of more gamers during 2003, but I'm trying to stick to release dates. That said, I thought New England was boring and dry the one time I played it. I still plan on picking it up at some point to give it more of a fair shake, but the fact that it is ranked #939 on BGG at this point doesn't suggest it has aged well. Santiago and Attika are both good, but never grabbed me. It may be a bit of a cheat, but my favorite game of 2003 was Sid Sackson's I'm the Boss. It is the first English language edition of an older design, but, hey, it is my list.

  • (2004) Ticket to Ride by Alan Moon. Finally, a game to challenge Settlers of Catan for mainstream success while also capturing the Internet mindspace. Is it as good as it is successful? Sure. I've played around one hundred games of it over the years. I'd play it again whenever anyone asked. I don't feel the need to own it (still really hoping to stumble on it at a thrift store or to get it in a lopsided trade), but it really is a great gateway game and a great beer-and-pretzel game for gamers. My favorite game for 2004—Power Grid by Friedemann Friese. Geeks agree with me here. Power Grid is #7 game on BGG while Ticket to Ride sits at a respectable #80.

  • (2005) Caylus by William Attia. This was the year Shadows over Camelot boosted the cooperative game movement and Railroad Tycoon gave us a glossy, mainstream version of the cruel Age of Steam, but Caylus had all the hype and it deserved it. It may be a tad bit on the dry side, but if you like thinky games with tons of moving parts and lots of paths to victory, this is the game for you. It is my personal favorite game of that year, also. The geeks at BGG.com still rank it at #13 all-time. If you haven't played it, you should remedy that as soon as possible.

  • (2006) ??? This is the one year that seemed not to produce a singularly hyped game. Battlelore was hugely successful, but it was a two-player miniatures-based war game, so it wasn't for everyone. Twilight Struggle was clearly the best game, but as it has been pointed out to me on the Geek, the hype for that one came a couple of years later. It is also not a multi-player game, which dampens the overall hype considerably. Thurn and Taxis won most of the Game of the Year awards that year, but I could never get into that one and the hype seemed pretty subdued. Blue Moon City had a lot of fans, and Yspahan continued Ystari games run of very good games, but neither of them were the “it” game for that year. I guess my favorite game from that year was Cleopatra and the Society of Architects, but I don't even own that one any more, nor do I still think highly of it. Let's just call it a odd year and move on to a game that exemplifies the list:

  • (2007) Agricola by Uwe Rosenberg. Please remain standing as I heap praise upon a game that is already rotten with it. Rosenberg had a huge, well-respected hit with the card game Bohnanza, but Agricola still felt like it came out of nowhere. Euro game themes are often dry and boring, but farming seemed like a strange theme for the new hotness, and it wasn't even cute bean farming. It was subsistence farming and sometimes you couldn’t feed your family. Fun. But, it was fun. After a successful German release and a series of write-ups and podcast mentions coming out of Alan Moon's Gathering of Friends, it seemed everyone was dying to get a copy of this game. I didn't want to bother with pasting up a German copy, so the wait for this one to come out in English was brutal. It was actually 2008 before it became widely available in English, so the game could fit this list in either year. Certainly, this was the most talked about game from Essen 2007 through the release of the next game on the list.

  • (2008) Dominion by Donald X. Vaccarino. There is not a chance anyone read through this list who isn't already familiar with Dominion. It is surprising to me that this is the first game on this list that was truly innovative, but, regardless, it certainly was. All of the other games were built on mechanisms found in other successful games. Dominion created a whole new genre of games with its core mechanism—dynamic deck building. I still remember going to Gen Con in 2009 and seeing dozens of games of this going constantly for the entire four days. It got hot quickly and stayed hot until, what, yesterday. Conversely, the game lost its appeal for me pretty quickly as multiple plays revealed ridiculously broken combos and led to a “if-you-don't-play-these-cards-this-way-you-will-lose” dynamic, but, heck it took people playing thousands of games to get there (I blame BSW, where it was possible to play five to ten games an hour). Though I enjoyed it, Dominion wasn't my favorite game of the year. Uwe Rosenberg's follow-up to Agricola, Le Havre took that honor.

  • (2009) Hansa Teutonica by Andreas Steding. Hansa Teutonica's theme is so dry horny skeletons use it for lubricant. Wait, that doesn't make any sense. Let's go with Hansa Teutonica's theme is really dry. I actually bought the game based on the hype then left it in shrink because the theme was so boring. That was a mistake. When I got around to playing it, I found the game reminded me of some of my favorite German games from the early days of the hobby, especially Web of Power and San Marco. Hansa Teutonica isn't an area-control game like those two, but is has a similar feel and you claim routes and post representatives to offices. I've been told Endeavor would be a better game here by some of my fellow geeks, but I certainly remember Hansa Teutonica getting a bigger share of the hype. Plus, it was my favorite game of the year and I still haven't played Endeavor because it fits in exactly the same gaming spot as ten other games I love.  

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