Top Designers?

Recently, there was an article posted on the Polygon about the most influential board games of the past decade. These were chosen by the top four board game designers of today: Rob Daviau, Elizabeth Hargrave, Jamey Stegmeier and Volko Ruhnke.

I take issue with this article for a number of different reasons but none of those issues are the games these designers chose for what they believe are to be the most influential games. I think we can agree to disagree with me on this and I believe I will not be in the majority of thinking here.

First, I question the choice of Elizabeth Hargrave as being, what the article calls a “top designer.” No doubt she has created an amazing game, which I do own, called Wingspan. The game is essentially an engine builder through card play game. The components and art on the game are truly amazing. Although the game won the Kennerspiel des Jahres, there are plenty of gamers out there who believe that Wingspan does not do anything new for the hobby. It has been a huge success for Stonemaier games, who’s owner and founder Jamey Stegmeier, is also called out as a top designer by Polygon.

This is only the second game that she has designed. Still that’s something to be proud of however there are other designers out there who are more prolific and certainly have created groundbreaking games — for example, Stefan Feld, Vital Lacerda, Uwe Rosenberg, Reiner Knizia, to name but a few. A simple Google search would yield a list of many designers but she would not be included in that list.

Next, is the choice of Rob Daviau. He has created many games including a “legacy” system for games that allow players to go through the game and make changes to it, write names of sections on the board or cards, not simply eliminate cards from the game but actually destroy them so that when you play the game again it’s not the same thing as when you started. It definitely makes things interesting as part of the experience in customizing the game as you play so it becomes “personalized.” Many games he has created are just not mainstream games and are just not that popular. Does that invalidate what he has designed? I don’t think so. But when I think of top designers, Rob Daviau does not come to mind.

My final nitpick in the Polygon article is that it should have had a rule that stated, “You cannot choose games that you either designed, help design, publish, or in any way are affiliated with the publisher.” That being said, Volko Ruhnke had some interesting choices in his three. The issue I have here is that his opinions seem a little self-serving. The games Churchill: Big Three Struggle for Peace and Andean Abyss are both from the company, GMT Games, that he exclusively works with. Andean Abyss is a special case since Volko designed it. I’m not saying that Andean Abyss is not an influential game — it did jump start the entire COIN, or Counter Insurgency, series. There are several in the line focusing on different conflicts around the world and different time frames from the Revolutionary War to the Cuban Revolution, to Vietnam, and Afghanistan.

It’s an amazing system to be sure but definitely not for the weak of heart. They are big, abstract, complex beasts that for most people are just not approachable and certainly not playable by the casual gamer.

So, as you can tell, I’m not a fan of the article at all.  I would like to see a series of stories on top designers’ favorite games from family, to social, to abstract, to gateway, to heavy complex Euros. Now, that I’d get behind.


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