Uncle Geekly here. We’ve covered tabletop games more than once on 3 Lists of 3, but it may be time to discuss the people behind the games. I smell a few lists of game designers.
Think of these game designers as authors of books and many tabletop game enthusiasts follow them as if they were authors releasing their latest novel, so the following 3 lists may be a good place to start if you’re looking for a designer or two to follow. Let’s get to them.
Designers Who Seldom make the Same Game Twice
504 may not have landed with fans as well as Friese had hoped, but a game system that has 504 possible combinations of games is a testament to this designer’s versatility. Funkenschlag or Power Grid is an electrifying network building game–pun intended–that may have led to the more streamlined and widespread Ticket to Ride. Friday takes the deck building genre and turns in a story-driven solo experience. I love how the cards you use in the deck can get shuffled back in and have a different effect later in the game. I don’t know how many times I’d eat something that would eventually give me diarrhea. Your uncle Geekly has a weak stomach, so that’s almost like real life.
Fauna and Terra are some of the better takes on trivia games. I don’t care for trivia games as much as I used to—Trivial Pursuit may have ruined me on the genre—but I’ll gladly play either of these two games. Fabled Fruit is a simplified worker placement, legacy game, and that’s an accomplishment. I haven’t heard of too many worker placement games one could explain in under fifteen minutes, let only one that includes a legacy component. Friese is on fire. If his hair is any indication, it’s green fire.
We go from a German to a Frenchman. Antoine Bauza may use a similar aesthetic in his game’s artwork and their themes (strong Japanese influences), but his games have no shortage of story, mechanisms, and scope. Ghost Stories and Samurai Spirit are both cooperative games, but one pits Shaolin Monks against nightmare fuel, while the other, despite some balance issues, is a faithful recreation of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. If you’ve never seen the film, it doesn’t end well for the samurai. It also doesn’t usually end well for players of Samurai Spirit.
Bauza’s most celebrated works—the ones that have received the most awards—are card games: Hanabi and 7 Wonders. Hanabi is an interesting 50-card, cooperative game where players can see others’ cards, but not their own. 7 Wonders and its excellent spin-off 7 Wonders Duel popularized card drafting. I’d place Duel slightly ahead of base 7 Wonders because of its use of a pyramid set-up and speed of play, but I couldn’t deny the appeal of 7 Wonders. Grumpy Uncle Geekly wanted to dislike it but didn’t.
There are just too many game types from Bauza: Takenoko (a deceptively strategic game about a Chibi panda eating bamboo), Tokaido (a gorgeous timeline game about a Japanese vacation), and Rampage (like it’s video game namesake, players destroy a city with wooden monsters).
I could’ve gone with several other French game designers here too. Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc are not only frequent co-designers of Bauza’s, they too seldom use the same mechanism twice.
Eric M. Lang
If you noticed trends with Bauza’s games, you’ll see some form with Canada’s favorite game designer Eric Lang. But Lang delivers the goods and his games are eclectic. I’m a huge Lang fan-boy. I see his name on a game and I’m already interested.
Miniatures? Yeah, he’s made some of those games. Anything from Cool Mini or Not (CMON games) is a safe bet: Blood Rage (half strategy Euro, half kickass Vikings), Arcadia Quest (Chibi fantasy dungeon dive), The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire (yeah, it’s a mafia game), and Rising Sun (the second game of the Blood Rage trilogy).
Card games? Yes. He has plenty of those too: Star Wars: The Card Game (this is a great living card game update to the earlier collectible one), Warhammer: Invasion (another living card game update), A Game of Thrones: The Card Game (Same), and Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game (yeah, he does a ton of these, but he’s great at them).
Dice games? Lang has made some of my favorite dice games. Quarriors! introduced dice to the deck building mechanism. Dice Masters added a collectible layer to Quarriors!, creating the first successful dice collection game that has since been mimicked. Yeah, I’d play a new version of Trivial Pursuit or Monopoly if it had Eric Lang’s name on it.
Designers Who Tend to make the Same Game
This may be sacrilege. I can hear boos from my computer screen, but just because a designer makes a lot of similar games doesn’t mean that they’re poor game designers. I started with Matt Leacock because he’s such a great designer—one of my favorites—but he tends to make a lot of cooperative games. If there was a gaming dictionary, you’d see his face beside the word cooperative.
Pandemic, Pandemic Legacy (seasons 1 and 2), Pandemic: The Cure, Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert, Forbidden Sky, and Thunderbirds: the Co-operative Board Game are all cooperative games. I think it’s safe to say that Leacock has a type.
Rosenberg’s career is split by two games: Agricola and Patchwork. Prior to Agricola, Rosenberg experimented with various game types, but after Agricola, he made mostly worker placement games with brutal feed your workers mechanisms. What is with feeding workers? There must be some designers who went hungry one time too many.
Le Havre, and Caverna were—admittedly better—variations of Agricola. Then, Rosenberg released Patchwork (a game that added Tetris-style mechanisms to board games). A Feast for Odin combined elements of Agricola with Patchwork, and future Rosenberg games began taking Patchwork in different directions.
Rosenberg’s games are usually good to excellent, but sometimes, I have the urge to report them to the department of redundancy department.
If Leacock’s picture would be next to cooperative, Stefan Feld’s picture would be next to point salad. A point salad game is one that’s heavy on strategy, there are various methods of playing and each method yields points, and the player at the end of the game who has the most points, wins. The reason it’s called a point salad is that players can—and often should—choose multiple methods of play and the resulting points to win. It’s like a big, crunchy, board game salad. You know you’re doing well when you’re eating all the game’s roughage.
Feld is the king of balance. I’m not sure if I’ve played a single game of his that wasn’t balanced and that’s fantastic, but you don’t even need to see the box or know much about the game to tell when a game is designed by Feld.
Up and Coming Designers
The designer of the current number one rated game on boardgamegeek (BGG) Gloomhaven must be on any list of newer game designers. Childres has released a handful of games prior to the dungeon crawl, but no game before or since has been as large in scope as Gloomhaven.
While I’ve heard mixed reviews surrounding Founders of Gloomhaven (a Euro strategy game based in the world of Gloomhaven), I have no doubt Childres will have plenty of other great projects in the future.
Callin Flores’s path to board game design is an odd one. He began as a podcast creator for Plaid Hat Games and slowly became a designer in his own right. Plaid Hat has some of the best designers in the business, so Flores had plenty of guidance for his new release Guardians. I haven’t had the chance to play Guardians, but it looks as if it’ll be another hit for the company.
The only game that comes close to Gloomhaven’s scope, may be Ludovic Roudy’s 7th Continent. This game puts players in the role of shipwreck survivors, stranded on a deserted island. It’s a character and story driven game that has a unique brand of exploration. I can’t wait to see what’s next from Roudy.
Who are your favorite new game designers? Who are the best designers that have a preferred game type or choose more eclectic mechanisms? Let us know in the comments.