Top 5 Game Designers

Some tabletop game designers sparked a revolution or created a game mechanism that everyone wants to copy. Others try to tell an engaging story or immerse us in a gaming. Still, others morph from one game type to the next, making it impossible to pin them down to a specific game type. But which game designers are the best out there right now?

I’ll try to answer this difficult question in a minute, but let me start by saying that tabletop game designers ebb and flow, so a top game designer today may not be a top game designer in five to ten years. Heck, they may lose their spot in one or two years.

With that said, there are some designers that paved the way for some of the guys on our list and other designers who haven’t done enough yet for inclusion. I’ll recognize them now, but even this addendum to the list isn’t a complete list of fantastic game designers.

Matt Leacock (Pandemic) just misses our list because he’s predominantly a cooperative game designer. If he chooses to expand his range, he’d be a sure fire top five. Vlaada Chvatil (Space Alert) is still new and could make a future list should we make one. I commend Alan R. Moon for not sticking with expansions for his mega hit Ticket to Ride, but he still hasn’t made enough recent games for our list. Reiner Knizia (Keltis, Wer War’s, and Lord of the Rings) has had more misfires than hits lately, but those earlier hits were Spiel des Jahres worthy.

And now for the game designers who did make the list.

RichardBorgBattleloreAndMemoir44

5) Richard Borg

Truth time. I went back and forth with including Richard Borg. He hasn’t produced as many recent games as other designers on this list – or even the four designers I mentioned that I left off the list – but his tabletop games almost single-handedly keep war game companies in business.

It doesn’t matter if you like the American Civil War, World War II, samurai Japan, ancient Greece, or sci-fi/fantasy, you’ll find a game of Borg’s that’ll float your boat—er, battleship. He’s even the designer of one of my favorite games as a youth X-Men: Under Siege. So with full disclosure, I added him because I like him as a designer.

But Borg has kept himself busy this decade, and I always pay attention when he has a new game on the horizon.

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Notable Richard Borg Games:

1987: Liar’s Dice (Spiel des Jahres Winner)
1993: Mutant Chronicles: Siege of the Citadel
2000: Battle Cry (based on the American Civil War)
2004: Memoir ’44 (based on World War II)
2006: Commands & Colors: Ancients
2006: BattleLore
2010: Commands & Colors: Napoleonics

EricMLangXCom

4) Eric M. Lang

Unlike Borg, Eric M. Lang has kept himself hopping in the last few years. He has one of the largest catalogs of recent games of any designer on this list, and many of them are picture-perfect.

Lang would be higher on our list, but he tends to switch from dice mechanic games to living card games—Arcadia Quest is one of the few odd ducks and boy, it’s one fantastic duck. There’s nothing wrong with specializing in two game types. Most of his titles have undeniable quality, and like Borg, I’m always on the lookout for the next game by Lang.

The greatest testament to Lang’s abilities is that you breathe a sigh of relief when he announces that he’s making a game of your favorite intellectual property. You know he’ll nail every aspect that makes your favorite novel/movie/TV show/comic book/video game that makes it great.

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Notable Eric M. Lang games:

2008: Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game
2008: A Game of Thrones: The Card Game
2009: Chaos in the Old World
2011: Quarriors!
2012: Star Wars: The Card Game
2014: Arcadia Quest
2014: Kaosball: The Fantasy Sport of Total Domination
2014: Marvel Dice Masters: Avengers vs. X-Men
2014: Warhammer 40,000: Conquest
2015: XCOM: The Board Game
2015: Blood Rage
2015: Dungeons & Dragons Dice Masters

AntoineBauza7WondersAndGhostStories

3) Antoine Bauza

Now we get to the top three. I could put all three of these designers in any order, and it wouldn’t bother me. Everyone on this list is a great designer, but I’m pre-ordering the top three designers’ games at my local game store as soon as they announce a new release. Antoine Bauza leads off our big three. He’s the youngest, so he could climb the ranks, and he’s also the most recent Spiel des Jahres winner.

The best thing about Bauza is that when I take my kids and their friends to our local board game café (Spielbound) and tell them to pick out a game, someone always picks up a game by Bauza. These kids don’t read the name on the box. They just pick up a game that speaks to them (and most of them of vastly different tastes), and someone always brings me one of his games. Once, I had six kids with me and four out of the six kids picked a different Bauza game.

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In short, no two Bauza games look the same, play the same, or feel the same.

Notable Antoine Bauza games:

2008: Trains & Stations
2008: Ghost Stories
2009: Pocket Rockets
2010: Hanabi (Spiel des Jahres winner)
2010: Mystery Express (with Serge Laget)
2011: 7 Wonders (Kennerspiel {Connoisseur-gamer} Spiel des Jahres winner)
2011: Takenoko
2011: Dr. Shark (with Bruno Cathala)
2012: Tokaido
2013: Rampage

RichardGarfieldMagic

2) Richard Garfield

Richard Garfield has the most gaps in his resume of any other designer on this list, but whenever he comes out with a new game, it’s always big news. His Magic: The Gathering revolutionized the card game industry over twenty years ago, and it enjoys more popularity today than it did then. In fact, Magic is sometimes the only thing that keeps game stores open.

But Garfield has caught fire these last few years. King of Tokyo is a cross-over sensation that brings new gamers into the hobby. Folks clamber for his Android: Netrunner living card game, and King of New York, the follow-up to King of Tokyo, gives gamers a more in-depth King of Tokyo.

KingTokyo01

Notable Richard Garfield games:

1993: Magic: The Gathering
1994: RoboRally
1994: Vampire: The Eternal Struggle
2002: Star Wars Trading Card Game
2006: Rocketville
2011: King of Tokyo
2012: Android: Netrunner
2014: King of New York

BrunoCathalaAbyss

1) Bruno Cathala

Bruno Cathala has the versatility of Bauza but he also has the benefit of a longer career. If I was stranded on a desert island and I could only play the games of one designer, that designer would be Cathala.

He collaborates with a lot of other designers, but not many of the designers Cathala works with have done much on their own. Cathala carries a game. Whether he revitalizes the deduction mechanism, or combines the play of Mancala with worker placement, Cathala adds new wrinkles to gameplay, and most of what he touches turns to gold.

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Notable Bruno Cathala games:

2003: The Queen’s Necklace (with Bruno Faidutti)
2005: Mission: Red Planet (with Bruno Faidutti)
2005: Shadows over Camelot (with Serge Laget)
2006: Mr. Jack (with Ludovic Maublanc)
2006: Cleopatra and the Society of Architects (with Ludovic Maublanc)
2007: Jamaica (with Sebastien Pauchon)
2008: Senji (with Serge Laget)
2008: Mow
2009: Dice Town (with Ludovic Maublanc)
2011: Dr. Shark (with Antoine Bauza)
2012: Niya (a.k.a. Okiya)
2014: Abyss (with Charles Chevallier)
2014: Five Tribes

Did we get the list right? Let us know how we did and feel free to give us more ideas for future Top Fives.

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