This Top Five is a lot different than most Top Fives as I don’t necessarily like all the games on this list, and yet I’m thankful they exist. These games keep game stores in business by the sheer number of units they sell and by peaking folks’ interest in the hobby. You’ll see a trend early on, and it’s one tabletop games have used for several decades.
5) Love Letter
Speaking of the trend used in most top-selling tabletop games, we’ll lead off with a game that uses other intellectual properties and/or pop culture references to remain relevant. Love Letter may be the youngest game on this list, but if you’ve stepped in a game store in the past month, you’ll find a shelf—or two—dedicated to Letters to Santa, Adventure Time Love Letter, The Hobbit Love Letter, Batman Love Letter, and of course, the original Love Letter.
Love Letter is inexpensive, quick to learn, easy to play, and has an interesting deduction game mechanism to it. While the original game has players determining which player is playing a particular royal, the other spin-offs provide enthusiasts with some fan service. Not all of the intellectual properties work well with Love Letter’s gameplay but Batman Love Letter stands out as a true winner because you’re deducing who everyone is, which is similar to Batman’s role, but you’re playing as one of Batman’s rogues. How awesome is that?
As the name implies Fluxx is the ever-changing card game. Fluxx changes with each passing round—heck, with each passing turn—and you’ll never know how or what will lead you to victory. Like Love Letter, Fluxx re-themes the game to match various intellectual properties and pop culture references—I told you this was a popular ploy to keep a game relevant—but Fluxx has been in production a lot longer than Love Letter, so you’ll see numerous versions.
Batman, Adventure Time, Pirate, Zombie, Cthulhu, Holiday, Regular Show, Wizard of Oz, Firefly, Stoner, Eco, and Cartoon Network versions of Fluxx (among countless others) exist, but for my money Monty Python Fluxx is the best of the pop culture re-themes, and it’s not just because I’m a Monty Python fan. Fluxx’s rules lead to some zany changes to the game and while Adventure Time and Regular Show make good use of these rules, nothing beats the off-the-wall humor of Monty Python.
I may not play Fluxx as often as I once did but when I do, I play Monty Python Fluxx.
I’ve been on record as saying I’m not the biggest Monopoly fan, but you can’t deny the power of Monopoly. It’s the board game people who aren’t into the tabletop hobby think of first when they think of board games and it single-handedly keeps retail store board game sections in existence.
I don’t know how many copies of Monopoly hobby game stores move on an annual basis but the number must be high, and I don’t have to tell folks that Monopoly started the trend of re-theming itself with various pop culture references to stay relevant. I will say that despite my aversion to Monopoly, I do own a copy of the game and will play it if someone really wants to, but I usually play with alternate rules. I won’t name them all but here are two of the best ways to speed up Monopoly’s 3-24 hour game time: auction off most (or all) of the properties before the first person rolls the dice, and roll one die instead of two.
An auction mitigates some of Monopoly’s luck, adding more strategy and skill to the game. I insist on auctioning some of the properties whenever I play Monopoly, but I’d be down with only auctioning a third or so of the properties because auctions can take a while too. I also like rolling one die instead of two because turns don’t last as long, folks don’t gobble up more than one property on a turn (because they landed on multiple spaces due to two or three doubles in a row), and players will land on more properties, which speeds up the end game. I may not start with rolling only one die, but after an hour, I want someone to land on Boardwalk or Park Place and pay its owner, even if that someone’s me.
Munchkin is another game I liked when it first came out but some long game sessions soured me on the title. Players spend three to four hours crapping on the leader. I’m sorry, but an hour is my limit for a simple card game, and Munchkin is a simple card game. Still, you can’t enter a game store without seeing shelves of Munchkin and its abundant re-themes. Like every other game on this list (so far), Munchkin uses pop culture references and other intellectual properties to stay relevant, but Munchkin may do this better than any other game. Despite its flaws, Munchkin helps to keep game stores in business.
I won’t go into the various themes Munchkin uses, but let’s say if you’re into anything—and I mean anything—you’ll find a version of Munchkin for you. I still own a few versions of this game and still play it on occasion. My favorite is Munchkin Cthulhu. Not only am I partial to the Cthulhu mythos, Munchkin Cthulhu has more game mechanisms to lessen the effects of players crapping on the leader, which leads to faster gameplay and a more enjoyable experience, but I can’t begrudge someone who wants to play The Good, The Bad, and The Munchkin, Munchkin Apocalypse, or any other version.
Munchkin’s artwork is quirky and each one of its titles pokes fun at the pop culture reference it appropriates. You can’t get too mad at a game that’s meant to be silly; that’s another common theme on this list.
1) Magic: the Gathering
Some hobby game stores only sell Magic, and they make a killing. It’s hard to fathom a game over twenty-years-old that doesn’t use the gimmick of re-theming itself every few weeks to stay on top, but Magic hasn’t changed that much and remains one of the highest grossing games every year.
Okay, Magic has shaken up its game play but it’s done so incrementally, adding new game features and ways in which to play the game over the past decade or so. Folks who remember when Magic was first released may not think of Magic as this dominant today. If you turned on ESPN in the mid-nineties, you could watch Magic tournaments. The World Series of Poker has taken Magic’s place and that should tell you something. Only a game invented in the late eighteenth to early nineteenth century could overtake Magic on the most watched sports network.
Magic may be past its glory days, but it still dominants the collectible card game market and keeps plenty of hobby game stores afloat.