On our podcast, we often say we aren’t all about the new hotness. The reason for this is that there are some fantastic older board games and classic RPG that are still worth playing. Today I’m going to talk about some of the best older games that were originally published before the year 2000.
Ashley Rabum writes in to Ask The Bellhop:
“I just started listening and am going through the back catalogue and I’m loving it. I do have a question though: what are some older / out of print games that you would recommend tracking down?”
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Good tabletop games don’t have a best before date.
Despite the fact that there are a crazy number of new games released every year and all of the gaming media out there seems to be dedicated to the latest and greatest Kickstarter or the games coming out at Essen next year, as listeners of our podcast know we’ve never been all about the new hotness here.
I’m a big proponent of playing good games, and good games don’t have a date stamp on them. While I can’t deny there are some great new games coming out, and I fully admit there will probably be some amazing games released this year and in the years to come, truly great games stay great forever.
The main problem with older games is that they do tend to go out of print. Some of these older, out of print, games are easier to track down than others.
For some suggestions on where to find the best prices on older games check out my article on Where to Find Rare and Out-Of-Print Games. In it, I suggest a few places you may not have heard of. Yes, eBay isn’t the only place you can find hard to find RPGs and board games.
Here are some classic board games still worth playing:
Since Ashley didn’t specify exactly what they meant by older games, I needed to pick a date range to work with for this article. In an industry with more than 5000 new games coming out every year some people consider a three year old game a classic. I wanted to look further back than this. I’m going to set our definition of older games here as games that came out before the turn of the century, so from 1999 and older.
Note this is going to cut out a lot of games I consider great true classic games. Stuff like Puerto Rico, Power Grid, Alhambra and Carcassonne all came out after 2000. Actually the period between 2000 and 2005 is when a lot of my favourite games of all time came out. For today though, we are looking at games that are older than that. Ones which are at least twenty years old.
Catan – Catan was published in 1995 but didn’t really become the hit it is here in North America until about the year 2000. Catan is still one of the best designed games out there. Its combination of resource generation, building things on a map and trading resources, helped build the Eurogame genre.
We still play Catan, though not as often as we did twenty years ago. When we do play we still have fun.
El Grande – El Grande was also published in 1995. Since then a 10th anniversary edition was printed and more recently El Grande Big Box was released and is still in print. I personally own the 10th anniversary edition.
To me, El Grande is the ultimate example of an area majority game. Everyone starts with the same hand of cards and has to use those to move their cubes around the map and try to make points over multiple scoring rounds by having the most, second most, or third most units in multiple areas on the map.
Ra – Ra is the game that got me to love auctions in board games. It was originally released in 1999. This original version was reimplemented as Priests of Ra in 2009, which was met with mixed review. More recently Asmodee came out with a new printing of the original version. I have the original printing myself.
While I admit it has been a bit since this one has hit my table I still really dig Ra. It’s got a very unique auction mechanic combined with a push your luck mechanism that you wouldn’t expect in a tableau building Eurogame.
Samurai – Note I am talking about the 1998 classic from Reiner Knizia and not the wargame from Richard Berg that was published in 1996.
This is a math filled abstract game (what else would you expect from Knizia?) set on the Japanese isles. Players play tiles in order to take tokens (helmets, Buddhas and rice paddies) off of the map. The player with the most total influence on all of their tiles surrounding a token is the one that gets the token. Players start the game with an identical set of tokens.
If you can find it, the original Rio Grande printing of Samurai has much nicer components over the modern Fantasy Flight edition.
Acquire – Acquire is the oldest game on this list. It was originally published in 1964 by 3M games. This Sid Sackson classic is all about business investments and stock manipulation. One of the best mechanics is how the businesses are represented by tiles on a board and how mergers happen when two sets of tiles meet up.
Despite the dry theme and age, Acquire is still one of the better economic games ever made and very much still worth playing today. There have been multiple editions released over the years. Try to find one of the ones with plastic tiles.
Lost Cities – Lost Cities is another Reiner Knizia classic that just barely makes our year 2000 cutoff, coming out in 1999. I’ve been in love with this two-player card game since first discovering it in the game pile at The Coffee Exchange. Deanna and I used to meet downtown and play it on her lunch when she worked at the library.
When shopping for Lost Cities make sure you don’t end up grabbing Lost Cities The Board Game or Lost Cities Rivals, a four-player version of Lost Cities. You want Lost Cities the original card game. Sadly, the follow up games just aren’t as enjoyable as the original.
PitchCar – This one came as a shock to me as I was looking up games published before the year 2000, I had no clue PitchCar was released in 1995. I’ve mentioned this dexterity game many times on many game recommendation lists.
PitchCar is one of the best dexterity games ever published and a ton of fun for up to eight players. It is basically crokinole on a race track, where players flick wooden car discs down a wooden track. There are a number of expansions with which you can make some really crazy track layouts.
Chinatown – Chinatown was a game that I missed the original publication, back in 1999. I’ve heard many good things about the game and almost paid crazy aftermarket prices for it but, thankfully I was patient. It eventually got reprinted by Z-Man Games and I got myself a copy. It was worth the wait.
Chinatown is one of the purest trading and negotiation games out there. If you love bartering with your friends check it out. That is, check it out if you can find it. Sadly it’s now gone out of print again.
Bohnanza – Bohnanza was published in 1997 though I personally didn’t pick up this bean planting game until 2008. This is another great trading game. It’s a ton of fun at all player counts and with gamers of all experience levels.
One of the best things about Bohnanza is that you can play it casually or take it very seriously, and both ways of playing are a ton of fun. There have also been a number of expansions released over the years.
Torres – Torres is another 1999 game that was out of print for a very long time, only recently coming back into print. I’ve got the original printing from Rio Grande Games, and except for coming in an overly large box, I love it.
This is an abstract building game where players are moving knights and building towers and trying to score the most points through multiple scoring rounds. Points are based on randomized scoring cards so every game is different.
If you’ve played Santorini, Torres is like an advanced, heavier, and I think more fun, version. I have to say the new printing looks quite a bit better than mine. It replaces the boring pawns with figures that look like little knights.
Space Hulk – I still remember the day that I got White Dwarf issue number 113, back in 1989, which introduced the world to Space Hulk. I loved the look of the new Terminator Space Marines, and the new threat to the imperium, the Genestealers. I purchased Space Hulk not long after getting that magazine and have loved it since.
Space Hulk is still one of the best two-player Ameritrash style games out there. Even my wife loves Space Hulk. Every five or so years Games Workshop puts out some new printing, usually a deluxe edition, for some crazy price. I bought one of those deluxe versions back in 2009 and while it’s pretty, I still love my original 80s edition.
At this point, Space Hulk is out of print again, but it’s probably about time for GW to release another updated version.
HeroQuest – Speaking of Games Workshop, one of their most famous games was published in partnership with Milton Bradley and due to that partnership will never be reprinted again. HeroQuest hit markets worldwide in 1990 and has become one of the most sought after grail games for many gamers.
I picked up HeroQuest back when it first came out and loved it from the start. When my wife and I were dating, one of the things we did together was play through the original HeroQuest campaign. I will always have fond memories of this game.
Primordial Soup – My friend Jamie introduced me to Primordial Soup. It is his favourite game of all time. What I didn’t realize until doing some research for this topic, is that it was published in 1997.
Primordial Soup is a fascinating game where you play a bunch of amoeboid organisms floating around in the primordial soup. You go around feeding on the poop of the other players’ amoeboids and guiding the evolution of your species as you try to increase your population and gene sophistication. It’s a great game with a totally unique theme that I still enjoy immensely.
Unfortunately, Primordial Soup is long out of print, though not that hard to find. There is also an expansion out there, Primordial Soup Freshly Spiced, but I’ve yet to find a copy that I was willing to pay the price people were asking for it.
The Starfarers of Catan – Also known as Catan Starfarers, this is another game that was a grail game for a number of people for a very long time. It originally came out in 1999 and was long out of print. A new updated release was finally published late last year.
I still own the original Starfarers of Catan and the 5-6 player expansion. This game is much more than just Catan in space (if you want that see Star Trek Catan). It adds upgrading your ships, some pickup and deliver elements, meeting alien species, and even a which-way story element through a unique encounter system.
Starfarers has been my preferred way to play Catan for many years, despite some production problems with the original game that have been fixed in the new printing.
The Great Dalmuti – This Richard Garfield card game came out in 1995, two years after he released a slightly more popular card game: Magic the Gathering. From my understanding, Garfield actually designed The Great Dalmuti first but couldn’t find anyone to publish it. He used his success with Magic to get WotC to put out Dalmuti.
The Great Dalmuti is a ladder climbing card game that’s basically a gamer’s version of President/Vice President. The neat bit here is that there are way more cards. Eighty of them to be exact, starting with twelve 12s, eleven 11s, etc. going down to one, 1 card, which is The Great Dalmuti.
My entire family enjoys The Great Dalmuti, it’s one of the few games that I can get my Aunts and Uncles to play.
Quoridor – Quoridor is a mass market abstract strategy game that you used to be able to find in stores that sold puzzles, pool tables and darts, or desktop toys. It was released in 1997 and is a fantastic looking wooden abstract. I’ve seen it referred to as an heirloom game, due to the production quality.
The goal in Quoridor is to get your pawn to the other side of the board but there are all kinds of walls in the way. Each turn you can either move your pawn or move a wall. That’s it. It’s one of those dead simple to learn games that is surprisingly deep.
Battletech – Battletech is a classic hobby board game from the 80s, 1985 to be exact. I still have my original Battletech boxed set that came with cardboard standees, released before playing with miniatures was popular.
While the Battletech licence has changed hands a few times and there have been multiple different editions released over the years, the game is still going strong. I’m always surprised by how large the Battletech gaming area is at Origins Game Fair.
The current Battletech rules set is published by Catalyst Games Labs and were just updated in 2019. What’s fascinating is that the rules themselves have changed surprisingly little in the last twenty-five years.
Honourable Mention – Dune – The board game version of Dune is here as an honourable mention because I haven’t actually played the game to know if it lives up to the hype, and there’s a lot of hype. The original Dune game was released by Avalon Hill in 1979 and is considered by many hardcore gamers to be one of the best asymmetric games ever produced.
Dune has reached pretty much legendary status among gamers and was out of print for over forty years. That all changed this past week as Gale Force Nine’s reprint of Dune should be showing up on your FLGS store shelves right about now. One local store got their copies in on Tuesday and were sold out by Wednesday.
Here are some roleplaying games worth checking out:
Ghostbusters International – Unlike most RPG gamers I didn’t get my start with Dungeons & Dragons. Instead, my first RPG was TSR Marvel Super Heroes. While I love Marvel, and probably always will, the older RPG I most want a copy of now is Ghostbusters II international, which was released in 1989.
Ghostbusters was the second roleplaying game I ever played and one that I’ve never owned myself. It was put out by West End Games and featured a simplified version of their D6 system. The reason I’m looking for the Ghostbusters II version is that it comes with more stuff, slightly tweaked rules, and is generally regarded to be a slightly better game overall. This is one of the grail games I’m still on a hunt for to this day.
Paranoia 2nd Edition – While the Paranoia roleplaying game is still going strong, it’s a very different game now from when I first explored Alpha Complex as a teen. Nowadays the Commies are gone and the system is mostly Card Driven, using a D6 dice pool. The new Edition of Paranoia isn’t a bad game, it’s just very different from the original.
I will always have a soft spot for the original D20 system that was used in the 1st and 2nd edition of Paranoia, and the bad guys will always be Commie Mutant Traitor Scum to me. Of all the editions of Paranoia published over the years, I still prefer and recommend the 2nd edition published in 1987.
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition – I am a huge Warhammer fan and have been since the early 80s. I originally discovered Warhammer through White Dwarf Magazine and then explored the world further through Warhammer Fantasy Battle.
While I’ve played a ton of Games Workshop games over the years, the one I keep coming back to is Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Of all the editions of Warhammer I’ve played, I still have a warm spot in my heart for the original first edition of the game.
Now there is a new Fourth Edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay out there, but I haven’t had a chance to check that one out yet. I doubt there’s much of a chance it will beat out the original for me, though I do hear the game has returned to its roots with this new printing.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition with Skills & Powers – This is the one game on this list that I will probably get the most flack for. I find that most people that dig older editions of D&D don’t look fondly on 2nd Edition, but it was the version that actually got me into D&D.
What really sucked me in with 2nd Edition D&D was all of the various settings that existed, with Dark Sun being my favourite.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition really started to shine for me and my group near the end of its run. At that point, the new 3rd edition was in the works and they introduced the Player’s Options series of books. The most important book in that series being Skills & Powers.
While most D&D fans scorn the Player’s Options books, my group loved the expanded options and the increased flexibility and character control.
Star Wars Introductory Adventure Game – This RPG boxed set was released by West End Games for their Star Wars D6 roleplaying system and is one of the most fun RPG boxed sets I’ve had the pleasure to run. It features a rules light version of D6 Star Wars. A system that I, to this day, feel is perfect for capturing the cinematic feel of the Star Wars universe.
The WEG Star Wars system also gets credit for a ton of what became official Star Wars canon. It was one of the main driving forces in keeping fans interested for the many years between films, before George Lucas returned to the director’s chair. Sadly most of that history has been scrubbed clean by Disney, but there’s some amazing stuff to be found if you read through the old West End Star Wars game books.
There you have it, a rather long list of older games that I think are still worth tracking down and playing. What are some older games you still enjoy? Let us know in the comments.