Josh's Favorite Designers - comparing their three best games
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One of my most popular geeklists has been Josh's "Prestige Rating" - BGG's favorite designers:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist.php3?action=view&listi...

In that list, I tried to make sense of BGG user's game ratings to figure out who our favorite game designers were, collectively. This list is an attempt to rank my own favorite designers based on my ratings for their games.

I'm not dealing with heaps of statistics here, so my method can be much simpler than it was in that other list. I'm simply looking at the top three games (by my estimation) for each designer, averaging my ratings for the three games to come up with a score for the designer. That's it. Only in the case of ties will I look beyond the designer's top three games. I figure that if a designer has impressed me three times, then they must be pretty good. I'm more impressed with a designer who produces three fantastic games than one who produces dozens of merely "good" games. There are enough "good" games, maybe too many. I want to know who's giving us the great ones.

I am going to exclude wargame designers from my list. It's simply too hard to compare wargames against other sorts of hobbyist games, and I have a much more informed opinion about the latter. There are of course some stellar wargame designers out there, but I'm setting aside that discussion for the moment.
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1. Board Game: Lord of the Rings: Friends & Foes [Average Rating:7.30 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.30 Unranked]
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Reiner Knizia (9.7)

#1 Euphrat & Tigris (10)
#2 Ra (10)
#3 Lord of the Rings + Friends & Foes (9)

9 All-Time Classics (rated 9+)
22 Great Games (rated 8+)
30 Games Worth Owning (rated 7+)

haven't played: Dragonland, Minotaur Lords

There are three designers with at least three games that I rate 9 or higher. Reiner Knizia is the only designer responsible for two of my 10s, and he would place in the top three even if I averaged his top ten designs against everyone else's top three! Take his top 25 games, pick any three, and pretend that the other 22 never existed? Knizia would still place amongst my top 25 designers. By any measure, Reiner Knizia is my favorite designer.

If anyone's curious, the other Knizias I consider "all-time classics" are: Modern Art, Schotten Totten, Lord of the Rings the Confrontation, Taj Mahal, Lost Cities, and Durch die Wüste. A few others are very close, including Traumfabrik, Titan the Arena, and Quo Vadis. The other "great games" include Blue Moon, Medici, Quandary, Amun-Re, Auf Heller und Pfennig, Money, Einfach Genial, Tower of Babel, and Carcassonne the Castle.

I may eventually do a list devoted entirely to Knizia. Meanwhile, I recommend the excellent lists on that topic by Chris Farrell and Kane Klenko.
 
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2. Board Game: Tikal [Average Rating:7.35 Overall Rank:155]
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Wolfgang Kramer (9.0)

#1 El Grande (9) w/ R. Ulrich
#2 Daytona 500 (9)
#3 Tikal (9) w/ M. Kiesling

4 All-Time Classics (rated 9+)
9 Great Games (rated 8+)
16 Games Worth Owning (rated 7+)

haven't played: Australia, Verflixxt, Pueblo

Both Wolfgang Kramer and Alan Moon have a top three that I rate 9, 9, 9. So looking beyond the top three, Kramer has one additional 9 (Expedition) whereas Moon has just the three. Additionally, Kramer has more 8s and more 7s. So although it's close, Kramer wins out over Moon as my #2 designer.

Kramer is older than the other guys in my top five, and I'm curious to see whether he can hold on to his high ranking. I haven't been as impressed with Kramer's recent designs. Within the last five years, he's produced only three games that are still on my shelves: Goldland (8), Tanz der Hornochsen (8), and Wildlife (7). Pueblo could become a fourth, but I haven't had the chance to try it.

Kramer's other "great games" in my collection, beyond the top three, include Expedition, El Caballero, Goldland, Tanz der Hornochsen, Torres, and Die Händler. Java is also right on the borderline. While putting together this list, I was surprised to see that Knizia and Kramer are the only two desingers with more than four games that I rate 8/10 or better. And they both have significantly more (22 and 9). In fact, they currently have more games rated 8 or better than the rest of the field combined!

I've come to the conclusion over the years that Wolfgang Kramer is the one German-style designer who simply does not have an identifiable design style. You can describe a style that applies to a certain phase of his career or a specific grouping of his games, but there is simply no good way to describe Kramer's style other than by describing the tenets of the German school more generally. Even someone as broad and prolific as Knizia has a definite fingerprint. If there is a good way to sum up Kramer's style or fingerprint, it totally escapes me.
 
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3. Board Game: Union Pacific [Average Rating:7.27 Overall Rank:291]
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Alan R. Moon (9.0)

#1 Ticket to Ride (9)
#2 Freight Train (9)
#3 Union Pacific (9)

3 All-Time Classics (rated 9+)
5 Great Games (rated 8+)
10+ Games Worth Owning (rated 7+)

haven't played: Capitol, Das Amulett, Clocktowers, Oasis, Andromeda

Alan Moon is the third and final designer who has designed at least three games that I consider to be all-time classics. He is hurt somewhat by the fact that I haven't played some of his Moon & Weissblum designs, and so there might be a gem I haven't discovered. Why haven't I tried so many of them? Well, I took a break from the games scene for about a year in 2001, and that's when many of the Moon & Weissblum games were released. When I had a chance to try some of the M/W collaborations, I didn't think they were as good as Moon's best solo designs, so I haven't sought out opportunities to play some of the other games. I definitely plan to try Capitol, but my hopes aren't high for any of the others.

Moon's other "great games" in my collection are Wongar and Elfenland+gold / Elfenroads (not basic Elfenland). Moon has of course re-visited several of his designs over the years. I've only counted the best version of each game, in cases where one game is clearly a re-make of another. For instance, Santa Fe, Santa Fe Rails, and Clippers only count as one game, even though all three of them are solid. Likewise with 10 Days in Africa, 10 Days in the USA, and Europa Tour. You get the picture. Get the Goods, although it pretty clearly has its origins in Freight Train, is a very different game and so gets counted separately.

An Alan Moon game is easy to recognize but difficult to describe. I've thought about this a lot, and I have a list of 8 or 10 features or tendencies that I see again and again in Moon's games. That's too much to discuss here, but I hope to devote a future GeekList to the topic.
 
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4. Board Game: Princes of the Renaissance [Average Rating:7.48 Overall Rank:369]
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Martin Wallace (9.0)

#1 Age of Steam (10)
#2 Liberté (9)
#3 Princes of the Renaissance (8)

2 All-Time Classics (rated 9+)
4 Great Games (rated 8+)
5 Games Worth Owning (rated 7+)

haven't played: Empires of the Ancient World, Runebound

Martin Wallace's average of 9.0 is just as good as Kramer's and Moon's, but he doesn't have quite the depth of either of those guys - at least not yet. Wallace and the next guy on the list, Rüdiger Dorn, are the two designers with the best chance to some day overtake Wolfgang Kramer for the spot right behind Knizia. Wallace slips in ahead of Dorn because I like his #2 game (Liberté) slightly more than Dorn's #2 (Traders of Genoa), and because he has five solid games to Dorn's four.

I'm not a fan of Struggle of Empires. The fourth Wallace "great game" in my collection is Pampas Railroads. I'm only giving him credit for one great game for Prairie/Pampas/Veld Railroads in the Prairie Railroads series, even though there are significant differences between Prairie RRs and the other two. Hmm, maybe he should get credit for two . . . . Either way, he would rank as the #4 guy on my list.

I think Martin Wallace is unmatched among current designers in pioneering a hybrid style of game combining the strengths of the old Anglo-American historical games and the newer Euro/German school. He's making the kind of games that I would want Avalon Hill to be making if they were still around (no slight intended against Hasbro-Avalon Hill, which serves a different market).
 
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5. Board Game: Jambo [Average Rating:7.10 Overall Rank:334] [Average Rating:7.10 Unranked]
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Rüdiger Dorn (8.8)

#1 Goa (10)
#2 Traders of Genoa (8.5)
#3 Jambo (8)

2 All-Time Classics (rated 9+)
4 Great Games (rated 8+)
4 Games Worth Owning (rated 7+)

haven't played: Zauberberg/Magic Hill

Rüdiger Dorn doesn't have as long of a history as the other guys up near the top of my rankings, so it's impressive that he's able to crack the top five at this early stage in his career. At the start of 2004, Dorn was still a one-hit wonder for me. I liked Traders of Genoa, but thought Gargon was weak, and Emerald was no more than an okay children's game. But he's been on an incredible hot streak since then with Goa, Jambo, and Louis XIV all released within about a year's time.

What has me so excited about Dorn is that he appears to be one of the only authors creating true gamer's games for the established publishers. I love how he's able to inject a lot of complexity and nuance into his games without overloading the rules with complications and special cases. That takes real skill, and we haven't seen anyone do it this well since Knizia and Kramer.

So far, the results of my method are looking pretty good. If someone had asked me last week to name my five favorite designers, I would have said Knizia #1, Kramer #2, and Moon, Wallace, and Dorn in no particular order (they're very close) to round out the top five. That's the same top five that this list's method produced.
 
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6. Board Game: Borderlands [Average Rating:6.80 Overall Rank:2655]
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The Eon Team: Peter Olotka, Bill Eberle, Jack Kittredge (8.7)

#1 Cosmic Encounter (10)
#2 Dune (8)
#3 Borderlands (8)

1 All-Time Classic (rated 9+)
3 Great Games (rated 8+)
3 Games Worth Owning (rated 7+)

haven't played: Hoax, Quirks

This maverick design team had a short but brilliant career in the late '70s and early '80s. I've only played three of their games, but each of the three is/was a groundbreaking tour de force of game design. These guys were on the bleeding edge, and although their style was inimitable, their influence reached far into the future. Eon ideas have shown up in such highly succesful games as Settlers of Catan, Magic the Gathering, Roads and Boats, A Game of Thrones, and several others.

The Eon team and Richard Garfield were tied with an average of 8.7 among their top three games. I gave the nod to the Eon designers because they came first, and because there is a chance that I might like one of their other games that I haven't tried (which doesn't appear to be the case with Garfield).

Now if we could just get Cosmic Encounter back into print with a full-featured edition including flares, lots of powers, and six players . . . . I bet Fantasy Flight could be very successful with such a project.
 
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7. Board Game: Netrunner [Average Rating:7.50 Overall Rank:344]
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Richard Garfield (8.7)

#1 Magic: The Gathering (9.5)
#2 Robo Rally (9)
#3 Netrunner (7.5)

2 All-Time Classics (rated 9+)
2 Great Games (rated 8+)
3 Games Worth Owning (rated 7+)

haven't played: Twitch, Filthy Rich

Richard Garfield is best known as the man most responsible for the collectible card game craze of the last ten years. I suspect that the majority of BGGers aren't as interested in that sort of game, and perhaps even actively dislike the genre. But the overwhelming popularity and financial success of Magic and its imitators shouldn't distract us from the man's considerable design talents. Whether you love Magic or hate it, it's hard to ignore the innovative ideas that spawned an entire industy. Personally I think Magic is a brilliant game, even if I've chosen to wean myself away from it.

And Garfield is not a one-hit wonder. Robo Rally is a fascinating game; another "love it or hate it" game that I happen to love. Netrunner showed that Garfield could design another very good collectible card game that is not at all derivative of Magic. There are plenty of people who would argue that it's the best of the lot. Vampire/Jihad also has its fans, although I'm not one of them. The rest of Garfield's ouevre consists of failed CCGs (Star Wars, Battletech), tweaked versions of traditional parlor games (The Great Dalmuti, What Were You Thinking), and fluffy card games (Twitch, Filthy Rich). None of those hold any appeal for me, but Garfield is still top ten material on the strength of his three best games.
 
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8. Board Game: Klunker [Average Rating:6.23 Overall Rank:2263]
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Uwe Rosenberg (8.5)

#1 Babel (9) w/ H. Dorgathen
#2 Bohnanza (9)
#3 Klunker (7.5)

2 All-Time Classics (rated 9+)
2 Great Games (rated 8+)
5 Games Worth Owning (rated 7+)

haven't played: Bohn Hansa, Bali, Limits

My next choice is the wacky Uwe Rosenberg, author of several demented card games. Rosenberg has eight games that are widely know. I don't care for Mamma Mia, and I've never tried Bohn Hansa or Space Beans because of very bad reviews. The other five are all quite nice: Bohnanza, Babel, Klunker, Schnäppchen Jagd, and the solitaire game Al Cabohne. Bohnanza is of course a classic of the German game genre. Babel is shier about revealing its pleasures, but I think it also deserves to be a classic. Klunker is even more opaque than Babel, but it's a game that has really grown on me with repeated play.

Both Rosenberg and Richard Borg weighed in at 8.5. Rosenberg gets the edge because his designs are solo efforts (with the exception of Babel), whereas Borg had help with Wongar, Wyatt Earp, and if you want to count it as a Borg Game, Bluff/Liar's Dice.

Rosenberg seems to specialize in manipulating bizarre card queues, presenting the players with interesting card management decisions. I enjoy this type of thinking, and appreciate the novel approach Rosenberg takes in his games. I'd like to try Bali, which I hear is really weird. I know there are two or three copies in our game group, so I should get a chance sometime.
 
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9. Board Game: Wyatt Earp [Average Rating:6.87 Overall Rank:605]
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Richard Borg (8.5)

#1 Memoir '44 (9)
#2 Wongar, advanced rules (8.5) w/ A. Moon
#3 Wyatt Earp (8) w/ M. Fitzgerald

1 All-Time Classic (rated 9+)
3 Great Games (rated 8+)
5 Games Worth Owning (rated 7+)

haven't played: Hera & Zeus

Richard Borg has rocketed up into my top ten within the last year, after Memoir '44 and my belated acquaintance with the surprising Wongar. Without those two games, Borg would rank right around #23 on the list. I still haven't tried one of his best-known games, Hera & Zeus, despite owning a copy for several years.

Those who like to keep luck to a minimum may not care for Borg's games, since dice and/or random card draws feature prominently in all of his designs. The luck is too rampant for my tastes in some of his ultra-lightweight card games such as Pig Pile, Heave Ho, Warriors and Gracias. But in Borg's best games, such as the three I listed, the luck adds variety and tension without overwhelming the players' decisions. Then he has a couple of others that are sort of in between, Battle Cry and Bluff/Liar's Dice. I enjoy both, and rate them "worth owning," but the level of luck is definitely higher than I prefer in each of them. Like many others, I made a few tweaks and house rules to reduce the luck in Battle Cry, and was pleased to see every single one of them addressed in Memoir '44!
 
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10. Board Game: Sleuth [Average Rating:6.84 Overall Rank:767]
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Sid Sackson (8.3)

#1 Acquire (9)
#2 I'm The Boss (8)
#3 Sleuth (8)

1 All-Time Classic (rated 9+)
4 Great Games (rated 8+)
6 Games Worth Owning (rated 7+)

haven't played: Business, Holiday/Maloney's Inheritance/Shanghai

The late Sid Sackson has my utmost respect for his seminal role in shaping a prototype for so much of what was to follow him in the boardgame world. But I've never considered him to be among my favorite designers. I think of him more as a designer who was ahead of his time. Among his early games, there are two shining examples that still compare quite well with the best games of today: Acquire and Sleuth. Those, along with the much later Kohle, Kie$ & Knete (I'm The Boss), are for me the standouts of his catalog. There are three other Sackson games I enjoy - Metropolis, Samarkand, and the posthumously-published BuyWord. Of those six, only Acquire and Sleuth are from the acclaimed early years of Sackson's career. Two others (Metropolis and KK&K) were pioneering designs despite coming later in his career. The final two (Samarkand and Buyword) are solid games that didn't really break any new ground.

The rest of Sackson's catalog, especially his early stuff outside of Acquire and Sleuth, has never impressed me. Bazaar is decent, no more. Can't Stop, Venture, Focus, and Monad are all average to below average, measured by today's standards. Buried Treasure is out-and-out bad. Most of the games from A Gamut of Games are not so hot, although the book is a great read for the ideas it contains, and remains one of the best books about games ever published.

Despite the number of disappointments I've had with Sackson, the small-but-strong collection of his very best stuff is still enough to rank him among my ten favorite designers. That's quite a feat for a guy of his era - someone whose most famous games arrived 30 to 40 years before most of the other chaps on this list!
 
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11. Board Game: Attribute [Average Rating:6.44 Overall Rank:1641]
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Marcel-André Casasola Merkle (8.3)

#1 Attika (10)
#2 Meuterer (8)
#3 Attribute (7)

1 All-Time Classic (rated 9+)
2 Great Games (rated 8+)
3 Games Worth Owning (rated 7+)

haven't played: Bakerstreet, Elements

Marcel-André Casasola Merkle is already knocking at the door of my top ten. Among the other guys I have at 8.3, he ranks behind Sackson with fewer solid games, but it's a close call between Merkle and Richard Ulrich. It seems that Merkle should be ranked first, since all of Ulrich's best games were designed in tandem with Wolfgang Kramer. Merkle's career is still very young, but he has already designed a game that I rate higher than anything by giants Wolfgang Kramer and Alan Moon, my #2 and #3 guys on this list.

I certainly didn't see Attika coming based on the first highly-touted Merkle game, Verräter. I disliked that game so strongly that I dismissed its sequel Meuterer without playing it. I sought Meuterer out years later based on my love of Attika, and found that it was a very fine game, much better than its ancestor. Attribute, whose English edition was published around the same time as Attika, is also good fun.

It's probably too early to say anything insightful about Marcel-André Casasola Merkle's design style or specialties, but he's off to a promising start and I hope we'll continue to see great things from him.
 
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12. Board Game: Merchants of the Middle Ages [Average Rating:6.85 Overall Rank:991]
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Richard Ulrich (8.3)

#1 El Grande (9) w/ W. Kramer
#2 El Caballero (8.5) w/ W. Kramer
#3 Die Händler (7.5) w/ W. Kramer

1 All-Time Classic (rated 9+)
2 Great Games (rated 8+)
3 Games Worth Owning (rated 7+)

haven't played: any of his solo designs (Hot Dog? Punk sucht Lady?)

Okay, this is a tough one. None of Richard Ulrich's solo games have more than 18 ratings here on BGG, and most of the scores are quite poor. Yet Ulrich has joined forces with Wolfgang Kramer to produce some of the latter-day German classics. I'll give Ulrich the benefit of the doubt, giving him full credit for his Kramer co-designs. So Richard Ulrich rates number 12 with an asterisk. He might have ranked higher if I enjoyed Princes of Florence as much as seemingly everyone else.

There is one important factor that justifies treating RIchard Ulrich (and Michael Kiesling, immediately below) independently from Kramer. Kramer is a man of broad talents whose catalog is very diverse, but the Kramer/Ulrich games have a feel all their own, seeming to come from the mind of a distinct persona - or in this case, a distinct combination. The same can be said for the Kramer/Kiesling games; they feel like a third and distinct "designer."

The chief distinguishing feature of the Ulrich/Kramer designs is the complex interaction of various game elements or sub-games. Each game has its own sprawling economy, with the various commodities affecting each other in ways that are hard to measure precisely. In El Grande, it's the interaction among the power cards, the action cards, the movement of the king, the cabelleros on the board, the caballeros in the court, and the caballeros in the provinces. Each of these has its own function and can be considered independently, but they interlock into a unified, fluid whole. Actions in one phase of the game will ripple throughout the greater landscape, forcing players to tend to several gardens at once. We've seen this style in other games, most notably Schmiel's Die Macher and the games of Rüdiger Dorn. Knizia also does a lot of this, although he usually encapsulates the game into stricter and more narrow choices. It's a design style I like, and it's no surprise that Richard Ulrich ranks among my favorite designers.
 
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13. Board Game: Medina [Average Rating:7.09 Overall Rank:488]
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Stefan Dorra (8.2)

#1 Die Sieben Siegel (9)
#2 For Sale (8)
#3 Medina (7.5)

1 All-Time Classic (rated 9+)
2 Great Games (rated 8+)
6 Games Worth Owning (rated 7+)

haven't played: Amazonas, Kreta, Marracash, Tonga Bonga, Yucata

Next we have a group of four designers rated at 8.2. I placed Stefan Dorra at the head of the group because he has more "games worth owning" than any of the others - Die Sieben Siegel, For Sale, Medina, Linie 1, Pick Picknick, and Olympia 2000. It's possible that he has even more, since I haven't played his two newest games, Kreta and Amazonas, nor have I played two of his popular older games, Marracash and Tonga Bonga.

Although I can't put my finger on a specific Stefan Dorra "signature," he does have an affinity for two central design ideas. First, many of Dorra's smaller games are simultaneous blind bid games, direct descendants of Raj/Hol's der Geier. These include For Sale as well as Hick Hack im Gackelwack (aka Pick Picknick, aka Razzia), Land Unter (aka Zum Kuckuck, aka Turn the Tide), Olympia 2000, and Banque Fatale. The second Dorra specialty is games concerned with traffic flow. These include Linie 1/Streetcar, Marracash, Volle Hütte, Amazonas, Medina, and Tonga Bonga. The remainder of Dorra's catalogue is filled with simple, compact designs that move quickly (Yucata, Schwartzmarkt, Riffifi, Die Safeknacker, Die Sieben Siegel, Njet). Typically, players play one card and then their turn is done. Intrige is a bit off the beaten path, and it sounds like his recent Kreta might also be something different for Dorra.
 
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14. Board Game: Logistico [Average Rating:6.24 Overall Rank:2755]
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Corné van Moorsel (8.2)

#1 Titicaca (9)
#2 Street Soccer (8)
#3 Floriado (7.5)

1 All-Time Classic (rated 9+)
2 Great Games (rated 8+)
4 Games Worth Owning (rated 7+)

haven't played: Isi/Morisi, Subulata

Corné van Moorsel is the most obscure name on my list. None of his games even crack the top 350 in Boardgamegeek's current rankings. My favorite van Moorsel game, Titicaca, doesn't even crack the top 800! Forgotten before it ever found an audience, it's one of the lost treasures of the last five years.

One thing I've noticed about van Moorsel is that he really likes spatial relationships and the logistics of movement and transportation. Heck, he even named one of his games "Logistico." Logistico, Isi/Morisi, Floriado, Ocean/SeaSim, Subulata, Dutch Mountains, Street Soccer, and Titicaca all are organized around those principles. Even ZooSim has a bit of it with the path connections and the closed loops. I've just named basically all of van Moorsel's widely-known games except for Typo, which is a word game that has nothing to do with logistics or geometry.

The other Moorsel game I recommend as "worth owning," outside of the top three listed above, is Logistico. Just don't play it with more than two or three players, or you're inviting frustration.
 
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15. Board Game: The Downfall of Pompeii [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:332]
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Klaus-Jürgen Wrede (8.2)

#1 Carcassonne (9)
#2 Die Fugger (8.5)
#3 Der Untergang von Pompeji (7)

1 All-Time Classic (rated 9+)
2 Great Games (rated 8+)
3 Games Worth Owning (rated 7+)

haven't played: Krone & Schwert, Ark of the Covanent

Klaus-Jürgen Wrede is known almost exclusively for his Carcassonne games. But he has branched out enough to place in my top 15 in spite of my counting all of the various Carcassonne versions and spinoffs as one game. Die Fugger is for me the best of the Adlung card games, and I've enjoyed the lighthearted death and destruction (!?) of Der Untergang von Pompeji each of the two times I've played it.

I think Wrede and Hans im Glück mostly have done a good job with their handling of the Carcassonne series. The sequels Hunters & Gatherers and The City have been quality games, and the first two expansions (Inns & Cathedrals and Traders & Builders) both added intriguing elements to the game. Stuff like The Count, King & Scout, and the new dragon expansion are overkill in my opinion, but they're easily ignored. At this point, though, it's probably time for Wrede to move away from the comfortable Carcassonne niche before it becomes a trap for his design career. Die Fugger and Pompeji give me hope that Wrede will not always be known only as "The Carcassonne Guy."
 
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16. Board Game: Torres [Average Rating:7.19 Overall Rank:283]
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Michael Kiesling (8.2)

#1 Tikal (9) w/ W. Kramer
#2 Java (8) w/ W. Kramer
#3 Torres (7.5) w/ W. Kramer

1 All-Time Classic (rated 9+)
2 Great Games (rated 8+)
3 Games Worth Owning (rated 7+)

haven't played: Pueblo, Australia, Verflixxt

I haven't yet had a chance to try the new Kiesling/Kramer games Australia and Verflixxt. Among their other six well-known games, I dislike Maharaja, am neutral about Mexica, haven't played Pueblo, and enjoy the other three. I initially rated each of those three (Tikal, Java, and Torres) an 8/10. Tikal has grown into a favorite over the years, while I dropped Torres slightly because it doesn't seem to leave the shelf.

The Kiesling/Kramer style is very distinctive. Their typical game is deals with spatial connections and relationships, sometimes in three dimensions. The cartography of the board usually changes as the game progresses, and there are probably pawns that move within this changing spatial web. Movement and other actions are most often governed by the expenditure of versatile action points. Not much is left to chance, although there is often one small hidden game element to keep the game from becoming too predictable - cards in hand, unknown tiles, or perhaps hidden action selection. This is a very different school of design than the Ulrich/Kramer style (although their El Caballero anticipated some parts of the Kiesling/Kramer philosophy).
 
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17. Board Game: Die Macher [Average Rating:7.68 Overall Rank:97]
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Karl-Heinz Schmiel (8.0)

#1 Was Sticht? (8)
#2 Extrablatt (8)
#3 Die Macher (8)

0 All-Time Classics (rated 9+)
3 Great Games (rated 8+)
4 Games Worth Owning (rated 7+)

haven't played: Tyranno Ex, a la Carte, Suppenkasper

Karl-Heinz Schmiel was very active for a ten year period, designing and publishing at least a dozen games between 1986 and 1995. Then he closed up his personal Moskito label and pretty much dropped off the radar, returning briefly to publish Attila in 2000. I didn't start playing German games until 1996 or '97, so Shmiel's games had already been around the block or two. I had the luxury of sampling only the games that were considered to be his best, and ignoring the rest. I've played only six of his games, including the five that are rated highest here on BGG. Of those six, four are quite good (Was Sticht, Extrablatt, Die Macher, and Kunst Stücke), and two didn't impress me (Attila and Das Regeln Wir Schon). I hope to eventually try Tyranno Ex, but I'm in no hurry to explore the lesser-known crannies of his catalogue.

So by my measure we have a guy with four (possibly five with Tyranno Ex) good games. The reason that number isn't higher is that Schmiel always seemed to take big risks in order to break new ground in each of his games. Each of Schmiel's games is wildly different from all of the others. Schmiel's independent, maverick style didn't produce a string of best sellers, but his designs were always interesting and never felt recycled or overly familiar (with the exception of Attila). He blazed the path for a handfull of contemporary designers who are using their own one-man publishing houses to get their weird or uncommercial game ideas out into the game enthusiasts' micro-niche. The contemporary designer who seems to be following most closely in Schmiel's career path is Friedemann Friese and his 2F-Spiele label.
 
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18. Board Game: Starship Catan [Average Rating:6.87 Overall Rank:579]
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Klaus Teuber (7.8)

#1 Adel Verpflichtet (9)
#2 Vernissage (7.5)
#3 Starship Catan (7)

1 All-Time Classic (rated 9+)
1 Great Game (rated 8+)
7 Games Worth Owning (rated 7+)

haven't played: Die Siedler von Nürnberg, Candamir, Oceania, Der Fliegende Höllander

Everyone knows that Klaus Teuber is a giant of the German game industry, and one of gaming's most famous names and biggest success stories. I recognize that he is a very skilled game designer, but he has never been one of my own favorites. Most of Teuber's games feel to me like a hodgepodge of mechanics and systems that are crammed together in somewhat awkward ways. He's very good at keeping the players busy and involved, and keeping things moving along briskly, but his games are a bit light on strategy and don't offer enough interesting and/or difficult decisions. They're good games, they play smoothly, they have a rich sense of theme and setting, but - for me at least - they don't rise to the level of greatness. The shining exception is Adel Verpflichtet, a 15-year-old game that still has not been bettered in what I'll call the "doubleguessing" genre. It plays to the strengths of Teuber's design style, and to me it's his clear masterpiece.

The seven Teuber games that I'd recommend as "worth owning" are Adel Verpflichtet, the very weird Vernissage, Starship Catan, Die Neuen Entdecker, Domaine/Löwenherz, Settlers of Catan (+ Seafarers), and the underrated Gnadenlos - another game that plays to Teuber's strengths.
 
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19. Board Game: Magna Grecia [Average Rating:6.61 Overall Rank:1535]
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Leo Colovini (7.8)

#1 Cartagena (8)
#2 Clans (8)
#3 Magna Grecia (7.5) w/ M. Schacht

0 All-Time Classics (rated 9+)
2 Great Games (rated 8+)
6 Games Worth Owning (rated 7+)

haven't played: Go West, Doge, Meridian, Familienbande

Leo Colovini hasn't hit a ball out of the park yet, but his on base percentage is high with six "games worth owning," including Cartagena, Clans, Magna Grecia, Alexandros, Submarine, and Corsari. Five years ago, I actively disliked Colovini following the horrible Europa 1945-2030 and the unimpressive crank-grinding of Carolus Magnus (I know it has its fans). I started to take notice of him after Cartagena, and he has produced a number of solid designs within the last three-or-so years.

I've noticed that Colovini has some vocal detractors here on BGG, and I think I can understand why some folks are put off by his games. They are almost always overtly mechanical games with transparent themes. It's as if the outside of the game is glass, and you can see the gears turning in the guts of the game. He designs abstract-feeling, mathematical games whose themes and settings are typically little more than a veneer. Often the themes are downright nonsensical, as in Alexandros or Go West. Yes, yes, yes. This is all true, but it doesn't bother me.

I do have my own criticism of Colovini's design tendencies, but it is a different one. My criticism is that Colovini's games are often too chaotic and tactical. The game state can change so quickly in a Colovini game that it's hard to plan ahead farther than your next move. Anyone who has played Clans with four players knows what I mean. Colovini often compounds the frustration by yoking a player's choices to random card draws (Alexandros, Cartagena, Submarine, Meridian, Avalon), dice (Carolus Magnus), or hidden actions (Vabanque, Doge). Consequently, I sometimes have the feeling that the game is playing me instead of the reverse. But as much as these confined choices sometimes frustrates me, they are also the very thing that I appreciate about Colovini's games. It can be enjoyable to struggle against the game mechanisms themselves, to do the best with what fate doles out.
 
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20. Board Game: Show Manager [Average Rating:7.12 Overall Rank:667]
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Dirk Henn (7.7)

#1 Wallenstein (9)
#2 Alhambra (7)
#3 Showmanager (7)

1 All-Time Classic (rated 9+)
1 Great Game (rated 8+)
4 Games Worth Owning (rated 7+)

haven't played: Spekulation, Carat/Garden of Alhambra

Like Karl-Heinz Schmiel before him, Dirk Henn was an early adopter of the German do-it-yourself method of game publishing. Most of his designs originated in the early to mid-90's, published by Henn himself in hand-made editions under the db-Spiele label (along with the games of designer Barbara Weber). Some time later, Henn developed a relationship with Queen games, who has published professional editions of many of his db-Spiele games over the past ten years (along with one that was never produced by db-Spiele, Wallenstein).

Henn's stature in the industry has grown immensely over the past three or four years. Spiel des Jahres winner Alhambra has already seen three expansions and a spinoff. His heaviest game, Wallenstein, has steadily ascended the BGG rankings despite never being available in an English edition and having to battle poor distribution in North America. After three years, Wallenstein is solidly entrenched in the BGG overall top ten.

Wallenstein is the only Henn game that has become a personal favorite, but Henn has kept very good control over the quality of his games. He just doesn't put out slipshod games. Alhambra, Showmanager, and Timbuktu are all very good, Texas/Rosenkönig is decent, and I suspect that I would like Spekulation as well. The only Henn game that I dislike is Metro, which I might even say I despise. Yet even Metro is enjoyed by most people I know, so I guess it's a poor match for my tastes rather than an out-and-out bad game.
 
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21. Board Game: Fresh Fish [Average Rating:6.66 Overall Rank:1407]
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Friedemann Friese (7.7)

#1 Power Grid (9)
#2 Fresh Fish (9)
#3 Finstere Flure (5)

2 All-Time Classics (rated 9+)
2 Great Games (rated 8+)
2 Games Worth Owning (rated 7+)

haven't played: Flickwerk/Turbo Taxi, Schwarzarbeit, Fundstücke

I adore both Power Grid and Fresh Fish, and Friedemann Friese would rank very high on this list if he just had a third game that wasn't crap. Maybe he does, and I haven't tried it yet. Flickwerk, Schwarzarbeit, and Fundstücke all hold at least some promise, but I can't help thinking that they would be better-known if they were really any good. All the rest have been flops in my opinion: Finstere Flure, Fische Fluppen Frikadellen, Foppen, Frischfleisch, Landlord, Falsche Fuffziger. I haven't played the new one Fiese Freunde Fette Feten, but it sounds horrible from all the information I've gathered.

I admire Friese adventurous spirit. He's always going to try something off the wall and completely new. The amazing thing is that sometimes these experiments work. Like Dirk Henn, above, Friese has spent most of his career publishing his own games in small editions. But when I look at their respective bodies of work, I see opposite patterns. Henn is a reliable author of solid, polished games, with very few failures. Friese is not the least bit reliable. His games often don't quite hang together, but his daring, experimental style has produced some moments of genius. Two so far. Give us a third one, Friese, and I'll consider you one of the top few in your field.

Note: I broke my pattern of choosing the photo and game ID for the designer's third-best game. It didn't make sense to me to list Friese under a game that I actually dislike, so I chose his #2, Fresh Fish.
 
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22. Board Game: Smarty Party! [Average Rating:6.65 Overall Rank:1719]
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Aaron Weissblum (7.5)

#1 Thingamajig (8)
#2 10 Days in Africa (7.5) w/ A. Moon
#3 Smarty Party (7) w/ P. Crandlemire

0 All-Time Classics (rated 9+)
1 Great Game (rated 8+)
5 Games Worth Owning (rated 7+)

haven't played: Spinball, Capitol, Das Amulett, Oasis

Aaron Weissblum is unique on this list in that he seems to be working out of more of a family game paradigm. He specializes in simple, unpretentious designs. He's not going for some kind of intricate mathematical balancing act like so many of the German school designers. Although Weissblum is clearly influenced by the careful engineering of the German designers, he himself is more of an entertainer. And he knows that the entertainment comes not only from the game and its mechanisms, but also from the social and physical space around the game. Thingamajig and Smarty Party could have been old-school American party games. The 10 Days/Europa Tour games are clear descendants of the venerable Rack-o. Cloud 9 is a simple, whimsical press-your-luck game. Spinball would be right at home in your parents' basement rec room. Aaron Weissblum is clearly an American designer, with an appreciation for the better parts of his country's gaming past.

Looking at Weissblum's entire catalog, many of his games designed in collaboration with Alan Moon don't quite fit the pattern I've described above. His furthest ventures into mainstream German-game territory have been Moon/Weissblum games like San Marco, New England, Mammoth Hunters, Capitol, Oasis, Das Amulett and King's Breakfast. These are Weissblum's best-known games, at least here on BGG. He has 13 games with at least 150 ratings, and no less than 12 of them are Moon/Weissblum games. These are finely crafted games, but to me many of them feel like they're missing the spark of excitement that I find in games like Thingamajig, Smarty Party, Cloud 9, and 10 Days in Africa (yes, the last one is with Moon). Weissblum is at his best when his game mechanisms just kind of disappear into the background. But the Moon/Weissblum games slap you in the face with their clever new game mechanisms. Keep in mind that I haven't tried some of the best-known Moon/Weissblum games, including Capitol, Das Amulett, and Oasis. But based on what I've seen in their other games, the only one of these that I plan to try is Capitol. I like Alan Moon's games and I like Aaron Weissblum's games, but for me somehow the combination has been less than the sum of its parts. I do like San Marco enough to keep it in my collection, along with Cloud 9, the untried Capitol, and Weissblum's top three that I listed above. Europa Tour was worth owning until I played the superior 10 Days in Africa.
 
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23. Board Game: Reef Encounter [Average Rating:7.19 Overall Rank:318]
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Richard Breese (7.5)

#1 Reef Encounter (9)
#2 Keythedral (7.5)
#3 Aladdin's Dragons (6)

1 All-Time Classic (rated 9+)
1 Great Game (rated 8+)
2 Games Worth Owning (rated 7+)

haven't played: Keywood

Whoops! I initially skipped over Richard Breese when I was doing my rankings. Turns out he should be right here at #23.

Richard Breese's games just keep getting better and better, from his early Key games to the rejiggered Key game Aladdin's Dragons to Keythedral to Reef Encounter. With Reef Encounter, Breese moves from the category of "designers to watch” to the category “designers who have arrived.” As with the next designer on the list, Breese has the benefit of working with an extraordinary graphic artist who makes his games a visual treat.

I won't say anything more about Breese right now because I want to get this entry inserted into the list ASAP.
 
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24. Board Game: Primordial Soup [Average Rating:7.02 Overall Rank:442]
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Frank Nestel (7.3)

#1 Mü und Mehr (8)
#2 Frank's Zoo (7)
#3 Ursuppe (7)

0 All-Time Classics (rated 9+)
1 Great Game (rated 8+)
3 Games Worth Owning (rated 7+)

haven't played: Urland, Dicke Kartoffeln, Tante Tarantel

Doris & Frank are yet another of the successful 1990's indie game publishers, with Frank Nestel responsible for the game design and his wife Doris Matthäus responsible for the wonderful artwork. They are still active in running their company although we haven't seen any new games from them since 2001's Urland.

Nestel's crowning achievement is his intense partnership trick-taking card game Mü, a game that I might rate even higher if I had a better grasp on the subtleties of the bidding. His climbing card game Frank's Zoo is loopy fun in a much lighter vein, sort of like the inspired Magical Mystery Tour version of The Great Dalmuti. And Ursuppe is one of the best of the highly procedural Germano-Anglo hybrid games that Mike Siggins used to call "Teutonic." Urland is Nestel's other major effort, and the rules and reviews were never enough to entice me into playing it. Doris & Frank's kiddie games Igel Ärgern, Tante Tarantel and Esselsrennen also have their share of adult fans, although I don't count myself among them.
 
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25. Board Game: Mogul [Average Rating:6.51 Overall Rank:2153]
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Michael Schacht (7.2)

#1 Magna Grecia (7.5) w/ L. Colovini
#2 Coloretto (7)
#3 Mogul (7)

0 All-Time Classics (rated 9+)
0 Great Games (rated 8+)
5 Games Worth Owning (rated 7+)

haven't played: Dschunke Legespiel, InterUrban, Architekton, Crazy Chicken

Suppose you were to ask me the question, "Are you a fan of this designer?" about every designer on this list, allowing me only a yes or no answer. Michael Schacht is probably the first designer that would receive a "No." He does have five games that I judge as "worth owning," but none of them are slam dunks. My keepers are Magna Grecia, Coloretto, Mogul, Web of Power, and Richelieu. Schacht for me is the "King of the 6's" with games like Hansa, Industria, Dschunke, Kontor and even Hispaniola being good enough to play, but not good enough to play often.

My basic feeling about Michael Schacht is that he is an outstanding creator of clever game mechanisms. The system that drives the game forward often crowds out the interesting decisionmaking. Reiner Knizia is a master at constraining a player's decisions in a way that creates tension. Schacht's type of constraining often simply feels confining, like I'm being handcuffed and shoved into a narrow passageway. Magna Grecia is his only game where I feel like I'm involved in an actual game and I'm not just manipulating a mechanism or turning a crank or playing somewhat on autopilot. Still, sometimes this simple mechanical style is sufficient for a solid game, as is the case with Coloretto, Mogul, Web of Power and Richelieu. They all tend to be very light on decisions, but there is modest amount of light tactical decisionmaking - enough to keep me entertained if the game is short and visually appealing.

----->
Flip to page 2 if you'd like to read about the designers who just missed the cut.
----->
 
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