What are they playing when they don't want to unplug?
We spent the last year asking big-time board game designers at Gen Con and other conventions which video games have most influenced their cardboard creations. But what are their all-time faves when they’re not thinking about work?
Below are some of the fascinating responses we received when we asked these designers what they consider the best of best when it comes to their digital hobbies. They mention some true classics here — some more than once — but some recent hits made the cut as well.
Read on to see what some of the legends in board gaming consider legends in the world of video games.
Part one: The top 3 most influential video games for these famous board game designers
Known for: Codenames, Galaxy Trucker, Through the Ages
“I don't have a personal top 3 or 5 or 10, but I can mention some video games that are memorable for me.
“One of them is definitely the Heroes of Might and Magic series. I love them. Actually, I should've mentioned this for the first [video game influences] question. My game Mage Knight was like the Heroes of Might and Magic map. There are many opportunities on the map, right? Do I go to the mine or back to the city or defeat this monster? That was exactly what I liked -- this feeling.
“I enjoyed Jagged Alliance 2 a lot because of the very nice story with interesting characters.
“I mention only very old video games, by the way, because I don't have time to play these days. [laughs]
“And also I enjoy most things Blizzard, so I would probably mention Warcraft or StarCraft. They're are the kind of [real-time strategy] games that I really like. I played them a lot.”
Known for: Monarch, Visitor in Blackwood Grove, Buffalo
“I like all kinds of games, so my favorites are very dissimilar. And I like small Indie games, but they aren’t going to be as well known for your audience, so I’ll stick to the big ones.
“Chronologically speaking, I have to say that the old arcade game Tempest [from 1981] fascinated me as a kid. In fact, I wrote a short story a while back in which HP Lovecraft time travels to my childhood and meets with David Theurer, the creator of Tempest, at our strip mall arcade. That story was published in a book about video games that you can download for free. The story is based on a real-life interview in which Theurer said the game was inspired by a dream he had in which monsters were coming out of a hole in the ground. I loved that game: the sounds, the movements of the geometry, and of course, the spinny-thing interface.
“The game Katamari Damacy was most excellent for it has quite an existential quality to it while being super cute, bouncy and fun. Imagine all of the things on the planet, rendered very cute, being rolled up, smallest to largest, all together to become a star. Wow. What’s important? Nothing is left out of the rolling process. Bicycles have the same importance as cows. Buildings are just as important to pack in as are whales. Same with people. You can’t help but wonder profoundly about the meaning of life, especially people’s role on the planet, while playing this game.
“Does Dark Tower count as a board game or a digital game? [laughs] I still play that game and can play it mostly without looking at the images due to the sound effects that are forever etched in my mind. But if you aren’t counting paper-digital hybrids, I’m going to go off-kilter here and say Assassin’s Creed II. I love hopping around on the rooftops in Renaissance Italy. While I’m annoyed at several elements of the game -- especially the terrible depiction of women -- at the time it was made...the atmosphere, the environment...well, it was without par for someone as interested in history as I am. I love it for that reason.”
Known for: Dinosaur Island, Wasteland Express Delivery Service, Dead of Winter
1. “The Last of Us. Just one of the best and most cinematic games I've ever played. It told an incredible and touching story and made me care for the main characters in an incredible way.”
2. “Fallout/Skyrim. I am going to cheat and lump these two series together, because they are somewhat similar in gameplay. I've put more hours into this series than any other series ever.”
3. “Slay the Spire/Dead Cells. I'm cheating here again because fundamentally these are both very different games with fantastic roguelike elements. I've been playing both since they went public, and it's been a joy to watch them grow. I think they are incredible games that should be played by everyone!”
Known for: Munchkin, Car Wars, Illuminati
1. “The original StarCraft for sure. Good visuals, good music, good play...gets repetitive after a while, but sometimes it’s late at night, and you want to know how the game is going to go.”
2. “Maybe Age of Empires III. It’s the best execution I’ve ever seen of a real-time-strategy game, and I really enjoy seeing the influences of role-playing and deckbuilding games on that game.”
3. “And just to change it up, the one I’ve been playing a lot of recently is the Lanterns [mobile] app. It’s so beautiful. I mean, the gameplay is good, but I’ve played a lot of games where the gameplay is good. Lanterns is just an aesthetic experience. The app is faithful to the board game, and it’s just very beautiful with great sounds. You can see the little koi swimming in the lake. It’s just pretty.”
Nicole Kline (Amato)
Known for: Lazer Ryderz, Resistor_, Atari's Centipede
1. “Marble Madness, if I’m starting at the very beginning of when I started gaming. I just love that game so much. I love watching speed runs of it now -- and I feel old.”
2. “I really love Ico and a lot of the games that were inspired by Ico. [Original Uncharted series creative director] Amy Hennig cites it for the Uncharted games. Any game that really just rips my heart out, basically.”
3. “And I have to say Katamari Damacy. That game sucked up so much of my time. It’s such a soothing game, and it’s so satisfying and beautiful. I also think it’s funny that it’s supposed to be about consumerism!”
Known for: XCOM: The Board Game, Blood Rage, Marvel Dice Masters
“My DNA from video games comes from three sources.”
1. “Street Fighter. Absolutely amazing. It’s so elegant and so deep and so kinetic -- I love it.”
2. “XCOM, of course, from Firaxis. It taught me a complete dissolution of boundaries in genres. This game does everything. And it’s seamless and it’s whole. It feels like an experience rather than a kitchen sink. I love it.”
3. “The third one is probably World of Warcraft. It packaged the [massively multiplayer online] genre and packaged it at exactly the right level of immersion and passivity. It actually allowed you to relax a little bit, just enjoy a pseudo single-player experience while surrounded by your friends and not put so much weight on you like the sandboxy games do. I played WoW -- god almighty -- I canceled three accounts and not because I don’t like the game but for the opposite reason.”
Known for: The Ancient World, Above and Below, Empires of the Void II
1. “FTL was a big favorite of mine when it came out. It’s an excellent design. I love that you can’t save it, and when you die, you die. It adds a lot of tension to the game. And I love the random elements, too. It’s different every time you play.”
2. “I love Star Control 2. It’s a giant world you can explore. It’s a really old game. For me, it’s one of the best open-world games, even though it was made in, like, ’92.”
3. “Demon Souls was a really big hit for me. I don’t usually like 3D action-RPGs, but the mechanics are so tight in that game. I love that they don’t explain a lot about the world -- it's kind of an obtuse setting that as you explore, you learn a little bit more about it. I think the gameplay is addicting, and the challenging aspect of it is a huge part of what makes it such a strong title for me.”
Known for: Scythe, Euphoria, Charterstone
1. “Mario Kart 64. Back in my college days, this was how we’d unwind after class. ‘Quick Prix? Absolutely.’ I’ve tried other versions of Mark Kart since then, and I think the reason I’ll always go back to this one is because the controls are so perfectly tied to your cart’s responsiveness.”
2. “Lords of Waterdeep. This is my go-to iPad board game port. It’s flawless in execution from start to finish. Plus, the game is solid.”
3. “Stupid Zombies. I hardly ever play games on my iPhone. I work from home, so I don’t have downtime when I can just fiddle around on my phone -- when do people play mobile games? But this is the one I play if I’m in a situation where I have no reception and nothing else to do. It’s a game where you’re trying to kill zombies by shooting bullets that bounce off and around all kinds of obstacles. Each level offers interesting challenges to puzzle out, or you can just shoot a bunch of bullets and hope to get a lucky bounce. I love it.”
Brad Talton, Jr
Known for: BattleCON and EXCEED series, Millennium Blades
1. “My personal faves are also the same as those influences, but I also enjoy Heroes of the Storm. It’s a MOBA. I play quite a lot of that.”
2. “I have sunk a lot of hours into Smash Bros. It really solidified the fighting-game genre for me.”
3. “Marvel vs. Capcom 2 was my gateway into real fighting games.”
Known for: Imperial Settlers, Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game, Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island
1. “This is a supertough question for me. The modern games I play these days are Uncharted. I love the series.”
2. “I love the racing game Split Second. Amazing racing game.”
3. “From my childhood, I remember playing Boulder Dash for hours. Wolfenstein, too. I spent a ton of hours on these games.”