Check out our top 10 list of board game designers. We outline the great transformation that the board game industry has undergone and debate who is the best game designer
Best board game designers
The board game industry is undergoing a sustained period of growth and creative transformation. It has been argued that we are witnessing the "golden age" of board games. The term "board game" is still associated by many with games such as Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly or Snakes and Ladders. But fortunately board games today are much more varied and sophisticated than ever before. Thanks to a generation of game designers, the board game hobby has been transformed permanently. Traditionally, with a few exceptions such as Go, Chess, tabletop roleplaying games and war games, board games tended to be luck driven, had extremely simplistic mechanics and targeted mainly very young audiences. Most board games were considered a light entertainment or something to kill time.
A board game revolution
However, in the mid 1990s a "cardboard revolution" occurred: the era of modern board gaming had begun. Many point at Settlers of Catan, by Klaus Teuber, as the game that contributed the most to this radical transformation in the world of board gaming. In fact, the origin of this new trend can be traced back to 1978 when the Spiel des Jahres, "Game of the Year", board game and card game contest was created. The goal of this contest was to promote high quality design in board gaming. The growing popularity of the contest served to drastically increase the quality and commercial success of games. Designers became a central figure in the industry and their names started to appear on the game boxes.
The success of Settlers of Catan and other contemporary German games inspired board game designers across Europe. In countries such as Austria, France, Italy, Poland, Czech Republic and the Netherlands German-style games or "eurogames" became increasingly popular. Many non-German designers joined this board and card game revolution. Even American and British designers, who had traditionally focused on thematic games (also known as "ameritrash" games) and war games, changed the way in which they designed.
Board game designers had realized that traditional game mechanics could be greatly improved and new ideas could be introduced to enhance players' experiences. Game design greatly evolved and games became much more strategic and fun. Sophistication in design does not necessarily entail increased complexity for players. Designers today work hard to avoid players' frustration by making games more accessible and limiting playing time. Today, thanks to this generation of game designers, modern board gaming offers us a wide variety of games. In any specialized board game shop you can find deck-building, area control, tug-of-war, voting, movement programming, hidden roles, resource management, pick-and-delivery, card drafting, and worker placement games (among many other types). Not only we have competitive games but also cooperative and semi-cooperative games.
Game conventions, such as Essen Spiel, Gen Con and Origins Game Fair, as well as game reviewers, youtube channels and podcasts have strongly contributed to the growth and consolidation of modern gaming as a full-fledged hobby. Tom Vasel (The Dice Tower), Joel Eddy (Drive Thru Reviews), Richard Hammond (Rahdo Run Through), the Undead Viking, Shut Up & Sit Down, Secret Cabal, On Board Games, The Spiel, and TableTop have references for board gamers all over the world. The Kickstarter platform also enable many new designers to launch their projects, some of which may have struggled to find a publisher. Kickstarter has also been used by more experienced designers and design teams to launch more ambitious project which given the amount of components would have found difficult to reach usual channels of distribution. Today, BoardGameGeek (also known as "BGG"), the most comprehensive source for board and card gaming, lists more than 80,000 games and expansions, as well as over 20,000 designers. Here we have shortlisted 10 of the best game designers for their outstanding contribution to the board game hobby. Join our poll and debate on which of them deserves to be considered the best game designer.
Top 10 board game designers
This list contains ten of the best board game designers in the history of modern gaming. These game creators have been selected according to the contributions to game design and the success of their games. They are ordered alphabetically. Vote for your favorite in our poll and suggest other worthy designers on the discussion forum:
- Antoine Bauza: French designer famous for his cooperative and card drafting games. Antoine Bauza's best games: Ghost Stories (2008), 7 Wonders (2010), Hanabi (2011), Takenoko (2011), Tokaido (2012), 7 Wonders: Duel (2015)
- Vlaada Chvátil: Czech game designer praised for his capacity to create and merge complex mechanics with a rich theme. Vlaada Chvátil's best games: Through the Ages: A Story of Civilizations (2006), Galaxy Trucker (2007), Space Alert (2009), Dungeon Petz (2011), Mage Knight (2011), Tash-Kalar (2013), Codenames (2015).
- Stefan Feld: German designer considered one of the greatest designers of the eurogame style. Stefan Feld's best games: In the Year of the Dragon (2007), Notre Dame (2007), Macao (2009), The Castles of Burgundy (2011), Trajan (2011), Bora Bora (2013), Bruges (2013), Aquasphere (2014), Carpe Diem (2018), Bonfire (2020).
- Richard Garfield: American game designer and, from a commercial point of view, the most successful board game designer in history. Richard Garfield's best games: Magic: The Gathering (1993), RoboRally (1994), Netrunner (1996), King of Tokyo (2011), Android: Netrunner (2012), Keyforge (2018).
- Reiner Knizia: this German designer is one of the most prolific and original board game creators. Reiner Knizia's best games: Modern Art (1992), Medici (1995), Tigris & Euphrates (1997), Samurai (1998), Through the Desert (1998), Lost Cities (1999), Ra (1999), Taj Mahal (2000), Lord of the Rings (2000), Blue Moon (2004), Keltis (2008).
- Corey Konieczka: American designer who usually creates highly thematic games, usually leading a team of designers. Corey Konieczka's best games: StarCraft: The Board Game (2006), Battlestar Galactica (2008), Star Wars : X-Wing Miniature Game (2012), Eldritch Horror (2012), Star Wars: Imperial Assault (2014), Forbidden Stars (2015), Star Wars: Rebellion (2016).
- Wolfgang Kramer: veteran German designer who usually works together with other designers such as Markus Lubke, Richard Ulrich and Michael Kiesling. Wolfgang Kramer's best games: 6 Nimmt! (1994), El Grande (1996), Tikal (1999), Torres (2000), Mexica (2002), Princes of Florence (2000), Maharaja (2004), Colosseum (2007), Coal Baron (2013).
- Eric M. Lang: prolific Canadian designer famous for creating highly thematic games, usually based on sci-fi, fantasy, or horror themes. Eric M. Lang's best games: Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation (2005), Chaos in the Old World (2009), Warhammer 40,000: Conquest (2014), Arcadia Quest (2014), XCOM: The Board Game (2015), Blood Rage (2015), Others: 7 Sins (2016), Rising Sun (2018), Cthulhu Death May Die (2019), Ankh (2021)..
- Uwe Rosenberg: German designer very popular for his resource management games. Uwe Rosenberg's best games: Bohnanza (1997), Agricola (2007), Le Havre (2008), At the Gates of Loyang (2009), Ora et Labora (2011), Caverna: the Cave Farmers (2013), Patchwork (2014), Field of Arle (2014), A Feast for Odin (2016).
- Martin Wallace: eclectic British designer famous for his economic games. Martin Wallace's best games: Age of Steam (2002), Struggle of Empires (2004), Brass (2007), Steam (2009), Automobile (2009), London (2010), A Few Acres of Snow (2011), Discworld: Ankh-Morpork (2011), A Study in Emerald (2013), AuZtralia (2018), Wildlands (2018), Rocketmen (2021).
- Other notable designers: Alan R. Moon, Vital Lacerda, Matthias Cramer, Friedmann Friese, Alexander Pfister, Phil Eklund, Jeroen Doumen and Joris Wiersinga, Christian Petersen, Richard Borg, Paolo Mori, Jamey Stegmaier, Mac Gerdts, Donald X. Vaccarino, Ignacy Trzewiczek, Francesco Nepitello and Marco Maggi, Bruno Cathala, Rüdiger Dorn, Michael Kiesling, Carl Chudyk, Richard Lanius, Simone Luciani and Daniele Tascini, Matt Leacock, Luek Laurie, Tom Lehmann, Xavier Georges, Andreas Seyfarth, Rob Daviau, Francis Tresham, Jason Matthews, Chad Jensen, Inka and Markus Brand, Isaac Childres, Bruno Faidutti, Roberto Fraga, David Turczi, Mike Elliot, Scott Almes and Richard Breese.
Who is in your opinion the best of them all? What type of game do you prefer? What is the most innovative game design you have encountered? Does a better designed game always lead to more fun on the table? Thanks for sharing your views and inviting others to this discussion.
Watch these videos: "Reinventing Board Games" and "Mastering Game Mechanics":
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Top 10 board game designers: Who deserves to be considered the best?
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