The “Brilliant Maps” Blog recently listed what it considered “The 28 Best Map Based Strategy Board Games You’ve Probably Never Played“. Leaving aside the fact that most dedicated gamers will have played many of them, how valid is this list? On closer inspection it turns out that the list is really just the top twenty-eight games listed on BoardGameGeek.com (BGG) that happen to have a map for the board. As such, it makes no subjective judgement on the quality of the map and is simply a list of the best games according to BoardGameGeek that feature a map.
|– Image used with permission of BGG contributor killy9999|
For example, the game with the highest rating on BoardGameGeek.com is Twilight Struggle which is a Euro/war game hybrid and is therefore played on a map. The map is not particularly picturesque, however, though for those old enough to remember, its spartan nature is strongly evocative of the Cold War setting. Is it a great map though? It certainly captures the theme of the game and perhaps, as such, it is indeed a great map.
|– Image by BGG contributor Verkisto|
Unsurprisingly, many of the games mentioned are war games. There are a fair number of Euro games too though: high on the list are Terra Mystica at number two, Brass at four and Power Grid at six. Number ten on the list is Concordia and eleven is El Grande – a game that is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year. Further down are Tigris and Euphrates, Steam, Pandemic, Ticket to Ride: Europe, Carcassonne and finally, just sneaking onto the list, The Settlers of Catan (or Catan as we are now supposed to call it). All these games indeed include maps of some description, but overwhelmingly, they are also all well-established “classic” games. Are they the best maps though?
|– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Oceluna|
There are some stunningly beautiful games that haven’t made the list, for example, Amerigo is played on a beautiful seascape and Lancaster includes a lovely map of the England. How do we define “map-based game” however? Clearly, a map is is a two-dimensional play space so that excludes games where the play-area is predominantly linear i.e. “a track”. But what about games where the map is produced as the game is played? If Carcassonne is considered a map game, other games where the board is built during the play should also be included, like Saboteur and Takenoko. What about one of our favourite games at boardGOATS, Keyflower? In this game, players buy tiles and then use them to build their own personal little village map. Should this be included too?
|– Image by boardGOATS|
Ultimately, none of this really matters of course: a game is a game and it all comes down to how much people enjoy playing it. One thing is clear though, while a game can be good in spite of the rendering, playing with beautiful components can only enhance the boardgame experience.
|– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Topdecker|