Board Game Canon

12 October 2015

Most educated people know of the literary canon and the subsequent term “canonical texts.” Works of literature in this canon are  lauded for the thoughts they provoke and their acceptance among a collective. A piece gains this esteem after being withheld as valuable for several years. Among members of the collective, canonical texts are seen as common knowledge and therefore referenced by other works. This shared base of material enables furthered discussion and insight. Literature is not the only domain with a canon. Cinephiles create canons to solidify milestone films. Religious texts highlight canonical parables. Several forms of art employ canons to showcase important pieces. But, until now, something has been missing…


The board game canon.


Tabletop games are growing out of a niche interest into a mainstream activity. With this rising popularity, the need for canonical board games arises. As people find new gaming buddies and develop new games, it is useful to have a wealth of shared knowledge to draw upon for the sake of conversation and learning. Old World classics like chess and checkers were played for centuries and should certainly be recognized for their contributions to the gaming scene. Also, companies like Milton Bradley and Hasbro, who dominated much of the market throughout the twentieth century when board games went commercial, produced many classic games worthy of common knowledge.


So here’s my interpretation of the board game canon:


Go – the world’s only game where humans can still consistently beat computers. A perfect balance of the strategy and empathy, Go is a thinking man’s game of territory expansion.


Chess – one of the most played games in the world, Chess simulates battlefield thinking and strategy.


Checkers – an old-time classic for children of all ages.


Chinese Checkers – this simple but fun game of hopping marbles can afford up to six players.


Tic-Tac-Toe – play it on the back of a napkin or transform it into more complex games.


Cribbage – a classic adding and racing game good with casual conversation.


Backgammon – with a bit of luck and a good deal of strategy, this draught and dice game will separate the pros from the amateurs after a few games.


Monopoly – dividing families and ending friendships for decades, this real-estate game has been adapted into countless themes of popular culture.


Risk – although heavily-reliant on dice, this game of global domination is a fun mixture of luck and strategy.


Stratego – a fun game of tactics and memory and paranoia.


Clue – the classic whodunit.


Apples to Apples – the cleaner version of Cards Against Humanity, Apples to Apples is a good way of getting to know one’s sense of humor.


Mancala – player’s “sow” stones across the board and try to win more than their opponent.


Scrabble – a crossword puzzle in board game form is sure to stretch your mind, improve your spelling, and expand your vocabulary.


Battleship – like a knife in the dark, shoot blindly into the ocean until you hear something sinking.


Yahtzee – the classic dice game of hedging your bets and making combinations.


Trivial Pursuit – prove that you clutter your mind with more junk than your friends.


Sorry! – a devious game of moving pawns around a board and hoping to get them home safely.


Dominoes – like building blocks with unlimited potential, dominoes lend themselves to many fun games.


Mahjong – with just a pinch of luck and a lot of careful calculation, Mahjong will give you the mental fix you’re looking for.


Settlers of Catan – a brilliant German board game that has given this canon a reason to exist.


This list is by no means final, but I’ve reached the end of my turn.