Board game Top 10: 1980s games that stand the test of time

Welcome to my board game Top 10 1980s games: the decade that saw me struggle through high school, enjoy college, then get my first proper job.

I played some card games, plus some Scrabble and Chess, with my mum. Then some D&D and Games Workshop stuff at high school. And then moved on. But unbeknownst to me there were actually some pretty good board games out there.

So while ‘the cult of the new’ gets all the headlines, I thought it time to give some love to some in-print gems that deserve a place on your shelves. Many of these gems have been borrowed from repeatedly since. And I’d argue some are yet to be bettered in their genre: with many holding strong in the BGG Top 1000. So as these games reach middle age, maybe skip that overblown Kickstarter you’ve been eyeing and give a classic a chance.

I used a BGG search to get the list, so some may have slipped through the cracks. And deliberately left out war games, Games Workshop and Steve Jackson Games as they have very specific audiences. I also left out both Merchant of Venus and HeroQuest for similar reasons. While I left out the original Arkham Horror because it was unrecognisable from recent versions. The games on this list are varied, but have a good chance of appealing to various types of modern gamer.

Board game Top 10: 1980s games

10. Werewolf
(1986, 3+ players, 60 mins)

More an activity than a game? Well, I’m including it here. I’m not a fan, but it is very clever. This is a group participation game, involving outing players as potential werewolves (via often heated group discussion) and killing them off. There’s acting, lying, and manipulation. Great for parties in the right groups. And now in about a thousand flavours to suit all tastes.

9. Wizard
(1984, 3-6 players, 45 mins)

I’ve never quite understood the point of Wizard – but I love it. For me, this is contract whist with a very small twist on the rules. And the versions I’ve seen don’t have particularly nice cards (one has some of the worst fantasy art you’ll see). I’d rather just play contract whist with a normal deck of cards. But if this will draw players in, go for it! A great game.

8. 1830: Railways & Robber Barons
(1986, 2-7 players, 3-6 hours)

The popularity of the Ticket to Ride series has ensured train games are a key part of the board game landscape. And the 18xx series has done the same thing for more serious gamers. With 1830 the highest rated on BGG. It’s a deep, long route building and economic game devoid of luck. Build your network, invest in shares and make the most profit.

7. Die Macher
(1986, 3-5 players, 4+ hours)

If you’d told Die Macher’s designers their four-hour German election sim would become a 30+ year sleeper hit, I doubt they’d have believed you. But it is an utterly compelling political game. The hours fly by as alliances rise and fall, and you can see far enough forward to plan for game-changing policy and media changes. It really is quite special.

6. Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective
(1982, 1-4 players, 1-3 hours)

This is a co-operative narrative game, where together you attempt to solve a mystery. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure game on steroids, with a large mapping showing numbered locations. Piece together the clues, leading to new locations, and solve the crime. Early versions were a little wonky, but it is still being supported with new scenarios today.

The Top 5: Eighties games for all the family

5. Scotland Yard
(1983, 2-6 players, 45 mins)

Once again you’re trying to catch a murderer on the streets of London. But this time, one of you is the villain. One player moves secretly (writing down their moves) around the map, while the rest work together to corner and capture them. It’s a common find in UK charity shops and well worth a look – especially if it includes the ‘Mr X’ baseball cap!

4. Labyrinth
(1986, 2-4 players, 30 mins)

This is another mass market release with solid gamer credentials. Yes, it’s a family game and there’s a fairly large luck element involved. But planning your routes around the ever-changing maze in this spatial puzzle can be genuinely tricky. Don’t let the cartoony visuals fool you – this can be a thinky and frustrating experience for even hardened gamers.

3. Survive: Escape from Atlantis
(1982, 2-4 players, 60 mins)

Another with strong charity shop potential, Survive was a Parker/Waddingtons staple for years. It has enjoyed a recent reprint, but I don’t think the game has ever been perfected. Despite that, it is fun enough to carry it off. Desperately try to get your Atlanteans to the edge of the board. Before your opponents feed them to sharks. Wholesome family fun…

2. Take it Easy
(1983, 1-8 players, 30 mins)

This clever little abstract game sees players trying to connect pipelines to score points. The trick is that all players are using exactly the same pieces, in the same order – but arranging them how they like. Players pretty much immediately diverge and it ends up as a fascinating puzzle of a game.

1. Can’t Stop
(1980, 2-4 players, 30 mins)

This is one of my few all-time Top 20 regulars. Mechanically, it is an incredibly simple abstract dice game. But in practice it is a brilliant filler game and great for all ages – it’s even educational. Can’t Stop is all about probabilities. How long will you keep pushing your luck, while risking losing all your progress? It simply creates a great atmosphere.

I’ll come back with a 1990s list, where the competition for places will be a lot stronger! But with the exception of Werewolf (not my kind of game), there’s nothing on this list I wouldn’t happily sit down and play today.

* Like this board game Top 10 1980s list? Check out all my other Board Game Top 10s.

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