One of the appeals of traditional games such as Chess, Go, Backgammon, or Poker is the depth that they have acquired over the years; long-standing communities and traditions, wide range of players from different backgrounds, depth of strategic analysis that has occurred over the years, and wide range of skill levels with very strong top players that comes about from years of study and training.

Many newer games are mere flashes in the pan; fun for a while, but ultimately replaced after a few years with something newer and shinier. Many of them have the potential to gain such depth, but they are crowded in a field of other games, and do not really develop their own independent communities nor a significant pool of people to put in the time and dedication to create a strong competitive system.

What recent games (defined as having been invented within the past century or so) have managed to achieve this sort of durability; their own cultures and communities, high-level tournament play, strong strategic analysis and a broad range of player skill? What games have not yet had time to (past 10 years or so), but do you feel have the seeds of such depth?

Here are some criteria that can help determine if a game has reached this level. Not all criteria need apply, or may not apply exactly, but the more the better.

  • Significant tournaments with professional or semi-pro players; or large amateur tournaments at a national or international level.
  • Official rating or ranking system (or more than one) with hundreds of players and a wide range of abilities represented.
  • Significant coverage in mainstream media, not just passing references or coverage in game-specific media.
  • Multiple independent publications discussing the game specifically (not as one of many, but dedicated to the game in question). Books, magazines, professional level blogs or e-zines, etc.
  • Professional on-line or software implementations dedicated to this game, or many independent computer implementations in systems which cover multiple games with hundreds of active players.
  • Popularity in groups of people outside of of traditional gamer groups; cultural relevance of the game outside of the gaming community.
  • Multiple clubs (regional, city, or university) dedicated to this game in particular, not gaming or a particular genre of gaming in general.
  • I would consider this question to be just on the wrong side of the subjective/objective dividing line, so voting to close.
    – Erik P.
    Commented Oct 20, 2010 at 16:12
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    @Erik There's nothing wrong with subjective questions on their own; most questions on here are going to be subjective to one degree or another, this isn't a topic with lots of questions that have objective answers like programming or math (there are a few specific strategy question that might, but this is about a lot more than strategy). The close vote is for subjective and argumentative; for questions which are both subjective and likely to lead to arguments, such as well-known flamewars. Commented Oct 20, 2010 at 16:27
  • Chess, Go, Backgammon, and Poker all have multiple sources for their pieces, and rules. Most modern games (and the answers below) have unique pieces, and a single owner. I wonder if that is a limiting factor. Commented Sep 19, 2011 at 18:25
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    @ErikP.: edited the question by changing "deep" to "lasting." "Deep" is subjective; "lasting" can be measured objectively, and I have voted to reopen this question as edited.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 15:45
  • I can't answer since this is closed, but I'll say that I think Arimaa fits all the criterion. Its community isn't large yet but it is growing, has tournaments, and generally meets the other criteria. As @Pat Ludwig said, I think M:TG is the single best contender, but I think Arimaa is a good contender too. Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 16:30

8 Answers 8


Magic - The Gathering

This simple looking card game transformed the industry quickly leading to huge tournaments culminating in a World Championship. It has been going strong for over 15 years and shows no sign of stopping.

Strategies mutate and change with every release, but the good players are able to adapt and continue to remain strong.

  • Tournaments: The World Championship is the culmination of many levels of feeder tournaments. There are a large number of people in many countries that play the game on a semi-pro basis.
  • Official Rating system - check, The rating system has been active and supported for over a decade.
  • Mainstream coverage - NY Times, USA Today, GAMES magazine Hall of Fame, broadcasts on ESPN, many others.
  • Publications
    • 529 book references on Amazon for "Magic the Gathering", a lot of magazine have publishing price guides and articles for Magic over the years.
    • Scrye was my favorite back in the day.
    • InQuest was another popular magazine.
  • Online or Software support
    • Two videogames released in 1997 (Magic: The Gathering and Magic: The Gathering: Battlemage
    • Magic: The Gathering Online was released in 2002 and is still played by hundreds of thousands of people
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    I think that given the criteria listed, and evidence presented, this would have to be it. It is amazingly popular, has a professional tournament system, has supported multiple professional publications. The one caveat is that it is very centralized upon its publisher; given the nature of the game, it's not one that can really have a life outside of its publisher. This means that it might not last, if the publisher goes out of business or scales it back, but for moment, this is the best answer. Commented Oct 22, 2010 at 3:52
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    I'm not sure Magic is completely dependant on it's publisher any more. It's dependant as long as WotC are alive, but there are many tools for creating cards and web sites full of fan expansions. If Wizards died tomorrow, I think the community hardcore would organise and start agreeing 'community official' expansions. (There is precedent; this happened when WotC's Star Wars card game was cancelled.)
    – Tynam
    Commented Nov 1, 2010 at 11:30
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    @Tynam: I don't really believe it. Custom-created cards will never be developed with the same amount of depth as the publisher does. You'll be lucky if they "playtested" them twice. When Wizards publishes a broken (i.e. too strong) card, it's official and you have to live with it... what if a custom card is too strong? This will never work.
    – o0'.
    Commented Nov 2, 2010 at 23:03
  • Lo'oris: I do believe it; it works well in other domains. (When Wizards publishes a broken card that's much too strong, the community immediately exploits it until Wizards catches on and fixes or bans it - because a large community of playtesters will catch stuff even the official testers miss. Look at the Mirrodin artelands for an example.) I didn't say a single fan would provide good fan-expansions (as you say, they'd never get enough testing). I said the community as a whole would. 'Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.' Given enough Magic players, testing is sufficient.
    – Tynam
    Commented Nov 3, 2010 at 13:39
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    @Andrew... your point is good, but I'm not convinced it means Magic isn't deep. That the community doesn't exploit the full depth (because of the constant expansion in breadth) doesn't mean that depth isn't there. I recall some very deep strategic analysis and deck design discussions back when I started playing... when Antiquities came out and the total card pool was still around 500-600.
    – Tynam
    Commented Jan 6, 2011 at 19:17


The game mechanics are very simple, but the game is far from simple. Unlike a game like Magic the Gathering, Scrabble achieves it's depth of near infinite possibilities with a simple board and a 100 wooden tiles. Each play on the board has an immediate effect on what future possible actions players can take. Scrabble has it's own dictionary, had a TV show, has an established tournament structure, and can be played online. Scrabble has appeared also on numerous consoles and computer systems.

Playing scrabble well requires critical thinking, and good spelling. First published in 1948, Scrabble continues to remain popular even today.

  • There's a documentary about competitive Scrabble that's weirdly interesting; I've seen it twice Commented Oct 21, 2010 at 5:15
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    I voted this answer up, but I'm not 100% sold: Scrabble success depends on vocabulary, while the examples listed (go, chess, backgammon, poker) do not. This is an element outside of the game itself that affects success, and I'm not sure that really qualifies as depth. Commented Nov 6, 2010 at 18:36
  • I was turned off to Scrabble when I learned that the best players aren't even native English speakers! It might have been in the documentary cited above... ?? Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 15:05
  • @AndrewVandever Chess depends on knowing how every piece moves, and then studying a dictionary of chess openings. Scrabble depends on knowing a list of words. How is that different?
    – Stef
    Commented May 22 at 11:24
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    @Stef, wow, 14 years later, I really had to rethink this one! But I think I can expand on my answer, hopefully to your satisfaction. Chess’s depth belongs to the game system and the creativity of players working within that system. If Scrabble’s depth lies only in language, it’s proper to say that that depth doesn’t really belong to Scrabble. Couldn’t any word game also claim that depth? FWIW I think Scrabble also has a strategic depth that is derived from the rules system irrespective to language, but i don’t believe that depth is as great as that of chess. Commented May 23 at 19:21


This has all of these things - a distinctive culture, played in tournaments, ranking systems, extensive opening and endgame analysis with named opening patterns.

There is also a still-extant play-by-mail culture, PBEM through the Judges and a string of on-line play sites

It was first published in 1958, so it's now 50 years old.

  • There are a number of amateur tournaments, starting from the early 1970s, up to the annual World DipCon, running since 1988.
  • There are a lot of unofficial ranking systems, but there is neither an official one, nor one that covers the diversity of ways to play (websites, PBEM/judges, PBM, face-to-face, tournament). Many PBM 'zines and most websites have ranking systems for their users.
  • Diplomacy got more coverage in the past than it does now, but when Kissinger spends a lot of time talking about the game, you know it's had a mainstream impact.
  • Dedicated publications coming out of your ears: Diplomacy World is up to issue 117 (as of April 2012). I don't think there has ever been a fully-pro periodical, but there are a number of published books.
  • Multiple independent software implementations - yes, and so much so that there is now a standardised complete test suite for conformance to the rules (DATC).
  • Popularity outside of gamer-culture, probably the weakest, though getting a Secretary of State and a President playing is still kinda impressive. JFK played as well as Kissinger; Nixon is thought to have done so. I dread to imagine playing with both Nixon and Kissinger.
  • Clubs, Oh yes. 75 just counting those listed on one relatively obscure website
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    +1 Diplomacy IMHO can be so 'deep' because the negotiation stage allows for the full range of human emotions and behaviours.
    – Jon Hadley
    Commented Oct 21, 2010 at 7:36
  • PS check out the links, especially "string of on-line play sites" Commented Oct 21, 2010 at 10:02
  • Great answer after the edits! I'd agree, Diplomacy definitely qualifies. Commented Oct 21, 2010 at 15:50


I don't expect a lot of votes up because the game is very new, but I think Dominion has the potential to do a much better job qualifying in the long run than Magic: The Gathering. The problem with any Trading Card Game, in my opinion, is the high financial barrier to entry, as well as the potential significance of limited run cards. To put it more clearly, if you spend more money, show up at more promotional events and have been playing longer than I, you are going to have a much larger set of cards to choose from, and this could give you an insurmountable advantage. If I just don't understand and any starter deck could beat the deck of an experienced player, then I guess I'm mistaken, but I doubt that's the case. One could argue that this is part of the game or meta-game, but I would argue that one of the great virtues of games like chess, go, backgammon or poker is that you can own a set for very little cost to you, and introduce a new player without their having to purchase anything at all.

Dominion, in contrast to Magic, has a much lower barrier to entry because new players can simply join in on a game with your set, and because in a given game all players have the same resources available to them at the beginning.

Now to argue against both games' inclusion: chess, go, etcetera are expanded in depth as a result of exploration of new strategies within the existing game framework. Most modern games, including both Dominion and Magic, are expanded by the addition of new game elements. One could argue that games like chess and go must have gone through an evolutionary phase like this before reaching their current form, and I suppose that is possible, but I certainly think that a game that is still adding features cannot be called "deep" in the same way that these older games can. Perhaps one day Dominion will attain this status, but I think at this point I couldn't vote up my own answer in good conscience.

  • 1
    having played both Dominion and Magic the Gathering I disagree. Dominion is a good game but lacks the depth and complexity of pro-level MtG (I played in the early tournaments including the first world championship and though I was more focused on being a MtG dealer for a time I had many friends who were serious pro-tour players - winning major tournaments and traveling around the world). I haven't kept up with MtG but the range of tournament types and ongoing pro-tour shows it is still very popular Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 23:53
  • The cost to play competitive MtG is moderately high, but a competitive deck is much less than a decent set of say Golf Clubs. The barrier to entry in casual games is low. For about $20 I can have two prebuilt decks that let you play and are well balanced against each other. When you are starting out and show up to events you will frequently have people just give you cards (I built up some of my collection on gifts and turned around and started giving when I got a decent sized collection.) Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 16:27

Contract Bridge and Duplicate Bridge

Technically speaking the modern form of the game was devised around 1925 (by Harold S Vanderbilt). There were variants earlier like auction bridge, which don't fall into the past century category I suppose.

Every point you speak of is true for bridge (concentrating mainly on USA).

  • Tournaments: USA itself holds nationals at least two times a year, with a world championship (Bermuda Bowl) held every 2 years, at different locations in the world. Many countries have their own set of tournaments.
  • Ranking System: ACBL (American Contract Bridge League) has a masterpoint system with milestones like Master, Life Master etc. World Bridge Federation also seems to have a ranking.
  • In the 1950s/60 etc Bridge was one of the major games getting media coverage. This has declined, though.
  • Too many books, magazines devoted to bridge.
  • At least two competing online bridge sites (BBO and okbridge). There are also software like Jack and GIB which are designed to play and teach. There are even computer player only tournaments where these software like Jack compete.
  • Mainly popular outside traditional gamer groups.
  • Almost every major city in the US has at least one club which holds weekly games.

One game that has "not yet had time to, but..." has the seeds of depth is Settlers of Catan.

It's too new to really have the depth of community analysis we're talking about here yet. Yet it does have an entrenched and widespread community, multiple (electronic and board) reimplementations, and the strategic depth to support serious analysis. (For example, a moment's web search reveals numerous articles on the mathematics of resource exploitation.)

I'll be interested to see where it is in thirty years.

  • 1
    -1 : If you do not think your answer qualifies, please don't post it. This isn't a forum, we need to keep to our question/answer format. Thanks!
    – Pat Ludwig
    Commented Jan 5, 2011 at 22:42
  • 1
    @Pat, the question does ask "What games have not yet had time to (past 10 years or so), but do you feel have the seeds of such depth?". I was attempting to address that when I posted. (My answers to the rest of the question had already been covered, so I could just upvote.) Probably I should have made that more explicit in the answer.
    – Tynam
    Commented Jan 7, 2011 at 16:03
  • hmm, I hadn't picked up on that one sentence in there. My apologies.
    – Pat Ludwig
    Commented Jan 7, 2011 at 16:12
  • @Pat: No complaint here. If you hadn't picked up on that, probably other readers haven't... and we should edit the question, or the answer, to be clearer. I've edited the answer.
    – Tynam
    Commented Jan 7, 2011 at 16:18

Advanced Squad Leader (ASL)

The ultimate game of WW2 squad level fighting, where anything that could be done in WW2 can be modeled (rockets, paratroopers, any vehicle ever used, etc.). It has a dedicated community with ongoing tournaments. There are over two thousand scenarios for it, and many modules and addons.

It has clubs throughout the world, tournaments all year round, many publications that support it solely and many publications that print scenarios and other articles for it. It has two different rating systems, OARS which is just for ASL, and AREA which is used for many wargames (though nowadays I think AREA is mostly used). It has many websites, forums and blogs that discuss it.

  • Great game, and there's a lot of information there. Obviously it has a huge learning curve (thousand-page rulebook and all) but how much analytic depth is there in the game, or is it just about the ability to process the volume of information? Commented Oct 21, 2010 at 18:19
  • @Richard, There are hundreds of articles doing analysis on the tactics, some with unbelievable stats and math behind them. It is a very analytical game, and in fact there seems to be more analytical type people who play it than otherwise. Commented Oct 21, 2010 at 18:40
  • ASL certainly satisfies the first, second, fourth and fifth items in the bullet list, and it is usually possible to get a mention in the local paper with a little effort. Commented Jan 3, 2011 at 10:36

Hex and other connection games like Twixt

Cameron Browne has written a book of analysis and online play is pretty active. I haven't heard of any tournaments in person, though. As much as I love Hex, my personal favourite connection game is Akron, invented by Cameron Browne.

  • 4
    I wouldn't quite count these. While there has been substantial analysis of their strategy, and they are somewhat popular online, I don't think any of them quite meet the threshold of having a large and deep enough community. There is a good deal of light online play, but there isn't much in the way of serious competitive tournament play, any substantial ranking systems, and isn't that much of a community around any one specific game. Commented Oct 20, 2010 at 17:51
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    @Brian: Hex and Twixt have serious competitive (online tournament) play, substantial ranking system and more than 100 serious players. Check littlegolem.net Commented Mar 4, 2011 at 14:39

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