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The Sumo/Counter Hall of Fame

    The background  by Gery McLaughlin

A few years ago now, during his stint as Editor of Sumo, Stuart Dagger suggested that a games Hall of Fame (henceforth HoF) would be a good idea. However, quite some time passed before a format was adopted and the final count of votes for the HoF founder members was completed only just in time for the results to be published in the final issue of Sumo earlier this year. This article explains why we wanted to establish a games HoF and describes the system to be used. Sumo will stay in the title as a tribute to our favourite magazine and to Mike Siggins (Sumo's editor/author/publisher).
Objectives and Principles
The main objective is that a HoF should be a definitive listing of the all-time greats. Secondary aims are that it should highlight the importance of game design and be a focus for a re-examination of the classics against the standards we expect of current games. It will, we hope, enable a better understanding/definition of the qualities needed to qualify as classic and perhaps serve as inspiration for a series of Classic Reviews.
To ensure it is definitive, the HoF relies on 3 main principles: Exclusivity, Maturity and Democracy (or being choosy, hindsight and voting if you prefer).
Exclusivity: A HoF should be a select club, with comparatively few entrants:- there is a need to restrict numbers to ensure that there is real competition for places. Therefore; no more than 2 games will be added to the HoF each year. While there may be a number of good games published each year there are very few true classics and the idea is to restrict the HoF to only the very best.
Maturity: A HoF should reflect long-term quality not current fashion:- there should be a substantial delay between the release of a game and its eligibility for the HoF to ensure that only games with staying power are included. Therefore; there must be a gap of at least 5 years, following publication, before a game is eligible for entry to the HoF. This means that games aren't eligible in the first flush of popularity, so games played intensively for a while but then put away and forgotten will probably not achieve HoF status.
Democracy: A HoF should reflect the views of as many people as possible:- a list of great games should not be based on narrow views or tastes. Therefore; anyone is free to nominate a game for election to the HoF and will be eligible to cast 2 votes annually. There will be no restriction placed on the number of nominations, but no one will be eligible to cast more than two votes. While only 2 games will be added each year, the top 10 runners-up in the voting will automatically be nominated for the following year's poll.
Founder Members
The real problem with a decision to add only 2 games each year was, of course, the number of existing games eligible for HoF status. We therefore kick-started the process by electing a HoF founder member list of 10 games. (Later changed to 14. See footnote). The poll (with 73 people each casting 10 votes) produced the following list of Hall of Fame Founder-Members:

  • Bluff/Liars Dice (Richard Borg)
  • Bridge (Harold Vanderbilt)
  • 1830 (Francis Tresham)
  • Acquire (Sid Sackson)
  • Chess
  • Civilization (Francis Tresham)
  • Cosmic Encounter (Bill Eberle, Jack Kittridge, Bill Norton & Peter Olotka)
  • Diplomacy (Allan Calhamer)
  • Go
  • History of the World (Steve Kendall & Gary Dicken)
  • Hare and Tortoise (David Partlett)
  • Modern Art (Reiner Knizia)
  • Railway Rivals (David Watts)
  • Scrabble
    A pretty wide selection: with a couple of railway games, money games, conquest games and race games; the father of all negotiation games; the granddaddy of word games and the two great granddads of abstract games. I don't think there can be any arguments that our main objective of (starting) a listing of the all-time greats has been achieved. It's also a particularly interesting selection of games given the genesis of the poll : with 5 games (Bridge, Chess, Diplomacy, Go and Scrabble) coming from well outside the normal range of Sumo's coverage and only three games (Bluff/Liars Dice: 1989; History of the World: 1991; Modern Art: 1992) dating from the Sumo era -- the last decade (which demonstrates an admirable sense of historical perspective from the voters). Particular congratulations are due to Reiner Knizia, Richard Borg and the Ragnar Brothers (for making it to the HoF so quickly) and to Francis Tresham (for achieving two entries).
    What's also worth mentioning is the fairly Anglo-centric nature of the list; with only one German entry (Modern Art) -- although most of the others have been successfully published in Germany (Hare & Tortoise as Hase & Igel and Railway Rivals as Dampfross). My assumption is that this will change over the next few rounds of voting, given the tide of good German games published over the last decade, but we'll need to wait and see.

  • Reprinted from Counter issue 1, 1998 with permission.

    Footnote: Initially we went for just ten founder members, but it was then decided that a board and card game hall of fame that didn't include Go and Bridge lacked credibility. Both games had finished just outside the top ten in the initial vote, but the status of both as great games is undeniable. We wanted to include them, but we also didn't want to breach the voting principle. The solution was to decide that there was nothing special about 10 as a number for a list of founders. Making it 14 instead brought both games in as of right. The two they carried in with them were Bluff and History of the World.
    Stuart Dagger

    Change as of 2002: Note that I have added the word "modern". For us to hold a vote on whether games such as Chess, Go, Bridge, Poker, Mancala and the like are classic games is both pointless and impertinent. The wider gaming world decided their status long ago. It was unfortunate that our original vote, back in Sumo, didn't exclude them from the exercise, but it is always easier to spot an unwise decision after the event.
    "Modern" will also mean that we shall exclude games that are over 50 years old, games such as Monopoly, Scrabble and Cluedo. Again, time and a wider audience have decided the status of these games.
    I also propose that we exclude 2-player wargames. This is not because there aren't a number of classics among their number, but because a Counter audience is not competent to pass judgement on them.
    Stuart Dagger


    © Mik Svellov 1998-2002editor@brettboard.dk21. sep 2002