Topic of the Week: The Iterators

There is a certain class of designer. The designer who has an idea, and publishes it. And then either a) figures out slightly better way to do that idea, b) has no additional ideas but needs to publish another game for income, or c) forks that idea into a recognizable but new universe of possibilities.

Bottom line, sometimes it comes out great. Sometimes it’s pretty shoddy.

Here is a not-comprehensive list of high profile iterators:

Matt Leacock

Tom Lehmann

  • Race for the Galaxy
  • Roll for the Galaxy
  • Jump Drive
  • New Frontiers
  • 1846: Race for the Midwest
  • 1833NE

Martin Wallace (@LaLunaVerde, start your engine)

  • London
  • London Second Edition (yeah it’s quite different)
  • Age of Steam
  • Railways of the World
  • Steam: Rails to Riches
  • Steam: Robber Barons
  • Brass
  • Age of Industry
  • Brass: Birmingham
  • Brass: Lancashire (this may be indistinguishable from Brass original?)
  • Brass 3 (Announced)
  • A Few Acres of Snow
  • Mythotopia
  • A Handful of Stars
  • (Hands in the Sea, not Wallace but someone else polishing the model)

Drogemuller / Ostertag

  • Terra Mystica
  • Gaia Project
  • Terra Nova
  • Age of Innovation

Paolo Mori

  • Dogs of War
  • Blitzkrieg
  • Caesar (kinda?)
  • Dogs of War 2e (announced)
  • Libertalia
  • Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest
  • Ethnos
  • Archeos Society

Reiner Knizia

  • Tigris & Euphrates > Yellow & Yangtze / Huang
  • Through the Desert > Blue Lagoon
  • Through the Desert + Samurai > Babylonia
  • My City > My Island
  • Quo Vadis > Zoo Vadis
  • (Feel free to add, Knizia seems to be always niggling and trying a new angle on a concept)

Some questions:

  • How do you feel, generally, about iteration in published games? Is it a necessary part of the evolution of ideas? Symptom of publisher deadlines that constrain art? Laziness? Greed?
  • What separates good iteration from bad or greedy iteration?
  • Do you know other examples of iteration worth talking about? In those, and these, which is your favorite version of a concept?
  • Do you find you gravitate toward the initial concept or final concept more frequently? Why?

Iteration is basically how the world works for the most part, so I’m aggressively fine with it.

However the new version does need to add.

Leacock’s various Forbid-demic are essentially the same game to me 3-4 actions, bad stuff happens, repeat until dead or win.

Lehman’s iterations on the **** For The Galaxy are different enough to me to enjoy them all.

  • Race is a hand of stuff you manage to put together a shaky engine

  • Dice gives you a random pile of stuff every turn to deal with

  • Puerto Rico in Space Action Selection gives you everything on the table and you race to get the key developments for your plan

  • So Many Cards just says go mad to accelerate an engine to the end


Erm. Haven’t you missed the most famous iterator? Rosenberg seems mandatory for this conversation.


Would Alan R. Moon count, with the numerous versions of Ticket to Ride?

The way I look at a lot of these iterations is the games they are based on are out of print, and the iteration is basically a way to re-release the game with some tweaks that the designer has made, likely after feedback from their game being out in the wild for years, allowing some flaws to become apparent. Even if the games do eventually come back into print, and there’s often debate in these instances about which game is the superior one.

Looking at all the Pandemics, I’m not sure how involved Leacock really is for a lot of them. Paolo Mori is credited for Fall of Rome. Chuck D. Yager for Reign of Cthulhu. Jesus Torres Castro did Iberia. Etc, etc. Leacock’s name is on them as well, of course, but I’m not certain if he really had any input other than just as the original designer of the core mechanics. There is enough evolution to most of these to differentiate them from the original, IMO, so I don’t think of them really as just simple cash grabs, and I feel most people prefer some iteration of the game over the original Pandemic, so, good iterations?

I feel I tend to gravitate towards whatever theme I prefer, or whatever version is actually available.


Oh yes, I did mull on him but he didn’t make it into the notes I made.

Interesting case - he and Shem. I think most of the people I flagged as “iterators” are iterating on a system. Like Lehmann - role selection, lead/follow, tableau with engine tweaks. Lehmann (I agree) changes the system in meaningful ways but it’s still recognizable. While Leacock changes it in meaningless ways so you feel like you’re stuck in a loop.

Rosenberg and Shem seem to iterate on mechanics instead. Caverna is clearly an iteration of Agricola - take away the scoring caps so specialization becomes viable and make food more abundant so you can focus on scoring engines… But Le Havre is a different beast, just with the feeding mechanism crossing over. Arle takes from both schools, not a straight iteration from a single lineage.

Uwe definitely iterates on Cottage Garden to Indian Summer to Patchwork to New York Zoo. Then Odin takes a bit from those and a bit from Arle, again crossing lineages and not feeling like any one progenitor.

Orianenburger Kanal takes a resource wheel from Glass Road. I think that shows up in one other game as well? Glass Road also feels like an attempt to shunt Bohnanza sensibilities into the family tree. Hallertau and Nusfjord both have one-shot cards acting as more powerful worker spaces.

It’s more like a web than a sequence, or more like a pile of legos that are being configured into new shapes, instead of a modular lego building that is being adjusted at the edges.

I’d say the same for Shem Phillips.

Iteration? Absolutely. But somehow also a different category? Add it to the pile.

  • Forbidden Island, * Forbidden Desert

I much prefer Desert of these two. I’ve played Pandemic two or three times and just didn’t love it.

Martin Wallace: * London, * London Second Edition (yeah it’s quite different)

I have London 2nd ed and think it’s pretty great.

How do you feel, generally, about iteration in published games? Is it a necessary part of the evolution of ideas?

Yes, I’m fine with it. Particularly with 2nd editions that improve the balance or add features, and you can tell that effort has gone in to make a measurably better game.

There are MANY that have successfully improved so much in the 2nd ed that it counts as an iteration, dungeon crawlers, LCGs, all sorts.


I’m fine with them to a point. I’m on record here as thinking Rosenburg sanded down his rough edges from Agricola, to give us games which just don’t have that magic. It’s also annoying when you buy a game, only for a sequel to be announced, which then has to either be ignored or sit awkwardely next to it.
That said, I played Forbidden Jungle yesterday for the first and last time. It was a true step down from Desert.


We do “agile software development” at work. This prides itself on an iterative approach. Iteration needs to improve or add, I very much agree with this:

I tend to enjoy newer iterations more as games get a bit more polish. I have learned in the last few years that I’d rather wait for a newer design than track down the old one f.e. Libertalia. The new version is really nice–yes it is changed but I never played the old. I have no idea what it is like.

It is different for games where I played the OG version a lot before ever getting into the new version.
In my case I am thinking of Terra Mystica and Gaia Project (not that I have played either more than twice in the years since getting my hands on Spirit Island)

I like shiny new games and modern rulesets and design sensibilities and usability and all that stuff, so if Knizia finally does a new version of Samurai, I am all for it. I can’t wait to get my new copy of Through the Desert. Knizia especially though likes to reskin his games and do some minor polish all the time. He has enough games that it doesn’t feel like he is just repeating himself more than he is inventing new games.

There is probably also a difference between iteration on a design and a recognizable design style.
Rosenberg iterates in some cases but he has such a distinct style and is re-using similarish mechanics and themes so much that it feels like iterations of the same game when there is far less repetition then between the Pandemics or the recent trilogy of GWTs.

I’d have called Matt Leacock a 2-trick pony until I played Daybreak. I like the various iterations of Pandemic often more than the base game these days but I think legacy killed the OG that and our quarterbacking friend. When not plying a legacy campaign, I prefer Iberia or Fall of Rome.

I wonder about Chudyk? I have not played any of his games enough to give an expert opinion but but… while distinct in many ways Mottainai, Aegean Sea and Innovation carry some common mechanics and not just that, they feel similarish in a way that makes me wonder if he is iterating on some base model that underlies all 3.

Lehmann feels similar. He seems to have one model of how games “are supposed to be” and he iterates on that. I like the *Galaxy games that I know (Race and Roll) both and find them distinct enough to keep both on my shelf. How does Res Arcana fit into that? I haven’t played that one enough.

There are also the word games by Tim Fowers that are all iterations of the same basic idea: Hardback, Paperback, Paperback Adventures… in this case I am very fine owning only one of them. Again I like Hardback over Paperback which is the original. He also iterates some of his other designs Fugitive got an updated/improved version and arguably the 2nd iteration on Burgle Bros is better than the first (I still don’t enjoy it all that much.)

Good iteration

  • when a game goes out of print, people clamor to get it back and while getting a new print run the game gets a few updates. Maybe balancing or known issues from the previous version.
  • when a designer actually has new ideas and does a 2.0. This can go bad when some of the ideas are less good or the attempt to distinguish from the original design lead to half good, half bad ideas. I like the tracks in GP a lot more than in Terra Mystica but I dislike the map… I prefer the OG map. So now I am playing neither (that’s because of Spirit island more than anything though where 2 handed play actually makes sense and I dont have to hide my strategy from myself every other turn anymore)

Greedy iteration:

  • Everything ever that Asmodee does? F.e. Ticket 2 Ride, Smallworld. After the success of Just One, they made So Clover which was also good and now they just publish bad party games in the same box/design. That’s not even iteration, just greed.
  • Also Catan, Carcassonne and Catan. Have I mentioned Catan? Maybe it is particularly bad here but Catan.
  • Codenames. Much as I love it. Who needs Disney, Marvel and all the other variants of this? None of them add anything.
  • GWT getting 3 new versions feels a bit on the greedy side.

Big iteration:

  • Gloomhaven - Jaws of the Lion - Frosthaven? I wouldn’t say that is greedy but it is also a bit too much.

I think a lot depends on my mood. I like to think that the two separate games should be separate games; when I played Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu it felt more like a re-skin than it really ought to, even though I can see there really are differences. (And Fall of Rome still has a dedicated following.)

Then I look at eleventeen Timeline tins and shrug a lot.


There is never enough Timeline :slight_smile:


I met this idea when it was branded/licenced variants of Love Letter. I think the idea is that they’re not trying to sell to the game fan, they’re trying to sell to the IP fan. I am buying a present for my [relative], I know they like [franchise], here is a known solid game by capable designers which has been very lightly tweaked and has [franchise] painted all over it, well, at least it’s a decent game.


Still greedy.

But yes of course. Get the Star Wars fan a Star Wars game :slight_smile:
(I am not sure the Star Wars Pandemic I have on my shelf should stay there)


Is it time for a munchkin and dominion side bar?

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Agreed on Munchkin. Dominion seems a bit much as well.

I forgot Mr Cole „2.0“ Wehrle. From what I can tell people seemed to be in agreement that his 2.0s are better than the 1.0s.


I’m fine with iterations. I don’t have this mentality where the original design is THE perfect edition. Iterations is how to improve, but that doesn’t mean that the latest iteration is the best one. It’s in a case-be-case basis.

I don’t see it as greed or as a cynical way to make money. You can make bank with board game designing, but board game designing isn’t really THAT lucrative. So the incentive isn’t there, imo.

Martin Wallace: I thought London 2nd ed was alright! Steam my least preferred iteration. ROTW (a Glen Drover design) was focused on track building with income-raising as the short term goal and the destinations being the long-term goals. Age of Steam is the tight snowball that I like. Steam sits in the middle and doesn’t do either in a way that I want.

Within the Brass family, I like them. Birmingham is the least preferred. But to be fair on Wallace, that isn’t really his design. Basically, a couple of Euro designers picked up Brass and turned it into yet another efficiency game with good amount of “fake depth” attached to it. At least, the Brass framework still allows good amount of subtlety. Age of Industry is my preferred; the redesign of it means that it’s less of an efficiency game and more into spatial fights.

Pandemic series
I really like Pandemic Legacy but that’s because they put storytelling as an intricate part of the game. For simpler Pandemics, I would go for Iberia and Wrath of the Lich King as my faves. The others are okay. But I am assuming that they tweak the game to be rather easy to beat so it’s suitable as a family game. Nothing wrong with that.

When it comes to Knizia, just pick which one you want. A lot of mids with some great ones. I have a list of designers with better “batting average”. As someone who spent literally years going through his ludography, it was a satisfying journey, but it only made me put him downwards on the rankings.

Cole Werhle
I would put Cole Werhle here too. He’s doing his gallery of 2nd editions now that he got an indie publisher he owns with his brother. What might be controversial with here is that I might end up preferring Pax Pamir 1st ed (yes, the one with Eklund’s dumb essay about how good colonialism is) but I might need some more plays of it.

Uwe Rosenberg
I would go against the wave here and say that Rosenberg did improve from Agricola. The fact that he removed the concept of grabbing more workers via action spaces on his latter designs is a crucial lesson. I have always found that to be a serious bottleneck that led to obvious plays, rather than creating interesting game-states. On a 4 player, the problem is more blatant. Assuming that all 4 players had an equal go at “make a baby” action space (which isn’t always the case), it means that the first player is 4 actions faster than the fourth player. But hey! Such is the nature of Euro games: potential winners are often decided very early because the game doens’t give you the tools to radically change the game to your favour. Old Gric isn’t special here, at least.

Terra Mystica family
Another controversial take where I think the tech tree actually made the game more restrictive on decisions in Gaia rather than making the game deeper. Once you’ve set your strategy in regards to the tech-tree, there’s not much big decisions you can do with it. The rest iof the game is on the fight for planets, which is less interesting than Terra. And so I thought AoI and TM are better.

Also, Terra Nova is a good take. The removal of duplicate currencies (money and workers) is a good thing because they only add “fake depth” to the game. There’s not much difference between money and workers except that A is more valuable than B, due to scarcity.


Just one addendum. Wouldn’t Leacock’s Thuinderbirds be considered an iteration of his other games as well? Co-Op, with characters moving around the world to avoid some sort of doom…

I must admit I have no issue with Iterator authors. Even greedy ones that only change the theme and a couple of rules (Splendor, Love Letter, Concordia, Catan…), to each its own in the way they make money. If they weren’t doing it, others would, I guess. As long as they get to make the hobby better somehow, even if only by captivating a bigger audience that way.

In a way, if you really like that kind of game, you sort f know what to expect, I guess.

With respect to including Shem Philips and Uwe, I think if Martin Wallace is included, so should they (Raiders of the North-Scythia, and plenty of Uwe’s are as related between them as Wallace’s)


Honestly, I consider Jaws of the Lion to be ingenious. Gloomhaven is a big sell, in price, concept, and shelf space. Making an affordable version that lets people slowly learn the game system (though there are some rule differences between GH and JotL) and determine if it is something they want more of if just brilliant marketing.

I would be curious to know how much JotL affected GH sales. I would think it improved them, as people who otherwise would not have purchased it due to the price got hooked on JotL and wanted more.


PS: no matter how greedy boardgame iterations might be btw… they have nothing on computer games. We’ve been playing and because I am bad at it I google games and the number of games some computer game franchises have… is staggering. Not just Fifa.

And on that note: I played Civ 1, Civ 2, Civ 3, Civ 4, Civ 5 and Civ 6 and I always liked the newest iteration better than the one before. Now of course with computer games the underlying tech changes much faster than for boardgames… so there is one obvious reason newer iterations are more shiny. But still… especially with a game like Civ… it is the system changes that make the new version better. (except maybe #5 or was it #4 and I know some people dislike #6)


At least with Love Letter some of the ones I’ve seen are genuine iterations / variants with new rules, and not just re-themes that only change the name. I think I have the cartoon “Archer” Love Letter somewhere, and it has a unique win condition that fits the show’s theme. Fair enough.

Gloomhaven to Jaws of the Lion gave SO MANY great improvements that it’s exactly the sort of iteration I want to see. If you find ways to streamline the gameplay and improve the rules and presentation, and you want to make that the new default baseline for your game from now on, please do that. It’s just an improvement for everybody.


I’d say so, though it doesn’t seem to have been hugely popular (or maybe licence fees didn’t make it profitable enough). It feels in play a lot like his other games: “If only I had one more action, everything would be fine, but next turn will be too late”.

I admit to bias because Flash Point has a similar core mechanic but I enjoy it much more.

Absolutely. The way I see it, these tend to be variations that wouldn’t get published on their own (“do I want Love Letter with Cheese or Love Letter with Tomato”). But their vision of their customer is definitely “I have a wall of Star Wars” not “I have a wall of Love Letter”.

And, being fair to Munchkin, I think that was the plan there too, even before they started doing official licences.