Race for the Galaxy (Race for the Galaxy!!)
Princes of Florence
(One guy claimed Hansa Teutonica, but got shouted down)
Lord of the Rings
Tigris & Euphrates
(Age of) Steam
1. Lots of Knizia! It's possible that his whole oeuvre is a victim of the Cult of the New, displaced by (you see this sometimes) Stefan Feld. (I've never enjoyed a Feld game. My fault? Next time I play one I may discuss this.)
2. Some of these games are pretty new; a fair number are in print. I noted in the comments (this was just before last week's game night) that I was bringing Entdecker, Elfenland and Web of Power to game night--which are seriously elderly compared to most of these. I find it hard to believe that a game that came out in the past six years, while I've lived in State College, is too old to be worth notice.
As a rule of thumb someone suggested about a five-year window. Some games have a much shorter one; I think it was Navegador that had a player-population half-life of about four months. Huge spike early on, and then it fizzled unto nothingness. But it still has a Geek Rating in the eights, since nobody downgraded it when they stopped playing.
Back to my title.
There are a few archetypes for how things are appreciated over time. Two big ones--any my title implies a false choice--are art and science.
In the artistic realm, in a real sense works of art don't "age." They might show certain telltale signs of having been composed in a certain epoch, but that doesn't speak to their quality. A "good poem" can arise out of any society with poetry, in any age. Beowulf can be appreciated in 2013 perfectly well, and one can declare it better than the poetry of Allen Grossman or some other contemporary poet; nobody will say you're wrong just because Grossman is centuries newer. New forms of poetry are developed, but they don't make old ones obsolete. Someone who say they only read poetry that's less than fifty years old would be looked at like a crank. What true lover of poetry would deprive him- or herself of Byron, or Keats, of Akhmatova? It's unimaginable.
In the game world, this would mean that every game is on an equal footing with each other game, and a game from 1998 is potentially just as good as one from 2008 or 2012. If one were of a mind to drink deep from the well of great games, it would behoove that gamer to cast a very wide net.
A science, of course, is different. Never mind who coined the phrase (although there's an amazing book on the subject by Robert Merton), but it's true that the sciences are advanced by standing on the shoulders of giants. And once science has that new vista, the old one becomes obsolete. (OK, not entirely, but roll with me here.) We admire Newton and Gallileo, but we don't send ships to outer space based just on their observations. The latest discoveries make obsolescent the old ones, if only partially.
In a game world, this means that what we "learn" about game design--new mechanics, or whatever--really does push old games over the horizon, and makes them uninteresting. To understand the world of good games in 2013, looking beyond 2008 (or whatever) is a waste of time.
The first thing to note is that for the public at large, the cult of the new--not knowing what's new and what's old--is practically meaningless; Settlers is almost 20 years old and Mayfair just built an aircraft carrier using the proceeds from its sale. Dominion--which I'll talk about in a second--and Ticket to Ride are also hot sellers. Blokus has been out for a while, and still sells briskly. Old games do OK in the general marketplace, if less-well among hardcore gamers.
Back to the question at hand.
When someone asks "Is something X or Y?" questions, the real answer is usually "Both" or "Neither," possibly with a "Sometimes" thrown in. (I gained a notoriety in the department for refusing to go along with X or Y questions when I first got here.) In other words, games are most likely both art and science, under certain circumstances, or some third category.
Deckbuilding is an interesting phenomenon. You can trace the origins of deckbuilding back to CCGs, of course, but as a phenomenon within games the progenitor is Dominion, which is (about) a five year old game. In its wake has come an unbelievable variety of deckbuilding games, including the immortal Velociraptor! Cannibalism! which will take the world by storm. (There is no way this would have happened twenty years ago.) At any rate, many of these games obviously take Dominion as a starting point, and bolt things onto it. I'm not going to speak very specifically; the only other "deckbuilding" game I've played is Quarriors, but the main options out there for deckbuilding--Quarriors, Thunderstone, Ascension, Nightfall, and I forgot your favorite--have some sort of new and fun mechanic. They all have fans, and a great many of these fans measure their fandom in how many quanta of goodness their game is over Dominion. The sense is that Dominion is obsolete--that it was "fired," in the immortal phrase of my least-favorite geeklist.
In this little pool, there is a strong sense among many of the observers of the games that there is a science of deckbuilding, and that Dominion is inferior due to its lack of advancement, that _________ has.
A wargamer in that original CotN geeklist piped up that wargamers are relatively immune to the Cult. I'm not exactly sure. Very few wargamers will recommend that someone play a game designed before, oh 1985, or even newer, because the older ones are "old fashioned," have "outdated" rules concerning supply, have a CRT from the paleolithic, have Igo-Yugo turn sequences (very old-fashioned), etc. etc. etc. If any branch of our little world treats games like a science, it's wargaming. Heck, even I only have about four "old" wargames; I usually am willing to be convinced to take the newer game.
(History books are complicated, by the way. Some books are totally obsolescent, but most retain some amount of "usefulness." Even a bad book, with a totally incorrect thesis, can still be "useful" thanks to some work the author does on my behalf, etc. The only recent book, by an adult, that I can think of that has been entirely blown up is Arming America, and that one had its own issues. Still, they're certainly not novels--where a centuries-old novel can be as well-regarded as one written today. Especially since modern novels are mostly terrible.)
I edge more towards the artistic end of the spectrum. By this point, we're pretty sure we know what 1998's best games were*, which we don't know about 2012's games. As a creative expression, I think it unlikely that the ability of designers to express themselves has increased in the intervening 14 years. If you could wipe the memories of 200 gamers, and have them play the top five games from each five-year period from 1995 to 2010, my strong suspicion is that you wouldn't find much of a correlation between game age and game quality.
*1998 was a good year. Samurai, Through the Desert, For the People, Elfenland, Kahuna, Verrater, Circus Flohcati--gotta play that again--all kinds of good games. The one thing that is certainly true is that, thanks to advances in financing and producing games, there are a zillion more games coming out every year.
So, tentatively I'm a defender of the artistic model of game quality. I have to admit, though, that I might be wrong. It's been a while since I've gotten to play my favorite old games--I couldn't get one to the table last week. All my games here in State College have been new, or very recent. In Springfield, most of the games I played were to help get game store employees up to speed with how the games they sold played. In St. Louis, between bouts of school, it was mostly new games, again. Which are old games, now!
Which is just one reason I want to play some of these old ones. Will I still have fun? Will everyone else still have fun? The continued success of Settlers suggests that fun is fun, but I hope to have more direct data of my own soon.