3rd Blog-iversary: Trends I see in Gaming

3 Years On…

I was looking through my Facebook memories, as one does, and I saw that October 14th, 2014 marked the start of my tenure with Epic Slant Press.

My initial post marked my move to cooperative games, and then a few weeks later, I chronicled what it was like to start in on solitaire gaming.

On previous anniversaries, I chronicled my own progress on the blog, and how it felt to have been writing for as long as I have. And I imagine repeating such sentiments would make this anniversary post less compelling as the years wore on.

Rather, I would like to focus on changes I’ve observed in gaming as a hobby over the past year.

Specifically, I’ve seen the following reach new heights:

  1. The designer game
  2. The consumable game
  3. The legacy game

Some of these trends overlap quite a bit. But, for better or worse, they are here to stay for the foreseeable future.

For Better or Worse, For Richer, For Poorer

The rise of the designer game is perhaps best captured by the spirit of Serious Poulp and Chip Theory Games.

Serious Poulp is the company behind 7th Continent, a game which Tom Vasel of The Dice Tower  has labeled “possibly the best adventure board game ever made.”

Serious Poulp makes the claim on their recent Kickstarter page that: “The game became a reality thanks to over 12,000 backers, but the cost of making such a game is so high that a retail version is almost unfeasible.”

The stylish organizers and cards for 7th Continent, as featured on the campaign page.

The basic pledge that includes stretch goals for the Kickstarter is $129.

In a similar vein, Chip Theory Games, makers of the Hoplomachus, Too Many Bones, and Triplock series of games has this to say: “The one and only place to buy our games. Selling this way gives us the freedom to create without limits or commercial restrictions.”

Three mats, dice, lots of chips, and lots of game play!

As you may be able to tell from the above image of Hoplomachus Origins, the components of Chip Theory Games strive for quality: neoprene mats, hefty chips as playing pieces, and a solid visual aesthetic for the most part.

These are designer games, where the designer has an artist’s soul, as it were: wanting control over the distribution, quality, and craft of the game they produced.

Is this a good thing for the hobby? Well, I can think of some pros and cons.

Cons

First, I’m a bit skeptical that games that are constantly reviewed highly aren’t commercially viable, or would be substantially altered in order to release in a retail environment. I’ve seen $150 direct-from-Kickstarter games sell out repeatedly in my Friendly Local Game Store. So money isn’t an object, if the game is perceived as valuable.

Second, I feel that some people miss opportunities for games that would have otherwise appealed to them, despite the online press and the marketing campaigns.

It’s a bit harder to stumble upon something in an online environment, as opposed to a physical store, where games are on shelves, and you can have an “Ooh! What’s that?” moment.

Third, having the overhead of commercial demands imposed by a company may sound negative, if some deserving games never get made at all. But, I suspect that the opposite argument could be made: companies with successful evergreen titles like Pandemic can quite probably afford to take a risk on a more experimental–yet still promising–title, and bring it to market.

So, perhaps there is something to be said for a traditional business model. Then, the game would be more widely available, and the small company/indie designer would not assume all the risks of printing extra copies that might not sell, etc.

Fourth, some of these people are having to wear lots of hats at their company, with greater or lesser success. Consider the heretofore sad tale of Myth: Journeyman if you want an in-depth look at some of the perils of this approach.

Pros

On the other hand, the numbers raised by some of these Kickstarter campaigns speak to the fact that these independent designers and companies are doing just fine, thanks, without the guidance of a company.

Well, we were struggling gang. We only hit 7,000,000… It’s been a rough campaign.

Maybe, there could be a bit of refinement, here and there, but on the whole they do make a compelling argument that it’s not too dangerous to go alone after all.

Secondly, there is something to be said for these indie game companies, from the standpoint that they really do have to innovate to stand out in a crowded market. It can make you feel like you’re supporting a “David” against a corporate “Goliath” and seeing the “David” emerge victorious with a truly unique-seeming game.

Lastly, it can build connections between the consumer and the creator in a way that doesn’t happen with a huge corporation. I have actually chatted online with some of the people behind Myth, Hoplomachus, and other independent titles, all while not being a major board game luminary.

The Rise of the Consumable/Legacy Game

Lately, there have been many Escape Room style games. Some of them are actually games where you must destroy or modify components, while others basically reveal all their secrets as time wears on, rendering them effectively unplayable by the same group. As a sign of the times, the Exit: The Game system won the Kennerspiel des Jahres 2017. These are effectively consumable games.

Legacy games seem to be an older, but related phenomenon with a progressive game world in which a story unfolds along different paths based on player performance and choices. There may also be consumable aspects to these games, such as placing stickers on cards, or boards, or discarding cards from the game.

I have mixed feelings about these; at first, my sentiment was almost totally negative, about Time Stories, the first consumable game I eventually ended up playing and enjoying.

I reasoned that this was a way to have a quick cash grab, and give me less game for my money than I might have gotten, if I’d bought a regular, replayable game for the same price.

Some of the gorgeous art from Time Stories…

 

What I overlooked was the potential for a unique story to unfold, rather than games that must be content with intimating and implying a narrative, because they wish to preserve replayability.

Legacy of Dragonholt seems poised to combine the idea of a narrative unfolding based on player choice, as well as a mystery to solve over the course of the game. I am definitely looking forward to trying this out. For more info, and the image source, click here.

As an example of such an implied narrative, Elder Sign sees you travelling to different locations, encountering different aid and obstacles each time, and ultimately sealing away or facing down an ancient evil. But, there’s no *spoiler alert* needed, even though the game comes close to providing a cinematic experience.

By contrast, Arkham Horror The Card Game provides a wealth of content and choices that create a campaign complete with some spoilable content. The scenarios are replayable, but lose some of their initial narrative punch. Also, your character(s) are meant to progress through a story arc, and make irrevocable choices that alter game play along the way.

I expect the legacy/consumable trend to continue. Indeed, I am waiting on the Gloomhaven legacy game, as well as considering backing the 7th Continent, which seems to have a “choose your own adventure” style yarn, with many puzzles and secrets to uncover. I also have pre-ordered Legacy of Dragonholt for myself as a holiday present. Thus, I seem to have embraced these trends.

That’s a Wrap

All that to say that, whenever I believed I’m losing steam in this hobby, taking stock of new developments is truly exciting. I’m not sure how many constant readers have been with me on this journey through board game blogging, but I’m glad for anyone who has stuck around long enough to see it through to this point.

We’ll have more exciting announcements and changes in the works here to tell you about another time. But, for now, please know that the pleasure has been mine. And I hope to have another fun year chronicling the ups and downs of tabletop gaming.

— Dave.

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