Boardgamers: Ignore the “cult of the new”

I was bothered by how much the “cult of the new” is making boardgamers unhappy. It’s time to fight back!

When I think back to the time that I first got into games, I notice a curious thing.

Most of the boardgames that I had recommended to me back then were not that new, especially compared to the films, books or television that people were talking about. Back in 2007 – long before the explosion of popularity that we have recently witnessed – they were often at least a few years old by the time anyone said “you should try this!”. These were not traditional games, like Chess or Go but many of the classic modern titles that we still rightly venerate today: Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne or even Modern Art, itself already 14 by the time my journey into the hobby was beginning. What we call the “hotness” today – which is something now much wider than the Boardgamegeek algorithm which gives this newness zeitgeist its name – had no impact on my world whatsoever.

In no way was I conscious of how peculiar this was. What reason would I have had to question it? To me, the simple exploration and appreciation of a world of games out there beyond the likes of Risk and Monopoly was as pleasant as it was free from self conscious thoughts about what I should be interested in. It was my default experience and it was wonderful.

Compared to my experience of the game scene now, this all looks like a quaint and distant memory. Now such appreciation is no longer such an anxiety free experience. Every day I am immersed in news of a torrent of new titles hitting the market; titles that I am not playing and have no chance of playing anytime soon. Every day there is a new hot game that is sold out almost before it hits the shelves. Every day there is another much heralded Kickstarter campaign raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars on the promise of a brilliant game in 6 months’ time. Every day there is a clever new conceit from a brilliant designer that people are literally queuing to play. A game that, of course, is like nothing ever made before, with never-before-seen mechanics and exquisite artwork.

What’s worse than this? A worrying percentage of the time, the hype is true: games really are getting better and they are hitting us a mile a minute.

I am under no illusions that this feeling is just the result of how the market has changed, rather than my own content consumption choices. At the beginning of this journey I was a naïve dilettante, with no understanding of the industry. Today I am a prosumer-turning-professional in this space, who chooses to immerse themselves in a stream of industry news and views. If I hadn’t taken this path there’s a good chance that I’d be a little more blissfully unaware of the latest trends. I might still be a simple seeker of already well-known games.

And yet, I am by far not the only one. Such anxieties are incredibly common amongst people for whom it shouldn’t matter too. Every day people whose livelihoods most definitely do not depend on keeping on top of industry news share the same story of anxiety: there’s too much to keep up with, their designs will lose all relevancy if they can’t play this whole wave of content crashing over us. They can’t afford the latest games and it’s making them terribly unhappy.

For what might be that most innocent and wholesome of all entertainment media – activities, played face-to-face with real human beings, generally free of carefully engineered addictive properties, and dominated by lots of tiny one or two person firms who welcome future competitors to their world with open arms – this really is the most sorry state of affairs. Analog games were supposed to be a fun escape from life’s anxieties, played with people whom you care about. They were supposed to be good honest fun.

This is not that – this is bullshit

And yet our obsession with the “cult of the new” is entirely natural and predictable. After all, it’s not something unique to boardgames. As is so often with life, it is their very success that has created the problem.

It’s true what they say: we really are living through a golden age of games. There have never been so many good titles, available so widely and with such a large army of reviewers dedicated to helping you find the game that you will love. But it has all come at a price. Once there is enough money around that a hobby games company can be worth more than a billion dollars, an unlimited number of potential entrants are empowered by Kickstarter to launch their projects with little upfront capital and everyone and their uncle wants to be a game reviewer, a “scene” is bound to emerge. And once a “scene” emerges a cult of the new is inevitable. And once there’s a cult of the new, an anxiety of not being far enough into this cult’s inner circle is inevitable.

We love to gossip. We love novelty, and once we can share excitement we do share excitement, all over the tools of Twitter, Facebook and Boardgamegeek. Once there are decent sums of money to be made, it’s worth publishers spending their time and money on marketing channels, earned or paid, that can make products suddenly feel like they’re everywhere. This itself leads to the rise of influencers discussing the latest “must have” titles, forming a sense of what is ‘in or out’ by their collective timing. The comparative simplicity of distribution, low risk and low cost of game manufacturing today also mean that the market no longer tends towards just a few big games as it did in the distant past. Instead, even as companies consolidate, games multiply, making it impossible to play them all.

But here’s the thing: this cult – unless you are a publisher looking to make quick profits – doesn’t matter.

If you are a gamer, the cult doesn’t matter

What is the purpose of playing boardgames? To bring people together? To have fun with people whom you know? To beat a satisfying puzzle? All of these seem like reasonable answers and all of them are satisfied by games old and new.

What is not on that list? Being the first person among your peers to have an experience of something. The drive to be first to something is deep and natural, but it’s also an instinct that we rightfully distrust as a species, mocking it in various fables through characters desperate, wherever they are, to keep up with their metaphorical Joneses.

Why? Not because it’s just another thing that we can all guilt ourselves over, but because it’s an unsatisfying pleasure, especially when compared with the many better reasons that we have for playing games. Telling other people that you have something that they don’t – whether that be a possession or an experience – results in a momentary boost to status and a small dopamine hit. But it often involves putting other people down and when it’s over, it’s over. It’s a terrible return on investment for the cost of a lot of cardboard.

It is absolutely not the same as the simple pleasure of novelty, of course. But things that are new to you are just as much a novelty, regardless of their familiarity to others. And there are already enough games in existence that they can give you enough novelty for a lifetime, even if you never touch a hot title again. Keeping your plays of in-demand games ahead of everyone else isn’t of tremendous additional value. Talking about them does scratch a certain harmless social itch that is deep in nerd culture; the need to share a discussion of what’s new. But as much as such conversations might make you want to play these games, it doesn’t actually require that you acquire every title under discussion.

Why? For the very good reason that much as we are living through a golden age of games, the reality is that only a minority of them will prove to be the truly great experiences that you are seeking.

Game design has improved enormously. But from what I have seen, the biggest change is that there are far fewer bad games, or games with obvious faults that get in the way of enjoyment. Stiffer competition and a wave of new designers and improved knowledge sharing amongst those designers have made everyone, for want of a less on-the-nose phrase, “up their game”. Basic errors have been eliminated, as basic rules about what tends to work and what tends to fail have emerged and become common currency. But that’s the not the same thing as all new designs succeeding in constructing experiences that are in every way better than what older games provided. If I am brutally honest, when I do manage to get my hands on one of these hyped titles (I often don’t, not having any special access myself either), I often end up thinking the same thing: that there is nothing wrong with this, but there is nothing that compelling either.

We don’t know how good these new games are yet

Indeed, I would go further. It’s not that the hottest games are universally overrated, it’s something far more fundamental: we don’t actually know which of these games are the really, really good ones yet.

So many games need many plays before their depths can truly be known. Different people will discover different pleasures in them, and they will perform differently in different social contexts. They need to be played by many people before anything resembling a true and lasting consensus about them can emerge. This process takes a lot of time because of the physical friction that analog games have compared to digital products. Distribution of a physical product means that it just takes longer for everyone to get access to a copy: delivery, fulfilment, whether shops or cafés carry stock and the resulting time that it takes for anyone to acquire it. The need to get people physically together to find a time to play reduces opportunity to play. The relatively limited number of plays that can result from such meetings limits frequency of play. The rulebook, which someone must put time into reading, or the rules video that someone must watch – all of the “code” which a digital product runs for you – involves some upfront work before people even get to play a game, further slowing the process.

The natural sorting of great from the merely good that arises from this communal discovery is therefore unavoidably slow. This process can only be foreshortened so much by reviewers; they are themselves pushed for time to really play a game deeply before they move onto the next title that publishers hurl in their direction. But with older games, this “work” has already been done. It’s much easier to know whether you really will or will not enjoy something with a pedigree, because so many people have already played it and contributed their assessment and experience to a shared pool of knowledge. There’s probably someone whose opinion you know and trust who’s already encountered it. And when it comes to actually investing in a game for yourself, that makes older games a far better financial bet. Not only will there be more opportunities to try before you buy, you are far more likely to get a reliable recommendation on it one way or the other beforehand.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t splash out on something new that sounds awesome. While there is definitely something to be said for focusing on the games that one owns first, it’s not my place to tell you to stop enjoying the shiny new toy. I am the first to admit that there is also no pleasure quite like tearing the shrinkwrap off of a new game, of punching out all of the cardboard, or – if you’re odd like me – inhaling the pieces for that hit of new boardgame smell. But I hope now that you’ll agree that there’s no good reason to ever let the absence of such titles turn into an anxiety about not experiencing whatever the “cool kids” (as cool as they get in boardgames) are talking about.

After all, we came here for fun. Let’s not let our stupid human brains ruin it for us with things that don’t matter.


Next time… If you are a designer, the cult doesn’t matter

For any inspiring industry folk, it’s the easiest thing in the world to believe that you have to be up-to-date with everything to succeed: what more appealing and self-satisfied state is there than to fancy yourself as a mover and shaker in the know? But I’ve got news for you, it doesn’t matter to designers either.

But you’ll have to wait to find out why…

By James Naylor

I’m James. I’ve always loved boardgames: playing them, analysing them and most of all, designing them. Now, I’m trying to publish my own games.

16 replies on “Boardgamers: Ignore the “cult of the new””

Great piece, James – and a very good point re. the quality of old classics… There is definitely a genuine ‘cult of the new’ issue in modern boardgaming, and while there are definitely some very good games coming out all the time (and increasingly regularly), I fear that many of them will not get the sheer number of plays that have made games like Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, and Pandemic such enduring classics, which makes me worry even more for the future of boardgames in the sense that we will always have ‘cult’ games with very limited audiences. Worse yet, although the overall quality of games is definitely improving, the sheer speed at which the industry is moving means that some great mechanics and new ideas are getting overlooked, swamped by the sea of “good but not amazing” games which fall flat on their collective faces and become history barely before they have squeezed through the door onto those burgeoning IKEA shelf units…

Thank you! So glad you enjoyed it. That’s a really interesting point: If the market is SO diffuse that there are so few games that are shared experiences, a “canon” as we know it may never emerge. As a result there will be no classics. That’s made worse – I guess is what you’re saying – because many new games depths are never properly explored, before we collectively move on?

Interesting… I hope that doesn’t happen. But I can see it’s a real risk.

Thank you for another great article. I agree that the latest and greatest has started to become an overriding factor. However, I think there always has been, and always will be, people who just like to collect and be the first to have something – and usually something nobody else has (Kickstarter exclusives being the most famous examples). I approach new games differently. I always look out for a mechanism I haven’t seen or played yet. If a game does something different, unique even, then I’ll be very tempted to buy it.

I think that’s a great reason for trying new stuff! If there’s a sheer pleasure in finding a mechanism, it can only be a positive experience. It’s the sense of *having* to keep up which I think is the problem.

I agree with all of this except for your confidence in the increasing quality of games and that “the biggest change is that there are far fewer bad games”. I’d be very surprised if there aren’t more ‘bad games’ being published today than ever before. The exponential growth in tabletop games means there are far more of *every* type of game being produced today. On top of that, Kickstarter has provided a route for designers to bypass traditional publishers, who tend to filter out bad games pre-publication and develop good ones to improve them.

I agree with this sentiment. Or rather – it’s already implied in the article.

The article contrasts the enjoyment of playing games with the enjoyment of buying games. Enjoyment of playing games is long term and stems from social situation of playing games with other people. The meeting of games and people over and over again is where this joy comes from. Which means – I agree with the article – that we can’t really tell how good games are in this sense ventil they have been in circulation for a while, till we played them dozen of times, till we tried them with different groups in different situation. Games that are good at providing such enjoyment have a sense of “timelessness” – or rather they live with players and groups and allow players to influence the game’s space.

Enjoyment of buying games is linked with a different kind of game design and intrinsically linked with the idea of progress as such. It’s when novelties matter, it’s when “oh this mechanic is new” matter, the idea of progress is framed. Of course games did change in the last 20 years – but for better? They’re different – the role of audience/players is different, the way how people play them is different (both in time constraints and in playing games not necessarily in a social setting with friends, but with other hobbyists and the focus is on the game, not on people playing it).

Cult of the new isn’t just desire to buy new games, it’s also the optic through which to look at (new) games. As people don’t have time or desire to “gestate” on a game for 6 months and play it some 20 times, they don’t really look for the social kind of camaraderie and a game that will be enjoyable in the long run. They’re after dopamine, the novelty, so they look at … mechanisms. Hand in hand with cult of the new is this tendency of hobbyists to look at boardgames not as living organisms that come to life when inhabited, but as gizmos. They just want to tear them apart to see what makes them tick and call this process “exploring the system” (and when they’re done with it, they put the game away and pick another). The focus becomes one of marveling not at how the game plays, but how it is constructed, and the play is basically focused on deconstructing it and putting it back again, or how it’s normally called: optimisation of the puzzle (usually in shape of engine building).

I often derogatorily call these cult of the new games as “puzzles” – the influence of other players is minimised, because if it would be greater the game would need some 10-12 plays for people to understand how to play it. But cultists of the new feel they’re entitled to throw away games which don’t offer all their jewelry on display in their first play or maaaybe the second – they want their fun now. And their fun, as we have figured out, is dopamine – it’s tinkering with the new puzzle. Linked to this is focus on player-to-game-to-publisher relationship as opposed to player-to-group relationship. Games that stick around for long get their replayability from players and grow with them. But dopamine doesn’t have time for this, the role of other players is minimised, the rules become more important (because we can’t handle social skills of figuring out as a group what to do in corner cases), the focus becomes more and more on winning (not socialising, or enjoying the atmosphere or theme which also asks for certain camaraderie) and the forefront of the game are its mechanisms.

The reason why gamers feel modern games are better and better is because they only look at them as clockworks, designers also look at them as clockworks (do actions, somebody wins). In a clockwork what matters is a clever new cogwheel. And there’s constant improvement (!) of the clockwork gizmos, hey we put 5 times as many cogs in the watch case as the competition, bravo us! But they’re also enjoyed as clockworks – solitary puzzling, even at the multiplayer table, each player is related firstly to the game and tries to plot a path through its puzzly maze. And publishers become content providers – cult of the new players expect content to be provided for them, not created by them. And so they become dependant on the content provided by publishers and these in turn churn out new expansions and new games that are all contrived with planned obsolescence.

And paradoxically, there isn’t really much innovation going on. The architecture is “clockwork” (engine building puzzle) and designers put different cogwheels into the design, but the architecture stays the same. The way players engage with the game stays the same (internalise all the bits, optimise around them). Which is why as you say these games can appear as perfectly functional, but lifeless – as designed by the numbers (which they were). The innovation that matters – the one that will pass the test of time – is on the level of architecture, on the level of how players engage with the game. This year it was “The Mind” (simple game components, but whole new gameplay style).

TLDR: Games that are made for long term enjoyment have a different structure (architecture) than those made for cult of the new consumption. And in this structure of the latter type of games there is planned obsolescence and desire to impress players with everything on first play. Matching this is the investment type of cult of the new players – they don’t have to invest much into the game (creativity, imagination, socialisation, even perseverance), they only need to invest money into the new purchase.

Thanks for this Samo. Thoughtful as always.

I really liked your point about the cult of the new being “hand in hand” with a culture where they are weirdly being appreciated not for their ability to engender fun, but in themselves as mechanisms to be analysed. As you say, that’s a very different kind of enjoyment and is not something I’d completely consciously recognised before.

The ways in which they are meaningfully “better” for my money are in quite practical things they do better than older titles: consistency of artwork, minimisation of non-productive downtime, the elimination of unnecessary mechanics: these are broad differences that are nearly always of benefit to all types of player; though they of course say nothing to true innovation.

“The ways in which they are meaningfully “better” for my money are in quite practical things they do better than older titles: consistency of artwork, minimisation of non-productive downtime, the elimination of unnecessary mechanics: these are broad differences that are nearly always of benefit to all types of player; though they of course say nothing to true innovation.”

Boardgames were on this level in the late 1990s – Knizia was beloved precisely of this, his games are stripped to essentials and there’s little downtime (like the trick to draw a new card in your hand at the end of your turn instead at the start). The rest is probably down to competition, thus publishers fix things that are easy to fix (as opposed to being innovative or creative – playtest, hire a graphic designer AND an illustrator, rules writers, etc.) Which is why the whole “it’s solid, but it’s bland” feel of design by numbers.

What I feel has changed in last decade in particular is the role of the theme and visuals. Where mid 2000s seemed to be all about boardgames for adults trying not to look like games for kids (brownish hues, grim looking renaissance dude on a cover (“frowny eurodude”), faux historical themes) visuals are now trying to create an emotional response. What’s happening in entire culture anyhow – that product use visuals and theme to tap into pre-existing emotional attraction to elicit the reponse of “shut up and take my money”. Illustrations have become more garish, more dynamic, yet still as middle of the road as they were before – basically euros look very similar to FFG games, but with less black. (Children illustration books have a much wider range of illustration styles than boardgame. But perhaps with boardgame market growing/maturing there will be niches for this as well).

When I entered the hobby – around 2010 – FFG was doing reprints of ameritrash classics. And of course they couldn’t help themselves and insisted on “modernising” them. From what I’ve read Cosmic Encounter is for instance tamer than it used to be (they removed the most drastic flare effects, which admittedly took more time to resolve). Wiz War was interesting as it allowed playing by new and old rules (through a bit mix and match of “official variants”). Merchant of Venus went a step further and included 2 games in one box – the original (or close to origanal) game and the FFG re-imagening.

Now we’ve entered the era where eurogame classics or just “older games” are being frequently reprinted. And mostly, it seems they stick to original rules.

Exceptions are telling – Celestia (reworking of Cloud 9) and Cash & Guns 2E (reworking of 1E) both add gamey elements in order to bypass the psychological dynamics originating in pushing one’s luck. What happened here, my working theory goes, is that developers were themselves mechanisms oriented players (see cult of new, previous post) and thus simply didn’t notice the psychological components of the original games.

Thank you – that’s very interesting Martin! I must admit, I don’t have hard data here on this (because it’s hard to come by) but this is why I think that they are getting better (in a bit more detail)>

Caveat: All I can speak to is my personal experience, which could just be very biased. But for what its worth, I have been impressed by the high standards of design of most recent games I’ve played (with some exceptions). I am not sure I totally buy the theory that publishers were more effective gatekeeprs in the past. There’s never been great sums of money to be made in this industry, and excepting a few big names, most of these were always tiny companies, often one person affairs run out of love for games, rather than places where there would be a fierce battle for top talent and collective oversight processes. So I am not sure what gatekeeping value such organisations can be guaranteed to provide. Indeed one of the very disappointing recent games I have played is from a “proper publisher” who’ve had some success and it seems like the team were just not up to designing what the game needed. It’s very possible that you are absolutely right of course; there could be a huge longtail of terrible KS games that get limited funding; which I simply don’t get exposed to. It could be that t I am now seeing an even smaller top % of a now much larger market these days; giving me a sense they are getting better when, in strict terms, there are more bad games. But it *feels* like (I can’t do better than that at this point – but I’d love to do a deeper analysis) that the sheer awareness among designers of solid game design concepts is just so much more evolved than it was a decade ago; meaning even inexperienced designers are far better equipped than they were in the past.

It seems like there are two opposite cults. Cult of the classic and cult of the new. Each of them with their own problems. Classics: you need skill to enjoy some games, lack of freshness. New: hype driven decisions, not enough time to appreciate board games.

All you need is a balance. I am not a big fan of conventions, news etc. Most people playing board games have never been to a board game convention. They don’t need to. There are people enjoying their Carcassonne or Catan not knowing about other games. There are also people who need to go to all conventions and to play a new board game each day.

I feel the most comfortable between. I would like to go to a convention from time to time and I enjoy playing 7 Wonders, which is a classic game for me.

Hey Yodeling Ogre! I think that’s a great point. For the greatest enjoyment one has to be open to new games. After all, if you really do only play a few classics, you are massively limiting your horizons. Although amongst the “prosumers” I don’t think this is a risk.

There’s also the non-cult option. Casual gaming. Games that don’t ask for a lot of effort, embrace the social aspect of gaming and deliver fun time and time again. When we ran events for casual games these games were in constant rotation: Resistance, Mascarade, Codenames, Dixit, Cockroach poker, Coup, Love Letter, No thanks, …

“Classics: you need skill to enjoy some games, lack of freshness.”

– The skill isn’t necessary the skill of being good at strategy. The skill needed might simply be how to negotiate (DoaM games, Intrigue), how to trade (Bohnanza), how to pass the buck (Condotierre), how to lie (Cockroach poker, Resistance), It seems trivial, but it can confuse players who expect the foremost boardgaming skill to be learning the rules, internalising them and optimising around them (the crucial skill for cultist of the new). When such players are confronted by for instance Condotierre they see there’s nothing there – they miss that the option the game provides are in playing the opponents, not twisting the rules of the game.
– If I relate freshness to replayability – many games that passed the test of time did so by giving players space where their personalities enter the game’s space and this keeps them fresh.
“For the greatest enjoyment one has to be open to new games. ”

My main problem with new hobby games is that it’s the same old stuff, just refried. I welcome new games, where are they? But I do come across interesting new things – in kids games (I run a boardgaming workshop for kids 6-15 y.o.).What I see is a gamey influence of hobby games, but filtered into kids games in a way that actually feels like widening doors for creativity.
ICECOOL for instance brought several elements of flicking games together in a package that has nonlinear play (unlike Pitchcar) and a sense of narrative progression, yet isn’t fiddly (unlike Terror in Meeple City). Plus the board has brawn borders telling you where to put your flicking penguin if it ends in a wall (surprisingly it took 2 decades for this to be implemented). Spinderella put an interesting spin on roll and move (dickish moves and the pulley mehcanisms). Memory games are on the rise – Deja Vu, Leo (co-op), Memoarr!

“After all, if you really do only play a few classics, you are massively limiting your horizons.”

If architecture of new games is more or less the same, being exposed to couple of titles sufficient, they play very similarly. Of course to get to that level one needs to assemble a “personal library” of gaming experiences. But to get to there, yes, you need to play a variety of games, true. But at a certain level one can simply deduce what the new game is very likely to feel like when playing.

“– The skill isn’t necessary the skill of being good at strategy. The skill needed might simply be how to negotiate (DoaM games, Intrigue), how to trade (Bohnanza), how to pass the buck (Condotierre), how to lie (Cockroach poker, Resistance),”

Fair point. What I wanted to say was, if you’ve played chess 15 times and your opponent has played it 150 times you are going to lose. By “some games” I meant games like chess, Go etc.

“My main problem with new hobby games is that it’s the same old stuff, just refried.”

I agree. I wouldn’t say, that refrying is always a bad thing. People look for experiences like their previous ones. Most of us are afraid of the Unknown. That’s why we have families of games like Deck Builders, Worker Placement games etc. On the other hand, too much of the same makes board games bland.

“But at a certain level one can simply deduce what the new game is very likely to feel like when playing.”

It seems like you are looking for novelty in board gaming. There is plenty of the novelty, but the breakthroughs may not happen often enough for you.

@Yodeling Ogre Games

Nice replies! 🙂

” I wouldn’t say, that refrying is always a bad thing. People look for experiences like their previous ones. Most of us are afraid of the Unknown. That’s why we have families of games like Deck Builders, Worker Placement games etc. On the other hand, too much of the same makes board games bland.”

This is an eternal struggle I was just dealing with in a review of a contemporary dance festival.
Choreographer/dancer Jonathan Burrows framed it like this in his “Choreographer’s handbook”

“The audience wants to see something they haven’t seen before, but they want to recognize it when they see it.”
“Human consciousness moves, but it is not a leap: it is one inch. One inch is a small jump, but that jump is everything. You can go way out, and then you have to come back – to see if you can move one inch” (this one is a quote from the painter Philip Guston)

What practice shows is that people aren’t really afraid of unknown, because what is across their coordinates simply registers as nothing, as “whatever”. Usually articulated with “this is not a game at all” “they forgot to put the game in the box” [Translation: this is not a game I know how to engage with. They didn’t put the part of the game I know how to engage with in the box.] What Burrows says is interesting – people want new, but they want to be able to link it with what they already know. And actually this is also what I’m doing, but I’m “faster” and being able to connect/explore better (10 years of reviewing practice and all that). So the question really is how wide an audience do we want to adress – if we want a really wide audience, then we can move from the average expectations of the audience forward for about an inch. That’s a fairly on the mark metaphor. But, if we are fine with a niche audience, we can move further – as we adress the people who can follow further across their starting position, or already possesses certain skills (like how indie RPG is very close to improv theatre and people with adequate skills from one or the other will be able to jump right into such RPGs).

“It seems like you are looking for novelty in board gaming. There is plenty of the novelty, but the breakthroughs may not happen often enough for you.”

I am looking to engage with things beyond my horizon. That what I look for in art, theatre, anywhere. And in gaming this is actually very easy to accomplish – people are hard to grok and are beyond my horizon. So if a game has strong social element, if it allows psychology, if it allows interplayer dynamics that tap into people’s uncoscious social habits, man that’s hard to figure out. Optimising mechanisms is one thing, but staring into the abyss of a person I’m trying to sell a lie to, man, who knows what will happen. It’s hard to outsmart smart people, it’s even harder to outsmart less smart people – one can’t guess what’s going on in their minds.

And this is why there’s no real need for novelty – in a sense of “new games”.
When you said: “On the other hand, too much of the same makes board games bland.”
I can respond that the games that grow with the people who play them never get bland, because it’s the people who make them alive. There are games where previous plays with influence further plays – Cockroach poker organically develops its own metagame. There are games where another player means you have to change the strategy altogether as it’s so based on psychology of players.

So, we have an option to explore the interpersonal space or to explore new and new content provided by publishers. (Or we just stick with what we have and that’s fine). But the reason why, as you say, the unknown is scary, is because to venture into the unknown we have to face ourselves – our gaming habits, our consumption habits, maybe even socialisation habits, all the things that prevent us from engaging with something we do not yet know what it is. And yes, even games with strong social interactions get stale if the group gets stuck in their interpersonal dynamics and habits. And facing ourselves is not what many people fancy. So we either find a way to make life interesting for ourselves, or we buy stuff that will make life interesting for us for a while till we get tired of it and then buy something new.

“If you are a gamer, the cult doesn’t matter”

Sure it does. It affects what other games want to play.

It would be like if most of your friends only ever wanted to watch movies from the last decade.

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