Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Investment in gaming...

It's been awhile since I managed a post. A short five-day vacation blossomed into illness and the requisite scrambling to catch up at work. It is often easy to ramble on, but I find the starting to be the hard part, and my posts just haven't been started recently.

I've had a gaming meta-question in my head for most of this year. I've come to no conclusions on it, but I'll take the time to ramble on the topic for awhile. Essentially -
"Are we (as gamers, specifically boardgamers) getting too passive in regards to our games?"

In a more wordy fashion - Are we too quick to discard games based on initial opinions? Are we playing too many different games? Have we lost the feeling of investment that seems to have been a hallmark of the early years of hobby boardgames? If lost, is that a bad thing, a thing to be expected, or what?

This ties into many other questions that pop up frequently, such as "Are there too many games coming out this year?" and in some ways ties into the American/European design differences.

Modern Hobby boardgames (as compared to Mass Boardgames1) have borrowed liberally from the boom of Mass board games in the first half of the 20th century, but have mostly grown out of 3M/Avalon Hill/SPI and the later boom of role-playing. As such, board games have a number of different inclinations depending where they draw their primariy historical inspiration. The Role-playing and Wargame ancestors required serious investment of time. The Mass ancestors don't. In general, a best of breed game draws from both lines of development.

The generally accepted "Best of Breed" traits seem to have become brevity2, ease of learning3, strategic4, and component quality. These characteristics encourage owning and regularly playing multiple titles. Early in the history of Hobby games many designs (especially on the wargame/roleplaying side) required extensive rules review and games lasted two+ times as long as the average game does today. As such, gamers owned fewer games (and yes, there were fewer titles produced), and individual titles received more plays.

I'm placing the label investment onto the amount of time and attention that a game requires. Roleplaying games require a maximum of investment. A packaged party game like Taboo requires a minimum of investment.

As the past few years of game design have been pursuing the above "Best of Breed" traits in board games, I think we've seen a secondary effect of reducing investment in individual titles. Truly special titles (PR, Ticket to Ride) have managed to gain investment5, but they are exceptions to the general trend. This reduction of investment in individual titles has aided the adoption of a gaming culture of 'newest'.

In counterpoint, there's been a recent swelling of interest in games that do require investment. Much of the successful Fantasy Flight lineup requires significantly more investment than other games, with Descent being the poster child of a game that rewards players who choose to play it repeatedly. Interest in longer wargames has also risen, with bridge-games (Twilight Struggle, Command and Colors, A Victory Lost) gaining traction with a wider audience. So while I think overall investment is decreasing throughout hobby boardgames, the growing knowledge of this change is causing a backlash of players who search out games that deliberately break the style molds that have developed over the past several years.

Finally: Is this decrease in investment a bad thing? While investment in individual titles has declined, investment in the hobby of boardgames as a genre of entertainment has risen. No longer compromised of ASL players, or Cosmic Encounter Players, boardgamers have gelled into a hobby genre that is larger than individual titles. This is in contrast to other forms of hobby gaming. Miniatures, Roleplayers, and Collectible gamers are still fastened together by individual games, with much less investment in the overall type of game than the specifics.

So. That's about where I am right now on this subject. I mourn the gradual loss of investment in titles while I enjoy the greater choice of game style, theme, and mechanic. And I enjoy a larger pool of players to draw from - players who weren't gamers when the only choices of titles required much more investment.

In the early years of this decade (and the prior decades) I would play the same game many times, while now I struggle to play more than several games multiple times (2007 = 390+ games played, 222 titles) And the more frequent titles represent casual fast games - not titles that require more investment to appreciate.

So it's my own little crusade to force clunky odd games onto our game table. Games that break the current "Best of Breed" stereotype. Sometimes successfully, sometimes not. But always different.


1 If it needs to be clarified: Mass boardgames are generally published by Hasbro/Milton Bradley, but also by Pressman, Cranium, Cardinal, etc. Think the game section at Target and Toys'rus.

2 Defined as: Playable by a group of new players in under 90 minutes.

3 Defined as: Playable by new players while reading rules for the first time, or with only one player having prior exposure to the rules. Rules should not be over 10 pages.

4 Defined as: Progress within the game is determined primarily by choices that are entirely within control of the player and are not blazingly obvious. i.e. Having meaningful choices.

5But most of this investment has come from services like BSW or the DOW Ticket to Ride website. I'd wager that the majority of the super high playcounts on Puerto Rico and Caylus has come out of BSW. Has anyone really played any single game in-person over 100 times in a year?


Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Very well written and thoughtful. I feel that I should try to spend more time on individual games. I think learning to play a deep game well is a worthwhile investment. Unfortunately I find that I tend to be too spoilt for choice and play many games but each only a few times.

Mischa said...

At a previous job, I played a near-daily hand of Oh Hell, and it remains very popular with my friends. I've easily played it more than a hundred times in twelve months.

Fraser said...

Has anyone really played any single game in-person over 100 times in a year? If I do not count card games the best I can do is into is into the high twenties or early thirties in a year (games like Puerto Rico and Drakon coming up near the top).

If I do include card games I can easily get 100 hundred plays in a year.

And yes they are all face to face plays, I only log it if it is face to face.

Anonymous said...

In your 10th paragraph, I think you want "composed" rather than "compromised."