For Love Of Novelty

There’s this idea in board game discourse of ‘the cult of the new.’ I’m sure it exists elsewhere, but I can see it very much in the culture of spaces like BoardgameGeek, and I always like making fun of that site, so I shall do so. The idea is that new things get more attention and are considered more worthy than old things, and this is true even if the old things aren’t actually all that old. At the time of writing, the oldest game in the BoardgameGeek top 10 is War of the Ring: Second Edition, which is from 2011. While sure, 2011 is 13 years ago, it is pretty interesting that this is a hobby with important representatives from the 1960s, 1920s, 1880s, and then we get into things like Chess and everything gets weird.

And it isn’t just that these older games like Uno and Scrabble aren’t considered part of the ranking system on BoardgameGeek, that the site is categorically unrelated. They absolutely are, and you can see their place in the rating system that they have. It’s a funny thing that I’ve spoken about called the tail of spite, and a smarter scientist than I have written about it.

An icon of a present in a box with a ribbon.

With Cancon behind me, I have been thinking about this vision of new things. Board games are a fascinating media space where I think it’s reasonable to say unless you have a position in the distribution and transport side of the industry, people do not appreciate the scope or scale of the available products. In 2023, more board games released than I could reasonably play in my lifetime. I don’t want to, of course – a lot of them are games that just don’t interest me, and some of them are just continuations of existing games. Even if I just looked at every game that released in 2023, BoardgameGeek tells me that’s something in the order of fifty thousand games to then sift through.

Working CanCon is an interesting balance point because it’s also the home of the Good Games ding-and-dent pit. It’s a huge collection of games in varying stages of damage, priced down to clear out the warehouse of a big game company in the country. It’s a place I want, so bad, to spend a lot of money, because my brain reacts to heavy discounts with that poor-person brain problem of ‘well, I’m wasting money by not taking advantage of the deals.’ Despite this deep love of the discounts — And we’re talking about some ridiculous discounts, like Seafall for $5 AUD — in 2023 and 2024, I didn’t buy myself anything in those pits. I did use the pit to get some presents this year, but that was very pointedly getting things for other people. The thing that keeps me constrained in this way is the material needs to transport goods from CanCon (in Canberra) to my home (four hours away) in a small vehicle. I did get some gifts this year, and Fox got some stuff from her wishlist, but what I mostly did was see a lot of cool game ideas that may or may not be well-executed across a host of interesting themes.

God, I love checking out the Pit.

I don’t have much time to spend in the Pit, really. I do little five minute walks when I’m taking break every hour from my time at the booth. And in the Pit, I find games all the time, games I’ve never heard of, and games that look interesting. They’re often heavily discounted, and in many cases they’re really good when I get them home. That’s how I found Purrlock Holmes, a game I wholly love, and Ghosts Love Candy, which I also think is great. The economic system of success or failure doesn’t necessarily produce good games.

The box cover of Wise Guys

One of my favourite examples of this is the game Wise Guys, which I have a copy of, which is, literally, the same game as Sons Of Anarchy. The license ran out, the company redid the game with different images and a different flavour. The game is 100% the same, and it seems that, based on the sales of Sons of Anarchy, Wise Guys got heavily produced and warehoused. But Sons of Anarchy sold amazingly well, and Wise Guys has been in stacks for years – regularly, marked down to the $30 to $5 range, just trying to move units of it.

It’s the same game! It’s even newer than Sons of Anarchy! But somehow, when this game gets judged on identical merits, this one is considered a bit of a meh game and the other is a big best seller.

The success or failure of a game doesn’t really relate to its actual quality, it seems. It’s just pretty much rolling dice and on the one hand that’s pretty cool, it means that board games (and its cousin the TTRPG) space are this vibrant ecosystem full of so many different choices where you might find your absolute favourite thing at exactly your right vibe, it does have the unfortunate asterisk that there are still some big trends that are driven by capitalism. There are train games that sell to Train Game people and that means that anything Train Game Like that tries to explore similar but not the same space eventually gets pushed by publishers into being Another Train Game. If you make board games, you pretty much have to make it modestly on services like Print on Demand tools, release it as a print-and-play, or hope against hope that kickstarter catches fire for you, and kickstarter,

well, Kickstarter brings its own novelty problems.

Kickstarter is a space with biases. Kickstarter will generally favour game projects that have a specific look and vibe. Kickstarter also likes things like stretch goals and of course, lots of plastic. Famously, kickstarter is a place to make game projects into big projects, where a game that might have been great as a $40 experience that lasts an hour instead needs to bloat up into a campaign and miniatures project just to make enough money to justify the creation of that core game.

And these problems

aren’t new.