So, a couple of OG writers were sitting around a (virtual) game table, and this argument came up out of nowhere… (Though, let’s face it – arguments and debates amongst the Opinionated Gamers are pretty much commonplace)
Patrick Brennan: Comparing now to the 1990s, we have incredibly more choice, much better games, wider variety, better game support (Boardgamegeek vs The Gaming Dumpster), on and on. If the hobby was better because it was smaller, then you can still achieve that by staying in smaller groups. Why would those have been better years, or even the best years, as compared to now?
Dale Yu: Because we were there in those years, while the masses were still playing Monopoly and Risk! <g>
PB: For anyone joining the hobby this past year, 2010, they’ll look back and remember how exciting it was, and how cool it was that they were playing all these great games while the masses were playing Monopoly. It doesn’t matter when you start, your first year is going to be the most exciting. Maybe the Counter years could be seen as “best” for those who were there because there was a stronger sense of pioneering and adversity, a wild west exploration era which now provides a nostalgic feel. But I can’t see how any gamer would prefer to see the hobby now as it was in 1998. Ergo, they can’t possibly have been the best years for the hobby.
DY: In 1998, all the new games that I got were great. No re-treads, no ideas I’d seen a hundred times. And, it was much more exciting not knowing what to expect in a game until I played it. These days, I seem to know almost everything there is to know about a game before I can get a copy. And, I’m not sure that’s a good thing. I kinda liked the days when I had to actually play a game to decide if I liked it or not.
PB: Granted, the surprise may have left, but the best of now is still better than the best of then… Isn’t that a choice you’re making, to immerse yourself so completely in the hobby that there are no surprises left when a new game hits the table? It’s always a choice to dis-immerse(!) if that makes it better.
Dave Vanderark (wandering by): What Dale said. Plus, in 1998 “worker placement” didn’t exist. If I were new to gaming now and saw all the new games coming out that use this mechanism, I would probably take up a different hobby.
There’s only a little sarcasm in this statement.
Jay Bloodworth (also visiting for a bit): I like new as much as the next guy, but I don’t think originality is the only thing that makes a game good. I’m less than ten years into this hobby and in that span I’ve seen a marked increase in the production values of new games. In some cases it feels excessive, but usually it adds to my experience of the game. Finca, for instance, was basically nothing new, but I enjoy it for the art and the fruitples.
I also like how games are continuing to explore theme-space, even if there are strange attractors for Egypt and Renaissance Italy. I can understand that some people are tired of it, but I still like collecting little wooden cubes, and I like it that this year the cubes are salt when last year they were paint. What will they be next year? Uranium? Pasta? The love of a good woman? Space broccoli? As long as their are engines to build, bids to make, and rondels to orbits, I’m excited to
Larry Levy: Here, I think there’s definitely been a step backwards. As a fan of Euros, I am REALLY getting tired of the same old themes appearing. At times, it’s almost as if the industry is serving as a caricature of itself. What’s worse is that these themes aren’t even that compelling to begin with. Anything even remotely modern (say, post 1900) is avoided like the plague. But generic castles in generic parts of Medieval Europe, or generic traders in a generic Renaissance, THAT we’ve got plenty of games for!
Of my top 10 all-time favorite games, 8 of them were published in 2002 or earlier. The other two showed up in 2004 and 2006. Six of them were released between 1999 and 2002! If you’re looking for a Golden Age, that four-year period might be it! Now what is true is that there are more GOOD games released now than there were then. I’m sure the percentage now is lower, but there are still more games released today that I enjoy playing. But GREAT games? I was definitely doing better 10 years ago.
[friendly kibitzer]: Yeah, given the number of games out there which has increased significantly, if you don’t do research before buying, you end up wasting a lot of money on crap, right?
PB: True. I like to do just enough research to avoid duds, usually just geekbuddies’ views. It’s important that I don’t read much more, because if I do buy it, I like to feel like I’m exploring it for myself. In this way, I still end up buying some games that I’ll trade on, but overall the average rating of the games I choose to buy and play nowadays is higher than those I played 12 years ago when we didn’t have as much choice. Then you could play everything, be they good, bad, indifferent, and the average rating suffered.
Joe Huber: FWIW, I don’t find this to be the case. Average rating is a problematic measure, since the size of the sample has a significant impact, but of the games I have tried I have the highest averages for (highest to lowest):
1997 – 1995 – 1991 – 2002 – 1990 – 2004 – 1999 – 1993 – 1998 – 2010 – 2001 – 2005 – 2006 – 1996 – 1992 – 2003 – 1994 – 2007 – 2000 – 2009 – 2008
That’s a significant tilt toward the 90s over the 00s. The range is 5.02 (2008) to 5.93 (1997).
Now, this proves nothing – it’s nothing more than my personal preference. But I have a hard time pointing to a steady path of improvement. I do find it interesting that Essen is resulting in 2010 looking like a reasonably good year to me, whereas I know Larry’s down on the year. 2008 and 2009 still look pretty awful…
PB: 80 of the Geek Top 100 have been produced since 2000. Old games never climb in the ratings, so there’ll never be more pre-2000 games in the Top 100 than there are right now. That’s 80 games produced in the last decade that are better than whatever the 21st best ever game in all of history was at the end of 1999.
I’ll go further … the games we were playing in the 90′s were largely crap. It’s just that some of the good ones were really good. But most of the rest really were crap. By today’s standards. Gold Digger, Jumbo Grand Prix, Jump!, …
JH: No – that’s 80 games produced in the last decade that have higher rankings than the 21 highest ranked game from before 2000. There are three reasons for this that have absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the games:
* BGG is expanding rapidly. There are more people playing popular new games; for decent games one of the biggest impacts on ranking is the number of ratings.
* The cult of the new. New games always get higher ratings; those ratings usually (though not always) decay over time.
* The hobby is expanding. This results in a glut of ratings for the new hot games, and a paucity of ratings for out of print games, or those not available in English.
You can argue that in addition to these effects, the games are improving. I don’t see it, but perhaps that’s just me.
PB: All of this is offset by games pre-2000 being held up unfairly high by nostalgia ratings. “Oh I really liked it back when I first started gaming and give it a 9. It’s true I don’t play it much any more, because, really, it’s not as good as a bunch of games that have come out since then that I
now prefer to play. If E&T came out now, I’d probably give it a 7 because it really is a bit too abstract, and there’s too much luck with the red tiles, but I still enjoy the occasional play (oh, that’s a 7 isn’t it, oops), but you know what, I’ll keep it as a 9 because it was great at the time it came out.
JH: Offset? No. I certainly see the effect you mention – but it affects a very small portion of the hobby, both because there aren’t nearly as many folks who played E&T back in the day as there are now, and because the effect you note does not impact everyone who falls into that camp.
PB: Well, your analysis got me curious to see if my stats backed up my gut feel.
My average rating for each year in the 90′s were low 5′s, with a few years getting high 5′s.
My average rating for each in the 00′s were high 5′s with a few years getting low 6′s.
So the 00′s is on average a half point higher than the 90′s.
Personally, I think the crossover games that merge Ameritrash and Euro is re-energising the whole hobby. Theme and fun and decisions, packed into one game. If you don’t like that kind of merge game, I can understand why you think your Euro scene might be going stale.
JH: I actually _don’t_ think the Euro scene might be going stale. I _do_ think 2008 and 2009 were off years for me, but I think that’s just “natural cycle”, not a trend.
I actually like the idea of merging American and German game design concepts. That’s why I enjoy Clash of the Gladiators, which came out nearly a decade ago. But many of the recent attempts at merging seem to want to mix the parts of American game design I don’t care for with the parts of German game design I don’t care for.
PB: Well, absolutely there’s selection bias. That’s my point. Now, with not much research, you can drive your own personal yearly average rating higher than you could or did back in those “golden years” of counter, sumo and whatever. Back then you ended up playing anything and everything just for variety’s sake. Now you can have variety at a higher average rating.
And we know why Joe’s stats are not representative of this – he is the last great strumpet for playing anything. His search for hidden treasure has led him down more and more extreme avenues, leading to stat loweration(!).
JH: Not _anything_. There are plenty of games I don’t worry about playing, and bunches I avoid. But I do like to lake chances on less mainstream games, yes… Many of the games I most dislike aren’t the oddball games, but mainstream releases. Stone Age, for instance, I found unenjoyable, until I tried it again and came to the conclusion that it’s intolerable for me.
But more importantly – I didn’t and don’t play anything and everything just for variety’s sake. I decided to look at the 100 highest ranked games of 1998 and 2008. Of the one hundred highest ranked games from 1998, I’ve played 41 of them. Of the one hundred highest ranked games from 2008, I’ve played 45 of them. So I’m hitting a comparable percentage of the highest ranked games.
LL: Patrick, even though there are some great games that came out of the 90′s, overall, I’d agree that most of that decade can’t stack up to the one that followed it. But for me, there was a sea change starting in 1999. In fact, ’99 and 2000 compare quite favorably with any recent gaming year. I’ve already mentioned that most of my all-time favorite designs come from the ’99-’02 period. 2004 has to be my favorite gaming year and 2007 was a very good one as well. So there’s about a nine year period (’99-’07) where gaming was at a consistently high level.
From my perspective, things have regressed a bit in the ’08-’10 time frame. Maybe not by a huge amount (although 2010 may well turn out to be the worst year for new games for me since I actively entered the hobby), but noticeably so. However, the significant thing to me is that there’s no way I can say that the last three years are clearly superior to, say, 1999-2001. Obviously, individual opinions will differ, but other than the sheer number of games released, I don’t see a measureable difference between those two periods. Both periods have lots of good games to enjoy and many of the older ones have held up very well. So you may want to call it nostalgia, but if you restrict me to games from around the turn of the century, I’ll still be a very happy camper (other than the fact that I’ll ALWAYS want to try out the latest games, even if they’re not the best).
I want to emphasize that what I’m saying is in no way meant as an indictment of the current state of gaming, which I feel is extraordinarily healthy. It’s just that I also feel that gaming has been in great shape for a while. I agree with the main thrust of Patrick’s argument, that for most of my lifetime, there has been a steady improvement in the overall gaming hobby and in the German gaming industry in particular. This held true from the sixties to the seventies, eighties, and early nineties, with a continuous increase in the sophistication of games, as well as the number of good ones produced each year. But in 1995, we witnessed the one-two punch of Settlers and El Grande and it didn’t take long for the explosion from that joint appearance to make its effects felt. By 1999, gaming had reached an extremely high level and, in my opinion, has continued to maintain this plateau since then. The conditions have changed and the overall landscape is different, but I’m getting just as much pleasure from the hobby today as I did a dozen years ago. Looking at the current crop of designers and publishers, I see no reason for this very happy state of affairs not to continue for the immediate future, which is a very nice conclusion to reach.
So what do you think? Is the state of boardgaming better now than in the late 1990s?