Debate: Is this the Golden Age of Boardgaming?

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
find out.

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?

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About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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27 Responses to Debate: Is this the Golden Age of Boardgaming?

  1. peer says:

    Definitly better! Im rose with Game of teh year and Im a gamer and collecter since mid-90s and back then there were a few good games around, maybe one or two hits each year. Its no wonder that back then the difference between Deutscher Spielepreis and Spiel des Jahres were minor. They were good games in the top, but below? Just look at games that were ath the lower and of the top-10 at the DSP:

    http://www.spielbox.de/spielarchiv/dsp.htm

    Ab die Post? Duftenede Spuren???

    Now there are simply much more games and yes there is a lot of copying and a lot of “been there, played that” – but there are always more games that are new, that are exiting and that are much better that those lower-end-DSP-titles I spoke before. Ironivly, because so many games are know, much more drop out of focus. But we clearly have much more games that are potentially interesting than ever before – and more variety. Just look how many non-party-games came out last Essen, that cater to more than 5 players (in part even more than 6). That was quite unheard of back then.

    I guess if you see so many trees (i.e. games) , its sometimes difficult to see the forrest, while back then you saw more single trees. But I dont think the hobby is somewhat worse off (On a side notr: Ojn the End of the 90s there was a huge debatte if the Boardgame hobby is doomed – a lot of big publihsers -like Schmidt or FX Schmid – folded or were taken over and the sales of the game of the year declined… So its not a new discussion)

  2. Oh,

    the “Golden Boys” are talking about the Golden Age. Remember, we are all old and nobody of us is in school or university (as student) any more.

    Here are a lot of people still thinking the best in life were The Beatles, Dr. Who, The Muppets, Monty Python, Douglas Adams……..

    I’m 40 years old now and think that I can not really judge what of the new things is really cool. I have very old games as my favourite ones and it is very hard to find really good new games, because I always compare them to my old standards. I think nobody is free of that. I played of 2500 different games in my life and yes I’m an expert, but I’m not getting the fascination of Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga.

    Do I make better games now, because I can make a living out of designing board games?
    If I not look at Funkenschlag/Power Grid, my last games have a higher rating averages at bgg, than my old ones, but with my old games I was just more enthusiastic. (Yes I was younger).

    Regards
    An opinionated game designer

    • Dale Yu says:

      says FF: “I’m 40 years old now and think that I can not really judge what of the new things is really cool. I have very old games as my favourite ones and it is very hard to find really good new games, because I always compare them to my old standards. I think nobody is free of that. I played of 2500 different games in my life and yes I’m an expert, but I’m not getting the fascination of Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga.”

      Well, I guess I’m at least glad that you like neither Bieber or Lady Gaga — so hopefully my car stereo will be safe from those sounds later this month! Please tell me that you’ve found a new favorite band other than the dogs barking out Beatles tunes?! Please?!

      And, for what it’s worth, I think that you have a point – that it’s very difficult to look at the older years without having nostalgia color our opinions of that time. And to think… Funkenschlag was once my favorite game ever! ;)

      (Still prefer it to Power Grid, actually – but it’s much more difficult to get people to play it these days when Power Grid is an option)

      • peer says:

        “it’s very difficult to look at the older years without having nostalgia color our opinions of that time.”

        True. Because one tends to compare the *Classics* (which were the best games of their time) with the bulk of todays games. Of course, to be fair, one should compare the bulk of yesterdays games with the bulk of todays.

    • Adam K says:

      “I’m 40 years old now and think that I can not really judge what of the new things is really cool.”

      I’m about your age, but I think you’re mistaken about this. When I was an adolescent, I didn’t listen to pop music then, but I did listen to metal, alternative and many other genres of music that were just a bit outside the mainstream. So while I may not like Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga all that much today, I would definitely take issue with anyone who said I can’t judge what new music is really “cool,” having listened to and enjoyed hundreds of new albums that came out in 2010. I have a massive music collection and am a huge fan of all kinds of stuff, and I could easily out-hipster most college kids when it comes to a comprehensive knowledge of hot indie bands.

      I don’t think age has anything to do with it. It’s all about how you apply yourself. When you’re young, you’re voracious, you have an appetite for everything and you soak it all in. As you get older, you tend to be more choosey about what you spend your time on. So while it’s true that many of our peers are stuck on Monty Python and the Beatles, it’s more because they really just stopped exploring all the new stuff that is constantly coming out. Or they didn’t give it a fair chance.

      I think you might be selling your opinion short if you’ve played 2,500 games. It’s only when we stop immersing ourselves in the new that we really get too old for our opinion to matter.

  3. Brian Leet says:

    I think we are in a boardgaming cultural silver age, but the hobby overall is in a golden age.

    Culturally, the golden age may be behind us, because as the hobby grows there is an inevitable split of genres, interests, etc. Two avid board gamers today could each play twenty new games a year, declare several to be tops and have no overlap in their experiences. That just wasn’t the case 15 years ago. At the time the culture was shared. I see this as an analogy to movie or television. At one time everyone watched the same shows, and it was a golden age culturally for the industry. But, you could argue there are more high quality shows available now (along with an even high proportion of dross).

    For the games themselves, there is no doubt to me that there are more successful publishers, more gamers, and more new attempts at novelty in any given year than in the past. There is also a correspondingly high proportion of re-treads and dross. But, like the film industry, just as the big players seem to be losing their sense of adventure the availability, access and affordability of many smaller entities with unique ideas increases.

    My bottom line is that whatever my interests and tastes there are now several new games aiming for them at any time, which wasn’t always true. On top of that, nothing has made the old games go away, and the secondary market and trading platforms have never been better, so older titles are more available now than they were even five years ago despite remaining out of print.

    Finally, cost of all consumer goods is cheap, and I suspect will never get cheaper for an industry like this that relies on physical components. My expectation is that board game analogues (such as the many ipad games) will continue to grow, but the ability to produce so many games with quality components at such low cost to the consumer won’t last.

    All together – I vote golden age.

  4. Michael Sosa says:

    Agreed, second Golden Age for the hobby. The first Golden Age was back in 1970s when AH and others were mass producing and selling games to the public at large. Now we are a niche industry but one that appears to be in growth. Perhaps we are a counterweight to video games, which are a massive industry rivaling other entertainment products. No one can argue against the great improvements in the physical quality of the games, and it is difficult to argue against improvements in game mechanics. The variety of good games being released these days is bewildering. We should be careful of allowing our own personal bias to interfere with an objective critique of these new games. Just because new game X is similar to old game Y does not make new game X bad for everyone else who did not enjoy the old game.

  5. Neil Christiansen says:

    I believe it is the Golden Age because the variety of choices and the sales revenues are up.

    I started playing multi-player board games in the mid-1970s. What were our choices, really? We played lots of Dune, Civilization, Junta, Titan, Cosmic Encounter, Spies, Circus Maximus, and the like.

    Many of these games have not stood the test of time and no companies could really make it on these alone (AH and SPI ran on 2-player wargames, lets be honest).

    Now there are so many good games we can each choose those that match our preferences much better. We have more choices. For examaple, I can’t stand Dominion and do not play Race for the Galaxy. I am only tepid on Puerto Rico and Power Grid. But there are so many good games, in any gaming group we can always find good games that we also all like.

    And companies such as Z-Man and Rio Grande can focus only on multi-player board games for the most part and are profitable.

    As far as I am concerned, the industry has gotten better and better every year, even if some of my favorite games are older such as El Grande and Princes of Florence. I love many of the newer games: Brass, Notre Dame, Carson City, Hansa Tuetonica, Navegador, Fresco, Troyes, Grand Cru, Viking, Glen More…I could go on and on.

    The sales support the large number of games, which in turn allows so many choices between games that are really as good or better than those we so in the 80s or 90s.

  6. Clay Blankenship says:

    Golden age, definitely. 10-15 years ago Euros revolutionized the hobby. Now we are seeing a lot of crossover of different styles of games such as Euro-war games, Euro/Ameritrash hybrids, Living Card Games, CCG-influenced games (Agricola, Race for the Galaxy), RPG/board games. Sure there are a lot of Euros that seem like the 99th iteration of delivering goods or collecting cubes, but there have been clever new games with original ideas like Pandemic and Innovation. Others, like Race for the Galaxy or Small World are more evolutionary but are great games that build upon the past decade of development. There was probably more consensus about what was great 15 years ago just because there were fewer choices.

  7. Doug Adams says:

    Nice thread – good to have one of these very year or two. I think this is my fifth!

    I was going to post something long and meaningless, but I think Friedemann said it for me. I’m 45, probably played the same amount of games, with my first “euro” being Targui around 1990. The late 90’s were wonderful, and only got better as more quality designs kept appearing as good designers became great designers.

    For me, I crossed the golden age hump during around 2006 – and I think my personal golden age was in 2004/5.

    These days, it is very difficult to find something new that isn’t a derivative of a better game before it. This year really bought it home for me – we are just saturated with new stuff.

    Of course there are exceptions since 2005 – Through The Ages, Combat Commander, Yomi, Dominion and Rallyman are top 20 for me. This leads me to think my gaming future is in the indie designers, where their early games are often their best.

    I can’t think of too many other games that I have played since 2005 that I haven’t played a better version of previously. For example, Clay mentions Pandemic as having original ideas … I can trace that back to The Lord of the Rings, and I’m sure the designer did too.

  8. Matt J Carlson says:

    I’d have to go with Golden Age. I see more decent boardgaming mechanisms slowly creeping out into the larger gaming populace. What Settlers did back in the 90s, Pandemic is slowly doing now (creeping out to players who haven’t played euros like that before, etc…) Some of these “boardgames of ours” are also moving into large chain stores (Target, etc…) and that I see as also a “good thing”. Finally, the visibility of boardgaming in the media seems to be climbing as well. With video gaming continuing to go mainstream, older players are also pulling boardgaming into the spotlight occasionally. I see the porting of quality titles to iPads and other devices as yet another way gaming is on an upward slope.

    I guess I’m seeing the euro-section of the industry as having a golden age, and not looking at the specific quality of the best of the best games, just at how well gaming is being received in general…

    *Note, all of the above is a US-centric look at things, since that the country in which I live…

  9. Sime says:

    I love topics like this, which perhaps is a problem as I’ll address later, so I had to chime in and most likely reiterate the same points others have made.

    I have jumped around in a couple of hobbies and each time I do I feel like I am enjoying the new Golden Age of Hobby X. My enthusiasm is high, I listen to podcasts, I interact in forums, and then after a couple of years I begin to over think the hobby, become and overly aware of new releases, read far too many reviews, thinking about my own idea for content, getting far too much into the meta of the hobby. Slowly drifting further away from the thing that drew me to it in the first place, in the case of games (a hobby I have taken up in the last couple of years) it means less focus on the raw experience of playing with a group and enjoying the evening. I can see it happening already, I am thinking about what game will give me which mechanic, which game does that mechanic better etc etc. I have more money to buy games than I have time to play them. What I really want is to be in high school again with endless time on lazy Saturday afternoons playing games, but if I am there again then the quality of the game is less of an issue, Monopoly isn’t shunned, Risk is a blast, rules are fluid, the joy stems from the company.

    With respect to this particular Golden Age of gaming, well with the internet, and the ability for anyone with any niche interest to find like minded fellows we are seeing an explosion in plenty of hobbies. A game designer can make a game and find 500 people to order it in a way they were never able to before. As Doug, from the comments above, and I have spoken, there are far mor games coming out now than we could ever hope to buy and play. It is a phenomenal time to find the hobby. I do think it will have to level off at some point if the market doesn’t continue to grow, saturation of a loyal fan base is a risk, but we will not be short of games to play any time soon. If you can’t find an absolutely cracking game to play from the new releases every few months you may well have become too jaded. The best thing about it is I genuinely believe the next great game is around the corner, with the melding of European and American games as others have noted, we are going to get some incredibly thematic, mechanically polished games that will knock our socks off if we let them.

    Playing the games I own is my motto this year. Working hard to extract more than a passing impression of games seems the least I can do for the amount of love and effort put into some of these creations. And maybe, just maybe I’ll recreate some of the magic of those lazy afternoons I remember so fondly but with some better quality games.

  10. Neil Christiansen says:

    You know, an interesting individual difference variable is whether someone you meet reminds you of someone else you know. For my wife, new people always remind her of someone else. For me, not so much.

    So most new games work the same way to me. I care little about theme and each is a puzzle to solve with NONE being like those I have played before.

    And no offense intended, but to say that Pandemic did not have original ideas and imply it is somehow derivative of the LoTR game is to me the epitomy of silliness. The main mechanics have little to nothing to do with each other. Okay, your on the same side, but that is really superficial; they play nothing like each other.

    People ask: Is Troyes like Stone Age? Kingsburg? Not at all to me, sorry.

  11. Doug Adams says:

    And no offense intended, but to say that Pandemic did not have original ideas and imply it is somehow derivative of the LoTR game is to me the epitomy of silliness. The main mechanics have little to nothing to do with each other. Okay, your on the same side, but that is really superficial; they play nothing like each other.

    No offence taken :)

    I think they are very similar and do play like each other. You strip away the layers and you see that it’s “advance your cause towards victory, then let the game systems stomp on you”. Drawing tiles from a bag or cards from deck, the core seems the same to me. That’s why that post seemed odd to me saying Pandemic contained original ideas.

    • Neil Christiansen says:

      Okay, but to me that is like saying that AH Civilization is like Roll Through the Ages because in both cases you are trying to build cities, develop your civilization, and avoid disasters. Yet, I cannot imagine two games that would be more different in game play.

      • Doug Adams says:

        Okay, but to me that is like saying that AH Civilization is like Roll Through the Ages because in both cases you are trying to build cities, develop your civilization, and avoid disasters. Yet, I cannot imagine two games that would be more different in game play.

        Me neither, but you’re talking about themes, and I was talking about the game “engine”. In the opinion of this gamer, Lord Of The Rings and Pandemic share a similar engine. When Clay was talking about Pandemic being original, perhaps he wasn’t referring to that. I’d like to hear what he meant – perhaps the disease breakout mechanics, etc?

        Trying to get back on topic, I was chatting to a friend offline about this thread, and we agreed that defining the hobby’s “golden age” is a subjective thing. I think it depends a lot on what point you entered the hobby. For me it was 1978, and when I play a new game I can’t help mentally plotting it’s family tree based on it’s mechanics (Pandemic -> Lord of the Rings -> ???? )

  12. Frank Hamrick says:

    I think these days are better for gaming. The problem is, WE have changed! The reason the 90’s were so great, and I rated games so highly, was because I was a newbie discovering a wonderful new world!

    Now, I’m a grizzled veteran. The newness is gone. All the games are the same. But in all honesty, when i stack up some of this year’s games with the past, they hold their own quite well (and sure, someone can use the argument, “It’s only because they’re new.” So? Wasn’t that why we liked the ones in the ’90’s? They were new to us!

    “Well, they’re just the same games, repackaged.”
    Obviously they will be similar to older games, just as today’s cars share similarities with the cars I drove in the ’50’s: wheels, steering wheel, speed-o-meter, etc. “Ah, it’s just another car, wrapped up in different plastic and steel and glass, ” someone could say.

    I’ll take London, Troyes, 7 Wonders, Navegador, Automobile, Key Market, Dominion, Cyclades, Small World, Carson City, Agricola, LeHavre, Through the Ages and a host of others from the 2000’s and be perfectly happy. And IMO they are right up there with the ’90’s offerings, if not better in many ways.

  13. Matt gave us an US-centric look at things, somebody else a German-centric one. Let me give a point of view from far-off Italy that could maybe be also good for other countries – I don’t know, maybe Czech Republic or Scandinavia, Spain or whatever.

    Brian Leet:
    >”But, like the film industry, just as the big players seem to be losing their sense of adventure the availability, access and affordability of many smaller entities with unique ideas increases.”

    This depends on globalization, according to me.

    In late ’70s/early ’80s I was an avid player in my country. Local big publishers had internal creatives that did their honest job. Some mass market games and some hobby games (as simulation games) came gor the joy of everyone. Small publishers were few and short lived – no mass distribution, and it was hard to live in the small Italian niche market of enthusiasts. Designers were very few and, as Colovini/De Toffoli/Donadoni/Obert, worked mainly for foreign publishers. I was a professional designer but very seldom for the game market: more for commissioned boardgames (educational, promotional, merchandising) or for other kind of games (radio, television, magazines, shows…).

    Some of you quote a big change in late ’90s. True for us. It was the time we (Italian designers and publishers besides the few famed ones) started going directly abroad, to Nuremberg and Essen, and dealing with the global market. The first thing I saw after a few hours there was the license of Mirko Marchesi “Quoridor” to Gigamic. Then Italian games started being published by small, often new publishers and being licensed all over the world: “X-Bugs” (now “Micro Mutants”), “Bang!”, “War of the Ring” and so on. Personally, for my career I can quote “Wings of War” as the turning point (even if publishing “Ulysses” directly in German with Winning Moves with no Italian edition in between, in 2001, has been a strong sign of times changing for Italian designers).

    Most of these games were not really German (or Euro you’d later say) nor American games. And they have been followed by a legion of other titles. Many more designers and publishers followed the path. New publishing houses could be born and live thanks to the glòobal market, not just the Italian niche. Far more games, far more choice of titles, mechanics, settings for every taste both here and in the rest of the world, where the above mentioned games and many more have been discovered by players all over the world. There are more than 200 Italian ranked games on BGG:

    http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/43584/italian-top-10-100-1000

    And many more unrankled games. But the vast mayority of the internationally known ones comes from the late ’90s onward. At the same time, the small Italian publishers taht got strenght out of them could import and translate some very good foreign games from their foreign equivalents, giving strenght to them too.

    I think that the story of our gaming scene, and several similar stories for other countries, explain the “access and affordability of many smaller entities” quited by Brian. And speaking about timing, I’d confirm that the gold of the age started to shine, as far as I could see, in the very last part of the ’90s. For me and some pioneer Italian colleagues at least.

  14. Pete says:

    I think that Europe, and to some degree the US, is undergoing what Hollywood has endured for years: there’s not enough creative juice left and thus all we’re left with are re-runs of the same old shit.

    I agree with Larry Levy that there is simply no imagination left, or at least little left, when it comes to Euros. Same shit, same theme. I mean, I read about a new game where the idea is that the players, set in…you guessed it…medieval europe, buy and sell “salvation”. Why couldn’t this have been a game about American mega-churches instead? Put some fucking bite in games…I have not bought a game in months because the vast majority of crap that comes from Europe these days are me-too titles that do nothing to truly advance gaming.

    Eminent Domain, Omen, Ascending Empires, and my new Hilinski Crok board are pretty much most of what I’m looking forward to this year. That’s pathetic. The rest are re-runs or yet another commode-full of the latest “Living Card Game” d’jour or deckbuilder. Hard to get excited about that kind of shit.

    When Jason Lutes comes out with “Thrilling Tales of Adventure!”, that’s when I’m going to get interested in gaming again. Something NEW.

  15. The “original ideas” I see in Pandemic are not just the fact that it is cooperative. I don’t see many more similarities with LotR. Doug says they both have drawing cards or tiles, but that is so general it could include almost anything. And they both have fighting against the game system, which I will grant, but the mechanics are nothing alike. LotR has resource collection by moving on shared tracks, bad events that happen in a preset order but randomized time, and a variety of resources to manage, among other things. Pandemic has spatial movement and disease outbreak, multi-use cards for travel and curing diseases, station travel, and the clever card recycling that makes the same cities come up again. I don’t see parallels for any of those mechanisms in LotR.

  16. Mitchell Thomashow says:

    I’m over sixty years old and I’ve been an avid games player since the mid 1970’s. I’d like to scale this question somewhat differently. The last fifty years have been a golden age for games. Fueled by a voracious consumer economy, the facility of emergent Internet communications, and the possibilities of leisure time, we are living in a time when we have extraordinary access to board games (and commentary about them). Now with the coming proliferation of tablets and clouds (I’m writing this on an Ipad) the possibilities for gaming will enter a new era of proliferation and creativity. Indeed, numerous books have come out in the last few months proclaiming gaming as the most important interactive voice of the twenty first century.

    Over the last fifty years there have been waves and cycles of creativity and innovation, similar to other fields. New ideas emerge individually and collectively, and we all comment on them. We learn together and we discuss what we learn. That’s what I enjoy so much about these forums. By the way, there’s a terrific new book by Steven Johnson called Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation that is relevant to this conversation.

    In my view, the first wave of innovation in this fifty year cycle included the bookshelf games of the 1960’s, the Avalon Hill games, and Sid Sackson’s various efforts. Then in the 1970’s and early 1980s with the publication of Games and Puzzles in England, Jeux et Strategie in France, and Spielbox in Germany, we had the early days of the Euros. The more recent history is familiar and need not be reiterated.

    Sure many themes are repeating themselves and we aren’t as easily blown away by clever new games concepts and mechanics. Still, if you consider all of the interesting new ideas over the last ten to twenty years, it’s impressive: card drafting, deck building, icon based strategic card games, worker placement, innovative use of dice, the integration of cards and board play, among many others. Consider how much more knowledgable and expert we’ve all become. Also consider the remarkable body of work by our favorite designers, including Knizia, Wallace, Rosenberg, Moon, Burm, and so many others of unparalleled design excellence.

    We have high expectations and aspirations for this wonderful hobby. Yet it’s more than that. Our games are ways of thinking and living and we are passionate about them. Perhaps our avid interest, deep collective learning, and the growing number of enthusiasts reflect the most significant indications of why this is indeed a golden age.

  17. Jonathan Kandell says:

    I find it hard to call this the “golden age” when the average person does not play games like they used to! In my late mother’s day everyone played Bridge and Pinochle and Klabberjass and Scrabble etc. It was a common social activity. Now you have to go to specialized meetings who have “perfected” games to the point where ordinary people don’t really participate. Granted, this is all just a matter of definition of the word “golden.” :-)

    • Martin Munzel says:

      To me, it’s the very opposite. I’m 40 years old, too, and when I was a child, I played Monopoly and Risk with my peers. My parents never played anything other than checkers or pacheesi with me.
      Now, I’m a Dad myself, and I have so much better games now to play with my kids. My 6-year old already plays Fauna, Forbidden Island or Wer War’s, and I’m really excited to imagine what kind of games I’ll be able to play with him when he’s 8 or 12.
      So while we old grumps are over saturated and complain about a lack of original new games, I’d say it’s a good time to start with the hobby, and a great time to introduce your kids to boardgaming.

  18. Tad Marck says:

    Perhaps “mazo” as is a good game for ordinary people. Older generations enjoyed playing checkers or chess and mazo is easy as checkers and interesting as chess. In my opinion…

  19. Michael Chapel says:

    I’m definitely in the camp that we are indeed in the golden age of board gaming, and that we are also the golden girl’s of gaming and are definitely out of touch. :)

    I’d like to call the part of Blanch.

  20. eknauer says:

    Nice thoughts, Mitchell.

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