Just as seasons change, so do the games that are fashionable. Everdell is, at least to this amateur game historian, a tidy encapsulation of the current moment in gaming.
We’re in the era where gamers demand more. They want great mechanics and great art. They want an engrossing first experience and a high degree of replayability. They want theme, and upgraded components, and a wide range of player counts, including even a solo mode. We’re in the era of “and,” where gamers want it all, and given the high cost of games these days, they deserve it all.
If you want an explanation for why Everdell is ranked so highly on BGG, it is because it checks so many of these boxes. To me — somebody that loves the game — Everdell has it all. A mashup of great mechanics. A truly exceptional production value. Enough cards to play the games dozens of times, and then expansions when you need a little more variety. There’s theme, and story, and a solo mode. In short, its a great game, with a little something for everyone.
It is fitting that Everdell started on Kickstarter, a website that inspires both my deep skepticism and, increasingly, my begrudging gratitude. I’ve derided Kickstarter as a consumer protection issue (I get nervous that buyers shell out hundreds of dollars for games they may never receive, or which may not prove to be all that great) with its own weird vocabulary (“backers” and “stretch goals” come to mind).
But I cannot question that it has led to the era of “and.” Kickstarter has upped the ante: games have to be beautiful, and increasingly, survive pre-release scrutiny via sites like TableTop Simulator. And, much to my surprise, some of my favorite games of the past few years have come from Kickstarter.
But what is missing in Everdell, like in many popular games today, is the originality. While I will happily play Everdell, and while I’ve spent this week praising the game and its expansions, at no point have I ever thought that it is all that innovative. Sure, allowing players to advance through the seasons is kind of novel, but this is ultimately just a mashup of the card digging from games like Terraforming Mars and the worker placement mechanic from games like Caylus or Agricola. In that regard, I suspect the seasons will change to its detriment, and I doubt Everdell is still with us in 10 years.
Everdell is emblematic of what we see so much of today: well designed and gorgeously produced games that do little to contribute to the tools in a designer’s toolkit. They’re all just beautiful mashups of the gaming giants that came before them. But this isn’t derision: it is okay that these games stand on the shoulders of giants, because they still offer memorable and engaging gameplay experiences. They’re still fun, and fun is what matters.
So why did I dedicate a week to writing about one game? In part because, between the three expansions, there was a lot to write about. But in part because I like to offer big, unifying theories, and this seemed like a great opportunity to offer one.
I think we’re in the era of “and.” We probably have been for a while. And a lot of my reviewer, designer, and publisher friends have yet to catch up to the concept. But the seasons are changing, and gone are the days where some cardboard, cheap artwork, and a rulebook will suffice. Much like the critters of Everdell, designers and publishers need to gather their resources, head off to all the big events, and try to do a little bit of everything, while also doing it all exceptionally well.