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The Emperor's New Games

O Updated
(Photo by Keagan Henman on Unsplash)
There Will Be Games

We all have a soft spot for the latest and greatest board game that's coming out next. After all, it'll be better and more wonderful than the game that came before it, or so we're told. We are entranced by the playthroughs, we gawp at the beautiful components and we imagine how much fun we'll have playing this amazing new game. Yet, sometimes these new games aren't actually that new and we're too blind to see it. So in this article, I want to explore what this means for us, as the board game buying public. (This topic was inspired by the always wonderful Bez.)

Let me start by saying that, no, I don't expect us all to march around naked, showing off how wonderful it is to own no games at all. What I do wonder though is when a new board game is actually new and whether we really need five games (or ten or a hundred), when one will do.

The thought was inspired by Bez's parents who asked why she keeps buying new games when she already has game, and I think it's actually a fair question. If I own Terra Mystica, I don't really need Gaia Project as well. If I own The Crew, I don't really need Skull King. If I own Splendor, I don't really need Jaipur. Or maybe I do.

I think there are a number of angles to approach this topic. The first, and possibly the easiest, is about whether you want more of the same. If you have a game you really love and play all the time, then buying expansions for it makes sense - assuming the expansions are worthwhile of course. You get more of what you love, at least usually, and maybe some new mechanisms and other changes to the gameplay that will allow you to explore new strategies and play the game for even longer.

That's also true for different games, not just expansions for the same games. After all, when someone asks me what games I would recommend to them, the first thing I'll ask what games they already love and what they love about those game. I then try to suggest other games that do something similar and that's usually not too hard.

As I said above, if you like the mechanisms in Terra Mystica, you will probably like Gaia Project too. If you enjoy the trick taking element of The Crew, you will probably also enjoy Skull King, assuming you don't mind playing competitively rather than co-operatively.

So if you really love one game, it makes sense to buy another game that does something similar - or maybe it doesn't, and that's where Bez's parents come in. After all, if you already have a game that you love, there should be no need to buy another game that does very much the same thing.

The thing is, you do eventually tire of a game. Expansions don't just do more of the same, but they usually introduce some new mechanisms or other twists, as I said, which means that the game experience changes and becomes more exciting again. The same is true for different games, of course. Gaia Project is different to Terra Mystica, even if both feel very similar. Clans of Caledonia takes it even further and feels very much like Terra Mystica in many ways, yet so different at the same time.

That's one reason why we buy new games. We have tired of a game and are ready for a new experience, even if that new experience is very similar to that of the game we've tired off. Of course, now the original question doesn't apply any longer, because we don't actually love the game any more. So I would think that Bez's parents would understand why we buy a different game.

There is another angle to the question though. I think, someone who isn't very familiar with modern board games will think that they are all pretty much the same. A game is a game. Bridge is a game and so is Monopoly. It's fine to own both and maybe also Jenga, but that should probably be enough. All right, maybe also chess and checkers, but they share the same board, so it's fine.

Of course, it's not true that a game is a game. Bridge and Monopoly are very different, and even though chess and checkers share the same board, they aren't the same sort of game. That's why it's all right to own them all, and I think that's where many people in the modern board game hobby are at as well.

Most of us will own a variety of games that are actually quite different. Sure, there will be overlapping mechanisms, but I don't think anyone would say that Wingspan and Oath are basically the same game, just because they feature cards. We tend to have collections that will cater for a wide range of player types and tastes, if those are the right words. We want to have enough games so we've got something to play in an evening, when we're tired, as well as at the weekend, when we're fresh and got a few hours spare, and when we're with friends (it will happen again at some point, I know) or with family.

To anyone who doesn't know anything about the games we have, it will look like we've just got lots of games, but we know they're not all the same - unless, of course, when they are. Yes, sure, and let's be honest everyone, many of us do just want to have lots of games and want to have the latest games or otherwise have some type of collector's drive that makes us buy more games.

So, that's when Bez's parents are spot on with their question about why we buy new games when we already have enough, and not only that, but when we have enough games that we still enjoy and play. Maybe it's time to go through our collections and decide what games we really need and what games can go to a new home. There are only so many versions of Fluxx that you actually need. Sure, all mint tin games are different, but maybe some are not. Let's scale back and re-invest our time into those games that actually matter to us and that we still love and want to play.

How about you? Do you have several games that mostly do the same thing? Why? What's the most number of expansions for a game that you have and what game is it? Please let me know in the comments below. I'd love to hear from you.

There Will Be Games
Oliver Kinne
Oliver Kinne (He/Him)
Associate Writer

Oliver Kinne aims to publish two new articles every week on his blog, Tabletop Games Blog, and also release both in podcast form. He reviews board games and writes about tabletop games related topics.

Oliver is also the co-host of the Tabletop Inquisition podcast, which releases a new episode every three to four weeks and tackles different issues facing board games, the people who play them and maybe their industry.

Articles by Oliver Kinne

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ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #319943 02 Mar 2021 19:12
Oliver is right. Sometimes you’re just in the mood for a newexperience, so you get a new game. I’m feeling that way now, after not playing anything new in several months. I’m glad Barnes copy of Bunny Kingdom arrived this week.
southernman's Avatar
southernman replied the topic: #319967 03 Mar 2021 10:13

ubarose wrote: Oliver is right. Sometimes you’re just in the mood for a newexperience, so you get a new game. I’m feeling that way now, after not playing anything new in several months. I’m glad Barnes copy of Bunny Kingdom arrived this week.

But still a few months to go before Etherfields arrives for you ... now THAT will be a new experience (I even late pledged for it in December :whistle: )

I do the BGG Math trades to get different tastes in ... and buy too much new shit :pinch: .
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #319970 03 Mar 2021 10:53
I also have Bullet arriving sometime later this month. Looking forward to that. Maybe by the end of April I will be able to see Francie and play her games. Will probably be a while before I can see Josh, my regular supplier of new game experiences.
oliverkinne's Avatar
oliverkinne replied the topic: #322931 07 May 2021 03:16
Well, sometimes new is good, sometimes old. It's OK to be in different moods. Thank you all for your comments.
mc's Avatar
mc replied the topic: #322932 07 May 2021 04:31
I know those little differences between games feel important to the connoisseur. I recognize them myself. Ah yes, a little deck deconstruction, some route monopolizing and a thin layer of area majority which is really a subtle bidding system....

But I've sort of realised that stuff is a bit new clothes like. As in, those differences - or the differences created by different mixes of mechanisms or theme - are often overstated. What's at the core? That's more important to me, but even then many cores are pretty similar to each other. At the core of a modern euro is layered complexities of min max optimisation; really, I only need one of those to get that feel when i want it. And the same could be said for lots of other "cores". I only really need one Pax to do its core of interactive engine thing.

But ss Oliver says, when you LOVE that core you want more of it. I wonder how many of us kid ourselves a bit though - " no no no this is different. It has different action selection spaces". If we loved that core enough, genuinely, if it was that good- wouldn't one or two be enough?

Of course, just like we might be chasing that core feeling, for many that exploratory feel is the core feeling they are after, which means new games with tiny differences.

All of this is fine or whatever, people want different things. It has all been observed before too. But for me I have got some core things I really like and far too many games doing those things. So when I see a new game doing that core thing, it's mostly, I'm good, dont need it.

The ONE fly in the ointment though? The idea that THIS one will be the one that hits at the core things I like AND will really capture the imagination of the family so I get to play it all the time. That's the chink in the armour.
jeb's Avatar
jeb replied the topic: #322947 07 May 2021 11:40
I have enough games to never need another one. I can go to my shelves and find something that can provide whatever limited or expansive experience I want, I am very fortunate. That said, something new is still great. I also turned "helping out my FLGS" into a buying spree of a game a month for about a year now.

CAPTAIN SONAR, which I got for an 8-player experience this summer when we head to Cape Cod for post-vax vacation.

THE INITIATION: CoreyK's new game that has some amazing Legacy co-op cool thing happen in the middle somewhere. (no spoilers please)
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #322952 07 May 2021 12:14
I vet games carefully before deciding to add another one to my collection. I analyze the visual design, the setting, the theme, the player count, the apparent mechanics, and of course look at any available reviews (unless they are video or podcast reviews). But when it all comes down to it, I am looking for one of three things:

1. More of the Same. Either an expansion of a game that I already have and enjoy, or a similar-looking game by designer or publisher that I already like. Recent examples: Blackstone Fortress: Escalation, Cursed City, a bunch of expansion stuff for Marvel Champions.

2. Something Better. Every once in a while, I will see a game that looks like it does something similar to a game that I already have, only better. Recent example: Masters of the Night, which takes a lot of standard co-op game stuff and does it very well with efficiency.

3. Something Different. My favorite type of game to acquire is a game that offers a singular experience, unlike anything else in my collection. Recent examples: Magic Realm, Sleeping Gods.

In my experience, the Something Different acquisitions are the ones most likely to become shelf toads. Sometimes a game is just too different from what interests my friends, or else requires more of a buy-in, like a long play time or considerable complexity. I have learned to consider carefully who will play a Something Different game with me, so it's great if there is a viable solitaire mode. Because of the pandemic, every game that I bought in the last 15 months is also a good solitaire game.