Look around the cinemas lately? It's been a great year for movies, but what were the ones people were most actively looking forward to? Indy 4, Hellboy 2, Batman 2, Hulk 2...last year, of course, it was Pirates 3, Spidey 3, Shrek 3....
Or perhaps you'd like to visit the local video game store? There you can find Guitar Hero III, Grand Theft Auto IV, Halo III, Devil May Cry IV...and let's not even get into the yearly updates to all the sports games like Madden.
"BOOM! It's important to score in a football game because when one team outscores the
other team, that team usually goes on to win the game."
--John Madden, philosopher
There is a vested interest today in creating things that are not only a self-sustained entity but either a continuation of a franchise or even better, a kickstarter for a franchise. For movies and videogames, it's a sad reality that as the costs associated with creating "blockbusters" have skyrocketed. The Dark Knight was a cinematic masterpiece, but it cost $185 million to make. *Seems* like a sure thing to toss money at a project and expect many happy returns, but even what seem like 'sure things' can result in large losses (See Racer, Speed). Video games, which were long ago able to be created by a single person in a garage now require massive teams of developers and millions of dollars on top of that.
I can't really point fingers at this behavior. After all, I've seen most of those movies...I've played those games. Hell, there's a lot of the time where I can only muster genuine excitement for a new entry into an established franchise. We as consumers may pay lip service to the idea of innovation, of new ideas, of genrebusting events....yet we don't show up with our wallets to reward that stuff. Take a game like Okami for the PS2...hugely innovative, expensive to make, gorgeous graphics...yet it bombed. We don't always put our money where our mouths are.
Okami = NOBODY BUY
So it's probably natural that boardgames also suffer from this syndrome. How many Carcassonne expansions are there again? Fantasy Flight Games, bless their souls, are freaking expansion/franchise generating machines as few of their titles escape expansion-itis. It's become the expectation now that games are not complete in packages and must be supplemented with an expansion. Take Marvel Heroes--it just somehow feels *wrong* that the game will never get an expansion. And that's because not only do we now have that expectation that games are merely kickstarters of franchises, but games themselves just have that feel. You spend five minutes with Marvel Heroes and your brain already envisions future hero packs with four heroes, a new villain, and some additional hero cards...the design feels modular. Many designs do.
Again, I can't point fingers. I own expansions from everything to Carcassonne to War of the Ring to Lord of the Rings, with expansions to Cutthroat Caverns and Descent next on the "to do" list. If it weren't profitable, companies wouldn't do it. And when companies release a popular game, it only makes sense to try and capitalize on that by expanding it. Even...if it doesn't need it.
Though this all seems well and good, you do have to question whether boardgames really need to go down this route as heavily as they do. In terms of the movies and video games, those industries have grown so massive that they can survive the big flop, and they also can nurture countless "smaller" films and games that hey, sometimes catch the public eye and become something else entirely. Let's not forget that the idea that people would play money to play a small plastic guitar in front of their television was a ridiculous notion only a few years ago. While the tentpoles may power the industry, it would falter and die without chances being taken. Again, who would've thought that a movie about a Disney ride would generate a billion+ dollars in ticket revenues alone? It's those chances, even if they are often made with the wild stab at making something a "franchise", that keep the cycle going.
I don't think board games have that luxury. The industry just isn't big enough, the hobby too niche. No one is really getting rich off the board gaming business. But yet we're content to coast. We do spend a lot of time slamming Euros for lacking innovation, for feeling like retreads or worse attempts at coming up with some sort of cash cow. You play enough of them and you start to see the mechanics from other games borrowed, cribbed, barely mutated and tossed into a new Euro stew.
Amertirash games don't get a free ride, however, no matter how we may love them. I mean, tell me what game this is--plastic armies hold terrain and each turn throw dice against a adjacent foes to try and take more terrain. Or how about the one where an Elf, a buxom Cleric, a loin-cloth wearing barbarian and a shady theif plow their way through the evil minions in an attempt to destroy a master villain or obtain some item of "Ultimate Value". Worse is the notion that we get spoonfed expansions that we probably don't need. Seriously, I wasn't sitting around going, "hot damn, War of the Ring needs an expansion!" In fact, my first impression was "Holy mackeral, they packed everything from all the books in this box!!!" (I was younger and more naive then). But bam, an expansion is announced, and of course I *must* have it. How am I to play without Smeagol, without Galadriel, without a figure for the Balrog? Are these needs artificial? Who gives a crap, I'm sold! Right?
I wonder if board games will hit their creative boundaries, if we aren't approaching them already. Have we seen almost "everything new under the sun?" Unlike video games and movies, board games really can't rely on flashy upgrades to graphics and special effects to help keep the engine churning. Look at well-produced board games from the 80s line of Gamemaster stuff. Besides the fact they used brittle hard plastic, does Shogun/Samurai Swords look much worse than more modern games? I would say no, especially given the 20 years that have passed since then! Sure, there are improvements, especially given cost. We get better looking games, and much cheaper than we would have before. But how much better can it get? Ultra-detailed pre-painted minis? Thick mounted boards? Linen-finished cards? Ultra-sturdy tokens? We've seen all of that already. And boardgaming attempts to incorporate technology have always been dodgy at best, with such games being seen as gimmicky. I think eventually we'll have to move towards incorporating electronic elements into our games. That's probably the next step to transcending the current design boundaries.
We get 10,000 auction games but nothing aping this classic?
Of course, that probably just means we'll see Avengers: Risk with an electronic combat resolution device shaped like Iron Man's mask. Another crutch that would empower the current stagnant ideas, only with MORE RADITUDE! We'll see. Until then, pass me that World of Warcraft character pack, please.
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