Think about all the new games you've played that were released in the last five years. How many of them did you play and think "wow, this is really something fresh and original" and not "this is like a 'lite' version of another game" or "It's like SOME GAME crossed with ANOTHER GAME"?
If you're like me, you're going to answer "not many" and those that do qualify are likely going to be the same four or five titles that I would cite. But we've got PLENTY of also-rans, second-tier titles, and clones out there. How many role selection, worker placement, and now co-op games can you name? Probably a bunch.
I think there's a real stagnation going on in game design and publishing. There's almost no movement forward at this point- not just in Eurogames, but in AT games too. There doesn't seem to be any pioneering ideas, no impetus to explore new ways of illustrating theme or developing new mechanical concepts.
Of course, most gamers are content just to let whatever comes out come out and rate it a 7. I'm not. I love board games and I think it is an amazing medium that is capable of so much more than it usually achieves when most hobbyists settle for mediocrity, repetition, and a terrifying dearth of creativity. I used to be in almost a constant state of excitement over upcoming game releases, always interested in what's coming out next. But now I pretty much know already- more of the same. I'm finding it hard to even get excited over TOMB OF ICE- I love expansions, I love DESCENT, but would I rather have a handful of new monsters and even more cards with different pictures and different numbers on them than the ones I already have over a new design that takes the dungeon crawl in a challenging new direction and creates a new context for the genre?
Too many people are content if a game is like another game they like. I'm not. I don't want to see a "lite" version of an Andrei Tarkovsky picture that copies his style but cuts 50% of the length of every shot. I don't want to hear a version of "Sandinista!" that has been 'cleaned up' and 'fixed' per someone's arbitrary tastes. And I don't want to read a copy of THE SCARLET LETTER that has been re-themed and with story elements added from a Stephen King book. Most board gamers are willing to settle for exactly this kind of cloning and redundancy.
I think it's why I really responded to DOMINION- it doesn't play like any other game I have. Sure, it has the deckbuilding/card drafting thing from CCGs and there is definitely an efficiency/development angle that comes from a Eurogame millieu but it doesn't play like anything else I've ever played. The act of playing it, the process is something really innovative and original. I really couldn't care less that it has a stupid theme or embarassingly generic artwork- it's fun because it's not another exercise in flipping a card to see what monster at which I have to roll dice and there's a stripped down feeling that cuts out all the "sophisticated" overdesign that ruins most Eurogames. Full review on that next week.
Innovation and progress. That's what we're rappin' about at Gameshark.com this week.
Come on by, y'all.