Creativity Quest Hot

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MattDPMattDP   April 09, 2017  
2021  
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I've been playing hobby games for over 30 years, the majority of that time focused on board games. Increasingly, I've been growing bored with them. Not in the sense that the games themselves are boring, but that they all look the same. Consider what lit up geeks in 2016. Terraforming Mars, which was arguably an outer space version of Agricola. Scythe, another step in the plodding evolution of the "waro", a genre that sprang up around the turn of the millennium. Even my favourite game from last year, Hands in the Sea, is a straight-up rehash of A Few Acres of Snow.

When you look at the big new concepts that have come on the scene of late, it's not so surprising. The last time the hobby got shaken up by a really groundbreaking concept was the release of Legacy games. That happened in 2011. The time before that was deckbuilders, which started with Dominion in 2008. A gap of three years between seismic releases has now become one of six years, and still counting.

Or is it?

I assumed at first that my feelings on the matter sprung from my getting older. After spending so long in games, I should perhaps expect to get bored of seeing incremental changes to the same formula. Plus aging makes one cynical: it becomes easy to dismiss hype as passing fad, nothing more. It does seem like it's been a long time since there was something fresh and thrilling to explore. But it could have always been that way: things felt fresh once upon a time because I wasn't familiar with their antecedents. Nothing new under the sun and all that.

I'm also aware I've been spending a lot of time in the past couple of years building and playing expandable games. X-Wing and Armada are the big titles here. But Imperial Assault, Netrunner, Cosmic Encounter and the Commands & Colors games all share some blame for this too. Being immersed in particular systems has its own charms. At the same time, it puts you in a bubble, less aware of what else is coming and going.

So I started asking around about what I'd been missing. What clever games that had come out over the past couple of years and fallen under the hype radar, where I'd missed them. And I found that it wasn't just me. That a lot of people felt the same way, especially those with a good overview of recent releases. A lot of people who chipped in to contest my view seemed to want more to defend their own favourites and purchases than to offer sound suggestions.

Why is this? Kickstarter was a popular whipping boy. That's surprising when a key function of the platform ought to be to secure funding for niche, innovative titles. Of course the truth is quite different. For starters, it's allowed such a glut of games to come to market that it's hard to spot quality titles, let alone creative ones. And what attracts attention is pretty production values and nostalgia. Almost all the top kickstarter runs have been for big boxes full of toys that trade on re-creating the popular titles of yesteryear. Even Kingdom Death falls into this category: from certain angles it looks a lot like a porno version of HeroQuest. 

Yet Kickstarter can still be a way to get dangerous, creative games to market. For me the bigger problem is the rise and rise of the games we came in on: expandable titles. It all started with such innocence. The Living Card Game model was supposed to free us from the shackles of greed that collectible games forced us to wear. And everyone was baying about the problems caused by the hype train endlessly derailing great games in favour of new great games. Expandable games promised a one-catch solution to both.

The trouble is, they were too good at doing just that. So good they became a problem in their own right. At one point in the recent past I recall reading that X-Wing was responsible for a third of FFG's revenue. With a catalogue of their size, that's nuts. It's a cash cow, a goose farting out golden eggs faster than baskets can be found to hold them. And the kicker is, they're cheap to make! One big design effort, then years and years of tweaking. If you get it wrong, fix it with the next expansion, like some DLC for a video game. No wonder every publisher wanted to follow suit.

It's a win for everyone, except innovation.

I'm not criticising these games as bad games. Far from it. Yet things don't need to be this way. One of the more popular suggestions I got for games to check out for fresh design was the Arkham Horror card game. I've not got it, or played it yet, but if accurate it's a sweet catch-22, something that's both creative and collectible. It's also an anomaly, as the impulse toward endless expansions inevitably squashes innovation.

It was far from the only suggestion I got, either. So over the next few months, my focus is going to be on reviewing the games that garnered a lot of mentions. With any luck, I might find a game that recaptures that fresh feeling for me again. Either way, I hope it'll provide some insight and entertainment for you guys.

Posted: 09 Apr 2017 05:47 by Bojack #246216
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games are not really like Music. theres not an infinite number of ways to get people round a table and play a game which is just a set of rules and numbers with a bit of fluff on top. It would be like if there were only 2 notes in Music. Sure, theres a lot of "twists" you could do, but at the end of the day you will still end up with the majority of stuff being a two note ditty arranged a bit differently. The good thing is games dont spontaneously combust so you can keep playing games you like no matter how old they are, and you can just enjoy "riffs on a theme" by trying out newer games now and then that might be a sequel of sorts to the stuff you like, or a variation or combo of bits you like. Now and then something "innovative" will come up, but when was that the important factor in people having fun playing games. Oh no, nothing innovative has come out in 10 years, what will we do. If only something innovative came out. The overwhelming evidence Points to the fact that in fact most people dont even care one jot about that and are happy to just keep buying the same games with different names. Seems a colossal waste of time and effort to me but then again I've culled down to a couple of games and don't even bother engaging in what's new. I love the game I have, and I dont see it ever getting old. I could certainly take bits of my favourite games and mash them together and add an innnovation but what would be the Point. Life is too short Matt, you just sound like someone desperately trying to avoid facing up to the reality that Writing about boardgames is just not that interesting and nothing you should be wasting the rest of your Life doing. Just go and play some games with people you like and have fun. Nobody cares. Really.
Posted: 09 Apr 2017 10:09 by Gary Sax #246220
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Worthy project!

In terms of innovative, last thing that comes to mind is one of Felli's designs. I found Shadows of Malice pretty innovative.
Posted: 09 Apr 2017 11:04 by Legomancer #246223
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I absolutely think there's a preponderance of chaff out there now. However, I don't think every new release has to blow my socks off. It hs to be fun, and provide an all-over experience for me that isn't already being served by another game.

You compare Terraforming Mars to Agricola, which is a lot of a stretch but okay, sure, I'll play along. I'm a TM fanboy and have played it 20 times since I got it in October. It doesn't do a damn thing that is novel. But it does what it does in a way that is, to me, interesting and fun, and its design has the effect of making the plays unfold differently. For me, that's fine.

I have a lot of games on my shelf now and I am slowing down in adding them. This hasn't been hard. It would be even easier if I decided that a game wasn't worthwhile unless it was a bona fide seismic shift in the board game landscape. As you note, that doesn't happen often.

Furthermore, are those seismic games the ones you want? Caylus brought worker placement into the spotlight, but it is the WP game you play? Dominion was deck-building, but is Dominion itself the one to stick with? Trajan and Tzolkin both have some interesting mechanisms in them but both games are boring as shit.

I absolutely think there are too many games coming out now, too many of which can't justify their existence. KS is partly responsible for that. Gamers who fall for "but she's got a new hat!" bullshit are also partly responsible. But this idea that you're only waiting for the absolute moon landing of boardgames seems like just an excuse to stick to playing with Star Wars spaceships and Cosmic Encounter. If you like those and want to focus on them, go for it. You don't have to justify it by saying that you're forced to do so by the failure of the industry to turn out a new masterpiece every month.

Nerds certainly don't save their movie watching time and money for groundbreaking feats of artistic genius. Nor do they do so with books, music, or other entertainment. We sure as shit don't only dine on rare spotted ocelot tartare at 4-star restaurants. So while the board game industry definitely needs to step up its output quality, I don't think they need to only produce the finest world-shattering products.
Posted: 09 Apr 2017 12:00 by SuperflyTNT #246224
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I had forgotten how funny Dave is!

Yeah, there's not a lot going on that's new. I'm surprised you left out Kingdom Death since people were going on and on about it, and Frank wrote about it (which is a rare luxury).

Other than that, not a lot new. The game I made for Zev has some new stuff but it's not SO new that it will be entirely groundbreaking. I suspect 2 things to be copied by other games (branching campaign, and another which I can't discuss) but beyond that, it's like everything else: we make games we want to play, and a lot of times, that includes things we have experience with.

The last game that I played and found to be really "different" was Ferox. Which is just a Revolver knockoff in many ways but still...something was there: A soul.
Posted: 09 Apr 2017 12:17 by hotseatgames #246225
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SuperflyTNT wrote:
The game I we made for Zev

Fixed that for you.

Really original games I can think of in a relatively recent time frame:
  • Zimby Mojo
  • Guards of Atlantis
  • ...hmm. Maybe that's it for now.
Posted: 09 Apr 2017 12:42 by Colorcrayons #246226
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I'm more interested in taking concepts and doing them better than has ever been done before.

For actual ameritrash fun, I don't think a game has taken the small scale skirmish combat and done a better job than Gorechosen. Nothing groundbreaking about it other than doing it extremely well.

I guess I'm just here to agree with essentially everything Master Lartigue said. Especially about output quality versus innovation.

He made a good point about being sick of seeing GW being so strongly discussed here. But with the output quality inn the industry being so dry, its hard not to look to them to see what that games former glory might have in store as a breath if fresh air.
Posted: 09 Apr 2017 21:32 by Sevej #246259
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Of all my games, 3 blew my minds I think. Note that this is my personal experience. First is BattleLore, which introduces me to stupidly simple way to simulate command & control. Then Talisman, which basically surprised me by making random fun. Then Band of Brothers, its supression system, which kill nearly all tactical wargame to me. All of these is just making me want to play more of my already owned games... 99% of things that "blow socks off" are usually pretty ordinary things after the initial explosion.

For example, the recent event that is Gloomhaven? Sure you can have super immersive world with lots of stuff, because the box comes with... lots of stuff? I'm getting more and more critical to games, and one that's pretty high in my list of priority is doing the most with least. That's a huge part of what makes board game interesting to me. I don't mind dabbling in only 1 or 2 game systems also.

Dominion concept didn't surprise me because I've actually thought of it. I just had not thought so many shuffling would be acceptable.

Anyway, this just makes me want to play more of my small collection.
Posted: 10 Apr 2017 14:52 by Shellhead #246291
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I don't think that it's reasonable to expect a revolutionary new board game mechanic every few years. And a new game can be enjoyable if it does something well instead of doing something new. In recent years, I have been favorably impressed by Zimby Mojo, Camp Grizzly, and Psycho Raiders. Each offers a distinctive setting but not necessarily any dramatically different mechanics.
Posted: 10 Apr 2017 15:30 by mads b. #246294
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For me innovation is nothing in itself. Yes, Dominion made a game out of deckbuilding, but the few times I've tried it I found it dry and soulless. And it wasn't the deckbuilding that made Starcraft a great game even if it is a good and very innovative fit in that game. No, deck building (not sure to put it in one or two words, so I'll just alternate) as the core of a game didn't really work for me until Rune Age where it - for me - clicked with the story.

And I've said this before on these forums, but for me the reason to play new games is because they all tell a different story in a different way. So even if a game is pretty damn close to another game, the little differences in how the mechanisms fit with the story can make a huge difference.
Posted: 11 Apr 2017 00:44 by bigmop #246322
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This is exactly how I was feeling. I think the "Golden age" of board games is at its end. Blood Rage was probably the last amazing game I've seen. Maybe thats a good thing? I pulled out Ricochet Robot for no reason the other day - and it was so fun! Where's that simplicity? Also, Runebound 2nd edition! So good. That third edition was just odd - what a strange game to remake...

When I looked at Gloomhaven I thought 'Why go to all this effort to 'simulate' an RPG?' - Why not just play an RPG? Roleplaying games have had their own quiet revolution. 5th edition is excellent and the Cypher system games (numenera) are just incredible. The barrier to entry for RPG's has never been lower....
Posted: 11 Apr 2017 12:59 by SuperflyTNT #246348
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Rhino Hero, amusingly, is the most recent "novel" game that I've played. It's really slick.
Posted: 12 Apr 2017 06:55 by MattDP #246404
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Bojack wrote:
Life is too short Matt, you just sound like someone desperately trying to avoid facing up to the reality that Writing about boardgames is just not that interesting and nothing you should be wasting the rest of your Life doing. Just go and play some games with people you like and have fun. Nobody cares. Really.

If no-one cared, I doubt anyone would read the site. As to the rest of your comment: yes, you're largely bang on. It's not that writing about games isn't interesting, more that it's hard to sustain interest for ten years. I'm just trying to do something about it. Maybe it'll work and maybe it won't, but I think I'd rather have a try than just give up.
Posted: 12 Apr 2017 07:00 by MattDP #246405
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Legomancer wrote:
Furthermore, are those seismic games the ones you want? Caylus brought worker placement into the spotlight, but it is the WP game you play? Dominion was deck-building, but is Dominion itself the one to stick with? Trajan and Tzolkin both have some interesting mechanisms in them but both games are boring as shit.

It's a fair question. And the answer is: no, they're not the games I want. But in both cases much better games built on those foundations to make really interesting and cool things. Of course, that's not the seismic shift I'm talking about, but the shift was necessary to bring new design angles in to the hobby. It's been a long time since we had any new angles, and it shows.
Legomancer wrote:
But this idea that you're only waiting for the absolute moon landing of boardgames seems like just an excuse to stick to playing with Star Wars spaceships and Cosmic Encounter. If you like those and want to focus on them, go for it. You don't have to justify it by saying that you're forced to do so by the failure of the industry to turn out a new masterpiece every month.

I'm not trying to justify it, or at least I'm not trying to justify playing these games. It's more, as Bojack was saying in a kind of circular way, that I do need to justify *writing* about things. I'm tried of writing reviews and commentary pieces that sounds like echoes of each other. It'd also be nice to get that feeling of fresh excitement back again: it's been a long time since a game gave me that.
Posted: 12 Apr 2017 10:29 by SuperflyTNT #246416
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MattDP wrote:
Bojack wrote:
Life is too short Matt, you just sound like someone desperately trying to avoid facing up to the reality that Writing about boardgames is just not that interesting and nothing you should be wasting the rest of your Life doing. Just go and play some games with people you like and have fun. Nobody cares. Really.

If no-one cared, I doubt anyone would read the site. As to the rest of your comment: yes, you're largely bang on. It's not that writing about games isn't interesting, more that it's hard to sustain interest for ten years. I'm just trying to do something about it. Maybe it'll work and maybe it won't, but I think I'd rather have a try than just give up.

There's a reason that Superfly Circus doesn't put out much anymore. It's 50% because writing about games isn't that interesting anymore, and the other 50% is that most people generally aren't reading for criticism, they're hoping for a rules breakdown and confirmation that the target of their amore is as good as they think it will be, thus making them "smart shoppers".

Me, I don't even want to write anything anymore. I'd rather play music, hang out with my friends and family doing shit outdoors or going somewhere fun. I spent 20 years plus seeking basements and game rooms to spend 6 hours of my life sitting around debating the efficacy of moving a cube from one place to another. Life's too damned short for that shit.
Posted: 15 Apr 2017 21:51 by cranberries #246612
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Gorechosen, Gloomhaven, Ravenloft--I honestly get all of the three-syllable dungeon crawlers mixed up.

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