The board game industry has been subject to constant change for several years. Sure, there have always been developments, sometimes noticeable, sometimes subtle - but now processes have picked up speed that seem unstoppable and that have significantly changed the hobby and will continue to change it.
- a comment by André Volkmann
There was a time when board games were just games. That has changed. Massively even. With an impact on all actors: players, authors, publishers. The latter often bring material boxes weighing a kilo onto the market, which then - also not so rarely - contain game components that are more likely to drive up the price than to actually be beneficial in terms of play. Authors come up with mechanic couplings in order to enable players to perform the most complex actions possible, lengthening the game by hours rather than minutes. And what about the players? They poke around dozens of instruction booklet pages intensively, study reference manuals and are as busy with the matter as if it were a scientific elaboration.
Expensive is always better ?!
Even the most complex, hundreds of euros expensive material battles - best disguised as a collector's edition with unnecessary frills - find their buyers in the modern board game world. As is well known, there is no arguing about taste, but about the trend towards increasingly complex games - and also about the number of new releases.
Are rule-overloaded board games, mostly affectionately referred to as Eurogames, just boring? Not at all. At least not predominantly. Nevertheless, the tension curve in complex board games seems to decrease significantly shortly after halfway through the course of the game - and then ripples at a comparatively low level up to the point scoring - which is sometimes perceived as relieving. Experts call this the optimization phase; average board players will probably only shake their head in the face of dry numbers.
The reason for this is obvious: The experienced players have seen all the mechanics, tried out all the interaction options with any title, made many wrong and few favorable decisions as part of their learning process - unfortunately the authors simply forgot to play the game at an exciting time to end. Instead of being able to start a new game motivated with the experience gained, the compulsion to optimize dominates the players and bores them to the bitter end. There are titles that sometimes allow players to deal with unfavorable decisions for hours instead of actually working with learning effects. In any case, expert board games often feel exactly like that: work.
And what about fun? Also appears, but often only in the regular cast for complex board games. Newcomers have little chance of asserting themselves in an experienced group. Not because they couldn't in principle, but because bulky games hardly allow that. Previous and thus learning experiences are too relevant.
And yet there is light again where there was previously only shadow: Modern board games are increasingly relying on narrative elements, telling stories, using content and not mechanics to urge people to continue playing - sometimes apps are used. Technical aids that are an indispensable part of everyday life, but which should not actually appear in the minds of "real board players".
Mixing “analog” and “digital” as opposites? An absurdity. In almost the same breath, YouTube is started to watch influencers take wild tracking shots through the living room, which is sometimes more, sometimes less cleared. This is called a “shelf visit” and it is one of the formats that can be understood as a synonym for modern board games: Show what you have, then I'll tell you what you are. Playing alone is no longer important, board players are collectors. And that, too, has changed: Basically, collecting is not collecting, but unrestrained consumption. Finding something of value and looking for it is something board game collectors rarely have to do. The hot goods come to them, mostly via crowdfunding portals, on which board games ingratiate themselves with players using superlatives every week. That it is always the same “faces” of the industry that throw around them from “awesome” to “best” to “great” with effective adjectives - sponge about it.
And so the shelves of the players grow taller, the “shelf visits” are longer, the promotions more offensive: Where once “awesome” was enough, “gorgeous” or “beautiful” now have to be used as differentiating additions so that one can access the abundance can even find distinguishing features in new projects.
With every newly acquired board game, it is not uncommon for the “pile of shame” to grow, the pile on which unplayed titles end up after they have been purchased. If you are so keen to shop, you hardly get to work through the pile - and so the flea market groups are booming, in which board and card games are sometimes offered below, sometimes above their value. Somehow you have to get rid of the crap that you bought but actually didn't want to have. Not to plug a hole in the household budget, but to make room for the next purchases, which then become sales - or are collected in a collection of no value. Are you looking for a coveted classic from the past and play with joy? Unnecessary. The publishers simply throw new editions on the market. More colorful, luscious, more expensive, often spiced up with miniatures that eke out a sad, gray existence for most players.
And yet resistance is forming in the community, which culminates in a central one: “Do I even need game A when I already have game B?” There is more to this than a selection of redundancies. It is a signal for authors and publishers that they have probably only focused on mechanics and material for far too long.