This article has been bouncing around inside my head for several weeks, which means that a couple of the thoughts within it might be challenging to achieve in the global climate in which we find ouselves at this point in time.
Suffice it to say that when I originally wrote this blog entry in my head, no-one had heard of social distancing, and visiting a board game cafe, or the gaming room of your friend’s house for that matter, was a normal activity rather than something that should be avoided for the common good.
When was the last time I played this game?
There has been something of a theme running through many of the games that I have played this year. Or maybe not a theme, so much as a linked thought. It hasn’t been intentional – it is something that seems to have just happened.
“This is such a good game. (Why has it been so long since we last played it? / How have we not played this sooner?)”
I noticed it when I played Istanbul (10 months between games), Arkham Horror: The Card Game (16 months between games) and Commands & Colors: Napoleonics (3 years between games(!)) or when I finally got to play Lords of Hellas for the first time (Over 12 months since the Kickstarter turned up).
The Cult of the New
The gaming hobby in general, and boardgames in particular, have a tendency to be driven by what we have called in the past ‘The Cult of the New’. “What is the latest new, shiny game that we can play?” “What is that new wargame like?” “Wow, those new miniatures look fantastic!”
As I said, this seems to be particularly prevalent in boardgaming. I remember a time, not too many years ago, when you could keep up with the new boardgame releases and buy many of them – I know, I used to do it. Over the course of a couple of years my boardgame collection probably increased by a new game a week. If you tried that now you would find yourself bankrupt within a very short space of time. There are multiple new games being published each and every week.
Not only that, but each month we are also bombarded by the idea of new games via crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter – to the point it seems that by the time that idea becomes reality and the actual game is delivered to us, we have already moved on the the next idea and are no longer interested in playing the game that was ‘all the rage’ on Kickstarter a year ago.
Perhaps within miniature gaming the cycle is just slower, since it naturally takes longer for us to buy the rules and then collect and paint the miniatures. However, it’s amazing how quickly the latest hot set of rules or period can come and go. Does anyone remember Darkest Africa, of Back of Beyond?
This constant drive towards the new tends to create it’s own problem – on the podcast we called it ‘Dilution Theory’. The theory is very simple:
You only have a finite amount of time in which to play games. Every time you add a new game to your collection, the amount of time you can spend playing each game in that collection becomes less, thus you dilute your gaming pool.
Many of us gamers also have a tendency to be collectors, to a greater or lesser extent, so we do seem to want to ignore this simple fact as much as we can – even if the ‘bucket’ of our gaming resource is full to overflowing. Indeed, it’s a fact that the hobby as a whole would want us to ignore – otherwise it would quickly collapse.
OK, before I go any further I want to make it very clear that I am not saying that buying new stuff is bad, or that we shouldn’t do it. Now that that is clear, let’s move on.
Does new = better?
Another thing to consider – does new equate to better, or is it just different? There are many excellent games that are perhaps older than you might think. I played Twilight Struggle the other night for the first time in a while – it’s a game I love and I have been itching to find an opponent for. I was a little surprised to subsequently discover that the game is 15 years old. It was developed in 2005, and yet it is still considered one of the best two-player board wargames around. El Grande is a fantastic area control game from 1995. Whilst I would agree that the graphic design is looking a little dated, it is still a great game.
Are you getting value for money?
Something else to add to the mix. I think you will probably agree that gaming is not generally a cheap hobby, although this is dependent upon what games you buy, obviously. Also, as a general rule, boardgames tend to be cheaper than miniatures games, though not always.
So, I have a question – are you getting value for money out of your hobby?
Now value can mean many things, and is potentially very different – especially when you start including miniatures gaming, when painting miniatures is a hobby unto itself and provides its own reward. For now let’s just consider playing time.
I’m a big fan of going to the cinema (something else I can’t do in the current climate) so I would consider paying for a night’s entertainment of 2-3 hours to generally be value for money – assuming that you don’t waste any on soda and popcorn! I am quite happy to spend around £10+ to see a film on the big screen. If I take that as my unit of measure, how many times do I have to play a game before it has earned it’s value in entertainment?
Let’s look at a couple of examples from my collection:
- Lord of the Rings – Journeys in Middle Earth by Fantasy Flight Games. I have bought the base game, plus a miniatures expansion and the gaming mat. So, somewhere around £115. I have played the game 24 times since I bought it, so ignoring any value I may have received from painting the miniatures, each game that I have played has cost under £5, which seems to me to be pretty good value.
- Mythic Battles: Pantheon from Mythic Games. I bought the Titan Bundle on kickstarter, which was an awful lot of game and models – certainly more than equivalent to buying a couple of armies (or more) for wargaming. I have currently played the game 7 times, which means that each game has currently cost me in something in excess of £50. Thank goodness those models will find a second outlet with the Mythic expansion for Mortal Gods!
When you start thinking about things in those terms, it quickly brings things into a different perspective – and Mythic Battles is not the worst offender in my collection!
Some games are big, and unless you play them repeatedly you miss out on all the content and experience that game has to offer. Whether it is games that have long campaigns, or a large number of scenarios, or maybe a smaller number of scenarios but a large number of variable factors to keep each scenario fresh, gaming longevity seems to be something this is being built into games more and more – especially when you look at the strategy and hybrid game genres.
I own Battle Cry, the American Civil War version of Commands & Colors. I have played it a grand total of twice, yet the game has 30 scenarios, so in actuality I’ve hardly scratched the surface of the experience that game holds. Multiply that across a number of games and I have literally hundreds of scenarios for different games that are waiting to be played.
Playing vs playing well
It’s not all about quantity. Many of the games we play are complex beasts. Not only do the rules need to be learned (which can take multiple plays) but then there is a second stage of learning, which is all about playing the game well. Becoming familiar with how the game plays, or how your army operates within the rules on the field of battle, ensures that you can concentrate not just on how to play the game, but in developing strategies and tactics, which make the game, whatever it is, more enjoyable to play. It’s about the why as well as the how, and the subsequent experience is much more rewarding.
If you start putting all those points together, and especially if you find yourself with a game collection as large as mine, there is a very strong argument not to buy anything new ever again! If I am being honest with myself, I have more than enough to keep me going in my gaming hobby for a number of years.
But I said earlier, the aim of this article is not about stopping you buying anything new. Rather, what I would like to encourage you to do is to fully appreciate the richness and depth in the games that you own, and to get the most out of your gaming collection.
Rediscovering a great game and being able to plumb its depths and play it to its full capacity brings a joy all of its own.