I’m big on lists, especially at the end of the year. But I also try to do things differently on Curio. So instead of a list of my 10 favorite games of the year, here’s a list of 10 things that board games taught me in 2016. I hope you find reading it as insightful as I did writing it!
1. There are A LOT of games out there
2016 was my first year immersed in the hobby gaming scene. I knew there were a lot of tabletop games out there, but I had absolutely no idea just how many. Mind-bogglingly, staggeringly, astonishingly many.
For the most part, that’s great. It means that there are games out there for every taste. Abstract strategy, super-heavy euro, light thematic, dice, story-telling, legacy, drafting, movie-themed, family, party, solo, deduction, and every possible combination are available. If you play a game and you think you’d love it if it had just a little more strategy, or cooperation, or a vampire theme, you can find it. And that’s really cool.
It also makes it easy to spend a ridiculous amount of money. If you’ve budgeted and prepared for that, fantastic. Go for it. But if, like me, you have an ungodly amount of student debt, it means you have to be careful. There’s a lot of temptation out there, and discipline is crucial in making sure you don’t cave to all of it.
2. Kickstarter hype is starting to worry me
Kickstarter has definitely done great things for the industry. There’s no denying that. But some campaigns are starting to remind me of the hype surrounding AAA-level video game preorders, and many of those have done a great deal of damage to the video game scene in recent years.
I wouldn’t say that hype is eclipsing substance, but I’m a bit worried about this trend continuing. It’s possible that I’m just feeling a bit of board game hipster angst about the scene getting too big, but I think there’s something to be said for keeping expectations reasonable and not sacrificing good design for bombastic marketing.
It hasn’t started happening yet. But it very well may. We have the video game industry to look to as an example of what not to do, and if we start to see it happening, it’s going to be on us to stop it.
3. Independent publishers are super cool
Over the course of the year, I’ve gotten to talk to a few independent designers and publishers, and I really admire that they’re striking out on their own to make games they love without being restricted by major publishing houses. Forged in Steel is one of the best games I played all year, and it was released by a small group in southern Colorado. That’s just really cool.
Tempest Tome, the team behind the (heart-breakingly failed) Kickstarter for Cryptic Explorers, are really nice guys that designed a game that combines their interests in RPGs, video games, horror movies, and metal. There are tons of other small publishers out there that are channeling their love for games into their designs.
Independent video game publishers are pushing their industry forward, and I think independent tabletop publishers could fill that role in our industry as well. Major game houses are still doing a great job, but if hype becomes too important, we can always rely on the smaller guys to make phenomenal games and keep innovating.
4. A regular gaming group is indispensable
Before this year, I played board games fairly often with my wife, and occasionally with some friends from home. Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne were favorites among these groups, and Ascension, Gears of War, and a few other lesser-known titles showed up, too. But then I hooked up with the Heavy Cardboard group (we bonded over a shared love of greyhounds).
And that has totally changed my board gaming life. Having a group lets you play a much wider variety of games, especially if the group is large and enthusiastic. Edward and Amanda, being the hosts of a board game podcast, have a crazy large collection, but even discounting that, playing with a group opens up a lot of possibilities. If each person gets a new game every couple of months, that’s still more than you’ll probably buy.
It also makes sure that you keep playing. Like any hobby, you can have dry spells where you just don’t have the time, money, or motivation to keep it going. But with a group of people that get together regularly, it’s a lot easier to stay with it.
5. It’s great to dive really deep into a single game
One of the downsides of always having new and exciting titles available is that it can be hard to get repeated plays of the games you really love. I was blown away the first time I played Terraforming Mars, for example, but I’ve only been able to play it twice. It’s a game that seems like it will reward a deeper understanding of the synergies at play, but I just haven’t had a chance to play it enough times yet.
Playing a single game lots of times lets you see more deeply into the mechanics and potential strategies, and you gain a new level of appreciation for the game. My wife and I have played a ton of 7 Wonders Duel this year, and we’re starting to see a lot more depth than was obvious at first.
(If you’re looking for a great two-player game that’s quick and still quite strategic, grab 7 Wonders Duel; it’s only $27 on Amazon, and absolutely worth it.)
That kind of appreciation is hard to get without playing a single repeatedly. It’s fun to try everything that’s new. But don’t neglect your favorites, either. Spend a lot of time with them, and they will reward you! (Plus you’re more likely to kick ass when you play, which is always fun.)
6. The digital medium is underutilized
I’m a big fan of board game apps. The Ticket to Ride app was my first introduction to hobby gaming, and I still play it regularly. I have thousands of plays on the Ascension app. Neuroshima Hex!, Catan, and Carcassonne all see regular play on my devices. Publishers are making great ports, and that’s good for the community.
But it’s only ports that are showing up. Why aren’t we seeing more digital-only games? I just discovered Tharsis recently, and am quite intrigued, but with the success of digital apps, this seems like a huge gap. Ports are safer and cheaper, but a smash success could be very lucrative.
Digital-only card games have done well, with Solforge and Duelyst taking full advantage of the medium. They haven’t reached the success level of Hearthstone, which is more similar to tabletop experiences, but I still see a lot of untapped possibility for board games here.
7. I miss CCGs
My introduction to the hobby gaming scene came through Star Wars CCG back in 1996; I was introduced to the tournament scene probably around 2000 or 2001, and played regularly for the next six years or so. And I really miss it.
Of course, I don’t have the time—or, really, the motivation—to get back into something like that. But if I can find a game that channels the same feeling, I’ll be all over it. I’ve heard great things about Millennium Blades, but haven’t had a chance to play it yet. Arkham Horror LCG is looking very promising, and I had a blast playing it, but the co-op nature makes it a little different from my old favorites.
(Pro tip: if you want to get into Arkham Horror, do it immediately; it’s only $46 for the starter set, but it’ll get really expensive to get into once a lot of expansions hit.)
I hadn’t thought about CCGs much until I started playing games again, but getting into a competitive mindset and trying to outwit and outplay my opponents on a regular basis has gotten me thinking about it again. If you know of a game that’s reminiscent of the CCG scene, be sure to let me know.
8. Board games need more metal
I’m a big fan of metal music, and it plays a significant role in my life. Over the past couple years, board games have come to play an important role as well. And I’d love it if they overlapped more. Sure, there’s Dungeon Bastards, but that’s about it. Cryptic Explorers, which I mentioned previously, is a fantastic dungeon crawler influenced by black metal and horror movies.
But I think metal themes would be very appealing to board gamers. Dark aesthetics stand out in today’s brightly colored scene, and themes like death, the afterlife, and mythology are perfect for games. We need games that channel the themes and aesthetics of metal.
It’s an absolute tragedy that Cryptic Explorers didn’t make its Kickstarter goal. But I hope that metal fans in the board game scene (and I know there are a lot out there) show support for this kind of idea and help get some great games out in 2017 and beyond.
9. Simple classics will always be great
I’ve played a lot of games this year, including some of the newest and hottest titles, like Terraforming Mars, which is slickly produced (except for that terrible card art; whose idea was that?), innovative, and has a great relevant theme. But I keep going back to the simple classics.
(If you don’t own a copy of Terraforming Mars, you should nab one right now; it’s amazing.)
Don’t neglect the games that got you started on the hobby. I’ve played Carcassonne a lot this year, with a few different groups of people and some different expansions. My wife and I still play Ticket to Ride on the iPad regularly. Even Settlers of Catan, which many people are totally over at this point, still gets us excited.
Others will feel this way about Set, Agricola, or Citadels. No matter what you consider a simple classic game, make sure to go back to it on a regular basis to remind you of what brought you to the hobby and why you love it so much.
10. It’s a great time to be a new gamer
This is a point brought up by my wife—one of the things she learned this year is that the gaming community is open, friendly, and very enthusiastic about sharing the hobby with beginners.
In my post about Dominant Species and why it’s important to learn challenging games, I talked about how it can be intimidating to learn complex rulesets. But by being friendly, willing to explain, and very accepting of mistakes and questions, gamers can help make this a hobby that people are happy they joined.
So keep it up. This is a great scene, a great hobby, and a great group of people. Let’s keep it that way. Be nice to people, teach a lot of games, and get others excited about playing.
What did you learn this year?
I learned a lot over the year, and I look forward to learning more in 2017. What did you learn this year? What did board gaming show you that you hadn’t seen before? And what you are looking forward to in the coming year? Leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter.