Variant: Is Game Quality Decreasing?
Some in the hobby seem to adopt a pessimistic attitude toward the latest game offerings. “Everything is terrible, there is nothing I want.” Often heard is something like: “Why can’t there be lots of great games like in the golden years of [insert the first few years they entered the hobby]?” Even though I disagree with the curmudgeonly sentiment, is it nevertheless true that games are on the decline?
Detractors point to classic favorites like Puerto Rico (2001), Ticket to Ride (2004), or Caylus (2005). Often, detractors will place the blame on Kickstarter and argue that the influx of new games is really just an increase in untested designs that haven’t been vetted by appropriate gatekeepers: the traditional publishers. We may be getting more games than usual, but it’s just cluttering up the good games with a sea of mediocrity.
Hogwash. First, good games continue to be published. Looking at just the top 20 games on BGG, five games (or 25% of the total) are published in 2010 or later. Twelve were published in 2007 or later: just the last five years. I think those who argue that there was a “golden era” of gaming are merely remembering a time when they first entered the hobby and everything seemed new and exciting. Or a couple of their favorite games (like Puerto Rico or Caylus) happened to come out that year and therefore those years produced “good games” in general. Those years also produced some downright mediocre or bad games like La Strada (2004, released by Mayfair, designed by Martin Wallace, and still ranked over 1400).
What of Kickstarter? Is Kickstarter creating a wave of bad games. Miskatonic School for Girls, Carnival, and 1955: the War of Espionage have all received reviews from bad to mediocre. But Kickstarter also produced Alien Frontiers (a top 100 game), Flash Point: Fire Rescue (a top 200 game), and Eminent Domain (a top 300 game). In addition, numerous expansions and reprints of games we never would have seen otherwise, like Glory to Rome and Tammany Hall.
In fact, the argument that the big publishers are better gatekeepers is nonsense. As an example, Jay Tummelson of Rio Grande Games has admitted that he doesn’t always pick winners. Sometimes he publishes a game he thinks will go over well, and then bombs. And, with the well known problems that have arisen alongside Mansions of Madness and Elder Sign, it’s clear that even major publishers can let rules, production, or design flaws creep into their games. Panic Station is almost unplayable (absent player agreement to play by “designer intent” rather than the written rules) despite coming from an established publisher.
If anything, I see Kickstarter as the better gatekeeper. If the concept doesn’t gin up enough interest, the game never gets made, so Kickstarter actually works to prevent a bad game from being made. Will bad games get made through Kickstarter? Of course. But I think Kickstarter does an equivalent, if not better job of acting as the “gatekeeper” to weed out the bad ones. A traditional publisher creates a game and hopes it sells. A Kickstarter game is only created if at least a certain threshold of sales (or potential sales) is reached. So there is a minimum success requirement.
TL;DR version: great games are being produced all the time and we continue to live in one of the best times for board gaming. We have extensive variety and innovation. Plus, we have access to more games and newer ideas through the use of independent or small(er) company publishing. Those who say the era of good games is over are being overly nostalgic, pessimistic, or both.