The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Ray Smith

April, 2001

Ahh, what a great time to be a gamer. With the advent of the internet shrinking the planet further, it enables easy information, commerce, and feedback around the gaming world, which provides wonderful access for we gaming addicts. No more must we rely on the local toy store. The avalanche of small and large game companies producing high quality family strategy games appears to have reached a pinnacle which I have eagerly devoured. This has me worried.

Hearken back to those thrilling days of yesteryear during the 70s when Avalon Hill, Games Designers Workshop, and Simulations Publications Inc. were in their heyday, pumping out enough wargames to be hip deep in them. This dovetailed very nicely with my college days, where there were plenty of fledgling grognards in the making. Hexmaps, chits, ZOCs, and CRTs were flying every weekend, all weekend. From monster "soap box" games to the microgames, good and bad designs, I was in heaven. After ten plus years of buying everything under the sun because "I have to have it, it's new!", you finally come to realize, it's not new. Oh. Another hexmap, chits, ZOC, CRT game. Whoopdy doo. Sure, there have been innovative design hiccups that sparked new interests. Impulse movement, random activation, and the most recent card play mechanism, have provided brief revitalization to my beloved wargame roots. But now, even these are becoming repetitive. (Something about beating a dead horse comes to mind.) Even long before We the People, and Paths of Glory "initiated" the action card revolution, the Tank Leader series by West End Games in the mid 80s gave us a superb card driven wargame. (Still a favorite of mine.) Well, before I get caught up in a dissertation on the old decline and survival of the wargame industry debate, how does this all relate to my now beloved family strategy game industry?

When I start seeing reviews of new releases that state, "It's similar to El Grande", or "Plays just like Lost Cities", I worry. Sure, all games have some similarities, and when a winning system works and is popular, it is economically wise, and desirable by gamers, for companies to rework it into other games. However, when multiple new releases are likened to various predecessors, new very quickly becomes old. Yes, new games attract new buyers, but as a representative of the over forty crowd, even though the new millennium has brought untold glee to my gaming world, it has also saturated my game closet and heightened my selectivity. I don't need another "control a majority of an area" game, any more than I need another Gettysburg game.

So, looking into my crystal ball, where is this leading? An increase of high quality products, growth and greater acceptance of Rio Grande into the mainstream English speaking market, and Hasbro jumping full force on the bandwagon. Will this creative deluge inundate us, or create a gaming Mecca? The only problem in reaching a pinnacle is that there is only one way to go from there. I just hope we haven't reached it yet. (Insert gloom and doom music here.)

- Ray Smith

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