Modern games. Many of them are not only fun and interesting games, but are beautiful objects in their own right. The thing is, these huge, impressive production values come at a price and can mask an otherwise disappointing game. Let’s have a little think about these beautiful, possibly overproduced games. I am still sans-computer so my formatting and spelling may be slightly wonky as I type this into my phone – forgive me!
The first game I owned that was not a mainstream game like Monopoly or Cluedo was TSR’s Dungeons & Dragons board game, Dragon Quest. My mum picked it up from one of those companies that leave boxes of stuff in school staffrooms along with an order form. She thought it loomed like my sort of thing and bought me a copy, starting me down a long and interesting path in my hobby.
In terms of components, the game was really impressive to a young me but pretty basic by today’s standards.
There were a couple hundred thinnish, glossy cards, half a dozen rather flimsy red plastic miniatures, some stapled black and quite rulebooks with colour covers. and a few sheets of flimsy cardboard standees to represent monsters, NPCs and doors. There was also a blister of 6 quite nice Ral Partha metal miniatures to use as heroes in place of the red plastic. It was odd that these were basically the same as the plastic minis. There were also some coloured dice and a decent board that the players would customise through their placement of doors.
Fast forward to modern times and the modern equivalent of Dragon Quest would likely be Descent: Journeys in the Dark, currently in its 2nd edition. Descent features a lot of cards of varying sizes, some rulebooks, lots of punch-board tokens, some custom, proprietary dice (6 sided) and a lot of miniatures. Rather than a single, fixed board, the game includes a number of modular tiles, made from a thick cardstock. These can be areanged in many differebt ways for many differebt adventures. As with Dragon Quest, all of the heroes have miniatures, but Descent also gives you miniatures for all of your monsters and whatnot, too.
There’s no question that Descent is the more beautiful of the two games, production-wise. I also prefer it, rules-wise. To me, the game is just better. Thing is, Descent is also bloody expensive with an RRP in excess of £70.
These high production values, and the associated higher price tag, follows a trend in the industry for bigger, flashier, more excessively produced games. Fantasy Flight Games, the pulisher of Descent, have a lot of these extravagant titles:
And that’s nit a slight on these games! Star Wars: Rebellion has come out as the number 1 game in my top 50 for the past two years. Production is a big part of that appeal.
Fantasy flight are not the only company to put a juge amount of production into their games, but they are a prime example. Does a game need a bucketload of minis? Probably not, but it adds to the appeal. Does the board need to be huge and colourful and a piece of art in itself? No, but it adds to the appeal? Does the game need hundreds and hundreds of pieces of original, commissioned artwork? No but adds to the… well, you get the idea.
These production factors are a big part of the rising cost of games. But then, they do sell. Just look at the sort of games that sell on Kickstarter. It’s common wisdom that a game box full of miniatures will drive the punters on the crowd-sourcing platform into a feeding frenzy of epic proportions.
Companies that do not overproduce their games start to stand out as being different. Ome of my favourite games is Terraforming Mars. Terraforming Mars has a huge deck of cards with incredibly inconsistent artwork. The cards include photographs with varying levels of editing, artwork, terrible 3D renders and images/diagrams that look like they came from a high school science textbook. Some look good. Most look decent. A fair amount are ugly. They are all functional and work perfectly fine within the game.
This raises the question of whether or not we need these highly overproduced, expensive, beautiful games. A good ruleset is a good ruleset, after all, isn’t it?
There are so many games coming out these days that it’s difficult to get your game noticed. Being big and impressive and colourful is a good way to do that. Look at Gloomhaven and Scythe. Big, beautiful productions that grab the eye and the wallet. They reappear perennially in the BGG ‘hotness’ list because people keep talking about them. Big, flashy expansions help too. These add yet more to the game and, with their release, help keep the game in the oublic consciousness. Flash matters. To be successful, you need to be noticed.
So theb, back to our titular question: are modern games overproduced? In many cases, they probably are, but this is likely a symptom of the growth of the industry and the need for one’s product to stand out among a hundred other titles. That this drives the price uo is theb inevitable. I would claim not to be so shallow, not so taken in by such showmanship, but then I look to my own shelves. Across my shelves I see box after box stuffed with miniatures and artwork and other goodies. I’m a sucker for a beautiful object as much as anyone and if I am sinking several hours into playing a game, I do think it should be interesting to look at, too. My wallet groans at this realisation.