I’m in the midst of writing a blog post about board games. In the course of writing this post, I realised that I don’t write much about board games these days. it’s all miniatures and RPGs. I’ve only actually written three board game-centric posts in 2021. One was back in May, another in March and one in February. Add to this that there was no Top 50 last year, and there’s not going to be one this year, either.
So, aye, how come? Well, there are two broad reasons:
- Covid restrictions
- The state of the industry
Let’s break them down one at a time…
The main venue for playing the games I love was the twice-weekly meetings of the Northern Knights, my local gaming club. It’s a great group and we played a lot of different games. Recent games played before closure included Chaos in the Old World, Euphoria, Scythe, the Stargate RPG and a DC Comics Deck Building Game tournament.
When lockdown hit, the government introduced strict rules about gatherings and our venues closed their doors. With this I, like everyone else, lost my gaming group and found myself unable to play any of my games. Not that I had time for much of the duration of lockdown as work/life boundaries kind of disappeared when I began working from home.
Not playing board games, and not purchasing board games meant that I just didn’t have much to say. Instead, I found myself reading more RPG books and painting up some miniatures. Naturally, I found myself writing more about the aspects of the hobby in which I was still actively involved.
With the return of club, I’ve been enjoying some miniature games over the past few weeks. This week will be my first board game session in a while and I’m really looking forward to it!
The State of the Industry
Board games, over the past decade or so, have experienced a golden age. I’m delighted to have really gotten into some amazing games during this time. The thing is, over the past few years, I’ve not liked where things have been going.
First, I am very concerned about the consolidation of a lot of the industry under a single corporate entity. I speak, of course, of Asmodee. Owned by French private equity firm, Pai Partners, Asmodee have gobbled up dozens of studios and now represent a huge chunk of the industry.
That image is somewhat out of date, but it gives an idea of the breadth of their presence in the industry. Several of the companies they don’t own, they do work with. They hold distribution deals with companies like CMON, for example. With the huge influence they have amassed, they now have really significant power in setting industry-standard prices and practices. As an example, they have introduced a MAP (minimum advertised price) policy and closed their replacement parts service.
Since purchasing Fantasy Flight Games in 2014, they have made significant changes to the studio, long known for their high production value and big, exciting licensed games. Several of their games lines have been spun out to other companies. This includes some of their most successful lines, such as Star Wars: X-Wing and their various roleplaying games. FFG’s entire interactive division and their RPG department were both shut down. The company is a husk of what it once was, and that’s really sad to see.
So, Asmodee is a huge blight upon the industry, but there are other issues. One of these is the ubiquity of Kickstarter. Now, long-time readers will know that I’m not the biggest fan of Kickstarter, generally. I feel like they abdicate a lot of responsibility for the lies and abuses that happen on their own platform. To put it more concisely, a trash company owned by trash people. One of the problems is the expectations that people now have of a “Kickstarter game”. A Kickstarter game is stuffed with miniatures, modular tiles and enough expansions to fill a dozen or more boxes. Some of the games that are being produced this way are genuinely obscene in their bloat. In checking my facts, I watched an unboxing video of the Bloodborne board game, consisting of 12 boxes, and comprising some 217 miniatures. Insane. Unnecessary.
I am fully, fully, fully aware of how I sound, given that I have boxes upon boxes of miniatures in my house, many of which I will never paint or use. I know. It doesn’t mean I’m wrong, though.
Kickstarter has also become a FOMO (fear of missing out) machine for board games. Want to get this limited run? Back it now! Want to get a reduced price? Back it now! Want 12 boxes of exclusive stuff that won’t make it to retail because retailers will never actually be able to shift all these expansions? Back! It! Now! And it’s not even small companies doing this. CMON has a whole business model based on Kickstarter. Queen Games seem to put everything out this way. It’s getting ridiculous. It’s just FOMO and bloat and bloat and FOMO.
You know, I’m very guilty of having bought too many board games, too quickly. I’m left with a number of games that I have not played and some that, frankly, I never will. I’ll try to sell some of the games from that last group, maybe give some away. I just feel that I’m done with the constant churn of watching the new hotness. I mean, there are new games that come out that I am very interested in, but I just don’t see myself caring about the glut of new games that are gushing out every month, especially when 70% of the most visible games are coming from Asmodee.
I still love games, though. Board games are amazing, and I’m working on a post about some games that I really want to play again, having played them before only once or twice. I’m looking forward to this Thursday when I finally get some board games to the table this year. I’m looking forward to feeling inspired to write about boar games a little more often. I just don’t much care for where the industry is just now, and I’m definitely disembarking from the hype train.