Sunday, 10 May 2015

Board games: The end of innovation?

It's not just the videogame market that has become saturated with carbon copies of the same old stuff; RPGs and, to some extent board games, have caught that bug too. 

Are they nearing their end in terms of innovation and popularity?

It's no secret that familiarity breeds contempt. From playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey to Galaxy Trucker, we have found ourselves ever-wanting for more innovative and interesting games.

Does that mean there is a limit before we run out of the table-top-titles you're often reading about?

1) Unlimited

Probably not - though that doesn't mean we won't always have a mountain of games into which the latest release can be unceremoniously hurled. Of course, great games are built on the shoulders of giants.

And not all games are for more than one type of person. So that mountain of similar games could be a goldmine for someone who has found their happy place in gaming.

I dream of -tactical squad-based 3rd person shooters with roleplay elements- land.

And we're still being surprised all the time.

Snakes and Ladders may have had it's hay day (back when 'changing the channel' meant sticking a few more logs on the fire) but even THAT was still innovation.

Innovation can be one interesting idea or an entirely new perspective on how we use the mechanics we've already seen.

2) Accessible

To remain accessible whilst being innovative, a game must speak the language of it's audience but still manage to impress us. Like Shakespeare, or J.K.Rowling, managed to do with poetry and wizards.

When 7 Wonders came around it was an innovative look at how civilisation games can be played - but it still uses cards, chits and terminology recognisable to board game players.

Love Letter and Werewolf are so intense despite the ability to replicate it with a standard deck of cards - and without the need for a table!

Cube Quest took the average six-sided die and turned it into a flicky-battle-regicide-mini-dice-game-thing. (I'm not sure what you call that style of game apart from "messy".)

It's easy to find a board game you will enjoy - and hard to come up with something that hasn't been done before. Nowadays I expect most games to carry some new design or mechanic to hook you in but very few will have a level of innovation to it.

3) Replicable

Role-playing games are similar and suffer from the need to familiarise with human players.

The forest of dice-rolling mechanics and intricate levelling systems that make up the bricks and mortar of most RPGs are often similar - as long as the resolution mechanic makes sense and is balanced to the circumstances of play.

The real shame is that the action of an RPG take place in the player's heads - and whilst that means it can be as innovative as their imagination - it's far easier to create and sell something familiar.

Innovation will come in many forms - and is entirely subjective to it's audience. What's to be sure, though, is that board games and RPGs are a creative art form and, as Maya Angelou (African-American author, poet, dancer, actress and singer) said;

"You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have"

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