Saturday, June 2, 2018

The End of the Golden Age?

I've written two articles now about the Golden Age of board games. One was published here on this site, and the other was written for PinkFae. The PinkFae article was number 19, so will be appearing here in a few weeks as part of the normal cycle of PinkFae archives.

This is important because in the PinkFae article, I referenced the beginning of the Golden Age. Specifically, I said:
...in 1995, a dental technician from Germany named Klaus Teber released the board game Settlers of Catan. This groundbreaking game combined the best elements of both American and Euro games... [and] sparked a revolution. Suddenly, game designers realised that board games could be fun for everyone without instigating feuds within families or groups of friends. The Golden Age was upon us!
The game was released in the English-speaking world the following year, by Mayfair Games, a company that had existed since 1981. Arguably, this company is responsible for the golden age of board games; by bringing Settlers of Catan to the English-speaking world, Mayfair Games paved the way for the best ideas in two different areas of board gaming to co-mingle and produce the amazing games that exist today. They also published the English-language editions of many of the staples of modern board games: Agricola, Bang!, Tigris and Euphrates, and Patchwork, to name a few.

Back in February, Mayfair Games announced that they were closing. They sold off their catalogue to Asmodee Games, and closed up for good. Asmodee had already acquired the rights to the Catan franchise a few years prior. Now they have it all.

This is sad news. And I find myself wondering, is this a sign of the end of the golden age of board games?

There's no real way to know for sure, until a few years have passed and we're able to look back and analyze events in hindsight. But there are signs already; the innovations that have invigorated the hobby since 1995 seem to have settled (no pun intended). New types of games have become established: deck-building games, worker placement games, legacy games; these and other similar new ideas seem to have become commonplace, and there aren't a lot of new ideas that seem to be coming out lately.

Furthermore, the market has become saturated. Although in many ways, this is a good thing—having a lot of games from which to choose means that no one will ever grow bored with their options, and there's always something for everyone—it can also start to be overwhelming. I've written before about the daunting task of keeping up with all the games that are published every year, and the Cult of the New. These are just a couple of the downsides to having so many games on offer.

Additionally, a lot of the games being published lately are just rehashes. Steve Jackson Games' Munchkin line has always been bad about this, but now that they're licensing existing properties to incorporate into the franchise (such as Munchkin MarvelMunchkin Adventure Time, and Munchkin Conan), it's worse than ever. The Legendary series of deck-building games are suffering the same problem. Even the vaunted Pandemic is getting into it, with their Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu spinoff.

Don't get me wrong. There are still a lot of great games being released. Just as a lot of the best comics (in my opinion, at least) were published well after the golden age of comics (the 1980s were an idyllic time for the X-Men, just as one example), there are still excellent games being published right now. But it seems to me that the percentage is dropping.

I could be wrong. As I said, we will need to examine this phenomenon in the light of historical perspective before we can say for certain when the golden age of board games has ended.

But at the very least, it's something to think about.

Anyway, I hope this was at least something interesting for you to read. And no matter your opinion on the subject, I would encourage you, as I always do, to

Game on!

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