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Links: Dominion Killed Replayability, Games Sales Dropped in 2022, and BGG Got Booked

by W. Eric Martin

• On his blog Player Elimination, Charlie Theel wrote about how a specific bit of game terminology has been corrupted over time. Here are excerpts from his Feb. 2, 2023 articleDominion Killed Replayability”:

Our hobby has conjured the niche word ‘replayability’ to describe how well a game cultivates a desire to return to it. A game that is highly replayable is one that players want to explore repeatedly. It’s something we value because every prospective purchase exists conceptually as our next favorite game. Every title is graded out the same way, expected to stand up to endless plays and continue blowing our mind over and over again, indefinitely…

Now, often replayability is appraised through the lens of content. Strategic depth and system exploration has retired, phased out like a horse being run into the ditch by an automobile. In modern times, content discovery is the primary factor associated with replayability. A game’s capacity to be re-experienced with satisfaction is framed around each play seeing a new piece of content. A new setup. A new set of tiles to bid on. Dozens of variable player powers. A fresh asymmetric faction for each of the 23 plays we imagine for the future. A campaign with at least four branching narratives. Four extra expansion boxes so every time you encounter a foe, it’s a one you have to dig out of its tray and find the matching ability card…

Dominion ruined us.

Donald X. Vaccarino‘s influential 2008 title changed the game. I’m not talking about the mechanism of deckbuilding, but the notion that setup was entirely variable. It’s the essence of Dominion’s strategy landscape. You look at the set of Kingdom Cards in the center of the table and devise a rough shopping list and hierarchy of purchases. There’s more to it than that, of course, but that’s irrelevant for the purposes of this discussion…

Hundreds of games came before it with variable setup, but none presented it as such a crucial element of the play experience. Dominion’s structure requires variable setup in order to experience it anew. This is significantly different than a game like Cosmic Encounter which would stand up to many plays using the exact same alien powers. In many ways, Dominion is defined by variable setup in order to vary the strategic puzzle, as the bulk of decision making is front loaded to the moment before play begins.

That last line is a reference to Dominion’s “turn zero”, to you making decisions of which cards to get in which order to best accelerate your engine. Sure, you will have to make adjustments during the game itself, but you know you’re going to start with $3/$4 or $2/$5 in your first two turns, so you can puzzle out ahead of time which two cards to buy first.

I’ve certainly noticed a tendency of players to refer to a game with tons of stuff as having “a lot of replayability”, despite them having played it only one or two times, if at all. Publishers market games with lots of stuff and promise replayability because “no two games are ever the same”, a claim that should go extinct because it’s so meaningless. I’ve played The Mind, a game that consists only of numbered cards, more than two hundred times, and none of those games have been identical to one another. Chess has been played for hundreds of years with no variability in the set-up, and it doesn’t lack for replayability.

Ideally we can stick to referring to lodes of content as providing a game with “variability”, not “replayability” — although even that might be questionable given that sometimes the variability doesn’t produce meaningful differences in gameplay.

• Paul DeStefano wrote an author diary about his first novel, Riftsiders: Unlawful Possession, on BGG News in April 2022, and on February 15, 2023 his second book, Riftsiders: Identity Theft, was released.

Why am I mentioning this? Writes DeStefano, “After working it out with Aldie, we believe this will be the first novel to actually mention BoardGameGeek by name.”

• At the end of January 2023, Brandora — a German information site about the licensing and marketing of toys and games — published an article on the industry trends for games and puzzles. It notes that sales among game publishers in the Deutschen Verband der Spielwarenindustrie e.V. (DVSI, or German Toy Industry Association) fell by 5% in 2022 compared to the previous year, while still being up 20% when compared to sales in 2019. This segment is interesting to note:

Pure children’s games account for about a fifth of the sales pie, while family and adult games make up about a third. Puzzles and card games approx. 15% each. After years of boom in escape games, they lost momentum in 2022. In return, puzzle and crime games gained in importance.

If we break out those numbers:

33% – family and adult games

20% – children’s games

15% – card games

15% – puzzles

So that’s 83% of the total, with puzzles and games being grouped in the same category.

• Hey, game publisher! Do you have spare bits in your warehouse that you no longer need? The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) and the People of Play (POP) are partnering on a five-session summer camp/after-school club curriculum that includes the sending of “prototype packs” to participants, who can then take these unused toy and game pieces to create new works of their own:

This curriculum is designed to guide children through the process of inventing, from ideation, prototyping, and play testing to pitching and marketing. The curriculum is hands-on and encourages children to think critically and work collaboratively, providing them with valuable skills that will serve them well in their future careers.

ASTRA’s Jenna Stirling is organizing this program, and you can discover more details and learn how to donate here.

• In this interview, Azhelle Wade — a former executive in the toy industry who now works as a consultant under the handle The Toy Coach — talks with Dave Campbell of Dolphin Hat Games about the creation and success of Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza:

Youtube Video


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