I'm writing this towards the end of the US convention season, when the hype train is at full speed. Origins and GenCon have been and gone, with each one featuring countless new releases and game announcements. Essen, the giant German convention, is still ahead of us and will no doubt bring many more.
If you spend any time following board game podcasts, videos, reviews and forums you'll know that the hype train is never far away, even if it's less noticeable at other times of the year. There's always some new 'hotness' (to use the BoardGameGeek term) that it seems like everyone wants to get their hands on.
Is Hype Good or Bad?
As one person that I follow on Twitter wisely pointed out, board game players are particularly susceptible to hype and FOMO (fear of missing out) because scarcity is a real issue in our hobby. Even popular games are sometimes only printed in short runs and it can be hard for retailers to work out which games to stock, let alone to keep them available when demand is high.
However, boarding the hype train can be exciting. Talking about the latest news and hotness does bring the community together, giving people a stream of topics to discuss. It also helps savvy publishers to build up anticipation for their release and ensure that their new game will sell well. It's hard for publishers to make much money out of board games, but getting a new release hyped up is a great way for them to put themselves in a good position.
Whether you think hype is good or bad will depend on your perspective. Some people get tired of the constant conveyor belt of new games, while others love the buzz over the next big thing. Here are some tips on how you can respond to the hype in a healthy way.
1) Make use of the Wealth of Information
If you find yourself drawn into the hype, make use of all the information that will be out there about that game before you commit to buying. This will help you to work out which games are actually worth your money and which you should avoid.
The benefit of hype is that it will be easy to come by information on that game, whether that's in the form of reviews, play-through videos or forum chatter. It will be easy to take a look at the content of the game and work out how it plays. As long as you understand what you like to buy and play, you can make sure that you don't end up buying a load of duds.
2) Don't Jump on Every Kickstarter you see!
It's true that many top-rated games came through Kickstarter, but it's also true that many of the worst games released each year are funded through the platform. Just because a project is getting a lot of attention and backing, doesn't mean it's guaranteed to be good.
When you're attracted to a game on Kickstarter, do your research. Watch the video, read the full description, check out the pledges and stretch goals. Digest as much as you can before committing, including looking at the rule book (always be wary if there isn't one) and reading the comments.
If you're unsure, remember that you can set an alert to be reminded about the project the day before it ends, so you can give yourself time to think without having to make a snap decision.
3) Don't Feel Pressured
It's easy to feel like you have to buy the new hotness as soon as you can. I know; I've felt that pressure and the fear of missing out is real. However, the hottest games are nearly always available to buy online or in local game stores around the time of their release, so you don't need to worry.
Of course, the exception to this is Kickstarter exclusive games. Making a game exclusive to Kickstarter allows publishers to drive people to the platform and raise demand and yes, it does make it almost impossible to get the game for a reasonable price at a later date.
But here's the thing - if you miss out on one particular game, so what? There are thousands of games released every year and there'll be a different game to get hyped about next week. Yeah it'll suck for a day or two if you can't get something you wanted, but there's a lot more out there. You'll find something else to love.
4) Take a Look at some Older Games
The hype train focuses on the new. It draws attention to the latest thing and completely ignores yesterday's news. The thing is, there are hundreds of absolute gems out there that are still readily available and will give you just as much enjoyment as a new, hot game.
I'm susceptible to the 'cult of the new', but some of my most-played games are older releases. Scythe, Takenoko and Catan are games that I will always play and always keep in my collection, yet they were released in 2016, 2011 and 1995 respectively. All of them were released before I really got into the hobby and I would have missed them if I'd only ever focused on the new.
If you're also a newer player, I recommend looking into some of the top rated games of the last ten years as well as keeping an eye on what's coming up.
5) Don't Forget the Games you have
I see so many people online talking about their 'shelf of shame' - the games they've had for months or years and still haven't played. Many of the most popular reviewers have enormous collections full of games they've only played a couple of times. If that's what you want then fine, but it's not a model for everyone to follow.
Earlier this year, the 10 x 10 challenge became popular in the board gaming community, with many people taking it on as a new year's resolution in response to the kind of attitude that the hype train can encourage. You basically pick 10 games and commit to playing them 10 times over a period of time. Some people used it to curb their buying habits by refusing to buy a new game until they completed their 10 x 10!
Such a formalised system might not be for you (I personally haven't done it) but the idea is a good one. Board games are made to be enjoyed, and many of them become better and better as you play them more. If you jump on the hype train, don't forget about the great experiences that are still waiting for you on your shelf.
I want to finish by reiterating that I don't think hype is bad, even if it seems like my tips have been ways to avoid it. I don't think hype is bad, but I do think that the default setting for online board game coverage is that you have to want the newest thing all the time. That default setting simply isn't right for everyone.
For many people, myself included, it's nice to be aware of hype and able to participate without being controlled by it. That way, we can buy the new games that appeal to use most, whilst still discovering older gems and enjoying the games we already have in our collections.