There are thousands of new games released every year. No one could play them all. With the number of games out there at the moment, you'd struggle to play all the well-regarded games from the last ten years, let alone keep up with all the hot new releases as well.
What are we Talking About?
Faced with the overwhelming number of games on the market and the impossibility of playing them all, players often lean towards one of two extremes. I'm generalising, of course, but one camp can be called the Cult of the New. The Cult of the New is characterised by an overwhelming focus on the latest releases. It's always looking to the next big thing. Many reviewers and content creators inadvertently fuel this attitude by focusing on the latest releases to keep their content fresh.
At the other end of the scale (and yes, it is definitely a scale), are those who focus on older games - often those that are regarded as classics or trailblazers. They might have one favourite game that they play over and over, or they may simply feel that older games are better and that newer games are over-hyped knockoffs of what has gone before. If you want the best value, they might say, look to the tried and tested games of the past few years.
You'll be hard-pressed to find people who fall solidly into the second camp, though the first camp is not uncommon. And while I pushed each one to extremes just then, there is merit to the arguments of each. I'll look at some of the benefits of playing both classics and newer games, before finishing with an attempt to work out if there's any hope for players who just want to play good games.
Benefits of Playing Classics
Twilight Struggle. Terra Mystica. The Castles of Burgundy. Caverna. These are all members of the Top 20 Games Chart on BoardGameGeek (BGG) and all of them were released at least five years ago. There are some quality games from the last decade and more that have stood the test of time and continue to be regarded as some of the best games around. A player, like myself, who started looking into board games in the last couple of years would completely miss these classics and many more if their attention was only on new releases.
I'm never going to be the kind of person who says that you have to play games like Castles of Burgundy before you can call yourself a board gamer. Everything about that statement is absurd. However, I will say that it's worth a look at some of these older, highly rated games. For one thing, they have stood the test of time. Twilight Struggle was released in 2005 and is still the fifth ranked game on BGG. Sure, nostalgia will play a part there but it wouldn't have maintained that rank if it wasn't an outstanding game. I've never played it, but for someone who's interested in the theme or style of game, playing it seems like a no-brainer.
With newer games, there's always the risk that they'll be a letdown. Sure, you have reviews, but will people still want to play them six months or a year down the line? No one knows. These older games have stuck around, which suggests that they have enough depth to keep their fans engaged and to continue attracting new players. You can trust that their ratings on BGG are the product of thousands of people's opinions, not a few dozen, and you can find all manner of information and discussion about them online.
Benefits of Looking at New Games
As with any creative hobby, the successes of the present are built on the successes of the past. Many of the best new games take inspiration from older classics, improving on themes, mechanics and execution. Dominion was the first deck-building game, and has since inspired games like Star Realms and Clank! - that are both excellent games in their own right. If you stick to older games, you will likely miss some of the most exciting developments in board game design.
In general, the quality of board game design and production is improving. The need to stand out in an increasingly competitive market is forcing designers and publishers to work hard to find the real gems, which means that the games we hear about often turn out to be very good. Of course, there are few duds here and there, but, for the most part, if a game is hyped up you can be confident that it's going to be good.
That said, hype is a two-edged sword. While it highlights genuinely good games, it can also bring unfair attention to some games and causing better releases to be ignored. I wrote about dealing with hype recently; it's sensible not to give in completely to popular sentiment and to wait for the dust to settle before parting with wads of cash.
Still, the excitement of experiencing what others are raving about can't be denied. I saw Root being shouted about for a long time, so it was a relief to finally be able to play it and understand what other people in board game content and media were talking about (it's a great game, by the way). I know as well as anyone that following board game content producers can lead to a serious case of FOMO!
Buying the new hotness is a great way to stay engaged with these people, just remember that the chatter around the hobby moves faster than any normal person can keep up with, and most of us won't be able to play every game that gets the spotlight.
What about Kickstarter?
I couldn't write this article without mentioning Kickstarter. The crowdfunding platform, which I would argue has had a net positive impact on the hobby, has nonetheless greased the wheels of the hype train and forced the community to get used to looking months ahead to new games. It's even easier to forget about the games of the last few years when the games of the future are vying for your attention.
I have personally only backed one game on Kickstarter, which I'm yet to receive at the time of writing. Because of my lack of experience with the platform I can't talk much about what it's like to buy a lot of games through it, but I've browsed many a campaign and felt the urge to pledge many a time. My top tip, as with any game you're considering, is to find as much info out as possible before you commit.
Many Kickstarter games are excellent, but some aren't and you don't want to invest £100 in a game you won't enjoy. My top tip is to set reminders for the games you like the look of and come back at the end of the campaign. If you still want to back it, go ahead, but if you're less keen, the chances are that by the time the game is fulfilled you won't even want it anymore.
How to Find the Best Games
If, like me, you don't have hundreds of pounds to spend on board games every month, research is your best friend. Whether a game is old or new, look for as much information as you can. Read the Kickstarter campaign page; watch reviews and play through videos; try it out at a board game cafe. The pressure to build hype means that even the newest games will have a slew of content produced about them within a few days of their announcement.
If a game is out of print (more common for older games) or its first print run has sold out (more common for hot new games), don't panic. As Tom Vasel of the Dice Tower says, a game will get a new edition or print run if it's good enough. I know it's frustrating when you can't grab the title you want, but remember, there are thousands of excellent games out there. If it doesn't come back into print, you might just have dodged a bullet!