Monday, 29 October 2012

Cult of the Old...

Episode 92 of On Board Games aired recently, and I was lucky enough to fill the third chair for the roundtable discussion.  In the episode we discussed the cult of the old - older games that retain their polish and allure despite the intervening years and the number of newer, more shiny offerings available.  One of the interesting discussion points was on what actually constitutes an ‘older’ or ‘classic’ game - how old does a game have to be to hold the vaunted position of not having been replaced by something newer.

In the board game consumer market of today the pace of new releases seems to be increasing at a massive rate.  Games released now need to be marketed, or capture the imaginations of the community, sufficiently to gather the attention required to clamber high enough to be seen.  Ten years ago it was absolutely within the realms of possibility to know what games one would see from an event like the Spiel or GenCon, but now it seems, to me at least, that a vast number of individual titles disappear in the haze of releases.  The signal to noise ratio is drowning out a great many titles.

Fairy Tale - my go to filler even after several hundred games...

Perhaps this is a subjective experience, perhaps I am taking less note of the titles, designers, publishers, kickstarters and so forth that appear each day.  Perhaps the consumer market is large enough to support this explosion of releases, with games now less often becoming the popular title, and more often appealing to niches within the broader community.

The old edition of Condotierre - a wonderful game...

Whichever way you anatomise it, I think it is apparent that the market is booming.  Is there room for all this growth? Perhaps, but that is a discussion for another time.  What does all this mean for the On Board Games topic? What then, in an industry where a game can hit its most popular before it is released and be almost forgotten by the time the boxes are shipped, makes for a game that is ‘old’?

Starfarers of Catan - my favourite of the Catan variations, best enjoyed with Daft Punk playing in the background.

For the sake of the On Board Games round table we did our best to provide some temporal yardsticks: 10 years, even 5 years. In truth I think the answer is highly subjective.  Of course some of the games I have loved are new to me but old in terms of publication date.  Some games are hot from the minute word gets out of the Gathering, or from the Spiel or BGG.con, but then fade into obscurity almost immediately.

Castle - Still one of my all time favourite card games, thematic, zany and a whole lot of fun.

I think ultimately the answer, for me at least, must be in the length of time I’ve owned and known them for.  A great older game for me is one that has been in my collection for years, in some cases from the start, and are nonetheless sitting front and center on my shelves.  These are the old favourites, the games I’ve played many times and yet haven’t wearied in my eyes.  These are the games with boxes worn by continued removal from the shelf; that have sat in the collection for a long time, and are yet still some of the least dusty.  

For me these games have stood the test of time, they have sat next to new boxes on the shelves and remained when the new have been put somewhere dusty and less accessible.  The rules stay unreferenced, the pieces familiar and known.  When it hits the table we all, in idle chatter, set up our familiar stacks or decks or patterns of bits, rather than reading through to see who gets how many of which one was it again.  These are the classics, and every game shelf, every cupboard, every gamer's old gems are idiosyncratically different.  So what is the cult of the old? It is, in a word: subjective.


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