Epic Gumdrop Ep 36: Boardgames in 2015

This episode Jeff and James look back at some of the big themes and titles in the impossibly vast world of boardgames, circa 2015.

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(Length: approx 33min)

Boardgames in 2015

If you take a look at BoardGameGeek’s listings you’ll see just over 4900 listings for titles produced in 2015. While this includes expansions of all sorts as well as reprints, there are still a lot of original titles buried in this cardboard mountain. If we get the BGG database to exclude expansions from the list, we are still left with 3185 titles.

2015 brought us some huge shifts in the board game rankings over at BoardGameGeek. For some time now a little game called Twilight Struggle (2005) has maintained the prestigious Board Game Rank placement of #1. This changed. Though it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has their ear to the frighteningly fast beating heart of the games industry, Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 (2015), has now taken the top slot. It also dominates Twilight Struggle in Average Rating and Geek Rating. It should be noted that there have only been 5434 votes for Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 as of the time of this podcast, while Twilight Struggle’s placement has been based on a total of 21510 votes.

Some big numbers to consider:

  • 2015 brought us 66 titles that currently sit in the BGG top 1000 games ranking.
  • 2015 also brought us six titles that cracked the top 100 Board Game Rank list.

Pandemic Legacy: Season 1

  1. Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 (2015) – Rank 1

Codenames

  1. Codenames (2015) – Rank 20

7 Wonders: Duel

  1. 7 Wonders: Duel (2015) – Rank 22

Blood Rage

  1. Blood Rage (2015) – Rank 36

The Voyages of Marco Polo

  1. The Voyages of Marco Polo (2015) – Rank 56

T.I.M.E Stories

  1. T.I.M.E Stories (2015) – Rank 85

Here’s a few more of the current top games from 2015:

Through the Ages

  1. Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization (2015)

Mysterium

  1. Mysterium (2015)

Forbidden Stars

  1. Forbidden Stars (2015)

Star Wars: Armada

  1. Star Wars: Armada (2015)

2015 Themes

I thought the top 100 games of last year would have some commonalities, something where we could point and say “well, 2015 was peak storytelling horror games with miniatures” or “9 out of 10 releases were cooperative military games set in 18th Century Germany.” But this was not the case, and this probably says something about the overall health of the boardgame hobby. The breadth of themes and mechanics of games released last year is astounding.

There were so many titles released that while looking through the list I couldn’t believe some of those games were 2015. Wasn’t XCOM: The Board Game the big 1997 title? It certainly feels like it with the sheer volume of what came out last year.

What really surprised me was that once I look past the first few hundred titles of last year I start to see dramatically fewer that I’ve even heard of.

Zombies

  • There were only 19 games with the word “zombie” in the title in 2015. Only one of them had a Board Game Rank at all (#10218 with 284 total voters).
  • However, there were 58 games under the category “zombie” in 2015. But only 7 of these titles have a Board Game Ranking.
  • Overall, the zombie theme is in decline from 2014. In that year there were 65 titles under the “zombie” category, with 21 of them having a Board Game Rank (top one being Dead of Winter, with an overall Board Game Rank of 19).
  • Takeaway: games about zombies are getting more clever with their titles? And thankfully we appear to finally be past peak zombie.

Party Games

  • A big 2015 category was the Party Game, with 306 titles published (excluding expansions)
  • Top ranked Party Game was, no surprise, Codenames, currently sitting with a Board Game Rank of 20.
  • The “One Night” series is still going strong. 2015 brought us:
  • This category has always been big, but it seems like there are an increasing number of titles that appeal to both new and experienced gamers. Are party games becoming more clever? More fun?

While party games were strong as usual, it’s interesting that the top games we noted earlier are primarily heavier games. Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 plays out over 12-24 sessions of approximately an hour each. T.I.M.E Stories lists as having a 60-90 minute playtime, but from what I understand people often require multiple sessions to solve the cases. The revised Through the Ages has a suggested time of 120-240 minutes on BGG, while Forbidden Stars comes in at 120-180 minutes and Star Wars: Aramada will steal a mere 120 minutes of your life force. These are not the shortest of games. They might not be eight hour wargame sessions necessitating that you annex your neighbour’s yard for space, but they suggest people have a hankering for games that really have a chance to play out a narrative. This idea, of story or narrative, has been talked about a lot the past few years, and we’re seeing the top games reflect this desire. Probably doesn’t hurt that three of the top games from 2015 come with a bunch of miniatures (Blood Rage, Forbidden Stars, Star Wars: Armada).

Expansions

  • 2015 brought us 982 listings for expansions for base games
  • This is down slightly from 2014, which has 1065 listings for expansions of base games.
  • This dip could be due to listings still being added, or perhaps there were fewer X-Wing Miniatures in 2015. Of course I’m kidding – there were more Star Wars related expansions in 2015 by far. Imperial Assault and Armada made up for it.
  • It’s quite possible that 1000 expansions are all that the board game market can currently handle.
  • You’ll note that this number is down from the 1715 titles that are left when we originally subtracted the 2015 expansion sort from the overall 2015 games listing in the BGG database. Maybe there are some differences in the way games are tagged as expansions. Or maybe I should stop paying a primate to do my computer work for me. It’s also possible that this is the next big idea in business.

Reimplementations

  • And while we’re on the topic of Star Wars, 2015 brought us:
    • Risk: Star Wars
    • Carcassonne: Star Wars
    • Love Letter: Star Wars
    • Monopoly: Star Wars
    • Timeline: Star Wars

2015 Mechanics

There is always a new mechanic that gets everyone excited, leading to a burst of innovation on the concept. We think of something like Deck Building being everywhere now, as though it’s been around since at least the late 1800s, but it’s only been big since Dominion. So what did 2015 bring us?

I don’t know.

I kept thinking there must be some thing, some new breed of fun, but I’m not sure there was. There was refinement. A constant honing of rough edges. Mutations. Innovation based on pre-existing concepts. But I’m not sure there was anything that took the gaming world by storm. Or was there? Maybe I blacked out during portions of 2015. The volume of games did have me hyperventilating at times.

Conventions

Boardgame conventions are bigger than ever. Not only are there loads of small ones popping up everywhere, but the big ones continue to grow at a disconcerting pace. GenCon had 61,423 unique attendees (197,695 turnstile attendance), up from 2014’s showing of 56,614. Or for even more dizzying perspective, double 2010’s turnout of 30,046.

It wasn’t just GenCon that grew. Origins saw 15,938 attendees last year, up from 12,902 the year before.

Even SPIEL, aka Essen, is up – 162,000 attendees in 2015, up slightly from 158,000 in 2014. From what I understand these are turnstile numbers not uniques, but either way it’s still growth.

Do these numbers suggest that the main growth in the boardgame hobby is in the North America where people are finally tuning in to the hobby again? I don’t know. I would like to dig deeper into publisher stats at some point. Where is the growth in boardgame publishers? Is it in North America with small companies starting through Kickstarter? I’m sure there’s lots of opinions here but I didn’t even dare go looking on the BoardGameGeek forums.

2015: State of the Hobby

Overall, when we look at games from 2015I wonder how many of these titles will still be in print in 2020? The primary problem facing gamers is selection. As in there is too much of it. While this sounds like a good problem, it must provide some interesting challenges for designers, publishers, reviewers, stores and consumers.

If you are a designer the boardgame boom is a miraculous thing. There are so many publishers printing so many games. And if you can’t get one to buy into your idea then Kickstarter is bigger than ever. Besides it becoming harder than ever to produce a pitch for a publisher that knocks their socks off, it’s more difficult for designers to both keep up with their research of other nine billion games in the market as well as trying to innovate in a hobby that is as subject to fickle trends as any other.

If you’re a publisher there is an absurd number of designers trying to pitch you ideas and there is a lot of demand from fans and distributors to produce more titles with more components cheaper and without delays.

If you’re a reviewer there is the burden of reviewing hundreds of games a year. The explosion of games reviewers in the past few years is astounding, but it means it is increasingly difficult for a new game from a small publisher to get noticed in all this noise.

If you’re a brick and mortar store owner there is growing pressure from online retailers chipping away at your sales 24hrs a day. Offsetting this is growth in the organized play sector with companies like Fantasy Flight producing Living Card Games and Miniatures designed to move product at a breakneck pace and get gamers into your store. There is also the problem for store owners to decide what to carry – do they support the latest Kickstarter with all the exclusives or do they stick to top 40 titles that are guaranteed to fly off the shelves? It’s a broad clientele they are trying to service, ranging from grizzled Magic players to new gamers walking through the door for the first time.

Finally, there’s us, the consumer. The gamers. Where do we fit into this mess? We get to choose from a vast array of incredibly well-designed and produced games at reasonable prices. The main struggle as a consumer continues to be one of choice. There’s so much of it. While we rely on the reviewers, the game filters, to help guide us through the cardboard path surrounded by hype, it’s sometimes difficult to separate the trustworthy gaming guides from the industry shills.

The only conclusion that seems plausible in all of this frenzy, though, is that 2016 is going to be another great year for games.

 

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