Thursday, 22 November 2007

The Flywheel and the Doom Loop

All this business about Agricola has completely passed me by of late. I’ve never been one to hang around the BGG forums, so the first I heard of this “controversy” was right here on F:AT. However, the responses it generate did interest me, since they kicked up the dust again over what a lot of people see as kneejerk anti-Eurogaming sentiment on this site.

It’s true to say that we do seem to spend a considerable amount of column inches telling everyone what we don’t like, and what we don’t like usually seems to be Eurogames. I, for one, have already admitted that I sometimes do this far more than I should do, and of late I’ve tried to ease off a bit. Whether I personally have succeeded is not for me to judge but regardless of my contribution I wouldn’t say that the bulk of content in this site is anti-anything, or even overly negative. I think the perception comes because we have some contributors here who are extremely good at being vitriolic, so much so that when they hit the target people tend to remember it. That’s not a bad thing – it’s just being perceptive and writing well and often it’s all meant to be taken with a pinch of humour in any case.

Now I can’t speak for everyone who contributes to the site, but I suspect I’d be right if I said that when we’re being negative, what we’re standing against is poor games. That’s how I feel – indeed it’s what I opened my account here with. It’s true that most of what we feel are poor games happen to be Eurogames, but they’re not the only targets; they’re just the ones that get most attention because numbers of other gamers seem to think that they’re great. So naturally, when we see them being hyped we feel the need to respond with what we see as a big old fashioned dose of realism. Truth be told I’m pretty sick of all this game-labelling anyway. Whilst I must confess that I do like the fact that my favourite games now have a label after having been outcast into the wilderness for so many years, good game design has now become so much a matter of just borrowing across genres that most major new releases are, in some sense, unclassifiable crossover games in any case.

But surely what you see as a “good game” is just personal taste isn’t it? To some extent this is obviously true. But there are certain features of current game design that I see as being profoundly negative. In essence, these can be summed up as being bad for re-playability – I value a game that I can play over and over again and keep enjoying. It matters little that I don’t have the time to play my favourite games as often as I’d like, the fact is that others gamers might have the time and they deserve to be presented with games that can keep on going and going and going. I can remember the amazement I once raised in a BGG thread because I queried some guy saying that he thought getting twenty plays out of a game was exceptional value for money – to me a game should probably go twice that before burn-out starts to set in. The fact that people will accept games that run for less plays is a shame, and detrimental to the hobby. It might be that some gamers prefer a situation where they like to have a game challenge them for 5-10 plays before they start craving something new, but I find it hard to see that that could possibly be a majority viewpoint or a desirable state of affairs. Wouldn’t most of us prefer it if we could play games with good re-playability all the time?

I see two major reasons why the bulk of the games that I see as being guilty of this phenomenon are Eurogames. Firstly, the fans of these games seem to like games which are non-random and which require maths-like skills in order to play well. Nothing wrong with that in itself, but as I’ve commented before, it does tend to lead to game designs which have limited decision trees. This leads to a situation where there are “best” plays for most given situations in the game. These might not be obvious, and they might take time to tease out, but once they’re out in the open the game is usually pretty much dead. Where’s the fun or challenge in making decisions from a script or a flowchart? The second reason is that Eurogamers seem to want multiplayer games which run on the same principles as two player classics such as Chess and Go. These ancient games often work well precisely because they’re two-player and making multiplayer versions is extremely difficult. So when someone finds a novel way of doing it, it becomes a template for a slew of other copycat games which, for obvious reasons, usually have nothing like the replay value of the game they derive inspiration from.

What’s so frustrating about this is that good designers have shown time and time again that you don’t need to fall into these traps to design a good game that appeals to Eurogamers. There are a large number of Eurogames that I’m happy to say don’t fall into my “poor game” trap whether I actually like the games or not, and it’s no surprise to me at all that they’re amongst the most highly lauded games in Euro circles. Puerto Rico, Age of Steam, Settlers of Catan, Tigris and Euphrates – I could go on. It’s also worth noting that there are a number of AT games that also fall into my “poor game” trap, for different reasons – usually over-reliance on random mechanics, or vastly excessive chrome – although it has to be said that most modern AT designers have recognised these dangers and work hard to guard against them. So this really isn’t about one genre being “better” than another. It’s more about trying to inject some sort of sensible assessment into the hype when a new game comes out. So how did we end up in this situation where gamers are willing to accept shallow games and are happy just to keep on buying, playing and discarding new stuff before moving on to the next “big” thing?

When I started my current job, I was given a book to read – Good to Great. I had no prior interest in reading books about business theory but I must say this one seemed to contain a lot of sound advice, based on solid research and empirical evidence. One of the concepts in the book is the “Doom Loop” – the spiral of decline that companies go into when they launch new initiative after new initiative and end up being able to focus on nothing at all. I have a nasty feeling that the modern boardgaming world has got into a Doom Loop of its own, and it’s about time we recognised it and put a stop to it.

I don’t go to conventions. They tend to have more than their fair share of weird, creepy people and whilst I like meeting new gamers I’m of the old school of thought that prefers regular opponents for games. That way you can build up some sort of history together which enriches your gaming experience, you can get to know each others’ play styles and hell, you can actually have enough of a relationship to chat about something other than the game as you play. While not everyone might see things that way, the fact is that playing lots of games against strangers isn’t the key reason most people go to conventions. They go because they get the chance to try, and sometimes buy the latest games before anyone else does.

This, combined with the internet, creates a situation where games get an awful lot of pre-release hype based off the back of a lot of people who’ve played the game just once. In the day and age of mobile internet this hype can build with astonishing rapidity so that a game played on the first day of a convention can build momentum and sell like hot cakes on the last day. But we all know that one play just isn’t enough to really get to grips with a game – a game would have to be a real stinker to not even be worth trying a second time and oftentimes the very best, deepest games require multiple plays before they really start to shine. So we get a situation where instant-satisfaction, low re-playability games often sell by the bucket load while better games with greater longevity sit in the shadows. BGG isn’t to blame for this – if it didn’t happen there then it’d happen somewhere else. The blame lies fairly and squarely with the people who are willing to hype a game after just one play. I won’t usually buy a game that hasn’t been out for at least six months, I wouldn’t usually give a game a nine or a ten over on the ‘geek until I’d played it 3-4 times, and I absolutely won’t review a game I haven’t played more than five times unless it strikes me as being obviously dreadful.

Game designers and publishers know very well this is how it works. However much we might idolise our favourite designers and however much we might evangelise about a game because of how we feel about it, the fact is that these people are in business, and in business all that really counts is profit. In a thin-margin industry like gaming I doubt it takes long for the harsh realities of economics to strip away whatever idealism a new designer or publisher might have. So they jump on the bandwagon and start trying to churn out games which have that instant-hit value which will ensure good sales. And as long as gamers keep creating and falling for their own hype, designers and publishers can keep being lazy and churning out crap. This is the gaming equivalent of the Doom Loop and it’s what we need to escape from.

So it’s down to you. In good to great, the positive equivalent to the Doom Loop is called the Flywheel – something it takes effort to start but which builds momentum until it becomes unstoppable. If you want out of this circle, stop hyping games; stop buying on hype and demand games that have the depth to last fifty plays or more – it’ll take effort to start with but it’s effort you need to put in. Because after all, to borrow a truly excruciating advertising slogan, you’re worth it!

109 comments:

Juniper said...

Holy crow! Awesome article!

J de said...

well said Matt!

There's two points I'd like to make in response, and I think the music industry provides interesting parallels.

First, the biggest problem in avoiding/surviving a doom loop is critical mass. If the market is big enough, there are a lot of people not keeping up with the latest. You can still sell staples like Frank Sinatra, Kiss and Prince. I'm not sure if Monopoly etc can provide the same for board games.

Second, BGG may have turned to hype after hype, like the British music industry, but that is a localised thing. It is otherwise in other places. Not all game sites are into hype and most players outside the BGG-clique demographic are probably more loyal to a game. I've got friends that have over a hundred games of Settlers or Carcassone onder the belt.

In general F:AT, but particularly in the Agricola debate, accords too much influence to the BGG-clique, I feel.

100%Blade said...

I said I'd lurk occassionally and this article is an excellent example of why. Thank you Matt.

Dampfschag said...

I am only focusing on your EURO game design criticism. The points about the gaming industry are probably right on ;).


First of all, I clearly agree with you that the concept of a "good strategy game" is far more universal than many people think.

I am not sure that randomness has any impact on replayability per se. Would PR be more replayable if we always threw a dice to determine goods value or victory points? Would TI be less replayable if we scaled the combat system to use three dice at once, thereby reducing lucky outlier results?

I also disagree with your second point. If we keep sticking to game theory terms, it is not just important to have complex decision trees. It is also important to prevent some paths from being strictly dominated by others.

If it is always clear which options to choose, then it does not really matter how many options you theoretically could have. Which in my opinion is much more of an issue in AT games than in EURO games. And which follows directly from the underlying idea of many AT games, i.e. to focus on simulating some sort of theme, not on a specific gameplay on which the game theme is pasted on.

Still, this problem of having viable paths to play is the key to problem with current Eurogames. If you do not have random mechanisms, you need to give each and every option its corresponding important niche role. Else it will simply not be chosen by a good player, and thus gets neglected except by newbies. Take PR again: we have lots of buildings, but many are never used, e.g. the university. Which clearly reduces the amount of variation in the game.

As an AT counter-example, take Kings & Things: you have hundreds of different creatures, heroes, items, buildings all drawn at random from a bag. Your decision tree, however, is not more complex, as in this case "nature" plays for you. In a non-random EURO game, you would have to find a niche for all this items, or else you could just have scrapped them from the out start. Which is clearly more difficult but also more appealing.

Some EUROs have countermeasures to prevent these replayability problems, like varying starting set-ups. See for example Settlers with the varying starting landscape, or to a much smaller (too small!) degree in Caylus with the neutral buildings, and even PR with the randomized plantations. Different starting set-ups clearly deserve more focus and attention in the future.

Fortunately, both types of games have another source of uncertainty in the form of your fellow players. Again, I am not disputing that EUROs are not free from errors here, take the famous right-hand player example in PR (once more).

However, I think that the issue in AT typically is much more severe. By the time players are ready for confrontation in these games, the interaction is quite clear and logical. In a three player game the 2. and 3. players have an incentive to challenge the leader at some point, while in a 4 player game the loser and the leader should unite against the 2. and 3. player. Again, this is only true when all players are playing rationally (you can persuade stupid players to make stupid moves in all game types). Add to this that these clashes are often intially decisive and send one team down a losing road with no return (smaller army + less resources), and the result is that in AT games the multi-player part has a much smaller descison tree than the constantly changing indirect alliances and interaction in games like PR, Caylus or Agricola.

And a final comment on the "copycat games": I always regreted that there are no board game balance patches similar to computer games, because often only some minor changes are required to make a broken mechanism work. So I welcome all games that are refinements of good older releases.

bnod said...

A truly excellent article.
When I'll get bored of F:At and send down my armies of mutant zombies to raze it, Matt shall be spared.

ozjesting said...

"Holy crow! Awesome Article!"

"Well Said Matt!"

"I said I'd lurk occasionally and this article is an excellent example of why. Thank you Matt."

"A truly excellent article."


Uh oh...seems the Hype machine has fired up yet again!

Ironic?

;)

Siow Hwee said...

Let me continue the hype by saying what a well written article this is.

J de said...

Go and eat shit, Ozjesting

Y tu mama tambien

adrianbolt said...

Great article. I couldn't read too much of the BGG thread as it was painful. I particularly liked the 'I only read a book once so why would I expect to play a game more than once' post. Is that where the great stampede to play the next new game will end? Firing all the game designers and putting the money into artists and marketeers?

100%Blade said...

Dampfschag said
Still, this problem of having viable paths to play is the key to problem with current Eurogames. If you do not have random mechanisms, you need to give each and every option its corresponding important niche role. Else it will simply not be chosen by a good player, and thus gets neglected except by newbies. Take PR again: we have lots of buildings, but many are never used, e.g. the university. Which clearly reduces the amount of variation in the game.

Ironically Agricola looks like it might have addressed this issue very well as there over 300 different cards available and you only get 14 to work with throughout an entire game. Obviously the potential for variability (I won’t call it randomness) here is huge which can only contribute to making the game hugely re-playable. I still haven’t got it to the table yet so I’m not going to comment on whether this solution works or if the game itself is any good or not but it does look promising.

Michael Barnes said...

Articles that really take on issues, ideas, and trends (like this one)in the board gaming hobby are infinitely more valuable to me than the usual junk choked up with shocking regularity over at BGG and by other writers in this field.

I think my favorite point in this whole thing is that we criticize certain games, types of games, and even gamers because we love this hobby. Somebody asked me once why I didn't like most of the recent horror pictures over the past couple of years and my response was "Because I love horror movies with all my heart and I hate to see the genre debased with sub-par garbage". The same with games. I hate the rise of BGG-style games (almost exclusively modeled after Alea games, it seems) and the level of mediocrity that it seems most gamers are content to settle with because _I love great games_ and I want this hobby to be the best it can be.

As far as questions of personal taste and "good and great" go- I think that's really a much trickier matter than people give it credit for. There are, I think, certain absolute values that serve as a dividing line between "good" and "great". And one of these, I think, is a sense of timelessness and recurrence- that you can return to it over and over again without it losing its intrinsic value. Games, as a medium, are completely bound to the active recreation of an experience created by a game author via a rules set and components. If the possibilities that this experience and the necessary components we are given to recreate it represents something very limited then I simply don't believe it can be timeless, replayable, or ultimately great. That's why interaction, narrative, and variability are so critical to me. Lack of any of those elements doesn't necessarily make a game bad at all, but I do think that the dividing line between good and great lies there.

And I completely agree with, and have mentioned myself, the point that certain design paradigms/assumed values in the Euro/BGG-style game idea effectively limit replayability. I think this, coupled with hyperconsumerism and the sort of armchair punditry that dominates the hobby, is creating not only mediocre games but also lower expectations.

"The Doom Loop" is an interesting concept...it's really the same thing that happened in the video game industry in the early 1980s. I've often wondered if boardgaming might be headed for a similar "bust" given the huge amounts of mediocre/sub par product being cranked out these days for a fairly limited audience but there's a critical difference- money and corporate involvement. The board gaming industry will never have a flop the level of the E.T. Atari 2600 game because expectations and industry predictors are nowhere near that level. Instead, the industry will likely wallow in a state of perpetuation without really expanding.

Hype is a funny thing in boardgames...all this hoo-ha over AGRICOLA coupled with the fact that BGG is the monopoly source for gaming information and discourse in English made it seem like this massive, HALO 3-style blockbuster even though there may not be 1000 people who have played the game worldwide. And the last I checked, the Z-Man preorders hadn't even broken 500 copies. That is practically _nothing_ in the scope of things. But the hype- if you're one of those people addicted to and emotionally invested in BGG - makes it seem so "important".

In regard to Michael Longdin's comments about variability in AGRICOLA- I still haven't played it, but from what I've read about it I don't think the variability is going to be as pronounced- or as significant- as all those cards suggest. The design idea of Eurogames like AGRICOLA just can't support the kind of wild variety that 300 cards suggests unless their effect on play is negligible. Hopefully, the game will prove me wrong but I think that the idea of "randomness" in terms of AGRICOLA is just a novelty for Eurogamers- like the dice games TO COURT THE KING and YSPAHAN.

Frank Branham said...

I really like the Doom Loop concept. I'm watching one as I type this.

A few things I disagree with:

1. Euros don't have a lot in common with Chess and Go. Those games have massive decision trees, and are far deeper than practically any Euro. Those games are just so abstract that the myriad of moves are so very similar.

2. Depth is by no means directly related to the number of decisions and decision types. Instead, it is the number of factors you have to take into account to make a decision.

Go and Chess get passes by forcing you to think moves ahead, and by having large decision trees.

AT and wargames mostly work by making you learn probabilities, and formulate backup plans.

Euros with interesting decisions often place more emphasis on what another player does to make the choice harder. Which means to play successfully, you have to put yourself in the position of opponent's and work out their best moves. Which means they go slowly.

Sometimes, a Euro will include a nice mix of random elements to reign that effect in. Ursuppe / Primordial Soup has always been a personal favorite. In particular, it breaks up fairly simple tactical actions with tricky strategic gene choices. The two layers interrelate in a way that creates a fairly complex game with a pretty small decision tree for each action.

Agricola has that kind of tactical / strategic split going. At the beginning of the game, you see your 14 tech cards. At that point, you probably should work out a rough strategy of which of those you are going to use and in what order.

But then every few turns, you are going to have to have enough food on hand to feed your family. Resolving these priorities with the limited pool of vanishing actions doesn't feel trivial, as like in a wargame, you kind of have to be thinking of backup plans when you take an action.

J de said...

I agree that the hype on Agricola is based on very little and probably counterproductive. From what I've seen and heard, it's probably not a bad game, but also not very special.

Although I can see why many contributors here have a problem with the hype-mind on BGG, I can't see their problem with euros per se. It caters to a different public than the AT, but that's not intrinsically bad.

I love to take a day or evening to play a giant of a game, but am also happy to play a one hour game if that's all the situation allows. AT satisfies more in the first case, euros do fine in the latter circumstances, especially if you have players who are not used to complex games.

mtlawson said...

Good article, Matt.

I've been told to check out Good to Great several times, but I haven't gotten around to it. However, you just described what an ex-employer was doing right before they decided to spruce up the company to be sold.

I'm just happy you didn't pull out Who Moved My Cheese? When the team I work for was outsourced to my current employer, our mid level manager wanted everyone to read this book in preparation for the outsourcing. Trouble was, they didn't have enough money in the budget to buy copies for everybody, so they told those of us who weren't given a copy that we should just go out and buy our own copies.

I just look at the current boardgaming scene and think that there are simply too many players out there trying to sell games, and that there's a shakedown that's going to happen in the near future.

--Mike L.

the red phantom said...

Another exceptional article by Mr. Thrower.

But I've got to be honest and say that if I were forced to pick ten games to take to a bunch of gatherings with a real mix of people, Euros would be in the majority. And I say that as an AT-er and a wargamer. Great Euros--the ones Mr. Thrower mentioned--provide deep, fun gameplay and are accessible. Wargames (and AT games to a lesser extent) often need too much study and time investment, and many designs are wonky at best. What are the most replayable and re-played games in my collection? Right. Euros.

But if we are to confront hyping games, what are we to make of, say, the rapturous release of StarCraft? Now this is a game I have been awaiting with fraying nerves, and I am ever so pleased that I am playing it next week, but is that not hyped almost as much as Agricola? Didn't anyone read Mr. Barnes' totally uncritical puff piece? So I think the better question is whether Agricola is being *undeservedly* hyped. StarCraft has high ratings from people who admit they haven't even *seen* it yet!

Which will I prefer, between the two? Almost certainly StarCraft. But let's keep ALL the hype in perspective here.

ozjesting said...

J de said...

Go and eat shit, Ozjesting

Y tu mama tambien<


Well J...seeing as how the last serving had sprinkles perhaps it is not as bad as you think ;) As to you bringing my mamma into it...well...perhaps you know my family better than would be expected given how myopic I assume you to be.
If you don't get the little jokes...well...I will be sure and avoid the big ones when the chance arise. Would hate to leave any bi-linguals behind.

vialiy said...

And the last I checked, the Z-Man preorders hadn't even broken 500 copies.

It's at 475 and needs 750 to print... It's safe to say that by now all the Agricultists have preordered. If it never makes it, it'll be the funniest thing ever.

J de said...

Well J...seeing as how the last serving had sprinkles perhaps it is not as bad as you think ;)

The sprinkles do look inviting indeed!

As to you bringing my mamma into it...well...perhaps you know my family better than would be expected given how myopic I assume you to be.
If you don't get the little jokes...well...I will be sure and avoid the big ones when the chance arise. Would hate to leave any bi-linguals behind.


Do you mean to say that Hanno and I lack a sense of humour?

mtlawson said...

Well, the people who are most hard core about Agricola already bought the German language edition out already.

I'm curious about what Frank will say about the game after he gets a play; it is entirely possible that the game is worthwhile, even though I'm not that interested in the theme at all. It's kind of like Puerto Rico: the more people tell me I ought to try the game, the less likely I am to actually try it.

--Mike L.

vialiy said...

The game looks pretty good and the theme is not bad IMO, but the tribal mentality around it is so over the top, if it can be shown empirically that they're an insignificant minority so much the better. There's a reason ZMan went for a P750 system rather than publish it outright like they do for the rest of their catalogue.

vialiy said...

p.s. Sorry for hijaking a fine thread with yet more Agricola crap, I will shut up now :)

Mr Skeletor said...

I am playing it next week, but is that not hyped almost as much as Agricola? Didn't anyone read Mr. Barnes' totally uncritical puff piece? So I think the better question is whether Agricola is being *undeservedly* hyped. StarCraft has high ratings from people who admit they haven't even *seen* it yet!

You are kidding aren't you?
Just check the rankings of both games prior to release. Then tell me the hype was comparable.

Frank Branham said...

Played a proper game of Agricola last night. I'll upgrade it to great.

The criticisms I posted on the BGN site are still valid. he game is very, very Euro.

The game has a kind of Puerto Rico-ish feel. You do mixed actions, points pop out the other side. The pool of basic actions is a lot larger, and each person has technologies that only he can build.

We ended up with 4 vastly different approaches to advancing--based mostly on our private tech hands.

The cards do vary wildly in strength and usefulness. This is going to reduce its popularity.

I like Puerto Rico quite a bit, and I suspect that Agricola is as good. The downside of Puerto Rico is the people who play it. There is a trend towards perfect strategies and almost scripted play. My first Puerto Rico game was baffling--I felt as if I were always choosing incorrectly, and trying to solve a really hard puzzle. Agricola may be able to generate that on every run through.

Still, y'all really need to try Galaxy Trucker. I adore that game.

MWChapel said...

Articles that really take on issues, ideas, and trends (like this one)in the board gaming hobby are infinitely more valuable to me than the usual junk choked up with shocking regularity over at BGG and by other writers in this field.

Who cares about long drawn out articles about gaming? I "play" games, I don't write/read about them. The very reason I hang out on BGG to is shoot the shit with like minded gamers.

The very make up of BGG and it's hyping of one type of game over another is just what I like. You guys talk about AT and you love that style of game. More to ya. You talk shit about the "those" games I dig too. The rivalry is enjoyable, life is a game.

There is a glut of games on the euro market,all trying to fish in on the designer craze. And throughout mostly crap is being ejected. To bad for those type of publishers, as they will eventually fail. AT publishers are in the same loop and have been for longer than the euro publishers. But they all end up in the same stagnant waters.

What you should be looking at is the fringes of game design to find really cool titles. I only hype games that are GOOD(IMHO). Someone even asked why I only hyped small published runs in a thread on BGG. Well cause that is where the meat is.

But then again,I don't usually hype games that target the Ameritard Nation. I target the BGG Nation. Yes, yes, it's called "Boardgame" Geek and it "should" cater to all types. But come on guys, it really never has.

You here are all just the peanut gallery(as I am here), throwing the occasional turd when you don't like the talent. But the show always goes on, and those moments easily forgotten.

But I like when the monkeys throw poo. Makes me laugh.

Juniper said...

What you should be looking at is the fringes of game design to find really cool titles. I only hype games that are GOOD(IMHO). Someone even asked why I only hyped small published runs in a thread on BGG. Well cause that is where the meat is.

That's where the amateur designs are; the under-developed, overlong, joyless, and ugly "snobstream"* Euros. Some of these games appear to have real meat to them, but they really just demand lots of rote calculation. A game is not deep just because it involves a lot of bistromath. A competent professional game designer would be able to cut away this fat, but then the resulting leaner and quicker design would no longer be celebrated as a "gamers' game" on BGG.

*thanks to MrSkeletor for coining this term.

Ken B. said...

"Bistromath?" I leave for a few days and you guys are busting out "bistromath?"

This many posts and it hasn't devolved into a sausagefest?


I miss the old days of F:AT. Lots of familiar avatars that don't come around any more.


Difference here Chappy is we're taking over the talent show. There's an extra air of desperation lately, it seems...this whole plugging away at Agricola as if it were the Holy Grail...it's so forced, so much a counter-reaction to the counter-culture...it's like Tom Cruise declaring his heterosexuality over and over again to anyone who will listen (popping Lord Xenu's cherry does NOT count)...

Eurogames NEED a savior, they NEED another mass hit, another game they can rally around. All the best stuff, the biggest hype, the high profile stuff, it's all been stuff that's way outside that boutique Eurocrap with its cubes and "I bid three" junk.

All the good stuff is 'splodin' and killin' and theme and rockets and "F**king Awesome Ameritrash Battle Game" like nobody's business. Stuff you can get ACTUAL non-hippie s to play. There's only so much Birkenstock and khaki shorts one can take, man.


Viva la Revolution, man. We already won. The "poo flinging" intensifies from the other side these days...rallying around Agricola like a pack of little hyenas...

Just put the "V" in the air already, and let the good times roll.

mtlawson said...

I look at it this way: when a Euro without the name Catan in the title penetrates mass market conciousness the way Apples to Apples or Cranium has done, then Euros will have "won", for what its worth.

The thing is, I can sit here and watch the feeding frenzy from a different perspective than in the past (no money for games for the forseeable future). What I see is rampant speculation and frenzy that reminds me of the Great Videogame Crash of '83-'84. There is going to be a fallout coming, because the industry can't rely upon the same 1000-3000 people buying the same games over and over. Such consumerism is more like an addiction than anything else, and basing your business model on purchasing decisions more suited to a game of Adel Verpflichtet is just asking for trouble. I don't care how many brilliant designs you have, if you don't have a way of guaranteeing some sort of solvency (such as GMT's P500 system), you run the risk of oversaturating the market.

I suspect that Zev put the the 750 preorder system in place for Agricola because he may have released a few poor selling games, and he's trying to recoup his investment by verifying the demand for Agricola. Not because of some prank, mind you, but because he doesn't want to get stuck with 1000 copies of the game when all of the people hyped up over it have already bought German language copies.

--Mike L.

Ken B. said...

DO NOT STEAL MY NEXT ARTICLE! IXNAY ON THE GREAT CRASH OF 1983-AY

Juniper said...

Eurogames NEED a savior, they NEED another mass hit, another game they can rally around.

It won't happen because, even if a breathrough occurred in Eurogame design, the pervasive reaction on BGG would be to scarcely notice. If Settlers were released for the first time at Spiel 2007, it would be ignored or called a "superfiller" and then forgotten, because it would not be "gamer" enough.

MWChapel said...

You want to see the pain of an AT publisher. Then read this FROM ADB after heading to BGG.CON:

http://www.starfleetgames.com/federation/blog/2007/11/board-game-geek-report.html

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Ouch. That kinda proves my point, Chapel--we "share" a hobby in name only.

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Eurogames NEED a savior, they NEED another mass hit, another game they can rally around. All the best stuff, the biggest hype, the high profile stuff, it's all been stuff that's way outside that boutique Eurocrap with its cubes and "I bid three" junk.

This is where I think you miss the point. Eurosnobs such as myself don't want another "mass" hit. This isn't a popularity contest but quite the opposite. Who wants the unclean masses to interact and mold MY hobby into some crazy over marketed blob. That is exactly what I hope never happens. I love the whole boutique feeling of the hobby.

Spread your message overproduced one size fits all fun for the whole family crap. Leave the hobby games alone.

And,

I suspect that Zev put the the 750 preorder system in place for Agricola because he may have released a few poor selling games, and he's trying to recoup his investment by verifying the demand for Agricola. Not because of some prank, mind you, but because he doesn't want to get stuck with 1000 copies of the game when all of the people hyped up over it have already bought German language copies.

He did it because Agricola is going to be quite expensive to print, and even if he sells every single copy at that price, he will be making a measly profit.(What he told me last week while playing Agricola).

Your argument above was the same exact argument that was made about Valley's Die Macher. Valley sold every single copy. Agricola will sell out without a doubt.

MWChapel said...

Ouch. That kinda proves my point, Chapel--we "share" a hobby in name only.

Indeed. We share a similar hobby, but not the same.

DISCLAIMER: I actually like starfleet batttles. :)

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Well, I mean I'm no boardgaming evangelist. Really, any success I want for the boardgaming hobby is selfish...if they sell better, I can find them in more places.

But, like you, I'm not willing to make 'sacrifices' in games that I like just so boardgames will succeed. Like adding dice battles or some shit like that to Monopoly looking for some crossover.

I don't mean that Euro players are looking for a blockbuster from a sales perspective exactly...but more in line with what you're saying. They want a game that *they* can rally around. Re-unify that core section of the Euro hobby, so that there are people at BGG.con to play these games with. Try to avoid the splintering, or the disinterest as attention wanes with a parade of too-similar titles.

I kind of wish the designer of Agricola (and the rabid fans) hadn't been such a douchebag about everything. This game does look like HARVEST MOON: THE BOARDGAME. Which wouldn't be so bad, I guess. At least the actions you're taking represent something tangible, unlike something like Oasis where you're like "What the F**K am I doing again? Placing squares and wooden camels? What the hell is going on here?"

Juniper said...

What boardgames need are new design ideas. We're in a rut right now, where even a game with a moderately novel "mechanic" (how I hate that word) is somehow seen as revolutionary.

Sales success is kind of beside the point. What Eurogamers really need is a game that is genuinely unlike everything that they already own. When such a game arrives, it will be too different in format from the fashionable Keythedral/Caylus/Pillars/Cuba/'Cola family of games for the vocal minority on BGG to embrace it. It will pass them by.

Michael said...

When such a game arrives, it will be too different in format from the fashionable Keythedral/Caylus/Pillars/Cuba/'Cola family of games for the vocal minority on BGG to embrace it. It will pass them by.

No game passes me by.

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would make a good epitaph

mtlawson said...

Sorry about stealing your article, Ken. It is the truth, however; no matter how many "good" games are being printed out there, the slush pile is pretty big and destined to keep getting bigger.

Good for Zev to protect himself with the pre-orders. Agricola is designed for a very specific type of audience, and that makes Agricola a game that is more on the lifestyle end of the Eurogame scale. Games like Die Macher and Agricola are the ASL of Euros; not due to the time involved in playing (ASL scenarios can take around an hour or less if you know what you're doing), but because they are at the far end of yellow brick road for the Eurogame path. Someone who starts off playing Euros isn't going to jump into Agricola, they'll go for Settlers or Carc or TTR first, then build their way gradually toward Agricola and Die Macher.

--Mike L.

Anonymous said...

Ken B. said:

"Agricola (...) does look like HARVEST MOON: THE BOARDGAME"

My words exactly :D

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A: Hanno isn't the designer---he's the publisher. I don't think Uwe Rosenberg has commented.

B: Zev has some games that aren't quite selling so good. One of those might be Prophecy, as the expansions are still a bit up in the air depending on sales.

Not getting the Prophecy expansions will likely send me on a mission to start setting people on fire. So I'm just warning y'all.

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