Thursday, October 4, 2012

Are grand strategy games dying?

I am going to take a break from talking about our usual suspects and approach a different topic, grand strategy games. Without severely narrowing down this category, I am talking about those games that involve 4+ player, usually 6, they take at least an evening but you'd rather start on a Saturday afternoon and finish on Sunday morning, the games which employ layered mechanics and make player take several strategy decisions each turn.

Lately, I saw an increasing amount of people, from friends to random people in gaming clubs and hobby retailers saying the same thing, that heavy strategy games are a dying species. 

The first sign came from my own gaming group. Several years ago we were able to gather on a Friday evening and stay until the next morning, playing Magic: The Gathering or Agricola for hours and hours and almost no one was complaining that the games are too long. Even last year we put Eclipse on the table and spend a full evening deciphering the game and we went on for the full 9 turn, still excited to play an innovative game. This year, it all looks different. I've just receive a sample copy of Exodus: Proxima Centauri, a game as heavy as Eclipse but lighter than Twilight Imperium and I had a hard time putting together groups of people willing to go all the way through the game. Some people were simply discouraged by a 16 pages rule book, which in my opinion is now a lot for a strategy game. I assumed that we're just getting older and people are becoming less willing to learn new things. 

The next case is a gaming club. It was a first time experience for me in that particular place chose especially for its fame of bringing people together to play heavy games. The intention was to play Mage Knight, another game 'on the wave'. Sadly, we could not find another person to join our group of three, but that's not all. The  most complex game played that evening among 6 or 7 gaming tables was Puerto Rico, a game which I personally value a lot but does fall under the grand strategy category. I've been in the same situation a few more times, having a hard time looking for people willing to spend more than two hours per game.

One may argue that people just value their time and it takes a specific set of mind and a lot of spare time to engage in a board game which will take a full afternoon or longer. I agree, it's difficult, especially nowadays in a society where everything happens much faster that a decade ago. Maybe this is exactly one of the reasons for which heavy games are on the verge of extinction.

My hypothesis was confirmed by several people who were either owners or employees of brick and mortar hobby stores. The sales for grand strategy games dropped significantly over the past few years and they are getting more and more reluctant to bring such games on their shelves.

There is a ray of light though. I met a few guys in Romania (which is not renown as a market for heavy games) who were planning a weekend long Twilight Imperium session, another one who labeled Eclipse as 'light' and a third in Belgium with which I've spent a very long evening playing Civilization (the 1991 edition). Also, during the UK Games Expo last summer and in GobCon in Bologna I've also met great people and passionate gamers who were not afraid of a 5-hour long game. But I am afraid that we are slowly becoming the exceptions. I think that there are fewer and fewer people interested in complex games, life is becoming too short for the rest to spend more time at the gaming table.

I don't want to sound over pessimistic about this topic and I do believe in the future of board gaming and of strategy games and what better proof can I offer other that launching a civilization game right now (I am talking about Exodus: Proxima Centauri), I am simply looking for people who can prove me wrong. If you're one of them, please do tell. I am hoping to see comments in which people will telling me that I am overreacting and that in their groups complex board games are not just collector's items. I do want to hope because I love these kind of games and I even plan to design a few more.

I understand the beauty of lightweight games like 7 Wonders in which seven players can go through the whole game in half an hour. I appreciate the innovation, the brains of the designers capable of coming up with revolutionary ideas and games accessible to a wider range of people, but I am simply hoping that in several years they will not represent the  overwhelming majority of board games on the market.

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1 comment:

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