We need less one-off games, more narrative, and something that is going to hold our imaginations.

Alright, to be honest, that title was a bit of a click-bait. I apologize, sort of, only because it’s not entirely click-bait. See in the world of tabletop games, it’s true that there are way too many one-off games and not enough games based on narrative, but I can tell you that this goes way deeper than narrative games.

Now, to be fair here, I’m what you would consider a hardcore gamer, so I don’t expect anyone to always share the same opinion as I do. Knowing that though, there is something to be said about all of these one-off games.

Let’s dig deep here, and this might hurt a bit, but it’s okay – I have a first-aid kit. I’m a medic, but only when playing games. I enjoy one-off games. There are many fillers and gateway games that I think are incredibly important to the hobby and industry, and more specifically when it comes to board games.

Gloomhaven by Cephalofair Games

I’m going to throw out this thought and explain why we need better balance. At this point in time, Kickstarter is overflowing with one-off games that have no plans for expansions… and let’s be real here… they are forgotten within 6 – 12 months time, most of the time.

We are hitting a point in this tabletop industry, more so in the board game niche, where the balance has been tipped in favor of these one-off games – and to be Frank here (you can pretend to be Jim), that’s painful.

Why is this painful though?

It’s painful for multiple reasons:

  1. Gamer burnout. Sure, there are many more casual gamers nowadays, but even casual gamers – who play LESS than hardcore gamers – will get burnt out faster. That means this boom you’re seeing will die off faster the more one-off games you put out. That hurts as a gamer.
  2. Lack of passion. Let’s just be real here, there have been a lot of games lately that feel like they’re just being launched on Kickstarter, to be launched on Kickstarter without any real thought behind it except mechanically. That also hurts as a gamer.
  3. Game Stores. I have a soft spot for game stores. Not all of them are perfect, and none of them admit to being perfect, but dude – how in the heck from a business level are these people doing it? Think about this for a second. There are so many new games that launch on Kickstarter now, these stores are forced to choose between all of these one-off games, and with no expansions or real community behind them. Not to mention wrapping up their funds and investments in this one-off Kickstarter game — ouch. That hurts, and not just as a gamer, but as a game store too.
  4. Content creators. While this feeds massive amounts of traffic in order to keep the media in a job (and that’s great!), I think there is a better way to do this – and honestly, I think this is hurting them more than helping them. Let’s take a quick dip into that. Tons of new games launch every year, and content creators are consistently scheduling new interviews, they are constantly learning new games, and there comes a point where critical mass hits – or even worse – the Media will only focus on only a handful of publishers pushing their content and smashing any true chances that indie developers, publishers, and creators have. Not because they don’t care, but because they can only do so much. To be fair, that’s not all media, because those that don’t allow this to happen – you’re super people and truly amazing. I hope you get some sleep soon. What this is doing is there is too much to consume, and it starts a domino effect. That hurts as a gamer because there is only so much budget a gamer has, and only so much time the media and content creators have.
D&D 5th Edition by Wizards of the Coast

Alright, so we’ve covered some of these painful aspects, and I know, I promise we’re going to get to this “narrative” topic – right now.

While story telling games, heavy narrative, are my favorite types of games – and story is important, there is something that is far more important than story when it comes to any game that is not a filler/gateway game.

LORE

The word “lore” is extremely important because it is something that can be used as a tool to expand games further beyond their initial reach. The story carries the lore, if you’d like, but lore helps tie in thematic mechanics to the game itself —- and before any game designer decides to run down that path of design, I beg you, take a closer look at this from a gamer’s perspective, and to really look at what the top companies are in tabletop games. The keyword here is tabletop – not just board games.

Lords of Hellas by Awaken Realms

This matters a lot. It would be a false assumption to think that there is no cross-over at all, and even more so to rule out the tabletop gamers that were playing tabletop games before Kickstarter was ever a “thing”.

From the early 1900s to now, tabletop gamers, and even later such as modern video gamers all have something in common. That is lore. The world in which they play in – even if this isn’t noticed by them directly – this is something that is required to expand upon a one-off game or a one-off game with only one or two small expansions.

This level of narrative and world building is key to any game maker’s success, and this doesn’t just apply to tabletop games. Any game needs to have some level of lore and theme to pull it forward – unless it truly is an abstract game such as Azul or even Bejeweled.

Fate Core System by Evil Hat Productions

However, this also means that the more generic of a theme/lore setting you have, the less likely you are going to be able to break out of the small niche.

So what am I saying here? When you boil it down, I’m saying to please be more mindful of the gamer. There are thousands of good games out there, but only a handful of great games, and even less so, amazing games.

I’ll end on this note. Writing this article, it’s a little all over the place in thought, context of the industry, and opinion. If you are a tabletop games publisher – of any kind – please take note of this article. While I am a start-up publisher, and I am someone who is deep into the industry side of things in both tabletop and video games —- I’m also one of those hardcore tabletop and video gamers that have been playing for 20+ years, and have already seen this massive issue hit the video games industry hard and there are many companies that are suffering from it – which is forcing them to merge, leave, fall apart, or lay low for awhile.

Warhammer 40,000 by Games Workshop

While I would be just fine playing games from Wizards of the Coast, Games Workshop, Privateer Press, and Fantasy Flight Games – I know there is so much potential out there in the indie world to do amazing things, and that is why I felt this article was needed.

This is my first roll for a persuasion check.

Did I persuade you?

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One Reply to “We need less one-off games, more narrative, and something that is going to hold our imaginations.”

  1. A great article! I’ve always loved the idea of lore and building off that. It’s what’s always drawn me to RPG, miniatures, etc…

    Like you, I do love “one-off” games, but there certainly needs to be a better balance in a world that’s becoming saturated with games.

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