- By Chris Curtis
A home entertainment considered completely outmoded or obsolete by the mainstream public re-emerges after years of neglect into newfound popularity. Sounds like the story of the vinyl LP, right? Well, it is, but it’s also the story of an even older recreation that may seem passé in today’s high-tech world. The board game, which dates back at least to Ancient Egypt, has made a dramatic comeback in recent years. But in most cases, it’s not old games being revived. Rather, hundreds of new titles are being produced annually by both established companies and upstart indies, many via crowdfunding. It’s been said we’re living through the Golden Age of Boardgames, and while other artforms may have had their best days behind them, it’s inspiring to see a craft refining itself and getting objectively better.
The ball got rolling for modern games in the mid-'90s with a German game called Settlers of Catan. It gained worldwide popularity, and impressed many with its ease of play and elegant and efficient game mechanics. For Americans, who had grown up on luck-based roll-the-dice-and-move games, Catan and other “Eurogames” showed that gameplay could be more strategic yet still light and casual. Interest was stoked by word-of-mouth and the internet, and by the early 2000s American game designers and manufacturers were taking note, and responding with strong titles of their own. Designers from around the world increasingly jumped into the creative arena, with Japan especially producing many outstanding games.
What specifically makes modern games (or “Designer” games - so-called because the creator’s name is usually on the box) different than games we’re accustomed to? Very few function like Monopoly, where the player is constant victim to the whims of the dice and board, landing on a space and following instructions. Many have no dice at all and some involve only cards or tiles. Usually, players will have at least one meaningful decision to make every time their turn comes up, so strategy plays a greater role. Themes are often fanciful or historical, which can make the game more immersive, especially with well-designed components and artwork. Designer games are often less cut-throat and confrontational than games like Sorry. They avoid player elimination (i.e., you go bankrupt and must sit out the remainder of the game) and typically keep the running time under an hour or so with less downtime. Many games can be played in 20 minutes or less, which make them easier to fit into contemporary schedules.