"Cult of the New" (In Defense of)
As a culture in the United States (and perhaps among the entirety of our global population), we have amassed many traditions involving the calendar flip from one year to another, including the eating of certain foods for good luck and prosperity and looking at ourselves and declaring a move toward positive change. The beginning of a new year is a great time to look back and evaluate things. Many critics give us top tens of whatever medium they review, be it movies or video games or television shows or books, etc. Award shows even hand out hardware to those their panels feel most deserving.
Board games are not immune to this. As a matter of fact, it is a time when many reviewers take a deep breath, crack their knuckles, and hunker down to write out a list of a top 100. An impressive task to say the least.
However, these endeavors often are met with critiques by those who listen to the critics. Perhaps the loudest accusation, the one that rises above the rabble the highest is claims of being "Cult of the New."
For the uninitiated, "Cult of the New" refers to anyone who seems to be replacing pillars of the industry with whatever is flashy and in the moment. Cultists are swayed, like a cat chasing a laser pointer, by what is new and popular at that moment. This angers many a person who prefers reliability and cherishes the classics of cardboard.
Being called a member of the "cult of the new" is derogatory- an obscene phrase reserved for those with unacceptable opinions- those who seem to give more value to what's fresh and who fail to recognize stalwarts of the industry.
I call bologna! "Cult of the New" is perhaps the single greatest factor in this burgeoning golden age of board gaming.
Recently released board games are trying new things. Admittedly, not all of them work, but boundaries are being pushed. New mechanics are being introduced, and old ones are being used in interesting ways.
Games like Chronicles of Crime with its app-based gameplay, have fused board gaming with video gaming with a dash of virtual reality. Others, such as Forgotten Waters, use an app to drive the story along with professional voice actors performing lines that otherwise would have to be read. Many people don't want to read paragraphs of text when playing a game. Forgotten Waters takes the chore out of a hobby of leisure.
For some, technology in games is an unforgivable, unacceptable sin of the industry. Playing board games affords us time to detract technology from our lives and is not welcome at their tables. While I agree that one of the lures of the board gaming hobby is the absence of technology, there is a difference between someone perusing the web while waiting his or her turn and employing a device as part of the action.
There is a reason why Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition (that uses an app to direct the game) is ranked number 32 all-time on Board Game Geek (BGG) while the first, non-technological edition, is 382. Designers are finding ways to make the barrier for entry of these amazing games as low as possible. It doesn't cheapen the experience, but improves upon it.
If your industry is not inventing new methods and modes, it is dying. No board gamer wants to see the industry die. Cultists are doing their part to ensure this amazing hobby continues to grow and grow.
Industries are increased by stirring up excitement. Older, trusty, reliable board games of the past are going to be purchased, but few are honestly excited about another game of Sorry or Catan. Excitement doesn't rest in the realm of the past, but instead in the possibilities of the future!
The number of new board games produced each year continues to grow. Almost 4,500 new board games were released in 2020, which is a sixty-percent increase from the number of board games released a decade before. That is an astounding number!
Kickstarter (more on them later) has been an instrument of the gaming companies and the Cultists are riotous for their sweet serenades. In 2015, successful board game campaigns raised $84.6 million dollars- an incredible number. Fast-forward six years to 2020, and that number has ballooned to $233.8 million. Nearly a quarter-of-a-billion (US)dollars were pledged!
Excitement drummed up by the Cultists is a cacophonous, ear-shattering sound. It is heard by both the cardboard initiated and those who are merely curious in coming to the table. This excitement is what builds industries. As more and more new games are bought, especially those backed on fundraising platforms, money is pouring into the companies producing the games. The industry is expected to grow by 13% over the next five years, and new games are likely to play a big role in that.
placement in a unique way.
by "gamers" and "non-gamers" alike
First time designer, Isaac Childress, released his game
Gloomhaven not all that long ago, and it's ranked #1 on BGG.
Ok, ok. Members of the Cult of the New aren't without flaw. Many are disciples of Kickstarter, as mentioned previously, and fall into the meticulous and well-designed traps set for them. Cultists do fall prey to FOMO (fear of missing out) often and hard. Knowing that an interesting-looking game might only ever be available via Kickstarter, these Cultists give offerings of hundreds of dollars (or more) each month in an effort to obtain anything that might be the next big thing.
Kickstarter, for all its better qualities, is a vacuum that many Cultists easily get sucked into. Companies have learned how to use it to their advantage (see crazy increase in revenue from above) to squeeze out bank accounts and max out credit cards. Not all Cultists fall victim to "Pokemon Syndrome (Gotta' catch 'em all)," but to not mention the darker recesses of the Cult of the New wouldn't be honest.
A prominent board game reviewer recently updated his top 100 games of all-time list. There were seventeen new games that made it. People get so angry when a favorite game, particularly one that is typically well-regarded, is knocked off the list by some flash-in-the-pan shiny new game. To that I say, cool it for a second.
Sure, your game may be more highly rated than something brand new, and yes, hype is a real thing. But here's the deal, after the excitement fades or is replaced by fervor for something newer, that old game, that is highly ranked will still be there. New games that are popular but are not truly great have a trajectory that will come back down to earth. This is a good thing. Because after the dust settles, the great ones, the best board games will still be there. Cultists can do many things for the board game industry, but they can't remove the classics off the shelves of gaming stores nor can they expunge them from your heart.
When it comes right down to it, the cream always rises to the top. If what's hot, what's new is not truly great, bare with it and be patient with its followers. It won't be there forever. Only the truly greats last.
So, go easy on the Cultists. After all, they're gamers, too.