Systemic Success

Modern board games thrive on repeating, remixing and remaking. Taking a few well known elements, adding a few new twists, assembling them in a new way is – in most cases – all the innovation needed for a game to be successful. Thus, it should come as no surprise that some game publishers not only openly reuse old systems, but make it a selling point.

SS_C&COfficial reuse of systems is nothing new. Just look at what is known as the Commands & Colors system (which should probably be known as Battle Cry system, but let’s not split hairs), and how many games use it now, some of them even openly announcing this on their boxes, or, like Battles of Westeros, simply linking to Battlelore, another stepping stone in the development of this Richard Borg’s system.

Would you like some more examples? Then look at the Quarriors system, which is now taking our gaming shelves by storm via Marvel, DC and D&D Dice Masters (after a less than stellar outing as Lord of the Rings the Dice Building Game). Look at the FlightPath system which – after making its first appearance in Wings of War – is now the engine used to propel Imperial Star Destroyers, Klingon Birds of Prey, Frost Giants and Age of Sail ships. It’s really impressive when you think about it, as all of the aforementioned are separate, successful games, using the same basic systems.

It seems that the old truth about liking the music we’ve already heard, the movies we’ve already seen, and the books we’ve already read is also true for board games. And that may seem somewhat surprising, as an astonishingly expansive group of us gamers subscribes to the cult of the new, going so far as to never play a single game more than two or three times. So, how does that fit together?

SS_THActually, it all fits perfectly, and it’s enough to take a look at a game with an overwhelmingly long list of expansions (like Arkham Horror or Thunderstone) to see why. We still tend to like the stuff we know, so we’re quite likely to look for it among the new things. That’s why worker placement used to be (and admittedly is) so hot, with every other game being a “new twist” on the genre. And that’s why we’ll happily buy into The Dunwich Horror, The Kingsport Horror, The Innsmouth Horror, The Miskatonic Horror, and probably a few other Horrors (Huggbees Horror anyone?), should FFG ever released them.

All this only shows that board games are not as unique as we might have thought in the first place – and it’s nothing really bad. Creatively expanding tried and true systems is often no less creative than building them in the first place, and as long as solid product is what gets promoted, we should all be good.


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