The Cult of the Old

I quite often see talk about a ‘cult of the new’ in the world of board games. Indeed, it’s usually with the definite article – ‘the cult of the new’ – as if it were a concrete, precisely-identifiable phenomena.

Though I have an idea what is being commented on – inflated ratings for new games, and games not yet released attracting (what are considered to be) disproportionate levels of comment – I must confess this does not particularly resonate with my experience.

Indeed, one of the things I most appreciate in the world of board game commentary is its comfort with new speakers entering old conversations. For instance, four reviews of The Settlers of Catan have been posted on Board Game Geek so far in 2012. There have been no replies criticizing the redundancy of reviewing a game of that age and prominence. I like that fact very much (indeed, I can’t say I’ve ever seen a review criticized on such grounds). There are well over a hundred reviews of The Settlers of Catan on Board Game Geek by now, but there’s evidence that many users recognize that a new voice can still make a valuable contribution regarding an older game.

Even the ubiquitous Dice Tower godfather, Tom Vasel – often pusher-in-chief for the newest board gaming hotness on the market – has, in the past week, reviewed Lost Cities from 1999, Caveman Curling from 2010 as well as a re-print of Can’t Stop (originally released in 1980). And, in fairness to Mr. Vasel, the Top 10 lists on his podcast do much to celebrate older games.

To some extent, of course, the focus on older board and card games is a matter of necessity for many. In terms of both financial cost, and the time required to learn a game’s deeper qualities, it is unrealistic to hope to keep one’s commentary current.

This contrasts starkly with the commentary cultures associated with other entertainment.

Even considering only legal means, an amateur music commentator can keep abreast of practically every major new release using a streaming service such as Spotify. With adverts, this is free, £5 a month without. For a someone addressing films, a monthly pass for a Cineworld cinema, allowing unlimited attendance within that month, costs £15 (though, of course, travel costs do add up – and many independent films would not be shown at most branches of that, or other, chains). Prices of newly published books vary wildly, but the average price of a new novel (or mainstream work of non-fiction) is seldom going to approach that of a new board game.

And, broadly, freshness seems to be esteemed in those areas in proportion to the accessibility of the new. I’ve often enough seen music blogs and other websites criticized for reviewing a new album as little as a week after its release. Similar is true with respect to films. Messageboards may balance this to some extent, with endless conversations about the greatest album from the 1960s, or best ever comedy film (for instance), giving appreciation to older works; but such formats are not particularly conducive to deeper analysis of older material.

There does, of course, exist the academic discipline of Film Studies, in a respect I could only dream might develop for board games, but my feeling is that – both in the films it often addresses, and the way it does so – it is often very remote from the internet commentaries I’m thinking of here.

Long live the cult of the old in board games.

3 thoughts on “The Cult of the Old

  1. Great article, thanks Mark.

    “the average price of a new novel (or mainstream work of non-fiction) is seldom going to approach that of a new board game. And, broadly, freshness seems to be esteemed in those areas in proportion to the accessibility of the new.”

    Of course, it only takes one person to buy the game which then is shared with more people. And sharing is a necessity – whereas you could watch a movie alone. But that’s wrong; movies, music and books are very much to do with social interactions. And board games too.

    I recently introduced a game to friends at a Sunday lunch. The first challenge was turning up with some games (…strange thing to do), then the next hurdle was suggesting we play one. There was nervousness all round but it was a pretty good success, with the comment: “I haven’t seen a game anything like this before”. We like to introduce friends to our music, books, movies and it can be a success or a disaster. If I invite people round for some extremely boring fantasy board game I could make myself a social pariah pretty quickly. In fact I think that may be the actual quickest method.

    The sharing of something good with others: it’s like a social currency or something. And the more rare the movie, music, book or game the more valuable it is. If I said, “Hey I just hear this cool new band, Oasis. You gotta let me show you their album sometime!” then that would be pretty bad for my status. It’s about being ahead of the wave, isn’t it?

    Because board gaming is not widespread in society it’s pretty easy to impress people with a game. Indeed breaking out a game of settlers with friends is taking a bit of a risk socially. So there’s not much pressure to seek out the new hotness in board games. Instead, as you say: “freshness seems to be esteemed in those areas in proportion to the accessibility of the new.”

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