The fantastic 80s: while Glam was going crazy and eccentricity was the king, the modern board game took shape in what it is today.
The various Star Quests, Hero Quests, Risiko and Monopoly were the initial cocoon to create a universe that, today, boasts thousands of titles.
The evolution of the board game was incredibly similar to biological Darwinism: once fertile ground was found, the increase in playful species was exponential, and the first “board species” paved the way for an incredibly rich evolutionary tree.
And just as macro-categories are defined while classifying the various species, like for example genres or classes, so in the board game we define the foundations, also known as mechanics, illustrations and components.
One of the most important evolutions of the game was precisely the components. Looking at a board game with the eye of a reviewer who has been a spectator of the growth of the board game world, it’s easy to set the the age of a game just by looking at how it appears on the table. Like with the analysis with carbon 14, the yardsticks to detect the age are the materials and their complexity.
During the past, in the 90s and 2000s, an enormous specific importance was given to mechanics, and the materials were usually nothing more than simple cubes, tokens or at most meeples, having exactly the meaning they should have. There were no big graphic or physical objects, and everything you needed was in small boxes; there was nothing more and nothing less than necessary, just like a small and functional toolbox. Authors such as GMT have become iconic and are highly valued even today because, starting from always identical pieces (the very famous GMT cubes), they created worlds with incredibly complex mechanics, becoming games of the highest conceptual caliber.
The evolution of the materials has been truly incredible, a little because of the law of supply and demand, a little because of the evolution of technologies and the accessibility of low-cost markets and a little because of a mere growing passion for aesthetics: so, in the last 10 years, we have seen a radical transformation of the physical level of the board game.
Cross and delight for us enthusiasts, those who were once tokens have become meeples, then miniatures and then custom pieces (just think of Iwari for example) with mechanisms and modularity. Aesthetics have been dominating lately, and often the true meaning of what we put on the table is increased, or decreased, exponentially. Let’s forget the GMT cubes: now the assault troop is a finely 3D printed miniature with new details at every glance. Let’s forget the cardboard sheet of sometimes ridiculous thicknesses: now the planks are dual layer, with spaces dedicated to every possible meeple or other piece that fits. The only limit is the imagination, and more and more often a fundamental part of the playful experience is the discovery of what will be in the box.
Good or bad? Both, actually. More and more games, unfortunately, lose their charm in useless miniaturistic irrilevant objects, and sometimes we pray to go back to the GMT cube to avoid wasting precious time and space. Other times, however, the component is the icing on a cake rich of superfine mechanics and evocative illustrations: we can’t wait to put our best miniature or meeple into play, building up our expectations.
Of course, we, Dicetroyers, hope to always measure well the ground on which the splendid components of the next game will be lodged, without risking to overdo it unnecessarily and without making life difficult for the players. Because the value of a component must be always commensurate with its usefulness. The right component in the right place can really make a difference. And we, who measure them every day, know something about it.