As soon as you wake up, or after a coffee, or maybe while you are busy in thousand activities; dazzling ideas can come in unpredictable ways, and often those ones are the engine of a new project.
The idea is just the beginning, but the real question is: how can the enlightment of a moment become a beacon that will guide us? How can a little spark give enough energy to get a chain reaction of hype that lasts for years? In one sentence: how do you find the path of immortality, for a board game?
Leaving out cryptic and cryptic prophecies and getting to the point, I believe that the answer to this question is like finding the philosopher’s stone of the game designer. While we miss this artifact, we will try to analyze some aspects of how you can turn a board game into a masterpiece.
One of the fundamental points is innovation: titles that have gone down in history, such as Heroquest or as Puerto Rico organized by us, represented a clear breaking point, and were the precursors of a genre. If we want to see it from an evolutionary point of view, the “first dinosaur” or “first man” were the children of generations of infinite errors and improvements, but their birth represented a clean break from the past. Revolutionizing a genre means finding an idea that completely transforms the old into the new. Certain game mechanics or “philosophies” have made this revolution possible, like for example the concept of “dungeon crawling”, which means to interpret a character in fantastic worlds, with different purposes, and most of the time passing through jaws, fangs, blood and horrors. Games organized by us such as Descent, The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth, This War of Mine, Nemesis, Gloomhaven, Imperial Assault carry the legacy of the long-gone Heroquest, declining it in more modern, captivating and beautiful way. Even the so-called “Eurogame” was born from the sparks of a couple of decades ago, when brilliant authors like Feld or Seyfarth meticulously planned games to play without randomness. Over the years their children, The Castles of Burgundy and Puerto Rico, have been taken up and turned inside out like socks, their mechanics analyzed and studied, and masterpieces were born such as Terra Mystica, Agricola, Lords of Waterdeep. The number of titles born from this “race to zero randomness” is infinite, with countless challenges, and the result has been largely achieved.
Another point is timeliness. Creating the right product, at the right time, is a hellish mix of luck, strategy and tactics. Knowing when the time is right is essential for a successful board game. Too often sublime table games have been forgotten only because they were simply too much ahead of the time. The so-called “narrative” genre, son of the game books of the good old days, has exploded in the last period, precisely because the public had been gradually educated by prodigious precursors. Titles like Stuffed Fable or Mice and Mystics were, quite simply, the right titles at the right time, and perhaps they too will go down in history.
Another fundamental part is empathy. Perhaps one of the subtlest aspects of turning a game into a classic is understanding the audience, perceive overall, which ingredient is missing from the giant cauldron of the market. Titles that have nothing new but cover a lack in the market, have higher chances that in the future they could count in the golden book of successful table games. Wingspan, for example, represents a sublime example, in my opinion, of “market empathy”: a large slice of the public was asking for a particular, simple but not trivial, challenging game: the genius of an author who transformed a niche topic such as ornithology into a board game which is at the same time a family game, a challenge and a Sunday pastime, is unquestionable. Another empathic game is Root: in a market dominated by intergalactic powers that compete for the supremacy of the Milky Way, or epic battles between paladins, orcs and dragons, creating “the brawl between the animals of the forest” has represented for many the opportunity to convince even the most reticent to a challenge to the death … or to the last fluffy bunny. It was destined to be a huge success.
Basically, thinking outside the box, while looking at it closely, could be a good start for creating something unique. Will this uniqueness be remembered by generations to come? Well, the arduous sentence to posterity!
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