2018 – Looking Back and Looking Ahead, part 1

Brant Guillory, 31 December 2018

In a tradition carried on from past lives, we’ve reached out to some friends in the gaming world, and asked a pair of questions about the year in gaming.  Part 1 today, to close out 2018, and part 2 tomorrow.

What do you think was the biggest news story in the hobby gaming world over the past year, and why?

Byron Salahor – Dragoon!

Since I am reluctant to quote a single, definitive article, my vote for the biggest news story in the gaming world continues to be the ever-increasing popularity of Dungeons & Dragons.  Over the last couple of years, this hallmark role-playing game has increasingly showed up in the oddest of places – like popular mainstream media.  TV personalities (hullo Stephen!) discuss the game on late-night talk shows; respectable newspapers feature articles on how this odd, niche fantasy game is (surprise!) bringing people together, creating community, or is being used in the classroom.  Local libraries are running D&D game nights; my local FLGS reports having sold “dozens” of starter kits in the run-up to Christmas, and an FLGS in a neighboring province stated on their social media feed that they just sold their 2000th copy of the 5th edition Player’s Handbook.  While D&D will probably never become as popular as Risk, or Catan, or Monopoly, it is – in this gamer’s opinion – very heartening to see how a game that encourages imagination, cooperation, and story-telling  has meaning and value in an age of electronic amusements.

 

Jeff Tidball – Game designer and GAMA board member

I think that it’s a bit unsung at the moment, and we’re only looking at the beginning of it, but I think that Tabletop Wire’s founding, and their ramp-up of legit daily journalism about the business side of the tabletop gaming hobby, has been really exciting this year. There’s simply no other place that’s doing that kind of work, and it’s been a real need for the business (in my opinion) for a long time.

 

Anthony Gallela – Game designer and industry insider

The Gen Con incident with the GAMA president and the firing of the GAMA ED. We’re in the midst of a cultural discussion about how we treat each other and wanting to or not, our trade association is in the center of it.

 

Jim Owczarski – Dragoon!

I offer two:  The first was the continued success of the high-end, crunchy, hex-and-counter-y ConSim.  Yes, there are games like “Fort Sumter”, “Hunt for Blackbeard”, and shudder “Mystery Wizard” that represent departures from the true faith delivered of the prophets.  At the same time, “Next War”, MMP and Compass Games generally, and a lot of smaller publishers represent top-quality games that, if it be admitted, are sometimes better than those we remember fondly from the days of AH and SPI.  All of this is being done while the gentler games are, it can be hoped, luring the uninitiated into the deep end of the pool.

The second is the challenge of the changing demographics of gaming.  This is not such a big deal for historical wargamers where the change has come more slowly.  In boardgaming and in RPGs, though, the shift has been dramatic.  Much has been refreshing and welcome with sexes, races, ages, socio-economic backgrounds, and outlooks diversifying in an all together healthy way.  Some of that change, however, has come in the face of resistance born of anger, resentment, and a host of other unhealthy emotions and attitudes.  Hobby gaming is no longer small beer.  Its products, conventions and culture matter a great deal; and they make money, but perhaps I repeat myself.  Conventions struggled with this in big and small ways in 2018 and I doubt these issues are going away any time soon.

 

Harold Buchanan – Game designer & podcaster

The critical success of Root – the wargame hidden inside a forest animal bio diversity project.

 

Peter Bogdasarian – Wargame designer

I think the biggest news story is the overloading of the retail channel, leading to games having a much shorter tail.  The consequences for the industry will not be good.

 

Brian Train – Wargame designer & GAME THEORIST

In a word, Root.

A very clever, very asymmetric game that lives in a weird space between “conflicty Euro” and “light irregular-war game with bunny and fox art”, and is capturing a lot of imaginations.

But it is not “COIN with fursonas”, not by any stretch – I guess people tend to apply the COIN label to any highly asymmetric game they encounter, so I can dig it, but this game is a lot more than that.

Cole Wehrle has a knack for very creative riffs on aspects of game design, and while he groks the COIN system really well (see his article on affective networks, link below) I would not say this is just furry-COIN.

It is certainly an asymmetric game with high differentiation among factions, so it shares that, but there are other aspects of the COIN system it definitely does not have; notably the card-driven turn order and the discretionary events.

Not only that, players have a hand of cards to manage, something else completely different from the COIN system… Wehrle said (excerpt from one of his design diaries somewhere):

“Thematically, I wanted space in Root to attack some of the most insidious tropes about how states should behave in games… The biggest offense, in my opinion, is the erasure of the different peoples that comprised a state… The cards in a players hand represented the biopower on which their political faction could draw. So managing a hand by choosing which cards to hold and whether to expand hand size or the flow of new cards in and out of a hand because an exercise in Foucaultian biopolitics.”

 

Brant Guillory – Dragoon Commander

Well, on a personal level, my biggest story is the launch of Armchair Dragoons.

But across the industry, I think the upheaval over at GAMA has to dominate the industry headlines, and not necessarily in a positive way.  There were issues at both of the industries flagship conventions, with sexual harassment problems at Origins, and the GAMA president in a physical altercation with a part-time security guard at GenCon. Add in the train-wreck of the dis/invitation of Larry Correia as a Guest of Honor at Origins, and convention season was certainly not boring (and we haven’t even touched on non-GAMA issues like the YouTube host getting physically assaulted at GenCon, or the protests over Sarkeesian’s speaking engagement).
And when we were all ready to settle into a calm, post-summer game-playing bliss, GAMA came back and said “hold my beer” as they punted a very successful Executive Director to the curb with virtually no notice, pulled together a hasty (tho, to be fair, well-managed) membership meeting, and watched a board member resign in protest, and well…  GAMA seems to trying to compete with all manner of politicians for “shoot yourself in the foot” moments.
They’ve since hired a new executive director, and we’ll see where GAMA goes from here.  But I expect the next board elections to be very entertaining.

 


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2018 – Looking Back and Looking Ahead, part 1

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