Board Game Reprints and the Selling Power of Nostalgia

A recent Father’s Day present to myself has me wondering. I remember playing Wiz-War in days of old, and loving it. I still have the old version in my basement. Yet, I’m somehow seduced by the lure of the new to pick up the brand spankin’ new sexy Fantasy Flight Games edition.

One has to ask: Why??

Wiz-War “New”

The last, oh, let’s say five years of game publishing have witnessed a small plethora of reprints of games from the earlier golden ages of games in America. Doing the broadest of hand-waves, from roughly 1977 to the early 90s, many groundbreaking boardgames were published, and played to death, and written about, and developed their own cult followings, of sorts. This was in an era when publishing technology was expensive and somewhat inaccessible to the warp and woof of the game playing public, so publishing clustered around relatively few, relatively famous publishing companies– Avalon Hill, SPI, Metagaming, Steve Jackson Games.. etc. With maybe a few exceptions, output was not prolific,so new games were greeted with enthusiasm– the audience was broader, there were fewer products competing for attention, there was a high level of publisher support (usually in the form of a magazine or conventions) that built game awareness and a solid fanbase of dedicated players. Most importantly, many of the todays boardgame standard tropes were pioneering back then. Since those heady days, the costs of publishing have greatly diminished as the technology has become increasingly accessible. Add the wild card element of crowd-sourced funding into the mix and we’re witnessing a publishing explosion.

An assumption one might draw from these trends is that we’d be seeing great new games coming out every week, almost. There’s certainly a steady flow of new boardgame Kickstarter projects, but not every one of them gets funded. What does seem to get publisher approval and Kickstarter funding are games that are retreads of older concepts. Witness the number of reprints (okay, we’ll call them re-imaginings for now but we should circle around to that word later) published just by Fantasy Flight Games alone in recent years:

  • Android: Netrunner A re-imagining of a Richard Garfield collectible card game design from the early 90s “Wave of CCGs” era
  • Arkham Horror A re-imagning of an old Chaosium boardgame, this became something a mini-industry in itself for FFG as the reprint proved to be quite popular, outselling the game it re-imagined, and spawning a plethora of expansions great and small
  • Britannia A lavish remake of Lewis Pulsipher’s “England through History” game
  • Chaos Marauders A straight reprint of an old GW card game
  • Cosmic Encounter A game remade by so many publishers it is (and someday will be) a blog topic in its own right
  • Condottiere A smaller silver box edition of an old Descartes Edition design.
  • Dungeon Quest An almost straight up reprint of an old GW boardgame Dungeon Crawl design
  • Fury of Dracula Another almost straight remake of old GW horror title
  • Horus Heresy A ground up redesign of an old GW title
  • Nexus Ops A reimagining of a somewhat newer Avalon Hill science fiction game
  • Dune Reimagined as the boardgame REX, rethemed for FFG’s own Twilight Imperium universe, but based upon an original Avalon Hill design
  • Talisman Another old GW property based on dungeon exploring.. also remade by many companies in its own right
  • Warrior Knights Another old GW property given the FFG treatment
  • Wiz-War An old Chessex game remade in the FFG image

This is not to mention upcoming re-imaginings such as the Merchants of Venus property (still in legal dispute) and Fortress America, or “kinda reimagining” games like Elder Sign, Mansions of Madness, or Blood Bowl Team Manager, all of which borrow heavily from settings established by existing licenses.

It’s important to note that FFG is particularly active in the field of “reprinting re-imaginings” of existing boardgame titles. I don’t think anyone could dispute that FFG has not received good value for the licenses they purchased for Lord of the Rings, Games Workshop, Chaosium and Eon games– they have fueled a large portion of that company’s economic success in the last decade. For the most part, FFG puts in a quality effort to remake or ‘re-imagine’ an older property. The graphic upgrade alone is astonishing, but they often make a considered effort to tighten up mechanics and make changes that have either cropped up in errata or as expansion material since the original games’ publishing date. I give FFG high marks for their efforts. They are a key player in this trend, but certainly not the only one. Other companies that contribute to the wave of boardgame reprints are Decision Games (utilizing their SPI license, they have reprinted several older SPI titles, often with a minimal graphical upgrade or very little changes to the mechanics), Deer Valley Games (reprinting older titles is most of their output), Steve Jackson Games (periodically reprinting SJG “classics”) and even a pre-sale Z-Man Games.

So even in an era where NEW should (and to be honest, does) flood the shelves, OLD seems to be a steady seller. Why? Is it simple nostalgia? I think part of it is. Many older gamers were youngsters them, and have fond memories of experiences that really cant be repeated any more. Nostalgia coupled with a buying public that is older, has more disposable income than we ever dreamed of back in those days and remembers the keen old games of our youth. We should probably remember a few brutal truths while we’re at it, however. Game design has come a long way since we were kids. What was fun and addictive in the 80s and 90s seems a little .. I don’t know .. uninspired today. Does the glamorous 2012 facelift justify buying a 1980s game all over again? We look back fondly to those countless games of Illuminati we played back then, and realize yeah, that game took hours to resolve and never gets pulled off the shelf any more.. or smile fondly at the gazillion games of Ogre we played in high school and college and yet… we don’t drop 100 simoleons to get Steve Jackson’s high dollar coffee table sized remake that will published shortly. We plonk down the big bucket of cash to get the remake of a former holy grail of wargaming, Empires of the Middle Ages, and wonder why nobody wants to play a game that took hours, and sometimes days to play when we were in college. Hmmmmm….

Of course, this is all a very generalized analysis as I don’t have sales figures broken down by demographics for reprinted games– if those figures even exist.  My sense is that the audience for reprints is older, and someone who has played a reprint in the original and has fond memories of it.  What the actual figures are, I have no idea, so take all of this with a grain of salt.

Tom and Melody Vasel summed up “nostalgia appeal” nicely for me in their review of Wiz-War below. Compare it to a description of the original game, also captured in a YT video below. I do wonder who would buy it if it were just appearing on the scene today.  It IS a random-fest. Fortunately, I have a younger son with friends who like a random-fest from time to time, so that didn’t have a huge impact on me, I wasn’t that critical of the design.  Tom Vasel is younger than I and grew up in a different era, somewhat– and I find he is much more objective about nostalgia reprints than I am.  It did made me think.. I bet we could have designed it better from the ground up. So why don’t we?

The Original Wiz-War, from Chessex– pretty fun (by the standards of the 1980s)

Now the FFG version, glitzy, lovely, but is it actually any better?

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