It is a frustrating feature of our consumer culture, that there is always the next best thing around the corner. Your favorite media or device of today is sure to be crushed under the inevitable March of progress. A shiny new phone for example is only the new hotness until the next model. Content creators have been asking us to upgrade our video libraries for years. Jumping from VHS tapes to DVDs, to Blurays, and even now a new Ultra HD video format asks owners to buy their favorite movies yet again. It also happens in my other favorite hobby, video games, with new game consoles coming out every few years, often incompatible with all of the old games that you already own.
With all of this constant change, at least we can rely on board games to bypass this march of progress, right? Cardboard, like diamonds, is forever. Your parents’ copy of Monopoly still works today, and plays the same as it did growing up. Finally, here is a bastion where you don’t have to keep up with the Joneses, where a well taken care of game can last through the ages and still be enjoyed by your grandkids years down the line.
Well, I have bad news. Board games, just like all other media, can become obsolete. I have several games on my shelf that have suffered this cruel fate. What could cause such a thing you ask? The answer is in the sinister siren call of the new edition. Version 2.0 of your favorite games, new and improved in a variety of ways. Perhaps it is new, better art that makes the game look that much better. Perhaps it is a few critical rule tweaks that make it play that much better. Perhaps it revamps the whole game and just streamlines it to make it THAT much better. Whatever the change, these new editions often make the version sitting on your shelf look like a sad cardboard jalopy.
This is not inherently a bad thing. After all, new editions generally IMPROVE the original game, and make it better than ever. Why get upset when a good game can become great, and have a chance to reach a new audience? I agree that it can be a noble thing to strive to make the best game possible and improve upon the formula of the original, but sometimes these new editions leave existing fans in a lurch.
Take for example the new editions of Carcassonne. Because of the art changes in the tiles, even if players combine the new edition with their old expansions, the art is incompatible. New expansions released after a second editions are often incompatible with old editions, forcing players to buy a game again if they want to experience the newest content for a game. Even if a game is “compatible” if the cards have different backs or different sizes, it’s simply not an option to throw the old and new together.
An early favorite game of mine when I first got into the hobby was Thunderstone. It took the deck building of Dominion and combine it with exploring a dungeon and fighting monsters. I eagerly picked up new expansions and sought to own every card I could get my hands on. The game was certainly rough around the edges and had some flaws that I could see even in my fervor to own it all.
Then one day the publisher announced Thunderstone Advanced. A new edition that improved the formula in every way. It seemed intriguing at the time, but would the new card work with my growing collection of card from the original? The answer… sort of. In these more complex card games, interactions between cards often depended on keywords, say cards with the word Silver were more powerful against cards that had the word Werewolf for example. The keywords between the new editions were not going to jive and so I felt left behind, hundreds of dollars invested into a game that was officially out of style.
Publishers often do make an effort to not leave their existing fans behind. Many have introduced compatibility packs to bring existing players up to speed with any changes, without leaving them in the dust. Most recently Dominion, the granddaddy of the deck building genre came out with second editions of its two core sets, Dominion and Dominion Intrigue. Each set introduced 7 new cards to replace 6 cards in the original versions. Rio Grande published an upgrade kit that just included these new cards so that existing owners didn’t need to buy a whole new set. Pandemic put out a similar kit that just included the cards from the new edition so that owners could combine them with the new expansions.
Often times, however, the old edition is just that. My old edition of Mission Red Planet with its crappy cards, lame skittle “astronauts” and flimsy board will never compare to the new Fantasy Flight edition in all of its splendor. I got plenty of fun times out of it, and it still plays the same as it always did, but I very much doubt it will ever hit the table again when the new shinier version is in someone else’s game bag.
Then again, I am also someone who anticipates these new editions, even when I own the original. A new version of one of my favorite card games Innovation is on the horizon. And you can bet that even though I own the original, I will be there on day one when the new edition comes out to enjoy the rule tweaks and beautiful new card design.
So perhaps while all of these new editions can leave original owners feeling a bit jilted, it’s not all bad news. All of the games I’ve mentioned were improved with their new edition, and surely picked up some new fans. And that is a wonderful sign that this great hobby is growing, and experiencing the same march of progress as other entertainment industries.