I think I’m going to write 3 blog entries in a short time now. I should write them in one but they don’t really have anything in common but one of the games included: Spiel mini.
Das Spiel, this game, or better to say game system of a pyramid built of lots of dice, “evolved” during its more than 30-year history.
Originally published in 1980, the game had 281 dice included. The very first edition (by Edition Perlhuhn) had no rules attached but a call for designing your own game. The next edition already had 57 game rules included (truth be told, some of them are almost unplayable). It had the same number of dice throughout the 80s.
Then in 2004, the new edition by Abacusspiele had only 166 dice and fewer (better selected) games. (It also had an expansion of 55 dice in the next year.)
And at the same time, Spiel Mini was also released, with only 20 dice in one color (and once again, no rules, just a call for designing your own game)…
What does this show? Possibly nothing, but I’d say it tells a lot about how different 1980s gaming and publishing was from present day.
1. Production costs: The new edition of Spiel (the 121-dice one) is sold for 36 Euros. Even if I don’t use simple multiplication, a game with 281 dice would probably have a price of at least 70 Euros (or let's say only 60 Euros) right now. It’s simply too much for a family game these days.
2. Optimization: 281 dice sure look great, but do these games really need so many dice? Don’t they outstay their welcome by the time you add your 140th die to a pyramid in a 2-player game? Aren’t they too long for what they are? Wouldn’t they work even better if they were shorter? What’s more, don’t (Eurogamer) families prefer several shorter games over one long (and probably repetitive) game? I do think these questions are easy to answer. I also think it’s more important to playtest and optimize your games in this decade than it was in 1980 and publishers know it.
Every once in a while I’m asked if present day games (now let’s say present day means A.C., After Catan time) are better than older games. I always tell they are better for the present day crowd as they are developed to fit the taste and habits of the present day crowd. And quite often these games are objectively better as well – as designers can learn from the problems with older games, invent new solutions to avoid these problems and then these inventions become widely accepted.
So games really do evolve. Even if, in case of Das Spiel, this means having fewer and fewer dice in the box.