Royal Wootton Bassett
Sometimes I despair; I look at all those lovely games I have bought in the past, and wonder why. It's especially true of the games that just don't get played at all.
The trouble is, games are meant to be enjoyed. If I went along to my regular group and said, "Tonight, we're playing this one. It's been sat on my shelf for so long, gathering dust, and we just have to get it played. Let's get the shrink off and start punching the bits out," then the group would happily oblige. However, if I do this too much, I get the sense that they would get rather annoyed; too many unknowns and you're bound to pull some real crap out sooner or later.
A case in point was Origins: How We Became Human. I met the designer and publisher, Phil Eklund, at Essen in 2007; he is an impressive game designer, utilising the medium as a means to impart his knowledge of prehistory (amongst other fields) upon us lower academic echelons. His prior publication, American Megafauna, was a rather "old-school" simulation of natural selection amongst prehistoric animals.
With Origins, he did a grand job of meeting in the middle, between his simulative ideal of representing the rise of the human race from a number of ancestral species, and the modern Euroesque mechanisms which would appeal to the current boardgame hobbyist market. The problem with such a project is that the designer has to tip the balance one way or the other - it is not possible to provide a detailed simulation and abstract it to the point of playability.
When we finally tore the shrink of the card deck, the game lasted about an hour before abandonment due to player distaste. The game was - well - completely underdeveloped. It made a fine educational tool, but it just wasn't what our group expected or needed; to become that would require some serious development (either the game or the players - take your pick). Besides, Settlers of the Stone Age gave a more accessible, more playable game on the same theme. I traded it away, together with the unused expansion.
At least Origins got played. You see, half the problem is me. I buy the game, then when it comes to some table-time, I procrastinate - again and again. Episodes like the Origins one are not encouraging, so more and more I find myself sticking to what I know; so I end up looking at that unused purchase - or even something I just haven't played in a while - and saying to myself, "Why would I want to play X when Y does that so much better?"
A good thing for me? Probably; it means I will get more from the games I already have, rather than feeling the need to buy something new.
A good thing for the industry? Well, one gamer hardly makes a difference; but I'm sure I'm not the only one feeling like this. In the short term, it's bad for the industry; in the long term it's good. Fussy and particular consumers will drive the design quality up, and we'll end up with better designs to choose from. It's already happening, and I think we're a long way from the saturation level.