Never afraid to badger you with our opinions, we here at Purple Pawn are taking this New Year opportunity to once again present our list of top 10 game news items of the past year. What follows is an unscientific ranking of the stories that have attracted the most traffic here at Purple Pawn, been discussed in gamer circles, mentioned a lot by other news outlets, will have the greatest and longest lasting influence on the games industry and hobby, and what we, your humble Pawns, found the most interesting.
10. Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge
Daniel Solis is an incorrigible game designer with an affinity for the simple and elegant. At the start of the year, he launched the Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge, offering a $1,000 prize for a “new classic” game to be judged on elegance, accessibility, and fun. The winner, just announced, is Take-Back-Toe by James Ernest. For thinking of future generations, we pick the Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge as the number 10 story of 2011.
Between accusations of fraud, the request for a strip-search, and a new world record, 2011 was an exciting year in the world of Scrabble. Over the summer, the Nigerian National Scrabble Federation saw its president brought before the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission , nine of the top-ranked players kicked out in retaliation but then reinstated by the National Sports Commission, and the president of the Federation replaced by the former chairman of the board.
In October, a New Zealander became the first player ever to win the World Scrabble Championship for the second time. While in stranger news from the same tournament, when a letter tile went missing during a game, one of the players demanded that the other be strip-searched for it!
In December, Joel Sherman of the Bronx set a new world record score in tournament Scrabble with 803 points and seven bingos.
8. Mainstreaming of Gamers’ Games
The divide between mass and hobby market games continued to narrow in 2011, both in actual games and in public sentiment. We here at Purple Pawn were never big fans of distinguishing between the two. Nevertheless, there were a few significant surprises that highlighted the trend. First of all, there was the release by Hasbro of several hobbyish games, including Risk Legacy, Ikusa, and our favorite, Battleship Galaxies. Perhaps as interesting as the fact that Hasbro produced these games was their packaging. None featured any prominent markings of the company’s hobby-channel branding, Avalon Hill or Wizards of the Coast.
As another indication that serious games continue to make inroads in to the public consciousness, media coverage beyond the typical one-off story about a local game club/store/inventor began showing up in unexpected places. There are now regular segments on tabletop games on G4’s Attack of the Show, on the MTV Geek blog, and on the website of Foreign Policy magazine!
7. Merchant of Venus
What a surprise gamers received in October when not only was it announced that finally someone would be reprinting the classic Avalon Hill title, Merchant of Venus, but that two different companies actually had plans to do so! Apparently, Fantasy Flight Games licensed Merchant of Venus from Hasbro while Stronghold Games licensed it from the original designer, Richard Hamblen. Neither was aware of the other’s plans and both have asserted a superior claim. Fortunately both companies seem to be handling the situation with equanimity, at least in public. But with such an unusual situation, gamers taking sides, the weight of Hasbro looming over the conflict, and even someone producing a game about the game, we choose Merchant of Venus as the number 7 news story of 2011.
6. Collectible Games
Thought the collectible game was a dying concept? Nope!
Even among collectible card games, which have certainly experienced a dramatic decline from their peak of years ago, there was new life in 2011. Hasbro reported that sales of Magic: The Gathering, the game that launched the category, had doubled since 2008. And Spin Master, certainly no fly-by-night producer operating on a hope and a dream, launched Redakai, a brand new CCG with transparent plastic cards, animated holograms, and action figures with lighting effects.
Non-card collectible games was an even busier category. Beyblades continued to perform for Hasbro. Spin Master began producing flying Bakugan. WizKids released The Lord of the Rings HeroClix and announced Star Trek HeroClix. And not to be left behind, Upper Deck came out with Marvel Slingers, Cepia with DaGeDar, and Lego with Ninjago.
5. FFG Gets Star Wars License
Anything Star Wars is big news and this story has us pretty excited. In 2011, Fantasy Flight Games announced that it had picked up a Star Wars license from Lucasfilm. The license allows FFG to produce card games, miniatures, and RPGs. At Gen Con the company was demonstrating a space ship combat game and an adventure card game. These we should see in final form in 2012, along with, I hope, at least some info on FFG’s Star Wars RPG.
4. Monopoly Live & Battleship Live
Back in February at New York Toy Fair, Hasbro demonstrated two new games that attracted a lot of attention and led to some heated debate. Monopoly Live and Battleship Live were to be the first two games to take advantage of Hasbro’s Motion Vision Play technology, with which an electronic doohickey in the center of the board could follow players’ moves, track game states, generate random events, and speak instructions. Monopoly was the center of this attention, with many people complaining about how the device would eliminate the rolling of dice, rob the next generation of the opportunity to be the banker, blare sound effects, prevent house rules (and cheating), and generally degrade the board game in favor of a more video game-like experience.
Based on short plays with each game, my personal opinion was that Monopoly Live was a success at making the game more like a game-show, while Battleship Live actually added a lot to the game and gave one the feel of commanding a modern fleet with advanced weapons.
By the way, the latest word from Hasbro is that Monopoly Live and Battleship Live are both currently available in Canada, France, and Australia, while Battleship Live is likely to be released in the United States sometime in 2012.
3. Risk Legacy
Risk Legacy, a version of the classic title, earns the number 3 spot on our list for being different. You see, whether you’re awed or repulsed by it, Risk Legacy is nothing if not daring. The game comes with markers, stickers, and sealed instructions for modifying the game as its played. For example, choose one of the special abilities for your nation at the start of the game and rip up the other options. Yeah, that’s right; tear it up and throw it away. Win the game and you can make a change to the board for future plays. From a smaller publisher or based on a less-established property, this type of game might have been considered just weird. But from one of the top toy companies in the world, we appreciate Risk Legacy as an artistic experiment. And we expect to see other games further test the concept in the coming year.
After 3 years of fear, panic, and angst, 2011 was the year the CPSIA evaporated as a major threat to the game industry.
A well-publicized series of toy recalls prompted the U.S. Congress to pass in 2008 the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), directing that all products aimed at children be tested by independent laboratories for lead and phthalate content. Game manufacturers were quite concerned about the potential impact of these regulations, both in terms of cost and in the possibility of delaying products to market. The rules would have required random sampling and testing of each individual component, a hefty burden indeed, especially for small publishers. Fortunately, though, in 2011, Congress passed HR 2715, amendments to the CPSIA, which along with the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s implementing regulations, exempted from the requirements books and other paper-based printed products, exempted small manufacturers, and allowed representative sampling instead of random sampling. And the industry breathed a sigh of relief.
Choosing Kickstarter as the number one game news story of 2011 will probably not come as a surprise to our regular readers. (The online crowd funding application was on last year’s list too but it’s influence exploded in 2011.) Not only has Kickstarter’s application to tabletop games been a very interesting story, it’s been super-hot for Purple Pawn. Will Kickstarter revolutionize all of game publishing? I don’t know. However, it certainly has been a major boon to startups and fledgling game designers. In 2011, around 110 tabletop game projects successfully funded with just over $2 million contributed! (For further details, look out for our upcoming Kickstarter Year-In-Review article.)
Beyond the numbers, Kickstarter has become the new venue for people with a dream to see their game published. Just in the last month, D-Day Dice, which started out as a free print-and-play game, raised $172,000. Not all of these game projects are worth what the organizers are asking but we think it’s great that such a simple concept has been able to inspire so many people. That applies equally to the designer/publisher side and the gamer/consumer side. Kickstarter has become not only a tool for raising money, but also a system for raising fans. And by simplifying and standardizing the crowd funding process, Kickstarter has enabled even established designers to pursue more unusual projects. See for example, Miskatonic School for Girls, which raised $64,000 for a deck-building game about a Cthulhu-staffed boarding school. What more could you want from the #1 top game news story of 2011?
great article. what a great year for gaming.
Oh sure! Publish this *After* we did the 2011 Review on the Paper Money Podcast! I could have mined your article for source material! Excellent, excellent recap of the year’s best stories. Now… on to 2012!
Any chance to show you up, Ben. ;-)