The Curious Appeal Of New Games

I saw an online point made recently about games that I found very interesting. The thesis was this: Why do so many gamers buy new games when they probably already own so many other games?

The poster theorized that one reason is because of asymmetrical skill level in competitive games. That is, if you play with different groups constantly, then the player who's played 500 sessions of Crush All Who Oppose Me Mwah-hah-hah is going to have a tremendous advantage over a player who's struggling to read the CAWOMMhh rulebook for the first time. Sure, the new player might get the hang of it after a few tries, but if a typical CAWOMMhh game is 1 or 2 hours, the newbie will likely decide that constantly losing for many sessions is not a great use of limited personal gaming time.

In contrast, if players are cracking the seal together on (say) The Kittens Seem Cute But Hunger for Blood together, then they all start at a similar skill level. Even if one of the players is naturally skilled at a similar-playing game, no one has the intrinsic optimal strategies internalized that a TKSCbHfB veteran would have.

After hearing this, I realized this isn't universal; for example, our household loves co-op games, so if one player is better than the others, then that can be helpful. Alternatively, I suspect one of the reasons Munchkin is so beloved by gamers – outside of being fun, fast-paced, and fall-down funny – is that it has a built-in experience-mitigation system; if one of the other players is clearly a more-obviously skilled threat compared to the rest of the table, then the other players all have a vested interest in backstabbing their chum. And some games – such as Zombie Dice – are so fast and easy to play that pure skill can take a back seat to rolling well and feeling lucky.

Of course, as someone who loves new games, I needed no convincing. But the underlying question was an interesting one, and I'm grateful to that content creator for making the point. (I wish I knew the source of the original idea, but if you know what I'm talking about, drop me a line or let me know on the forums and I'll give credit where it's due. For that matter, if you Googled either Crush All Who Oppose Me Mwah-hah-hah or The Kittens Seem Cute But Hunger for Blood, I'd love to hear that, too.)

-- Steven Marsh