Hobby Game Trends 2000-2014 Round 8: Dynasties

Dynasties

When looking at the recent history of board games (say, the last 50 years), it is convenient to put the releases in terms of dynasties. Certainly, one of the oldest and well-established of these is Monopoly. As has been demonstrated in previous articles, Monopoly has dominated game releases for many years. To that list of dynasties, we can add others like Axis and Allies and Risk. Let’s consider how game dynasties are formed and then take a look at some of them in terms of new releases.

At a Glance

The data is not our friend on this investigation. There is no simple way to discover what might be a dynasty. It is more a matter of speculating on which dynasties there have been and then using the data to confirm or refute the speculation. I will posit a dynastic evolution here; knowing that it is essentially impossible to demonstrate the accuracy through the data available. All the same, I will try. If I say something inaccurate, please tell me and we can correct it.

Game dynasties were once strong and built upon the veneration of their leaders by title. (E.g., Monopoly, Axis and Allies, Risk, etc.). Although relatively new on the scene in comparison and praised as the best new thing, Catan and Carcassone established similar dynasties (though with some differences we will explore).

Then there was a period when individual hobby games exploded on the scene; the “cult of the new” and Kickstarter followers venerated many leaders instead of just a few. The risk/reward is high in this interim, feudal period where there are many new designers to discover and titles to try and universes to explore.

Are we heading into a new era of dynasties? What are the bases for those dynasties? We will explore a a couple possibilities.

The Data

On BGG, the best way to find most dynasties is through the “Family” category. The tallies for each family below include anything that matches, including promo cards, etc.

Ancient Dynasties

These dynasties were built primarily on title recognition. Although there were always new releases with trendy covers, the games inside the box were essentially the same as the releases last year and last decade. They disguised themselves in new clothes, sporting new art and different, exciting locales.

Monopoly (est. 1933, 923 titles on BGG): We’ve seen plenty of Monopoly data, so rather than repeating it here, I will just reference the original articles about Economic games and Traditional games. Let’s first take a look at some of dynasties with which Monopoly had to share the gaming universe for decades.

Risk (est. 1959, 60 titles on BGG): Traditionally holding a strong market share, Risk actually does not have a lot of separate releases compared to Monopoly. Risk has managed to keep its place without a lot of fancy dress. Consider it a stealth dynasty (e.g., Australia before the moon came into play).

Dungeons & Dragons (the RPG) (est. 1975, 116 titles on BGG): D&D started and dominated the role playing game genre for over a decade. It is a complicated beast to quantify, though, as it has been primarily a gaming system with offshoots and eventually an open license. D&D has re-invented itself in recent years as a universe for board games and will get a mention later as well.

Axis and Allies (est. 1984, 40 titles on BGG):  Axis and Allies has maintained its dynasty similarly to Monopoly by providing the same game mechanics with different maps and bits. Although it didn’t appear until the modern era, Axis and Allies may be the last of the old guard. (Although I still have my first edition of Axis and Allies, bought new in 1984, I have never played it due to the lack of fellow fans. I played a friend’s copy, bought my own and never had the chance again. Pardon my ignorance.)

Middle Ages

In the middle ages, new games were coming onto the scene and establishing dynasties. They signify the transition from the ancient to the modern, by still trading on their name recognition, but actually often putting something mechanically different in the box. You know you’re onto a possible dynasty when every title includes a “:” and you hit on most of the following: “The Card Game,” “The Dice Game,” “Junior,” and at least one location name.

Magic: The Gathering (est. 1993, is it even possible to track): What is there to say? BGG is not helpful in collecting data on Magic releases, but it is obvious that this game has captured the hearts and minds of many a gamer, youth in particular. Magic stays young by continually re-inventing itself without completely breaking its former self.

Catan (est. 1995, 130 titles on BGG): Catan and Carcassone start to tread on the modern era with their continuous stream of expansions and take-offs that expand the universe they originally established. However, Catan in particular relies on the old method of looking sharp by putting the same old body in new clothes (Star Trek: Catan).

Carcassonne (est. 2000, 76 titles on BGG): Carcassonne gets closer to the modern age by staying in power through expansion rather than new clothes.

The Modern Age

Now let’s take a look at some of our newly ordained leaders and ones that might be on the verge of a dynasty. I can think of two main bases for dynasties in the modern era; Name Designers and Known “Universes.”

Name Designers

Since the dawn of “designer” games several designers have made names for themselves and have been prolific producers. These dynasties may rely on a particular title, but often do not. They are built on the gravitas of the designer’s name above all else. There are many designers meeting this metric, but here are a few with their dynastic stats. There are many up-and-comers as well. Predicting who will reign on for a long time is a game unto itself. Who on this list do you think has established their dynasty and who do you think still needs to prove themselves? Based on the data for the historical dynasties I have mentioned I’ll set a somewhat arbitrary metric for a designer dynasty.

  • Duration: 15 years (established 2000 or earlier)
  • Breadth: 40 titles or more
  • Strength: 5 titles in the top 1000

Most of the following designers have established dynasties well beyond my threshold.

Established Designer Dynasties

Designer

Established

Titles

Top 1000’s

Highest Ranked

Wolfgang Kramer

1974

199

22

22: El Grande

Alan R. Moon

1977

104

13

59: Ticket to Ride: Europe

Richard Borg

1987

98

10

42: Commands & Colors: Ancients

Reiner Knizia

1990

437

37

32: Tigris & Euphrates

Uwe Rosenberg

1992

104

14

4: Caverna: The Cave Farmers

Friedemann Friese

1992

76

11

10: Power Grid

Rudiger Dorn

1992

44

10

50: Goa

Martin Wallace

1993

87

24

15: Brass

Richard Garfield

1993

57

8

7: Android: Netrunner

Christian T. Petersen

1997

105

12

30: Twilight Imperium (Third Edition)

Vlaada Chvatil

1997

41

9

3: Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization

Eric M. Lang

2000

237

12

56: Chaos in the Old World

 

Not to be ignored, though, are the many designers who are very close to my threshold; most just needing a few more years in game design, a few who have been around awhile, but are only recently establishing growth, some expanding their reach very quickly. Additionally, some of these designers are also establishing dynasties as publishers.

Emerging Designer Dynasties

Designer

Established

Titles

Top 1000’s

Highest Ranked

Richard Breese

1989

22

5

31: Keyflower

Matt Leacock

1995

17

5

44: Pandemic

Bruno Cathala

2002

83

14

82: Five Tribes

Ignacy Trzewiczek

2002

76

6

13: Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on a Cursed Island

Kevin Wilson

2003

56

11

35: Descent: Journeys in the Dark (Second Edition)

Peter Lee

2004

21

8

28: Lords of Waterdeep

Stefan Feld

2005

35

16

11: Castles of Burgundy

Ted Alspach

2005

60

4

45: Suburbia

Mac Gerdts

2005

14

8

65: Concordia

Corey Konieczka

2006

56

15

20: Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game

Chad Jensen

2006

13

5

23: Dominant Species

Antoine Bauza

2007

61

7

17: 7 Wonders

Donald X. Vaccarino

2008

43

4

19: Dominion: Intrigue

Xavier Georges

2008

11

5

46: Troyes

Colby Dauch

2009

41

6

53: Summoner Wars: Master Set

Known “Universes” and “Systems”

These often overlap with the designer dynasties, but not necessarily. The universe is often IP that is held by a publisher and several designers may design games in its space. Nostalgia seems to be a driving factor in the popularity of some of these universes. Here are a few established and emerging universal dynasties:

Universe

Established

Titles

Titles

> 2000

Top 1000’s

Highest Ranked

DC Universe****

1940

98

50

2

580: DC Comics Deck-Building Game

Marvel Universe*

1959

140

101

5

102: Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game

Star Trek *

1967

368

240

3

205: Star Trek: Fleet Captains

Dungeons & Dragons **

1975

116

91

8

28: Lords of Waterdeep

Star Wars *

1977

209

148

6

20: Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game

Werewolf/Mafia***

1986/2001

106

105

7

29: The Resistance: Avalon

Commands & Colors

2000

63

63

7

42: Commands & Colors: Ancients

Ticket to Ride

2004

59

59

4

59: Ticket to Ride: Europe

Arkham Horror

2005

34

34

4

24: Eldritch Horror

* There are a few in here that, by age, might fit a different era, but their popularity is on the rise.

** I included D&D in this age because it is only recently becoming a force in board games.

*** Werewolf/Mafia was originally published in 1986, but spent many years as essentially a fan-based game. The concept started getting used in published games more frequently after 2001.

****Although the DC universe probably doesn’t meet the standard set by the other dynasties here, it is listed for comparison to Marvel.

Note: Title counts might include fan expansions, which I left out of most statistics, but left in here as these indicate a strong following.

The Feudal Lords of Kickstarter

Much is said and written about the positives and negatives of Kickstarter. I won’t get into that foray, but will just provide some statistics supporting the idea that we are currently in an age of game publishing when individual games can make an impact over the traditional dynasties like no other time. Additionally, small publishers leveraging Kickstarter are able to compete with large publishers.

Kickstarter

 

Established

Titles

Top 1000’s

Highest Ranked

Kickstarter*

2009

2636

77

29: The Resistance: Avalon

Some noteworthy facts about the Kickstarter titles listed on BGG that impact the interpretation of this data:

  • Many titles were previously published and were reprinted (and usually upgraded) through Kickstarter.
  • About 140 of the titles counted (~5%) have not been published at this time.
  • I don’t understand all the reasons for associating a title to the Kickstarter family.

Caveats aside, though, Kickstarter is a force in publishing. It may not qualify as a dynasty due to its demographics, but it could be the democracy that destroys dynasties. Or it could collapse under its own weight in a few years.

The Sage Who Spanned the Ages

Based on my approach, when I first developed the data for this article and wrote it, I missed arguably one of a very few most important designers of the 20th century. Rather than add him into the rest of the designers, it makes better sense to give him his own category because his dynasty spanned the ages from the Ancients through the Middle Ages and even with a few entries into the Modern Age, though he passed away in 2002.

The designer who spanned the ages was Sid Sackson. His impact on the industry far exceeds the BGG statistics about his published games, but those are shown here.  Although Acquire holds a respectable rank of 124 on BGG, the likelihood that a 50 year old game making the top 1000 is remote and speaks volumes about this dynasty.

Sid Sackson

 

Established

Titles

Top 1000’s

Highest Ranked

Sid Sackson

1951

125

4

140: Acquire (1964)

486: Can’t Stop (1980)

600: I’m the Boss (1994)

729: Sleuth (1971)

Mr. Sackson started in the industry and designed many of his games in an age when designers were not mentioned in the rules, much less the box, yet he broke out and became one of the most recognized and revered names in game design.

Conclusions

The ability to capitalize on a known brand is an enticement to label everything new under one of those known brands. Many games could be branded and marketed as completely new or with borrowed title, art, and all from a known winner. We see it in all of media and entertainment, it only makes sense for games to follow the masses.

How long do you think the current dynasties will continue to reign? What do you think are the next dynasties? Or do you think that the feudal age will continue for the foreseeable future?

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