Expensive Board Games–Do We Really Need Such High Production Values?

I believe that board game companies are in a marketing arms races. Each year board games achieve new heights in art, component quality and box design. This drives the retail price up and forces other companies to produce equally beautiful and elaborate products…and raise prices to pay for it.

I am about to commit heresy among board game fanatics, but here we go.

My question is this; do board games really need these beautiful board game components?  I am not saying sell games with sub-standard components that fall apart after three games or go the Cheapass Games route and simply reuse the same tokens/meeples over and over again.  Solid, durable components that get the job done without 10 Pantone colors and art worthy of Leonardo  da Vinci on every token are acceptable to me.

I advocate this “generic” approach for a couple of reasons. Primarily it is about getting board games out to the public and cheap allows more people to play.  That and it helps overcome “sticker shock” from hobby newcomers when buying a new game. $25.00 is a practical impulse buy. $50.00 is enough to give pause.  Move more retail units and the hobby grows stronger. This is a good thing.

While cost is clearly an issue, I have a feeling. Nothing firm mind you, just a feeling deep in the back of my skull that this “marketing arms race”  drives game design and that is evil.  I keep asking myself, “Did ‘Board Game X’ really need 300 miniature plastic goblins or did the need to add cool components drive the design?”  Did a competitor come out with a 250 goblin game and you have “goblin envy?”  Of course, this is purely subjective, but some of the “BIG” board games released over the past couple of years seems oddly…over-designed.  If the tail did indeed wag the dog, then we all suffer for it.  Lean, fun mechanics should drive component design, not the other way around.

Speaking of design, a generic approach would put new game designers on equal footing with the established juggernauts. Start-up costs for a board game publishers are huge and a public that accepts a great game with less than great components might encourage more designers to release games. This is a good thing because the next “Settlers of Catan” is on a kitchen table somewhere waiting for a release…

Do you agree or am I alone in my thoughts?

Please feel free to rant at me in the comments below.

Trask, The Last Tyromancer



Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

3 thoughts on “Expensive Board Games–Do We Really Need Such High Production Values?

  • November 10, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    I think it depends on which games and games companies you’re looking at. FFG certainly seems to be going bigger and better… and Castle Ravenloft certainly upped the ante. However, a lot of the Eurogames continue to be very basic in appearance. Hansa Teutomica is an example of very simple mechanics / pieces that still does well. At the end of the day, if it doesn’t look horrible but has good play, it’ll sell.

  • November 11, 2010 at 7:55 am

    While I like the concept of a ‘standard game component pack’ for boardgames, I think that could be just as much of a problem for entry level players.

    Do I want to invest in the $50 component pack in the hope that this company and others will issue games that use it?

    What happens when I go to the game store to buy a game and they are out of the component packs that I need? Do I buy the game now and try to order a component pack or do I wait until everything I need is in at the store? Dice sets and game stones are easy to purchase at your local game stores, but even though the stores can order pawns, play money, etc. from their suppliers, I don’t see too many shops carrying many individual components.

    Will I remember to take the component pack with me when I pack for a game day or other event? I think this is why a game manufacturer typically packages everything needed in the box.

  • November 11, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    Speaking as someone with a vested interest (we’re aiming for high quality presentation for Leviathans), it’s all about your target market.

    In the 1970s, I was happy to pick up an S&T game in a flat tray pack. My parents were happier paying for an Avalon Hill book-case game (still have both War of the Ring, and Panzerblitz respectively). Low-presentation games will sell to hardcore gamers, but you have to make the decision to only concentrate on that market. Non-hardcore gamers are more picky – and more likely to pick up a FFG game, or Warhammer/W40K, where they can see the quality.

    Remember, the payer ain’t necessarily the gamer …


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