Living through a golden age of game design is not awesome if you’re an aspiring game designer. Or a player, for that matter.
Just this week — and we’re on Tuesday, mind you — I’ve already seen two new PbtA games on Kickstarter. Just this month I’ve backed two (Andrew Medeiros and Ash Kreider’s The Watch, and Alas for the Awful Sea by folks I don’t know and can’t nail down here in the Plus). And that’s just PbtA. I also backed Jason Pitre’s new edition of Sig: Manual of the Primes this month.
Let’s see…in the past 12 months I’ve backed 19 completely original games, four supplements, and two new editions (you can probably guess which ones). Just in terms of practicality, I’d have to run a completely new game every … 3ish weeks this year just to give them all a spin. I think the pace is exhausting me and my players, and many/most of my backs are probably just going to sit on my shelf.
I’m still deciding on how I feel about spending $25 or so on a game I’m honestly going to run once, if at all. I’m happy to have backed them for Kickstarter-y “support the creator” reasons, but still. But still.
Let’s not get into the boardgames I’ve backed, too — another golden age I can’t keep up with. I’d have to play games literally 6 times a month to try everything.
On the designer side, I think I’m closing in on understanding this really tough mental/emotional obstacle I’ve been struggling with for months now.
So like…The Watch, right? Looks great. Night Witches inspired military drama in a light fantasy setting. Fantastic, I’m all in. Looks like there are several clans that characters, maybe playbooks, center on, and they’re all themed/rooted in various animal types: bear clan is maternal and protective, owl clan is sly and sneaky, and so on. It’s great. Meanwhile, I’m sitting on my third year of fucking around with Monsterknights, which takes on the fantasy thing in a completely different way, literally no crossover at all other than the animal/character thing. And then I’m like “welp, that’s what you get for sitting on it for so long.” Not for creative reasons, just mindshare reasons.
Our golden age is such a hothouse and so high pressure, at least from where I’m sitting (on the sidelines, not sure when or how to make my move). In terms of pure commerce, I almost certainly need to reframe/reskin my design so there aren’t two light fantasy PbtA games with animal identifiers. And that’s fine, not even that hard. But it’s one more mental/emotional obstacle to overcome, one more “why bother, ugh, wait long enough and someone will design your game for you.”
So I guess that’s where I’m at.
There are so very many PbtAs out there. There are so many good, occasionally great, games out there. We’re starting to see excellent coverage on major genres and some neat variety within those genres: The Watch and Epyllion and vanilla Dungeon World and Brendan Conway’s Chaos Worlds all trivially sit side by side but how many more sides are there? Dunno.
How many more games will people buy/support? Is there an upper limit? I confess I may be projecting my own upper limit onto the world, here.