New Horizons >> Recent Game Innovations OTHER Than Mechanics/Gameplay
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As I look at my growing collection, I am constantly amazed at the variety found in games today. Especially when looking at the creativity and ingenuity shown in the gaming industry that goes beyond the gameplay or mechanics. Over the last 15-odd years, there have been countless innovations that have dramatically changed (though I hesitate to say "improved" in all cases) the landscape of modern gaming. Some of these innovations are physical in nature -- a new way to develop components, for example. Others are intangible, such as an innovation of marketing or accessibility.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Also, please note that I'm not necessarily listing games that were the "first" of its kind to bear a particular innovation -- merely a game that comes to mind as a strong example. If you can share some information about the first game to adopt a certain innovation, please share it with us.

Oddly enough, many of the things I thought of as innovations can trace their roots back, one way or another, to collectable/customizable gaming, or more specifically to Magic The Gathering.

What do you think?
What other non-gameplay related innovations have come into the scene in the last 10-15 years?
What games were heavily influenced by these innovations?
Are these innovations here to stay, or simply a fad that will fade?
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1. Board Game: Magic: The Gathering [Average Rating:7.44 Overall Rank:149] [Average Rating:7.44 Unranked]
Jay Little
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Innovation: Collectible/Customizable Format

I can't think of a single other game that changed the landscape of modern gaming over the last 15 or so years as greatly as MTG. It introduced many brand new concepts and innovations, but I'll focus on the collectable/customization innovation. Developing a game that offers several tiers of immersion and interaction. There's the collection fix, where you acquire new pieces and expand your game base. There's the construction fix, when you wile away the hours tinkering with combinations. There's the actual game itself.

MTG created a new genre of gaming, but also ushered in a new mode of thinking about games -- a game can become much more than a single box purchased once. It can become an ever expanding, ever evolving experience that grows as the user grows.

Games That Followed Suit: A countless stream of CCGs following MTG's lead (Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, AGOT, you name it), and numerous other formats. WizKids click games, ChiZo Rising, Blue Moon, Battlegrounds, Navia Dratp the list goes on.
 
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2. Board Game: Starship Catan [Average Rating:6.85 Overall Rank:768]
Jay Little
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Innovation: Gameplay Tutorials/Testing

While Starship Catan certainly wasn't the first game to include a tutorial on gameplay, and there are countless websites that offer comparable experience, I can think of no finer tutorial "script" than the one included in Starship Catan. It walks you through in plain, clear language how to set up and play a fairly complex game.

Online tutorial sites can take this a step further by offering a community which can bring additional feedback, answer questions or possibly provide opponents to play out a game more frequently.

I'll also include online play here, as I think many PBEM/online game sources fill a similar initial niche, by providing potential customers the opportunity to try a game out and learn at their own pace before taking the plunge. It's a slightly different beast, but it's certainly a sibling of the same concept.

Games That Followed Suit: Days of Wonder and many other publishers have wonderful sites which allow players to "try before they buy" or simply play a game away from the table. BSW and various PBEM sites offer dozens of other games in a similar vein, but not tied to a specific publisher.
 
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3. Board Game: Mage Knight [Average Rating:6.07 Overall Rank:3567]
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Innovation: High Quality Pre-Painted Miniatures

Mage Knight may be a thing of the past now, but it certainly changed the industry in its own way. By providing pre-painted miniatures (which got better and better in terms of sculpt and painting quality with each expansion) Mage Knight and its successors carved out a lucrative niche in the gaming community: an attractive alternative to paint-your-own miniature games or the limited thematic scope provided by Warhammer 40k and its rivals.

Games featuring pre-painted miniatures offered a lot of variety and utility. A purchase added more gameplay options to the base game, but could also be viewed as a toy and often provided cross-over utility in other genres. For example, my friends and I have often used Mage Knight figures to build Blood Bowl teams or for Dungeons & Dragons campaigns.

Games That Followed Suit: All WizKids other clicky games (HeroClix, MechWarrior, SportsClix), LotR customizable miniatures game, Navia Dratp, WOTC's Star Wars and D&D Miniatures games, HeroScape.
 
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4. Board Game: Pirates of the Spanish Main [Average Rating:6.02 Overall Rank:3189] [Average Rating:6.02 Unranked]
Jay Little
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Innovation: Styrene/Credit Card Build-A-Bits

Pirates of the Spanish Main is a runaway success, due to the strength of its visual appeal moreso than its (in my opinion pedestrian) gameplay. There's a neat tactile element, as well, when you can punch out and assemble your little styrene ships. This was a looooong time coming. There had been punch-apart styrene toys on the market before hand (I recall some Marvel Super Heroes figures that were built in a similar fashion), but by adding some marketing clout and gameplay to the process, a new delivery system was established.

The styrene punch-apart innovation provides the best of several worlds. The end product is visually appealing. It comes in a small, portable format for easier packaging/display in stores and portability from players. It's lighter and smaller for shipping large quantities (incredibly important for overseas production/distribution). It requires less manufacturing setup than 3D models (which need sculpting, tooling for dies & molds, assembly, painting, special protective packaging).

Games That Followed Suit: Race Day, Rocketman, others on the horizon.
 
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5. Board Game: Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game [Average Rating:5.87 Overall Rank:6264]
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Innovation: Rarity/Chase Marketing

Another feature introduced by MTG, which is now present in countless games, is the concept of card rarity. But no other game (that I've found) takes this to the extreme that Yu-Gi-Oh does... Cards can have the exact same "cost" to include in a customized deck, but vary tremendously in game value due to their rarity. A super/ultra/mega/uber rare card could easily be twice as powerful and useful as a common card.

The rarity model introduces a strong aftermarket for a variety of games, as well as feeds the marketing machine to instill a sense of need in the consumer. But beyond that, rarity can help retain interest in a game long after the initial buzz wears off. Rarity/chase and promotional pieces can help generate participation for events, bring out crowds at a convention or whip people into a frenzy at tournaments.

Games That Followed Suit: Nearly all collectable/customizable games feature some sort of rarity breakdown, or promotional sendaway pieces that become collector's items or must-have pieces -- even Clout Fantasy has rares. Or the Smeagol figuring for War of the Ring (it has no bearing on gameplay, but is highly sought after).
 
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6. Board Game: HeroClix [Average Rating:6.48 Overall Rank:1692] [Average Rating:6.48 Unranked]
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Innovation: All-In-One Information Centralization

While Mage Knight may have introduced the clicky dial, it was refined and improved upon in other WK games such as HeroClix, Mechwarrior (the Heat dial) and Crimson Skies (the speed dial). But it's not restricted just to the proprietary clicky dials. Mage Knight help innovate a design change in the development of games to help centralize information. No more flipping through huge manuals or juggling scores of reference cards. A wide range of information was more easily accessible format -- literally at your fingertips instead of in a rulebook.

I think more and more wargames have also started to change their way of designing bits and pieces so that more information is available in cleaner, more intuitive formats, helping overcome the stigma that wargames require countless references and are mired down in bookkeeping and lookup charts.

Games That Followed Suit: All the clicky games, LotR customizable miniatures game, Battlegrounds: Fantasy Warfare.
 
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7. Board Game: Goa [Average Rating:7.63 Overall Rank:93]
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Innovation: Language Independence/Adaptability

Goa is certainly not the first, but is one of the better examples I can think of. The game components bear little text, instead relying on strongly designed icons and formatting to make interpretation clear and intuitive. Yes, the rules themselves need to be translated into multiple languages, and tile references make it easier to recognize which tiles do what (ie, Vice King, Mission, etc) but the core concept is beautifully rendered in Goa. It also serves to acknowledge Jay Tummelson and Rio Grande Games for its significant strides in the introduction of European gaming to the American audience.

Modern games are becoming more internationally friendly. It appears publishers (and designers) are growing ever more conscious of the worldwide audience their games are truly being exposed to, and great care is (usually) taken in ensuring the transition from one language to another goes smoothly. More and more games are being published with multi-language rule booklets and aids. Publisher sites and communities like BGG offer translations in myriad language. Internationalization is integral to contemporary marketing and positioning.

Games That Followed Suit: Too many to name. It is a current trend, bordering on a necessity, given the truly international nature of the boardgaming community.
 
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8. Board Game: Power Grid [Average Rating:7.93 Overall Rank:23]
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Innovation: Scalability of the Board itself.

Power Grid comes to mind here. With different number of players more or less of the board will be used.

Overly crowded 6 player games or a deserted board during a 2 player game, it will not happen in these games.


Games That Followed Suit: Genius/Einfach Genial, Settlers in the 5/6 player expansion,
 
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9. Board Game: A Game of Thrones: A Clash of Kings Expansion [Average Rating:7.84 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.84 Unranked]
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<b>Innovation:</b> Board Game Expansions. Typically expansions have been reserved for card games, ccg's, and rpg's while board games have remained relatively static. However, numerous companies (especially FFG) are really pushing the concept of expanding onto a core board game to lessen its static nature.
 
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10. Board Game: Legend of the Five Rings [Average Rating:7.13 Overall Rank:977]
United States
Allen Park
Michigan
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Innovation: Storyline play.

Players competing in tournaments are able to alter the landscape of upcoming expansions or the play environment in general. I think L5R was first, but could be mistaken. This is mostly found in collectible games I think.

Games that followed suit: Diskwars, Deadlands: Doomtown probably more.
 
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11. Board Game: Starship Troopers [Average Rating:6.46 Overall Rank:2185]
Ray
United States
Carpentersville
Illinois
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Scenario approach to rules witting. These are games where you read some rules, stop and play a scenario, read some more rules, and play the next. Repeat until you've gone through all the rules.

Just off the top of my head Starship Troopers was the first time I remember learning this way. What older game am I forgetting?
 
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12. Board Game: Up Front [Average Rating:7.84 Overall Rank:336]
Robert Rossney
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San Francisco
California [CA]
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Innovation: Reimplenting an existing game in a new genre

A new game, in a new genre, that preserves the mechanics and flavor of the original game upon which it is based.

This seems almost de rigeur these days -- Settlers begat the Settlers card game, Puerto Rico begat San Juan, Euphrat & Tigris begat the E&T card game, and San Marco begat Canal Grande.

I'm not talking about simple repurposing of intellectual property. Key mechanics of the original game persist in the revamped game.

This typically seems to be done by taking a more complicated board game and boiling it down to a simpler card game, but not necessarily: Clan War (the Legend of the Five Rings miniatures game) certainly faits into this category, and I think that the World of Warcraft boardgame does too.
 
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13. Board Game: Highlander: The Card Game [Average Rating:6.21 Overall Rank:7161]
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Allen Park
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Innovation: Unique Game Components for Tournament Winners

Another one that I think requires collectible to start with (although doesn't Risk 2210 have some boards for winners?). Highlander is definitely the first game I remember offering these. In their case it was even thematically appropriate as winners got Quickenings which granted special powers.

Games that followed suit Many TCGs and other collectible games have followed. I think Deadland's making the champions into cards was one of the most interesting. Anachronism seems to be the latest to embrace this trend although collectible is somewhat iffy in Anachronism (many boosters, all fixed).
 
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14. Board Game: Ra [Average Rating:7.47 Overall Rank:127]
Ross G.
United States
Indianapolis
Indiana
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Alea numbering of games. Seems like marketing genius. I don't own any of these myself, but I would think owning a few of the series, say Ra, Taj Mahal, and PR, would really irritate me. While I might not buy a game just to complete the series, I would certainly look closer at that game. It would really make me want to want that game.
 
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15. Board Game: Hecatomb [Average Rating:6.38 Overall Rank:3751]
Paul DeStefano
United States
Long Island
New York
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Innovation: Clear cards

Although the printing technology is fairly new, Hecatomb and Gloom both try to find ways to use it. Neither succeeds in exploiting the full potential of this technology, as Gloom cards are incredibly tough to read, and Hecatomb really could just use cards that slightly overlap instead. I'm sure that sooner or later, the perfect application will arise.
 
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