We’ve Got the Fear

Convention season is upon us once more. Gencon and Essen are on the horizon and following close behind them are thousands of new releases. Our news feeds will be flooded by tantalising tabletop treasures, but with so many shiny baubles how do we avoid just buying the game that gets the biggest advertising splash, the most shoutouts on social media and the biggest names showing it off?

The idea that we might miss out on the latest thing drives a lot of our hobby and consumerism in general. This Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) pervades a lot of our society and I found myself wondering if there is anything we can do about it, starting with our hobby. With so many releases every year how do we as consumers and critics weather the rising tide of games? Can we board a boat to boardgame nirvana?

Fantastic Expectations, Amazing Revelations

At no time is FOMO more present than at the peak of the convention season. We’ve just had UK Games Expo and GAMA where the new releases are fewer than at the behemoths that are coming: Essen Spiel and Gencon.

Essen last year had over 1000 new games released and Gencon was probably somewhere in that region. As these conventions get closer, we are going to be bombarded with advertising, previews, how to play videos and all sorts of content intended to make us part with our hard earned cash. Whatever you choose is fine, and I am not going to have a go at anyone who thinks the latest hot games look exactly up their street.

What I would do is ask that you also look at the games maybe not getting the attention they deserve. Tools like Tabletop Together can give you the full list, or close to, of games that will be released at larger cons. I used it myself to help me look through the UK Games Expo list. Look at the smaller publishers, the names you haven’t heard of, the games that aren’t at the top of the list of what is popular.

If you do head down this road I have another request. Talk about what you find. Companies like CMON and FFG are going to get noise made about them, of course they are. The smaller outfits can struggle to make themselves heard above the fanfare the larger players attract, and you will find the smaller publishers really appreciate it when you tell people about their games. Become a fan of the companies and designers you like, help them be heard and don’t be afraid to engage with them on their social media platform of choice.

For Each A Road

About 2 years ago I made the decision to take The Giant Brain away from being mostly about my own game design and towards writing about the hobby. It was slow at first but right from the start I set out with a specific purpose in mind that has been behind many of the choices I have made since: focus on small UK designers.

When you start out on the road of writing, podcasting or video production then you have a load of choices to make. Do you chase the big games, the big publishers? Do you go off the beaten track or follow the road that many have walked before you? Do you advertise? The list is endless. The important thing here is that there are no wrong decisions, so long as they fit the kind of material that you want to produce.

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One of the decisions I made was to try and help out smaller publishers. At the time I was already running Edinburgh Playtest Group and I wanted to help those designers out in any way that I could. I followed that with writing reviews and previews of games and I will be forever grateful to companies like One Free Elephant, Dream Big Games, Inspiring Games and Bad Cat Games for giving me early breaks into writing that kind of material. Meeting of Minds came after that, in a further attempt to give designers even newer than the ones I was interviewing an insight in what it takes to design, produce and publish a game.

As critics we must choose carefully what games we choose to cover. We can try and keep pace with new releases and doing so will certainly get us more eyes on our work, sites and patreons. I think though that if you are new to writing about the hobby one thing you can do to separate yourself out from the crowd is to genuinely help out the smaller publishers you meet. Your time is worth a lot more to them then it is to one of the bigger companies and that kindness will lead to more engagement with an audience

I’ve not had the chance to really work with very big publishers, but I don’t feel it has hurt my brand at all, and has in fact strengthened it. Whoever you work with we must be comfortable with the fact that whenever we produce a new review, preview, podcast or video that looks at a game, we are in a small way contributing to the Fear of Missing Out. This is especially true if that game is coming to us via crowdfunding.

For Everyone a Religion

No discussion of FOMO would be complete without talking about the rise and rise and rise of Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms. Without them the hobby would not be in the robust health is is today and some of the games we own would simply never have reached completion, forever consigned to the prototype or idle thought stage of design. Its benefits are indisputable.

There is a but coming.

But.

See there it is.

Kickstarter has morphed over the years since it first came to our attention. It set out with good intentions: to let small creators bypass the traditional, and at times rather clunky, distribution and production models. Noble aim and they have certainly helped a lot of folks that I know make their dreams reality. The other side of that coin is that Kickstarter is a business and as a business they want to see their revenues increase and one of the ways they are doing that is attracting bigger players in the Tabletop industry to their stable. With that comes bigger projects, gargantuan games and eye watering prices.

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There are many arguments for and against the bigger players being on Kickstarter but we don’t care about that. We care about the fear. What if the latest miniature kickstarter really is the gaming nirvana you are seeking? What, if as with many games recently, you simply can’t get the game after the Kickstarter ends? It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of these games, hell I backed Sedition Wars in the early days of the platform (big mistake). I’m not telling you not to back the games you want but I would urge you to go outside of the Kickstarter page to look at what the wider community is saying about the game. A Kickstarter page is designed to pull you in, to get you to pledge, to check in and see how the campaign is doing. Look outside that bubble and keep these things in mind:

  1. You might not get it. Brainwaves has reported on a lot of failed campaigns, and some small number of cases of straight up fraud. Buyer beware.
  2. Your excitement now, may pale somewhat when you receive the game a year or two down the line.
  3. The games that are “never going to be available at retail” often come back to Kickstarter and by the time they do, the real verdicts will be in.

I’m not telling you what you should or shouldn’t back. Whether you are a super backer, or you are heading to the platform for the very first time all I ask is that you back out of a genuine desire to play that game and support that company, not out of some misplaced fear of not having the latest thing. Do you really need another box full of grey plastic minis? How many smaller publishers could you support for the same money?

Free Expression As Revolution

Here’s the thing I want you to take away from this. You can, and should, like whatever game you want. You can think me a fool for shouting into the void, for wanting to take a long hard look at the how and the why of the way we consume tabletop games. All I ask is that if you are passing by a small publisher at a con and the game piques your interest, even a little, maybe you can stop a moment and play. Seek out the smaller projects on Kickstarter. Embrace the fear of the unknown. Allow yourself the luxury of being surprised. Take a chance on something different.

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