Shadzar, who can frequently be found in our Tabletop Bellhop Live lobby, asks,
Has tabletop games got so saturated that there is nothing left to make and they will turn anything into a tabletop game? Is there a list of worst tabletop games, or ones that should never exist like this new one released by Mattel [Flushing Frenzy].
Thanks for the question Shadzar, and thanks for joining our twitch stream week after week.
I honestly don’t think we’ve hit the saturation point yet. There are a crazy number of new games coming out every year and they all find some way to do something new. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some bad games out there.
I’ve already told everyone what my favorite game mechanics are and last week I even listed off my top 20 games. I guess it just makes sense to go on from there and talk about the games that I really do not like.
Sean and I also discussed this bottom 10 list on episode 11 of the Tabletop Bellhop Live podcast.
Disclosure: Some links in this post are Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
The short answer:
Here I mainly want to talk about the first part of Shadzar’s question. Is the industry so saturated that there’s nothing left to make? To this I say straight up: not even close.
Since the year 2000, there have been at least a 1000 new games released each year. Now that’s just stand alone games. Actual board games, not expansions and not things like new sets for Magic or new ships for X-Wing. What is staggering is how quick that number is rising. Last year there were over 3500 new titles released. That’s 3.5 times the amount of games released 17 years ago. Estimates are that the growth rate is at about 30% per year in the US alone. (primary source: Board Game Overconsumption by Angelus Morningstar)
That is a ton of new games and new game ideas. Obviously, we haven’t run out of new mechanics or new ways to use old mechanics and we haven’t run out of themes. If we had there’s is no way the market could sustain that many new games each year.
Now we get to the next part, surely there’s no way all 3500 games released last year are good.
The long answer:
I really don’t like being negative when talking about this great hobby of ours. In general, I would much rather be positive. There are so many great games out there and so many great experiences I’ve had that I would prefer to focus on those. I like promoting the good over dwelling on the bad. To be honest, at first I didn’t even want to answer this question or write this post, but AndSheGames, my wife, proofreader and our chatroom moderator convinced me that it would be worthwhile.
Over the years I’ve played a lot of not so great games. Not everyone’s tastes are the same and we don’t all like the same things. There are games I just don’t enjoy playing but that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad game. Then there are some truly bad games. Games so bad that I think they deserve a mention. That’s what I want to focus on here.
Skipping the easy mark:
It would be really easy for me to just load up Amazon.com and look at the Toy section or take a drive over to my local Toys-R-Us and just make a list of almost every game on the shelf. It’s a sad but true fact that most mass market board games are not very good and some are downright terrible. Flushing Frenzy that Shadzar mentions in his questions is a good example. Don’t Step in it! is another that comes to mind. These are easy targets. Too easy. I want something that I think will be more useful to hobby gamers and people who read this blog and listen to our podcast.
So this list is going to only include games that I’ve personally played. Stuff I honestly thought I would enjoy, which ended up falling completely flat. Games I paid good money for or games that friends convinced me to play, that I will never play again.
As mentioned above. Not everyone likes the same things. This is awesome. It’s what allows for the huge variety of games in the market. It’s what generally means that not every game is for every person but also that there’s pretty much a game for everyone.
I may mention your favourite game below. Please don’t take this as an insult. Just because I don’t like a game doesn’t mean you can’t love it. I’m not going to think less of you if you enjoy a game I don’t and I would hope the same is true if you dislike something I rave about.
That said, on to the games:
Senator – At one time Fantasy Flight games has a series of small box games they called their Silverline Series. Most of these games were decent games. Smaller production values, usually shorter player times, and usually component light using a lot of cards and counters. One Boxing Day, a great FLGS called Hugin & Munin (that has since closed, sadly) had a sale where all of their Silverline games were only $10 each. I think I bought like 8 of them. Overall I was not disappointed. There was only one true dud in the mix and that was Senator.
Senator is a mix of poker and auction where everyone has the same hand of cards. It’s fundamentally a trick-taking game where an agenda is offered for each trick and the winner of the trick gets to keep it. Then that agenda breaks the rules in some way going forward. There’s some kind of set collection element in it as well. Now the game is supposed to be perfect information, everyone has the same hand of 7 cards, but that’s all you have are 7 cards. Making it worse there are only 4 different card types. So you are playing a trick-taking game where there are only 4 different cards that come up. Now make one of those cards “the assassin” where if you play it the trick ends immediately and everyone loses. In a four players game with only 7 cards in hand, how often do you think the entire trick just ends in an assassin and wastes everyone’s time?
Senator is so bad that I had actually given up trying to play and learn it twice, with two different game groups. In both cases, we gave up trying to find the fun and moved onto something else. I did at one point manage to sit down and bother to play a full game. It wasn’t worth it. What’s most surprising is that Senator is designed by Eric Lang. Yes that Eric Lang. Blood Rage, Rising Sun, Chaos in the Old World, etc.
Lone Wolf and Cub Game – I’ve talked about my intro to hobby board gaming on the podcast. It mainly started with a hobby shop at the local mall called Leisure World and a game called Talisman. After getting hooked on Talisman I started buying other games that had “From the Makers of Talisman” on the side of the box. From there I came to the conclusion that every game that came in the same style of box must be good. These were the bookshelf games made popular in the 80s. I bought a few of these bookshelf games over the years and based on the fact I was buying basically blindly had pretty good luck. My one complete failure was the Lone Wolf and Cub Game by Mayfair Games.
I can’t actually tell you if Lone Wolf and Cub was a good game. I know it’s a one player game with optional two player rules. I also know it’s an adventure storytelling game. You explore and try to level up and eventually try to do something to win. The problem here is that the rulebook is not only bad, it’s incomplete. You cannot actually play this game from the rulebook. You cannot make your character, without a character you can’t play the game. Now I talked about this when I wrote about tech at the table. Back when this game came out we didn’t have the internet. I couldn’t go online and download a fixed rulebook. So I kept the game on my shelf for a while because it looked cool but eventually sold it, unplayed because it was unplayable.
Tuchulcha – This was another game I bought at a Boxing Day sale and was one of the last times I bought a game without doing at least a little bit of research before buying.
We call this game Murder Sorry. The theme has something to do with an Etruscan purification ritual. The game is basically Sorry or Trouble with more rules. Each player has 8 pawns and each turn they roll two dice. If they roll doubles they get to roll a third die. Then they assign dice to their pawns and move each pawn the number on the die. Your goal is to move as many pawns as you can around a circular path and get them to a central scoring area. If your pawn lands on another players pawn you have to do some way too complicated math to figure out your spiritual strength and if it’s high enough you can murder the other pawn and hide the body in the forest. If enough of your pawns are murdered you can instead devote yourself to the god of destruction: Tuchulcha. Doing this changes your victory condition into murdering all of the other players’ pawns. But when someone does this another player can choose to become the Lasa Vucuvia and then their victory condition changes to sealing four gates.
Confused and lost yet? Yeah so were we. Needlessly complex, Sorry? No thanks.
Skyline 3000 – At one point a few years back these two odd warehouse deal stores opened up in large vacant shops here in Windsor. They had a complete mish-mosh of stuff. What was important to me and other local gamers is that they had piles of board games that were $5 each or 5 for $20. That was too good to pass up and I bought one copy of every game each location had. Most of the games were decent. One, the Speicherstadt was awesome. Skyline 3000 was on the opposite end of the scale.
Sim City in space. At least that’s what I thought I was getting. Play cards to build up your buildings, put roofs on them and put them on the board. Then it’s dead simple area majority. Then they toss in an auction with one of the oddest and unelegant bidding methods I’ve ever seen. Then there are billboards. All I remember about billboards is that no one I played with could figure out why there were billboards.
There’s just not enough of a game here. It takes really basic concepts and makes them more complex than they need to be. I tried this with three different groups and then donated it to an Extra Life charity auction.
Werewolf/Mafia – I do not understand the appeal of this game. I don’t understand why anyone would sign up for a game, where there’s a good chance they could get eliminated the first round and then just have to sit there and watch everyone else play. Especially when that first elimination is pretty much random. There hasn’t been enough time or information shared at that point for anyone to actually deduce anything. It’s just a popularity contest where someone gets centered out for reasons that probably have nothing to do with the actual game being played.
I get that there are a ton of people that are obsessed with this game. Go to any con, even non-gaming cons, and you will see people playing. I just won’t be one of them.
Snarf Quest – I remember enjoying the Snarf Quest comics. If I remember correctly they were originally published in Dragon Magazine. My dad had a big trade paperback copy that I read. When I stumbled upon this card game years ago I was very excited. Being able to play in the world of the comics would be great, wouldn’t it? No, it would not.
What we have here in Snarf Quest is a timeline game. There is a row of cards and each turn players move a Snarf miniature left or right on that row of cards. Where they stop they activate that card, and then remove it from the game. Then players add more cards to the row. That’s pretty much it. Activating cards is supposed to represent your “quest” but comes down to collecting treasure, stealing treasure from another player or manipulating the card row.
There’s just not enough meat here. It doesn’t feel like you are on an adventure, and the take that nature of the gameplay just means the game goes on for too long as it becomes about stopping the leader instead of actually trying to win yourself.
The Masters of the Universe Roleplaying Game – Don’t do it. Don’t do what I did. As soon as I heard that FASA wrote and published a He-Man, Masters of the Universe RPG I rushed out to find a copy. Don’t make the same mistake as me.
It was back in 2013 when I first learned about this game. I immediately went on eBay and bought a complete copy of the game. Before it even showed up I planned a game night with some of my good friends. I was really looking forward to playing in the He-Man universe. The game showed up and we played. It was a disaster. A complete disaster.
I wrote up an actual play report on my old blog. Feel free to check it out. I’ll just quote my final words on the subject here:
No matter how cool this looks or how cool it sounds, or how confident you are that you can figure out these insane rules, just give up. If you are a collector, it’s a cool item to own. Just save yourself and your players some stress and keep it in the box, forever.
Penny Arcade: Paint The Line ECG – Red Tide – It’s 1976 and the stars of the Penny Arcade comic must play table-tennis to prevent World War III. What? Okay then.
This was Penny Arcade trying to cash in on the living card game craze. Each set came with two characters and you could buy multiple sets and use them to build your own deck. The game simulates a ping-pong match with players playing various serve cards and their opponents trying to return these serves. They toss in a D20 based “attack roll” system just to make things more complicated and random. The concept is silly leaning towards dumb and the gameplay while a bit interesting just goes on too long to be fun. If this had been a quick 15-minute filler I might have enjoyed it more. It does have one thing going for it, I don’t think there’s another ping-pong game out there.
If you really love Penny Arcade take a look at Penny Arcade The Game: Rumble in R’lyeh it’s a decent deck building game.
Container – Here’s the one that is probably going to upset some people. My introduction to Container was during a board game tournament. An event where there were actual prizes on the line. Three other players and I were in contention to win and we all sat down at the final table and the organizer had us play their favourite game: Container. None of us had played before. We were all on the same ground, each trying to learn and master a game in under 2 hours to take home the prize. It should have been epic. Instead, it was a failure.
We broke the game. We started playing and everyone was super stingy. We were all victory point focused. No one was paying for shipped goods. We depleted the in-game economy and the game ground to a halt. The organizer noted they had never seen this before. We went looking on boardgamegeek.com. While there we saw multiple threads on the Container economic “death spiral” and notes about how the game starts off as a cooperative game and that players need to work together to build the economy before they try to exploit it. Most of the threads had people seeing this as a feature of the game. The four of at this table did not.
We played a second time. This time we were more careful. We bought things we didn’t want to just to keep the unstable economy going. We worried we would break it again. It was a terrible way to end a tense tournament. I have no interest in given Container another shot.
I don’t understand how a game that can be so easily broken can be revered by so many.
Cards Against Humanity – I admit it. I’ve spent more than one night laughing my ass off playing CAH. I also admit that the people behind the game have done some really awesome things. I also have to note that there is only one game I’ve ever banned from any of my gaming events and that’s CAH. I will also never play this game again.
There’s an article out there that sums up my feelings on this game so perfectly that instead of trying to do a better job I will just provide you with this link (note NSFW due to language):
Why I quit playing Cards Against Humanity by Jaya Saxena
So there you have 10 games that I will never play again. Is there a game you expected to like and turned out to be a total dud?