Replayability and game value, two things that go hand in hand – the more you play a game the better the value, right?
Well, what about that big box game that sits at the back of your shelf; the one that cost over £100, takes several hours to play, and has only hit the table once in the last year – poor value would you say? No chance!
Though the two things are inextricably linked, I’m going to take a look at them separately first, and try to define them in their own terms.
The quality or fact of being suitable for or worth playing more than once.Lexico Online dictionary
I often talk about replayability in a game review; people want to know, ‘is the game playable and enjoyable multiple times, or is it a one and done?’
There are many things that can help make a game replayable:
- Difficulty – Most co-operative and solo games incorporate a method of changing the difficulty, making the game scalable, which leads to repeat play until you’ve beaten each level or met your match! It is important here to get the balance right – a game that is too easy becomes a chore and boring, and inevitably ends up staying on the shelf, whilst a game that is too difficult may result in a flurry of games to start with, but soon becomes frustrating and again, ends up staying on the shelf. A nice progression through the difficulty levels makes you want to play the game time and again.
- Random aspects – Randomness is always a tricky thing to balance, but get it right and it can add a ton of replayability to the game. Dice rolls, cards drawn, tokens revealed, all add a degree of uncertainty to the gameplay, and thus make each game different, but too much randomness often makes you feel removed from the game, like you’re unable to influence whether you win or lose, and this makes the game less appealing.
- Arcing story lines – Usually found in thematic story driven games, such as Arkham horror (board and card game), Legacy of Dragonholt, and Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth – these games present choices to make that go on to effect the outcome of the game; once a choice is made there is usually no going back, hence you want to play the game again to discover what you missed.
- Campaign play – There are many games out there that offer the players an on-going campaign; you complete one scenario and then play the next, usually carrying forward skills, money, experience, or such like, as you go. Even games that aren’t that great often get played all the way through to the end of the campaign, just to see what happens!
- Expansions – Releasing expansions for a game are a sure fire way to keep you playing it, especially if they add the right content. Generally speaking, adding more of the same seems to work well, rather than adding content that changes the game play. Games like Arkham Horror: The Card Game from Fantasy Flight Games is a good example – the continual release of campaigns and scenarios keeps people interested in playing the game, but doesn’t actually change how the game is played.
- The puzzle – Games that present an interesting puzzle to solve, especially one that is challenging, can prove to be quite addictive. Roll and write games spring to mind here.
- Competition – Any competitive game, whether 2-players or more, rely on the competitive nature of the game to ensuring multiple plays. Games that give the players a number of strategic and tactical options, along with a sense that winning is always possible are more likely to see repeat play, especially when it comes to getting ones revenge!
- Cost/reward – By this I mean the cost in time and effort to set the game up and actually play it. Some games can take an age to get out of the box and onto the table, and if the resultant game doesn’t offer up a rewarding enough experience to offset this, then it isn’t going to come back out again in a hurry. Rules are also a factor here; if they’re difficult to understand, counter-intuitive, or very long-winded, then it could easily put some people off.
- Fun – Probably the biggest reason games get repeat plays – they’re fun! If you don’t enjoy a game you’re not going to want to play it again. Even the simplest of games can be big winners in this category; Coup gets a lot of play from us as we all have a good laugh whilst playing it, and yet the game play is simple, it only lasts 10 minutes, and comes in the size of box you can fit in your pocket!
The truly great games cover several of the above points; think of Gloomhaven for example –
- The game is difficult, but scalable, and it’s relatively easy to find a level that suits, you can even change in the middle of a battle!
- The game has arcing story lines cropping up all over the place, so once you’ve worked your way through the lengthy campaign you can start over and recover a whole new path through.
- Each scenario presents its own puzzle; trying to work out how best to achieve the goal can lead to multiple plays until you are successful, though you may even leave to pursue another pathway for agile, returning when you feel your chance of success has improved.
- Despite being a notorious pain in the butt to set up, the reward you get from playing the game far outweighs the cost in time and effort, and once it’s on the table it has a tendency to stay there for multiple plays.
- Whether it’s played with a group or solitaire, the game is an immensely fun and rewarding experience. When things go right, and your teamwork pulls of a glowing victory against all the odds, you get a warm feeling of satisfaction – of a job well done – and even when things go wrong you usually end up having a laugh at the unfortunate way the Mind thief got left behind, calling out, ‘wait from, wait for me!’
Some games of course, have limited replayability built in from the start; Legacy games are fine example. Pandemic legacy sees you ripping up cards, writing on things, and generally making the game unplayable a second time around, however, it also has a uniqueness to it, knowing that your game will inevitably be different to everyone else, and this in itself makes you want to play to the end. Pandemic Legacy also calls on other factors to ensure your keep playing – cost/reward being a biggy here; combined with its campaign play, the reward of opening new content and having the rules turned on their head, keeps you intrigued and expectant, you find saying, ‘Just one more game this evening’ as you eye up the next box to open!
Escape room games such as Unlock and Exit also limit themselves to a single play-through, relying largely on the puzzle aspect to keep you going. These games tend to play out in one session, but then they are cheaper games and can always be passed on to others, which leads us nicely into ‘Game Value’.
One of the common complaints I hear from non-gamers or those new to the hobby, is about the price of games.
Admittedly, to the none initiated things can look a little pricey – take the ever popular gateway games, Pandemic and Ticket to Ride, both of which can be picked up for around the £30 mark. Compared to the £15 Monopoly, which most none gamers and newbies are familiar with, then they may be left wondering what justifies the cost.
This often answers itself, to some degree, when one lifts the lid of a pricier game – the sheer amount of components, along with their (hopefully) superior quality, often points to why the heftier price tag, but still, are they really worth it?
I always give the comparison of going to the cinema to point out why games are worth their price, irrespective of their component count or quality. Imagine I want to take my three friends (it is possible that I may have more, but on the other hand I may be pushing it at three!) to the Odeon to see the latest blockbuster movie. For four adults the total price would be around £52 for a film that lasts approximately 2hrs – that’s £26 per hour!
Now, imagine I’ve just got my hands on the latest gateway game costing me £40. It plays up to 4-players, and a game lasts an hour. My friends come round to play but we only manage to get one game in, so at the end of the evening the game is returning £40 per hour – not so good.
But we play again the following week, but then the game only gets played twice more in the next year; was it worth buying in the first place? Well, with a total of four games played, each lasting an hour, the cost per hour is £10. If you were happy paying £26 per hour to watch a movie, why not be happy paying the £10 per hour to play a game?
And, of course, the more you play the better the return for your money, so one could say that buying a board game is excellent value for money, especially in the long run when compared to many other pastimes.
Before I move on it’s worth talking briefly about quality, as this is something that can be physically linked to value as soon as you open the box, rather than the return you get from actually playing the game.
The standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind; the degree of excellence of something.Lexico Online dictionary
In general, the quality of tabletop games is pretty high; there’s the odd one or two that let the side down, but there are also a few that raise the bar.
As you start to look at the cost of games the obvious thing you notice is that, as prices climb so do the number of components, and this is especially true when you look at miniatures games – so you pay more, you get more!
There are also those games that, when you open the lid, make you go, ‘ahhhh!’ Stonemaier games always get this reaction from me, and it comes down to their exceedingly high quality. Two of my favourite games from this company, Scythe and Viticulture, just ooze the stuff, but do you pay over the odds for it – are they really good value for money?
You can pick scythe up for just under £60, so it is one of the more expensive games, but then you do get a fair amount of goodies in the box, and irrespective of quality, it comes in around what you’d expect to pay for a game of this type. Viticulture on the other hand, can be grabbed for less than £40, a pretty standard price for a board game of this ilk.
What makes these games stand out from other, similarly priced games, comes down to the little bit of extra though and consideration that has been put into them. Yes, the standard of the cards, the board, and the little wooden pieces is of the highest order, but then so many other companies also match this standard; no, it isn’t these things that set Stonemaier apart.
It’s the way they’ve thought about how it all fits into the box, there’s enough room for everything, and everything has its place. It’s the inclusion of more than enough little plastic bags to store things in, even putting holes in them so they expel the air when you seal them up, which means they take up less space in the box. It’s the linen finish they put on their boxes, making them feel like they hold something precious inside. Look at the plastic inlay of Viticulture; the large cardholders have concave bottoms so you can slide the cards out more easily. The rules also shine brightly when it comes to defining a standard – their layout, their explanations, the graphic design, the many examples, and in the case of Scythe, the designer’s notes that give the odd insight into their thoughts on the game.
Yes, for me it’s these simple, thoughtful little things that make me go, ‘ahhh!’ It makes me, as buyer and a player of these games, think that someone has gone out of their way to make them feel a little bit special, and if I’m paying no more for them than I would for a similar type of game, then that’s very good value indeed!
There is one last twist when trying to decide if a game is good value or not, and unfortunately you will have had to have actually bought the game to answer this one, and that’s, ‘what is the game is worth to you?’
And we’ll look at that in the final section…
Replayability and Game Value
So here we are, putting these two things together, as they are like I said, inextricably linked.
It doesn’t matter how much you pay for a game, if you keep coming back to it, it’s earning its value.
Take a look at your game collection, which game is your most valuable?
Is it the one in the huge box that cost so much you’ve yet to tell the wife? You take it out every now and again to look longingly at, and you even got to play it once; but despite looking the part, it really isn’t that good!
Or is it that clever little card game that cost next to nothing? You know the one, you play it a couple of times a week, in fact it has seen so much use the cards are worn and the box has been tenderly repaired several times!
I have Gloomhaven, a game that cost over £120, and my non-gamer friends think I was foolish to shell out anywhere near that amount for a game. So far I’ve totalled around 50hours of game time with Gloomhaven- that’s £2.40 an hour! And the great thing is, I’ve still got many, many more hours to invest in this game – it’s so replayable!
One of the none gamer friends that I mentioned above, bought his son the game of life, which so far they have played once, in just over a year. Going off Amazon this cost £18.99 and lasts about an hour – so, who’s the foolish one now?
If you ask him, he’d still say me, as no game is worth that kind of money – It doesn’t really matter how much or how little you pay for a game, its value is something only you, as the purchaser, can decide upon.