There can be only one

Ever so often something new hits the tabletop game industry and when this happens, it is always hard to say if it is just a flash in the pan or a new breakthrough that will turn out to be a game changer. However, I will stick my head out and make a prediction – and be happy to swallow my hat, if I turn out to be wrong.

As you will have probably heard, Fantasy Flight Games has recently launched KeyForge, a new kind of deck building game by the famous Richard Garfield, creator of Magic: The Gathering. It is billed as “a game where every deck is as unique as the person who wields it” (see their announcement) – and it is the term “unique” that is important here. Apparently every deck is different – apart from two practice decks. Every deck has a different name, a different logo and a different combination of cards. Of course, the same cards will appear in other decks, but the combination of cards will be unique to your deck.

Logistically this is amazing. Being able to have an algorithm create a unique deck, then have the facility to print each deck individually, and then pack and ship each deck is completely new – at least in the tabletop games industry.

For Fantasy Flight Games that is not enough though. They have taken the same concept and used it for their new game Discover: Lands Unknown, which is also unique. The game boasts a “unique mix of environments, characters, storylines, items, and enemies” (see their announcement). So if we each buy a copy of the game, we will each play a different copy – with the same basic rules, but with a completely different experience otherwise. I can only imagine that it also uses an algorithm to print unique cards and other game components.

Just think about it. Printing thousands of copies of the same game is great, because you set up your printing press, cutting machines, etc. once, which is expensive – but then you just churn out copy after copy, which is relatively cheap. You benefit from economies of scale. However, when every copy you produce is different, economies of scale change. As I alluded to, I can only assume everything is printed digitally, which seems the only way of achieving this feat. Even so, it is still amazing.

Game designers already love the idea. Creating games where every copy is different opens up many new possibilities. No wonder that Jamey Stegmaier of Stonemaier Games has already mentioned that he spoke to his contacts to find out if they were able to do what Fantasy Flight Games is doing. So there is a definite interest.

Take this a step further and imagine that it was possible to make other game components unique. Maybe someone can lasercut unique game pieces in a cost-effective way. Suddenly you can create boardgames where every set of cards is different, the board is different and even the meeples. It will add to the attraction of unique games – and doesn’t have to stop there.

Unqiue games will also create a secondary market. If I finished playing my unique game and really liked the mechanics and overall feel of the game, but got bored with the specific story, I could trade my copy with someone else’s – and suddenly I would get a new game experience.

However, it is still unclear whether all of this will make unique games a game changer. Yet, my prediction is that unique games will be the new big thing in tabletop gaming. Maybe KeyForge will not become the next big hit, even though I think it will. However, that is not the point. The point is that there will be other unique games and from other publishers. Mistakes made in early designs will be used to make the next breed of games better. Things will improve over time.

So, my prediction is that unique games are here to stay. They may take a little while to take hold, and they might even fade away for a little while. Yet, eventually they will come back and stay around for some time to come.

Whether I’m right or wrong only time will tell. I’ll keep my hat ready.

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(Photo courtesy of Fantasy Flight Games)

 

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