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Cult of the New?

December 22, 2007

I have recently become fascinated by a relatively new feature on John Farrell's Extended Stats website for BoardGameGeek users. This feature doesn't even have a name yet, but is described on the site as a graph depicting the "proportion of games designed in a particular year played each quarter, i.e., how much do you play new releases?" It's a lot easier to understand this type of graph by actually looking at it than it is to describe it in words, so just scroll down to see some examples of what I'm talking about.

For people who are members of BoardGameGeek and log their games played on that site, this graph appears to be a great way to see whether you are succumbing to the "Cult of the New." The "Cult of the New" is a concept that has been discussed a fair bit on BoardGameGeek and on various gaming podcasts, and is basically the notion that many board game enthusiasts are constantly searching for the next great thing in gaming, always buying new games, and therefore never replaying the ones they already have. Seeing as I just ordered 11 games immediately following Essen Spiel two months ago and have my eye on at least 4 more new Essen 2007 games, this is certainly something I've been pondering. For some references discussing the "Cult of the New" phenomenon, check out Jon Michael Rasmus' thread on rerating games sans "Cult of the New," Tim Mossman's thread on how often you break out a new game, Lewis Pulsipher's thread on improving replayability in games, Jason Spears' post on games played more than everyone else, and Michael Chapel's post on the 2006 Golden Geek winners. As you can see this is certainly a hot topic, but until John Farrell created this new feature on his Extended Stats website, there wasn't any easy way to visually see the "Cult of the New" in action, as far as I know.

Without further ado, below is my graph, depicting the proportion of games designed in each year that I played during each quarter of the past three years.

Before I go on to compare my graph to a few other people's graphs to put things in context, I thought I'd start with a new comments on what I'm seeing here. Maybe I'm just searching for a silver lining, but the first thing that jumped out at me is how large a percentage of my games played are from 1994 and earlier. I know that the vast majority of those games played from 1994 and earlier are actually Crokinole, which was invented around 1876, but also looked over my collection and see that I own and have played 13 other games from that period, including Backgammon, Mille Bornes, Diplomacy, Acquire, Liar's Dice, Dune, Can't Stop, Um Reifenbreite, Die Macher, Tichu, Modern Art, RoboRally, and Manhattan. Clearly with a collection approaching 200 games, the majority of my games are from the 21st century, but I'm happy to see a decent number that are 15 or more years old, and happy to see those older games making up a decent percentage of my games played. The second thing that jumped out at me is that I'm certainly a little behind the curve as to when I start playing the newest games. I didn't really start playing the 2005 games until the fourth quarter of that year and didn't start playing them heavily until the first quarter of 2006. I didn't start playing the 2006 games until the second quarter of that year, and the 2007 games didn't make an appearance until the third quarter of this year. A third trend that I'm happy to see is that the 2005 and 2006 games haven't trailed off in 2007, but rather have continued to be played at about the same rate as they were played when they first came out. Since I didn't start gaming heavily until 2004, I'm happy to see that my new acquisitions aren't collecting dust after their first couple plays, but seem to be getting played throughout 2007, and hopefully beyond, but only time will tell.

On the other hand, the most disturbing thing I see in this graph is that games released from 1995 through 2001 have been getting a negligible amount of plays lately. This is especially surprising given my recent "Games of the Years" post, in which I a number of incredible games designed from 1995 through 2001, such as El Grande, Tigris & Euphrates, Through the Desert, Ra, Java, Carcassonne, La Citta, Princes of Florence, and San Marco. I suppose one of my New Year's resolutions should be to get all of these excellent games to the table more in 2008. So what's the verdict? Am I a member of the Cult of the New? I suppose to truly answer that, we'll need to compare my graph to those of some other people in order to put this into context. In the table below you will see my graph repeatedly depicted on the left, and another member of BoardGameGeek's graph depicted on the right, with some brief comments on each of the fourteen comparisons. The comparisons have been done in alphabetical order, and I've included an image of the other person's BoardGameGeek avatar to help you recognize who they are. Finally, before I launch into this, I should note that I will keep my comments brief because I'd prefer to let the pictures do the talking, and I should also note that I certainly don't mean "Cult of the New" to have any negative connotations (despite the phrase having been used pejoratively in some instances on BoardGameGeek). I absolutely love cracking open a new game -- breaking off the shrinkwrap, punching out the new bits, and perusing the rules!

Chad Krizan's (chaddyboy) graph actually appears to be relatively similar to mine. His percentage of 2005-2007 plays is approximately the same as mine, and his lack of plays for 1995 through 2001 is about the same. The differences I see are more plays of games from 1994 and earlier lately and a lot of plays of 2003 games until lately. Chad appears to be slightly less addicted to the new games, as the 2005 games didn't get shunted aside nearly as much in the third quarter of 2007 as they did for me, but rather the 2005 games have continued being played very steadily, although 2006 and 2003 have fallen by the wayside lately.

Michael Webb (CortexBomb) has had quite the bimodal fourth quarter for 2007, with almost all games played either being from 2007 or from 1994 and earlier. Everything from 1995 through 2006 has been squeezed down into a narrow band in the middle. Michael's graph has a number of interesting traits, such as 1998 being very prominent in a number of quarters, but disappearing entirely as of late, and also 2005 being very popular until its complete disappearance in the second quarter of 2006, only to make a strong resurgence shortly thereafter. Digging a little deeper, it looks like the recent 1994 and earlier plays have primarily been of Magic: The Gathering CCG (but also Big Boss, Tichu, and Cathedral), and the 2007 plays have been of a variety of new Essen releases (e.g., Agricola, Brass, Wabash Cannonball, Antler Island, Galaxy Trucker, Hamburgum, King of Siam, and Kingsburg).

Michael had this to say about his graph: "The most recent quarter has been distorted by the number of times that I've played Magic, which has become an interest again. In general, I think my graph is fairly representative of my game playing though... I probably play a few more older games than the average user, and I tend to have a spike of newer games during the Fall because that's when I attend the Great Lakes Games Con in the Fall."

Jim Cote (ekted) seems to play an incredible number of games from 1994 and earlier, but has gotten into the new releases more lately, with 2007 making a bigger splash than either 2005 or 2006 did. Those older games played appear to be dominated by 534 plays of Mastermind, 84 of Go, 39 of Bridge, and 35 of Backgammon. The recent 2007 splash is made up almost entirely of a whopping 60 plays of Notre Dame. Jim explained that Mastermind is a special case because he often plays it over coffee as "waking up" game, but doesn't bring it out for anything more serious than that, so it paints a somewhat skewed picture of his game tastes and choices.

Jon Power (Eye of Night) loves his 2006 games that's for sure! Jon boasts an impressive collection of 1,488 games, but in 2007 has played the 2006 game Bananagrams far more than anything else, which accounts for the overwhelming bars of orange on his graph.

Jon had this to say about his graph: "Firstly, I don't record all my games. Usually I play Sundays and record the games straight away, and I play at Beyond Monopoly! and sometimes miss stuff out. I play at odd events too and these sessions tend to get not recorded at all. So my stats aren't totally accurate. But that graph looks pretty valid to me and I think it fits my gaming. Sundays is when I learn unplayed games, sometimes brand new, often from the depths of my collection. I do buy new games, but usually it's Paul Allwood (pallwood) supplying them. I think I am averse to playing brand spanking new games. I prefer the familiar or the odd, not necessarily the latest thang. I still haven't played Caylus (shock!). It took me a few years to try Funkenschlag. I think partly it's that I like to read the rules out, and dislike being taught. The thing I really noticed is that it takes me about a year to get onto this year's games. The Q3 & Q4 shows the newest games, but there's a strong mix of all years. That mix comes from teaching new people classic gateway games at BM! and playing one hot game as much as possible. That accounts for Bananagrams getting a load of plays. Previously it was HTMF! and before that, Streetsoccer. My hot hot hot game now is Monkey Tennis. Also, because I do buy a lot, it does take a while to work round to the games I bought last year. Unless a game really takes my fancy at Essen, it will take a year or two for me to even buy it. I keep the best games downstairs, in the game room and the front room, and the odd stuff upstairs in a store room. As I get in new games, I do cycle them round. The new stuff pushes the liked but unplayed stuff upstairs. I was surprised at how few Kosmos games are still downstairs. I still have a lot of the old Goldsieber downstairs, but it's mostly Queen, HiG, Amigo, DoW and indie games. So chart does reflect my storing and playing habits. This tool looks very interesting, thanks for using my data. Maybe I should make more time for the new games. It might be nice to see the hottest (latest popular) games in my collection that have been unplayed the longest. Maybe there's a stat there, average time to play against BGG ranking. That might tell you how quickly new games get a play. Oh yeah, Bananagrams only takes a few minutes to play, but I counted each game, not each session for that one. That might balance the figures up a little."

Jason Matthews, designer of the hugely popular Twilight Struggle and 1960: The Making of the President, appears to epitomize the "Cult of the New." Just look at the splash that 2005 made before petering out, followed by 2006, and now 2007 comprising almost half of the recent plays. All those 2005 plays appear to be mainly of Twilight Struggle, Travel Blokus, Diamant, and Mission: Red Planet, while the 2006 plays have been mainly of Michael Schacht's California and the Batman Rooftop Rumble Skill and Action Game, and finally the 2007 plays are mainly Zooloretto, Agricola, and Brass.

Jason had this to say about his graph: "The DC Gamers are totally a flavor of the week group. For the most part, that comes out in this graph. However, the numbers are masked somewhat by a couple of things. First, I play a fair number of games with my kids. There, the pressure to play 'the new' is not so great. So, my guess is that most of the earlier games that show up on the graph are with the kids. Of course, I also only record face-to-face games, so my Brettspielwelt activities are not recorded here either."

It's no surprise that Scott Di Bartolo's (manowarplayer) graph shows a fair bit of 1994 and earlier, given that his BGG username is "manowarplayer" and the game Man O' War is from 1993. However, it looks like he must have taken a break from Man O' War in the third quarter of 2005, and let up a bit on playing it from the fourth quarter of 2006 through the second quarter of 2007. Looking a bit closer, it also appears that the game Werewolf, from 1986, has gotten as many plays as Man O'War, both having 28. It looks like the drop off in plays from 2005 is primarily attributable to the drop off in Railroad Tycoon. Finally, Scott's graph shows an interesting trend with 2007 seeing a dropoff within 2007 and 2006 making steady gains lately.

Scott had this to say about his graph: "I'm a big fan of John's stats and I go there a lot to check up on my stats and see what observations I can make for the ton of fantastic information there. That being said, the stats can only reflect the data that is put in and if that data is flawed, then the results may be skewed a bit. For first few years here at BGG, I did not log my game plays at all. Most of the earlier game loggings you see in my graph prior to to 2004-2005 or so are incomplete. I have played far more games than what is reflected from my stats. I also found an old journal of mine that I had used to record games played with a group of my friends I turned into gamers, but during that same time, I never recorded games played at home, at game conventions or with other people. The last 2 years are very accurate however. Another inconsistency is how I log the games. Using Werewolf as an example, the more I think about it, the more I think that Werewolf should be recorded by session and not by the number of games played. Having introduced it to my family it gets played whenever they come to visit as my nieces and nephews (along with my kids) really enjoy it. However, I am usually the moderator and don't actually play. In the past, I've logged every game played as a single playing, when I really think I should record the games as a whole and just count them all as 1 playing per session. Giving those playings equal weight to more substansive playings of other games, skews the data. Werewolf may technically have been played "more times" but I can't really say that it is a game I am more fond of than the vast majority of my games. In fact, Werewolf to me is best played online or at a local game convention as my experience with the kids is that it is too "difficult" for them to play it without giving away what their role is nearly every time. When one of them is a Werewolf, they typically are found out immediately and the game becomes tedious for everyone. All that being said, I DO agree that I am a good example of the "Cult of the New" however. Looking at my list of recently played games, I really favor the better themed titles that have come out in the past few years - Doom, Fury of Dracula, Beowulf, Twilight Imperium, RRT and others. I just got Tide of Iron, Notre Dame and Goldbrau as early Christmas presents and I'm hoping to see 1960: The Making of a President under the tree too. Finally, the whole idea of expansions and how to log them as having been played has been an issue as well. For example, in my Carcassonne set, I've permanently mixed in the Inns and Cathedrals set, so every time I play Carcassonne, I should also record a playing of it as well - which I don't. Same with Doom, A Game of Thrones, El Grande and of course, Man O War. I'd like to see Aldie add anothe couple of categories in the statistics for playing - Sessions, time played and number of players. That way I could accurately log a game of 4 games of Werewolf as: 1 Session, 4 Games, 9 Players, 45 Minutes. I may have to go back and change my Werewolf playings to reflect my feeling on how many times I've actually "played" the game so that my chart feels more in line with my own observations."

Melissa Rogerson's graph is intriguing indeed. Just look at all those 2007 plays in the fourth quarter of 2007! And check out the first quarter of 2007. Turns out the latter is due to just 3 games being played over those 3 months, those being Snorta and Bamboleo. The fourth quarter of 2007 has been dominated by Ziegen Kriegen, Agricola, and Thebes, which comes as no surprise given Melissa's interesting Gone Gaming blog post about translating all of the card text for Agricola, which I definitely encourage you to check out for some fascinating insight into the translation process. Upon first glance it would appear as if this was a classic case of "Cult of the New" with the 2005 making a splash before disappearing and 2006 fading away as well, but then again other years have come and gone, such as 1995 and 2003, so it may just be due to the relatively small number of games played recorded (i.e., 382) rather than a fascination for new games, then again her blog does include some hilarious posts obsessing about Essen, but I suppose that's par for the course on a blog entitled "Obsessing about everything."

Melissa had this to say about her graph: "Interesting disussion. It's skewed, in my case, by the fact that I am a lazy tracker of my games played and usually only track them if there is some particular reason - like being excited about a new game. That's definitely a Cult of the New effect, because I tend to be more excited about having played a game that is new to me (whether it is new to the rest of the world or not). I may continue to be excited about it, but I am less likely to remember to track it. I do have a game journal with all my games played for the last 2 years, so should probably go back and enter them so my stats become a bit more meaningful. My Q1 results, when complete (see 2006), will always be skewed by our 2 week beach holiday every January - in a house with no TV. Any games we take tend to see a lot of play (Puerto Rico is the perennial, but we usually take around 10-12 games with us)."

Matthew Gray (mkgray) looks to be a tried and true member of the "Cult of the New." Just look at the way the 2005 games disappeared to make room for the 2006 games, and now in the second half of 2007 the 2006 games have begun to diminish significantly to make room for the 2007 games. The most popular 2006 games from the second quarter of that year through the first quarter of 2007 were To Court the King, Toppo, Times Square, and Blue Moon City. On the other hand, throughout all this, 2004 has persistently made a good showing, and 2001 has actually managed to increase lately, along with a decent showing for 1994 and earlier.

Michael Chapel (MWChapel) might just take the cake as the premiere "Cult of the New" fanatic. Just look at the way 2005 dominated for a few quarters, only to disappear almost entirely as 2006 burst onto the scene, and now both 2005 and 2006 have fallen by the wayside as 2007 has begun to take center stage. The most popular 2005 games were definitely Diamant, GemBlo, and Pickomino. However, these were supplanted by 2006 games, such as Through the Ages, Imperial, Mykerinos, and Yspahan. And now 2007 has seen Agricola, Brass, and Cuba supplant those 2006 games. Some quality games in there, that's for sure!

Matthew Monin (Octavian) certainly has one thing in common with me: his plays of games from 1995 through 2001 are almost non-existent. Just like me, 1994 and earlier along with 2005 through 2007 make up the majority of Matthew's plays. Those 1994 and earlier plays appear to be primarily comprised of Crokinole, Tichu, Loopin' Louie, and Poker. While that recent 2007 spike looks to be due in large part to a recent obsession with Race for the Galaxy, given 18 plays of it during the fourth quarter of 2007, complemented by 9 combined plays of Last Night on Earth and Galaxy Trucker.

The most prominent feature of Morgan Dontanville's (sisteray) graph is probably simply due to a lack of data from the first three quarters of 2005. The prominence of 1994 and earlier and 2001 in the first quarter of 2005 is due simply to one recorded play of Africa and one of 13 Dead End Drive, while the subsequent 6-month long obsession with 2006 games is due to 5 recorded plays of Tempus. I have a feeling that quite a few other unrecorded games were played during these three quarters of 2005. The rest of the graph actually appears to be very well distributed (especially in the fourth quarter of 2007) without too much inclination towards newer games, except for the spike of 2006 games in the fourth quarter of that year, which appears to have been primarily due to Die Säulen von Venedig and Die Baumeister von Arkadia.

Sterling Babcock (Solamar) hasn't yet let those 2006 games fall by the wayside yet, but there sure were a good helping of 2004 games for a few quarters that have since disappeared, and a large number of plays of 2005 games for a year before diminishing as well. Then again, those 2004 plays may have been due primarily to the filler card game No Thanks! However, those 2005 games played included not only the filler Diamant, but also some long games, especially Caylus and Shadows over Camelot. It's no surprise to see Shadows over Camelot make an appearance here, as it's widely reputed to be a game that rocketed up the BGG rankings and games played lists before disappearing in the years following its release. I still need to give Shadows a try to see what all the fuss was about, but have been hesitant to due so given my disappointment with the other most popular cooperative game, that being Knizia's Lord of the Rings.

Ted Alspach (toulouse) has certainly jumped onboard with the "Cult of the New," as his 2007 games have completely wiped out not only 2005 and 2006 games, but also anything from 1995 through 2006. It looks like the 1994 and earlier category is dominated by Tichu and Wizard, while 2007 is populated by a variety of games, such as TZAAR, Notre Dame, Agricola, and Wabash Cannonball. It's not the first time we've seen Notre Dame, Agricola, and Wabash Cannonball contribute to driving that yellow spike deep into the heart of the games played graph, but Kris Burm's seventh Project GIPF game is making its first appearance.

Last but not least, Isaac Bickerstaff (Verkisto) has avoided succumbing to the lure of 2005, 2006, and 2007 games, all of which make up a very small percentage of his games played. Maybe this is due to his continued obsession with 2004 games, which make a very strong showing throughout the entire graph. This is due in large part to Ticket to Ride, Fairy Tale, San Juan, and No Thanks! garnering a combined 86 plays. It is impressive to see 1999 and 2003 also still making strong showings, as Isaac refuses to let 2005 through 2007 take hold of his game nights. For more on Isaac's game playing habits, check out his relatively new blog, entitled Yet Another Blog About Random Gaming Observations (YABARGO).