At the turn of the millennium, when Lord of the Rings was all the rage (The Fellowship of the Ring film was released in 2001), Reiner Knizia designed a game called… wait for it… Lord of the Rings. The title itself astounds me. We have so many different Lord of the Rings boardgames these days that it’s hard to imagine a time when there weren’t any, but this was the first of any note.
If you want to make a boardgame about Lord of the Rings now, you’re going to have great difficulty coming up with a name for it that makes you think of Lord of the Rings, but hasn’t already been taken. Prior to the year 2000 though, despite having a wealth of very popular material in the trilogy of books, it was a relatively untouched franchise as far as boardgames were concerned.
Reiner Knizia’s Lord of the Rings did very well in part due to the strength of the name. I know several non-gamers who bought the game simply because it was Lord of the Rings. It was certainly an insta-buy for me. However, it created a stir in the gaming world for another reason: it was a co-operative game.
Choices, Choices, Choices
Boardgames can involve a wide variety of mechanics, but the vast majority of them involve making choices of some kind. There are some notable exceptions: deduction, exploration, dexterity, roll and move, for example. But very often games will combine these mechanics with other mechanics that involve choices.
I’d like to suggest that, generally, the quality of a game comes down to the quality of the choices involved. It might be which card to select in 7 Wonders, which block to push in Jenga, which territory to attack in Scythe – whatever the choices are, interesting choices make for an interesting game.