Is my love for Knizia just a big lie?

This entry is an honest reflection of my gaming style and preferences in the past decade. I have always maintained a love for streamlined Euros, particularly those from the classic designers such as Knizia, Kramer, Kiesling, Dorn. Much have been said about these designers and they clearly need no introduction.

Among these old-timers, I have always declared my devotion for Reiner Knizia. I own many of his designs and certainly almost all of his top 50 on Boardgamegeek. I admire all his hits and also many of his misses. While I am not a blind follower, I could easily defend his work. His games are always streamlined, strip to its core and elegant. The rules are simple, the overheads are low but the decision space is quite the opposite. It is always a joy to see his designs. Why then do I not pull his game off the shelf more often ?

I think there are several superficial explanations. On the surface, the most logical conclusion is that I have too many games and they all compete for my attention. I have to grudgingly admit that I am probably a reluctant member of the cult of the new-to-me. This is slightly different from the cult of the new since I don’t have to hunt down new games. I am perfectly fine picking up a game in the secondary market 3 years after initial publication. Since the game is new to me, it jumps straight to the front of the line almost every time. Since gaming time is limited, that just means games in the queue are pushed back indefinitely. This issue will continue to plague my efforts to replay the classics as long as I continue to pick up new games. Luckily, I think there is light at the end of the tunnel for this malady. My rate of acquisition has slowed dramatically owing to the fact that I am now a more ‘mature gamer’. Not every game looks shiny to me and while I still occasionally fall for hype, it is much less so. In addition, I find the trend in board gaming veering further away from my preferences and this has made acquisition of new games much less attractive. This is made abundantly clear when you track the games I Recently purchased and sold. Without a doubt, the new games come and go in my collection, but Amun-Re, Taj Mahal, Ra, Princes of Florence, Goa, etc still remain in my collection and it hasn’t crossed my mind to dispose of them. In contrast, Tekhenu is already on my trade pile and Barrage is sold.

However, underneath all the “excuses”, I still find myself rarely pulling out a Knizia these days. If I truly love Knizia, and by extension, the other classic designers, why am I ignoring them? One possibility is that deep down, as much as I love a streamlined Euro that has come to define games in that era, I also yearn for mechanistic complexity. Many of Knizia’s games are deep but short. Deep because the player interactions often dictate how the games unfolds. The game has emergent properties that do not appear in the rules, but will be evident once play starts. However, no one will ever mistake a Knizia game for being “complex”. His games tend to play within an hour even under maximum player count. In general, that is a good thing, right? Yet, I find myself looking forward to being fully engaged by a single 3-4 hour experience each weekend instead of playing 2-3 games for the evening. Length is something the best of Knizia cannot provide. A game of Samurai, Through the Desert will eat up at most 40-60 min and while totally fun, is less epic in scope. Even with Knizia’s heavier games like Amun-Re, the game play is not enough to scratch the itch. So when searching for a game du jour, I end up with a heavier main course.

There is a flip side to this trend. As games get heavier and more complex, the fun to complexity ratio takes a dip. More and more, I see games mash together mechanisms to generate complexity and extract novelty. For sure, this is in response to market demands, and games have a hard time selling these days without some form of gimmick or twist to a traditional mechanism. There is of course, a line in the sand. Novelty is always welcome while complexity must serve a purpose. Games with high level of needless complexity without serving a purpose often have fiddly rules, lots of in game upkeep and non-intuitive and arbitrary scoring. Playing it feels like a chore. Unfortunately, it seems like many games published these days, have crossed that threshold.

I suspect another reason that Knizia isn’t hitting the table as much is the largely abstract nature of his designs. Because the games are simpler and devoid of chrome, the underlying abstract nature of the game comes through a little more. This is of course extremely dependent on the game group and I suspect that my group is not nearly as enamored with abstract or auction games. This has of course made me steer clear of games such as Modern Art or Samurai even though both of these games are in my top 50.

Circling back to the main topic, I think there is a sweet spot for me somewhere. There is clearly a large swath of Euros in the middle where the complexity is not overwhelming and games can still fall within the 2 hour mark. Not withstanding Knizia’s games, many classics and modern day Euros fall into this category. I am reminded that excellent games are being published every single day after having played Gentes recently.

Still, none of these address the lack of play time for Knizia’s classics. As my collection continues to slim down and the rate of culling exceeds that of acquisition, I am certain my collection of old games will resurface. I guess what’s old is new and I hope that the mid-light games will see a resurgence.

Now, where can I find a decent copy of Babylonia?

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