What makes a board game innovative?

Innovation is quite the buzz word for consumer goods companies.  It has been used so much, that it almost means nothing.  I have spent the majority of my career at Fortune 50 companies innovating their product offerings.  I have seen innovation defined a variety of ways.  It can be used to describe any new idea someone has.  Or, it can also represent a major change to an industry.  I like to suggest that great innovation changes a previously held belief.  You can read more about my thoughts on a LinkedIn article.

In case you didn't head straight to LinkedIn... I'll summarize… Innovation = a New Belief. It creates a new way of seeing the world.  The old belief of the world is no longer sufficient.  You know when you have found something truly innovative when the old version simply won’t cut it anymore.  For example, there must have been a few people who returned to a flip phone after using a smart phone.  But, for the vast majority of us, the smart phone changed how we viewed what we carried in our pockets.  This is an example of Disruptive Innovation, a term coined by industry expert Clayton Christensen.  These are products that create a new market or new value for a customer.   

For the game industry, Disruptive Games will do the same thing.  They either create new experiences players want to return to again and again or they bring new people to the industry/category.  Disruptive game experiences change the belief of what a game is supposed to be through how games are played.  For instance:

  • Mechanics - International Oil Man - An old game, but with a very unique mechanic:  you shake the 3D board before you play to randomize the game-play
  • Styles - Risk Legacy - Essentially created the growing trend of Legacy games: a game where you actually mar or permanently damage the game.
  • Themes - Scyth - Obviously, a hot game right now.  But, a lot of the hype for the game comes from it's unique twist of an alternative history where mech meets farming in the1920s. 
  • Game Pieces - Into the Woods - It uses translucent cards to create a depth/layering to the board space and gaming experience
  • Interaction - Seafall - This Legacy game changes the way you think of how long a game lasts and it's replay-ability.  This game can last for months and asks players to alter game pieces rendering them hard to use again, therefore creating a true ending. 
  • Others - For context, Board Game Geek has honored some of these games and others with this years honorees of "most innovative.  Find the list here.

Disruptive Games also change beliefs of what the industry is supposed to be through who plays and develops games.  A few examples: 

  •  Grow the Category -  Settlers of Catan - Despite how you feel about this game, there is no denying it has grown the gaming category by introducing new gamers to a different experience instead of typical Monopoly.
  • New Category Exposure - Target - They have exponentially increased the shelf space for board games in recent years.  Even going as far as creating a "Strategy" section.  Therefore, bringing a deeper gaming experience to customers that don't normally go to the neighborhood game store.
  • New Channels Kickstarter - Hasbro beware.  Kickstarter has ignited a community with a path for anyone to publish a game, not just the big game makers.  

This industry is growing so fast.  I am sure I missed some other examples.  So, please share with me:  what board game has changed how you see the industry? 

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