In the latest podcast, I proposed a measure for the value of games, the ratio of gaming hours per dollar. (Let's abbreviate this ration HPD, for convenience.) The HPD for a game like Mage Knight: The Boardgame is pretty high: out of the box, you get a very good game with a lot of depth. A lot to explore, even if there were only one scenario, but the designer provided several scenarios to explore, out of the box.
I'm repeating the phrase out of the box for a reason. The HPD for a game should depend on what you get, prior to any expansions. That's what makes the HPD very high for Mage Knight, and even higher for its granddaddy, Magic Realm. Good gravy, that game provides a lot of different dimensions to master, and a lot of different options to explore. Again, out of the box.
But some people can't help but open the hood and start pulling out parts. Decision Games has a bad track record of damaging games like Empires of the Middle Ages and Imperium through unnecessary changes. FFG altered the combat system for Dungeonquest for no good reason, and it seems as though Kevin Wilson went a rule too far with the new Wiz-War. Over at Boardgame Geek, Rusty Ballinger provides a very balanced critique of this new edition, which unfortunately echoed some of my concerns when I started perusing my copy of the game.
Yes, I know, you can easily ignore some of the new rules. It doesn't cost you anything to change the victory conditions back to the classic "capture two chests." But there are other aspects of the new Wiz-War that, I fear, reduce the HPD ratio. Read Rusty Ballinger's review for some examples, and I'll add one of my own:
The old Wiz War might have been underproduced, but you sure got a lot of plays out of it.
The box was small, so it didn't take up too much room in your gaming closet. There were only two expansions, and each was relatively inexpensive. Even without the expansions, out of the box, you'd get a lot of plays out of the basic set. Which makes the HPD ratio even higher than it is with the new edition, almost by definition.
Given the choice, I'd rather have nicer components than uglier ones. But the components don't really add much to the HPD ratio. Sure, it gives you that "good all under" feeling when you first look at it, but how long does that frisson last? Especially when compared to more durable aspects of the game, like its replayability?
Nothing comes for free. You focus your attention on the components, and you invest less in other things -- like the rulebook. As Rusty Ballinger asks, "Dammit, you guys had twenty years to straighten out ambiguities & questions; how could you leave old ones & add new ones!?" The answer to that question is, the rules were a lesser priority for this edition. Rules problems -- holes, ambiguities, changes, misinterpretations -- are a net loss in HPD terms. You're spending less time actually playing, and more time figuring out the right way to play. Ugh.