As some of you know, I write a game-review website called The Game Aisle and it started as a way to force myself to keep up with what’s new and cool in the mass-market and mass-appeal specialty-market game industry, but I never thought it would be as much of an education as it’s turned out to be. One of the things I find most interesting and perplexing at the same time is the number of games that are virtually the same. Okay, they may have different stuff in the box and different names, but they use very similar mechanics. Some times these games have a “familiar feel” because they are reminiscent of games from the past, but recently I’ve come across quite a few games that are being released at just about the same time that are essentially identical twins on Halloween. They have different names and they have distinct looks, but what’s under the theme and artwork is almost exactly the same.
Is this purely a coincidence? Are game manufacturers all hoping on the same trend-wagons? Or do we recycle game play mechanics over and over so much that it’s finally becoming obvious?
Now, don’t get me wrong, some of these games are great! There are ones that have improved on past games to make them relevant and appealing to today’s consumer. Two games that are cute renditions of the 1967 classic Feeley Meeley are Fundex’s 2003 Monster Under My Bed and Educational Insights’ 2010 game Laundry Jumble. Both games replaced the cardboard box in Feeley Meeley and put in something far more visually interesting (a bed and a dryer) and they added their own twists to the gameplay, but essentially players are rewarded for feeling around and retrieving the correct item. Luckily, these two games were released years apart and were targeted at different age groups, but what about when homologous games are marketed at the same time to the same consumer?
In the past few months I’ve come across a couple pairs of games that very similar once you scrape away the name and graphics. Without mentioning any names, there are two “quick-listing” games and two “draw with stuff” games on the market now that serve as great examples of this phenomenon. It makes the prophecy in Harry Potter, “For neither can live while the other survives” take on a whole new meaning, because I don’t believe a game can reach their full potential while an almost-doppelganger is lurking in the game aisle – except of course if the game is one of the heavyweights like Scrabble or Monopoly, there isn’t much that’s going to make a dent in those. But, I’m sure none of the manufacturers in my little test group are thrilled to be in this position, but it will be interesting to see if one, both or neither of the games in each pair can make it.