Last Sunday I stopped at Game Empire in Pasadena.
But as I thumbed through books and studied boxes, I was struck by something I hadn't really noticed so obviously before: trade dress is more important than content.
I looked at Bruges, and was struck by how much it reminded me of a dozen other resource management and strategy games, such as Doge, which I already own. Change the tokens, the cards, and the nominal setting and Bruges could be set in Antwerp or a dozen other cities as easily as Doge could be set in Livorno or Amsterdam or anyplace else with canals. Most of the games weren't about anything but rules of incredible sameness, and the trade dress of pirates and merchanters or Renaissance traders or whatever existed solely as window dressing.
On top of a book case full of Warhammer 40K books sat a copy of Avalon Hill's Starship Troopers, still in the shrink wrap - and only twenty-five bucks?! that's crazy cheap! All of the minis and army books and terrain and the meticulous and relentless art direction, just to offer the same bughunts as the board-game-in-a-box on top of the bookcase. In the future, there is only trade dress once again.
I flipped through FATE Core System. Talk about a game I really wanted to like but could never quite embrace. The core book reminded me why. Why are 'basic' roleplaying games so bloody involved? I've been playing for the better part of more than thirty-five years now, and if I'd had to read a rule book that big to start, I'd never've given up wargames. That point was reinforced when I got to our game later that day, and I pulled out my printed-out .pdfs for Flashing Blades - the core rules, the piracy supplement, and three adventures, all of which fit together in a term paper report cover. Our hobby is dominated by designers writing for existing gamers, and if this is supposed to attract new gamers, there's some serious delusion going on.
In the end, I bought some beautiful dice - two twenty-siders, two six-siders - the only products in that terrific store for which I had an actual use.