6 April 2020 | 47 Comments
On a recent Facebook Livecast, someone asked me what I thought about anniversary editions of tabletop games. I had a few off-the-cuff remarks, but it isn’t a topic I’ve thought about much, so I thought I’d explore it more in detail today. While I’ll focus on games in this article, some of these concepts could apply to other categories as well.
My initial thoughts are that I think anniversary editions can be a nice way to revive out-of-print games for people who don’t already own them but that they do a disservice to those who supported the original versions of the games. Let’s dig deeper to see if those thoughts hold up.
The anniversary editions I examined for this article are mostly games released 10 years after their original versions. While many of them feature significant changes and updates, they seem to be more celebrations of their predecessors, not necessary modernizations (opposed to, say, the Diplomacy 50th anniversary edition). Of these, I’ve played all of the original games except Container, and the anniversary editions I’ve played are Ticket to Ride and Notre Dame.
- Ticket to Ride (10th Anniversary): This edition includes full-sized cards, painted train tokens, custom player tins, a much bigger map, and a new, bigger box. There’s also a recently released 15th anniversary edition that I don’t know much about.
- Notre Dame (10th Anniversary): From the outside, this edition looks pretty much the same as the original. But on the inside it includes an expansion and apparently an expansion to that expansion.
- Container (10th Anniversary): This edition went big–it even has “jumbo” in its name! It looks like the box, the art, and some of the components were reworked, most notably the big ship miniatures.
- Dungeon Lords (5th Anniversary): This appears to essentially be the original game plus the hefty Festival Season expansion.
- Belfort (10th Anniversary): Belfort went out of print for a while, so this is a reprint plus an existing expansion and a new expansion.
- The Castles of Burgundy (20th Anniversary): With 7 existing mini expansions and 1 new expansion, this is essentially a big-box game plus revamped art and graphic design.
- Stone Age (10th Anniversary): This edition includes a double-sided board (original and new), enhanced player pieces, a revised rulebook, and a few mini expansion.
As far as I can tell, some (but not all) of these anniversary versions required a significant investment of time and money to update into the new editions. In my opinion, that’s a good thing–if you’re celebrating a rebirth of an older game, shouldn’t you do it with a flourish? Across the board, it does appear that sales have reflect that the investment was justified (at least as far as I can tell from BGG ratings and Kickstarter results for Dungeon Lords and Belfort).
But is it the best thing for the game? Here are a few thoughts as I puzzle through this:
- Timing and availability: If the game has existed for a while (10 years is the earliest I would ever consider it) and it’s been out of print for a few years, I can see how an anniversary edition might be worthwhile. Ticket to Ride and Stone Age are the exceptions here–not only were the originals in print when the anniversary editions were released, but the originals have also remained in print while the anniversary editions are unavailable. Is it better for the anniversary edition to replace the original? If it’s just a temporary special edition, isn’t that more of a collectors edition?
- Gauging demand: I think most publishers might hear anecdotally from time to time that fans want an updated version of a game they can only find on Ebay for a 300% markup. But is hearing from a few fans enough to justify a print run of 1000+ units? Yes, you can use Kickstarter to gauge demand, but at that point you’ve already done some market research to justify revamping the game, and if you already have that research, why not just go ahead and make it?
- Introducing new content and compatibility: A few of these anniversary editions introduce new content. I applaud TMG for making that content available by itself through the Belfort Kickstarter and that it remains compatible with the original version. But that may not always be possible, particularly if you change component size.
- Potential for confusion: Multiple editions can cause headaches for consumers, even when previous editions are well out of print. I’ve been through this with Viticulture: Even though the first two editions of the game only have around 10k units in print and the Essential Edition (90k units in print) is the only version we’ve made since 2015, we still find hear from confused consumers about the differences between the editions.
The biggest factor for me is respecting fans who have already invested in the original game (and expansions/accessories), especially if tens of thousands of copies of that game are in circulation. As some of the above games have shown, it’s possible to do that, but there are many hurdles to overcome.
So would Stonemaier Games ever consider an anniversary edition for one of our games? I’m not going to say no, but I think it would take an unlikely series of circumstances to align for us to do so. For example, we’ve never let one of our games go out of print for longer than a few months–if people want our products, we’re going to continue to make them.
Plus, if I’m going to make an anniversary edition, I want it to be a full-on celebration of the game, meaning a significant investment in components, art, etc…but what does that say about the quality of the original? Plus, then you create compatibility issues, and at least some people who have the original might feel a bit jaded that they invested in an inferior version of the game.
Looking through our 9 games, I’m just not seeing one that fits my requirements for an anniversary edition. But we’ll see–maybe the responses to this article will convince me otherwise. :)
What do you think about anniversary editions? Have you ever bought one? See poll below, and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
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