Confessions of a Wannabe Gamer: The Death and Afterlife of Games

It’s probably already happened to you: a game you love, that you cherish, that you collect and play and even obsess about, is cut down in the prime of life. Cancelled. Done. Dead.

The Emissary, an alternate card for Benjamin Sisko in the Star Trek Next Generation CCG

Is he playing piano?

It’s happened to me. A lot. I’ve loved and lost so many games I’m almost afraid to love again. And yet I do it.

My first love? The Star Trek: The Next Generation Customizable Card Game (or STTNGCCG for short) by Decipher. I’ll discuss it more in a later column, but suffice it to say I never obsessed about a game like I obsessed about ol’ STTNGCCG. And in an instant, it seemed, it was gone. (In all honesty, I lost track of the game over the years – it started in 1994 and it’s first edition was cancelled 12 years later. Still sad for me, though).

My next obsession was HeroScape, the “Build and Battle” game system from Hasbro. This I followed nearly from its premier in 2004 to its untimely withering death in 2010. I’ll also discuss this further in another column. This one really hurt.

Most of us know this pain all too well from other sources: our video game consoles. Before those blessed words “Backward Compatible” came into use and before you could simply download classic games to your console and hoard them forever on a hard drive like some archive of childhood, if you bought a new console your old games didn’t work on it. You unplugged the old one and relegated it to the indignity of a box with the old games, to an undeath among the dust, while you played on the shiny new console with the shiny new games. (As a side note, a store where I live now sells a system that allows you to play classic Nintento, Super Nintendo, and even Sega Genesis games on it – something that would have been an unthinkable heresy during the great Console Wars of the 1990s.)

Others know it from another kind of death altogether: Edition Fatigue. Dungeons & Dragons is famous for this: killing off editions and reformatting the game, cutting off support for the past editions while focusing on the shiny new edition.

One of the great Gamekillers in recent memory is also one of the greatest game companies out there: Wizards of the Coast. Famous for Magic: The Gathering and D&D, Wizards has also created a lot of orphans in recent years with its widow-maker tactics. In 2007, they cancelled their DreamBlade miniatures game after one year and three expansions. Its popular D&D Miniatures Battles game was cancelled in 2010, just halfway through the life of D&D 4th Edition. The equally popular Star Wars role-playing and miniatures games were cancelled that same year, citing the economy as the reason for not renewing their license with Lucasfilm. Just last year the latest incarnation of Gamma World, a roleplaying game set in an alternate, irradiated future was killed off. Not to mention HeroScape, which was another of their properties.

The thing with such games is that despite being killed, they still refuse to die.

Mall Madness board game

Sometimes, dead is better.

I asked my Twitter followers for games they wished would be brought back. One suggestion: Mall Madness, a late-1980s board game in which – what else? – you shopped until a timer told you the mall had closed. Interestingly enough the game was produced until at least 2005, and spin-off versions featuring Hannah Montana and Littlest Pet Shop were also produced. Sometimes the games we THINK are dead really aren’t.

Other times, they’re dead, and yet they keep living. We still have our old SNES and N64 and Playstation 2, despite owning a Wii and Playstation 3. Which of all of these things gets the most use? Yup, the N64: my one brother continually plays his 12-year-old version of MLB 2001, and we boys will still rock out to Killer Instinct: Gold and Goldeneye, and even the Zelda games. And we still play Star Wars minis and HeroScape – just get out the box and review the rules quickly and you’re good to go.

Killer Instinct Gold cartridge for the Nintendo 64Others seem to take up the fallen banner and run with it. HeroScape lives on thanks to the thriving online community of HeroScapers.com, which still posts things for the game. And the long-dead 3.5 Edition of Dungeons and Dragons was saved from death by game publisher Paizo and repackaged as the insanely successful Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, which at one point was even reportedly outselling D&D 4th Edition.

I am constantly amazed by the things I can find online related to bygone games. Looking for a game you’ve lost? It’s out there, somewhere. It could be on eBay – I’ve found lots this way. Or you might find it via an online game store – there is still an ongoing trade in Star Ward and D&D minis on these sites, and even games like DreamBlade that have been dead for years still have stores that will sell them. HeroScape, too.

Games live on. Nothing is ever lost.

Related posts:

Speak Out with your Geek Out
Confessions of a Wannabe Gamer: Buyback Woes
Confessions of a Wannabe Gamer: The Genius that was HeroScape
A Look Back At Star Trek: The Motion Picture
  • Stevecoffin

    R.I.P. HeroScape… Great game but no more…

    • Peter Kuebeck

      I feel your pain – I own almost every set, and was bummed when I heard the news. There were those pesky rumors of ‘Heroscape 2.0′ a while back, but that turned out to be nothing.
      watch this space! I’ll be writing an article about good ol’ Heroscape here soon!

      • Stevecoffin

        I look forward to it. :-)

  • Mark Argent

    Wizards has always stated that D&D Gamma World was envisioned as a three-products-and-out product line.

    • Peter Kuebeck

      The thing is, by all accounts I’ve seen, GW was MUCH more successful than WotC had bargained for. Disappointing that they didn’t capitalize on that!