Why Bother With Second Editions?

Why Bother With Second Editions
Why Bother With Second Editions

From time to time a game is so well loved a second edition of the game is released. Often that second edition comes with fancier components like a mounted board or thicker counters. Other times, it’s a rules and errata update. Still other times a second edition is reworking of the rules after a few years of player feedback and observations of misplayed rules by the developer or designer. First edition owners might feel betrayed though, especially if the second edition paves the way for new information on counters, or is a significant overhaul to other materials like counters and maps. Others see second editions as a way to bring new players into the fold with streamlined rules, clearer play examples, and improved components.

Today, we’ll be looking at why publishers should even bother with second editions.

There are a few central questions we’ll be looking at:

  1. What should constitute a second edition versus a reprint?
  2. Is it important for publishers to offer an “upgrade kit?”
  3. How should second editions be communicated?

First, I think it’s important to address that popular games evolve over time with the skill and benefit of hindsight from a thoughtful designer. I like second editions and do not mind paying full fare for a second edition if I feel like there are significant enough changes to the edition I already own. Some recent examples of second edition games on my shelf that were purchased in the last year:

  • Battles of the American Revolution (BoAR) Tri-Pack
  • No Retreat: The Russian Front 2nd (3rd?) edition
  • Fields of Fire 2nd Edition

Why bother getting these titles since I love and own the first editions? Frankly, there isn’t a reason driven by need. Fields of Fire 1st edition works perfectly well with the 2nd edition rules. After all, I had access to those 2nd edition rules and used my counters to play around with them a little bit. With the BoAR Tri-Pack, I just wanted those mounted maps. I had the errata counters from c3i and from subsequent games. Finally, I purchased the solo upgrade kit for No Retreat: The Russian Front way back when, but I wanted to get the new cards that were tear away versions.

My first editions of these will hit the market at pretty low prices in the near future (early February probably). That, in turn, will help me lower the cost of entry for the upgraded versions and will help get a new player these games quickly. I just reviewed Flying Colors and I was figuratively the first in line to buy the second edition for that game. It meant I could give my gaming partner my copy for $10. It was a no brainer and I have never regretted buying second edition games. That doesn’t mean that I will always do so! In the case of Agricola (the Uwe Rosenberg game not the Tom and Mary Holland game), the latest version that was released just made me shrug my shoulders. The original is fine enough for me.

So, what makes a second edition and should all games that get reprinted be titled “second edition?”

Second Edition designations should be reserved for material changes to the game rather than simply indicating a second printing. This will help reduce confusion and ensure that folks in the market for used games know what they’re getting. I am also a proponent of an easy to identify text or box change that demonstrates a game is a second edition. Sometimes well meaning sellers just don’t know and with older games where this wasn’t always the case it can be disappointing to buyers.

An edition refers to a particular form or version of a published work. As a result, second editions should be materially different from a straight reprint. I don’t just mean in terms of component quality if the difference is passing. For example, a reprint that includes thicker counters and a matte map compared to a glossy map should just be qualified as a reprint. If, however, counters have errata included, the map is now mounted, and player aid charts have been significantly altered then the publisher should be headed toward a second edition designation.

It is not realistic for a publisher or designer to allow well loved games to lay fallow or cease their evolution to protect the wallets of insecure gamers who bemoan improvements in their games. Publishers aren’t, after all, forcing people to re-buy games. Each consumer has control of their purchasing decisions and publishers will respond to that. It can feel like being stung if a gamer has gone all in on a series only to have the rug pulled out from under their feet by an edition change that invalidates the remaining games or subsequently released expansions built upon this new framework. Even then, the consumer is still in the driver’s seat.

What about the notion of upgrade kits?

I love a good upgrade kit. I don’t know what kind of black magic allows a publisher to sensibly estimate the number of these that will actually sell, but I LOVE the thought and effort that surely goes into them. Consider the complication of packaging and ordering that this presents for publishers. Let’s say a game sells 2,000 copies over the course of 2 years. That’s not exactly burning up the charts, but it’s sufficient demand that the publisher decides they want to do a second edition because the designer is now more popular, the topic is en vogue, and the rules have been updated to the point where the game is getting great attention at conventions.

The decision has to be made about how many of those 2,000 prior owners:

  • are interested in an upgrade kit versus re-buying the whole game
  • are even aware that an upgrade kit will exist
  • liked the game enough to want to upgrade to the second edition
  • love the game as it is and don’t want to upgrade

Past experience is the best teacher, but that can be a harsh lesson to learn depending on how the upgrade kit components are purchased. Can the publisher convert those kits into full blown games? Are the lessons from another game/series applicable to the current one? Is there some other macro-economic pressure on gamers that might affect their willingness to part with $30 vs $50 for a game that is different from last time?

I am just thankful whenever I see a publisher has gone through the trouble to make an upgrade kit available for a game I enjoy. There’s no other emotion to it on my part.

How should second editions be communicated?

The communication plan for the roll-out of the second edition is an important step in avoiding game knee jerk reactions. The three main components of the communication strategy are:

  1. Announce the Second Edition
  2. Clearly describe why the second edition was necessary
  3. Document what is available for download that can upgrade first edition owners and what will come in the second edition that’s unique or not able to be created at home

We live in an era when at-home printing or commercial printers who work directly with individual consumers has exploded. It’s not unreasonable that someone could print on high quality card stock at home. It’s also not unreasonable that if someone was truly opposed to the change that they couldn’t create their own errata addressed counters.

Most second editions I’ve seen typically don’t invalidate an entire game or even a significant portion of a game. They might adjust values or ratings. Be transparent about those changes for people who refuse to pay for an upgrade kit or to get the whole shebang from the publisher. Sometimes, offering the option and just specifying the changes can be a powerful way to drown out the small subset of angry voices that detract from the exciting overall message of a second edition.

So, why bother with second editions?

Easy! Like other gamers, I want access to the best possible game. Sometimes that necessitates a second edition and it’s an infrequent cost I’m willing to pay for in my collection when the game is well loved. In the last 7 years of serious boardgame collecting (is that a thing?), I think I’ve purchased maybe a dozen second editions for first edition games I own. There were second editions that didn’t catch my eye enough or for games I wanted to own, but was unlikely to play competitively.

At the end of the day, the little drooling game devouring creature that sits on my shoulder when I browse publisher websites is kept at bay not by business practices (typically), but rather by my own interests.

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