Board games are officially back with a boom. For everyone that has missed out on this growing fad, this is why tabletop games have become so popular in the last few years
Just as 2014 was the year that radio became popular again, 2015 seems to be the year of the board game renaissance. Did you know that the card game Exploding Kittens garnered $8.78 million on Kickstarter in January, making it the 3rd most funded Kickstarter campaign so far this year and the 5th most funded Kickstarter project of all time? Kickstarter can in fact be credited with the recent surge in popularity of tabletop games.
Were you also aware that board game purchases rose between 25% and 40% each year between 2010 and 2013, according to the Guardian?
Board games are officially back with a boom. For everyone that has missed out on this growing fad, this is why board games have become so popular in the last few years.
How did the Internet not kill board games?
Quite to the contrary, the Internet has actually increased the demand for board games in recent years. Now, consumers can more easily buy tabletop games on places like Amazon, whereas before they would have to drive across town to the one specialty game shop. For those playing versions of board games like Monopoly or Axis and Allies on their smartphones, they are more inclined to purchase the physical game afterwards with the click of a few buttons on mobile.
There is also the undeniable fact that playing a board game with people in the same room is more social than online gaming. In a world where everything is digital, board games are simply analog fun. A few games do come with their own apps, but for the most part they require you to read the rules and sit down and interact with people and take a break from your Facebook and Twitter feed. It is also a wonderful, challenging exercise for your brain.
While it is another way of escaping reality, unlike computer games, most board games are from start to finish around 1-2 hours long and allow you to eat, drink, and have fun with friends you can see face to face.
Catan: the beginning of a new era
One could argue that things started in 1995 when German designer Klaus Teuber released Settlers of Catan, which later was shortened to just Catan. The game was very different from other games in the market because players interacted with each other on whole new levels: They competed to colonize a piece of land and built settlements and roads, all while trading with each other. Catan also enabled the 3-5 players to set up a modular game board, which made every game a new experience and the re-play value high.
The success of Catan encouraged other designers to venture into board games. One of these games, Ticket to Ride, is still very popular today, In this game, which was released in 2004, players attempt to build a rail network and score points when they connect cities on the map. Several expansions with more maps have been released since the game first launched and the play time is quite short, lasting approximately 60-90 minutes.
From geeks to everyone else
Nevertheless, for many people tabletop gaming is a niche hobby. It sounds geeky and in many ways it also really is. On the other hand, board games have entered the general public and are not just for geeks. They can be seen in TV series such as The Big Bang Theory and the internet show Tabletop, which Hollywood star Wil Wheaton hosts. In his show, he plays and explains board games with his friends who are actors, musicians, and writers. It is very popular and is owned by the network Geek and Sundry, which has over 1 million subscribers.
Many people are also making a living from tabletop gaming when they review and give comments on games. One of them is Tom Vasel, an American who runs the Dice Tower show. To many gamers around the world he is the equivalent of a superstar.
Where can I find more board games?
Specialized board game shops can be found in most American and European major cities and large retailers like Amazon and the Book Depository have restocked their digital shelves with analog games. There are also stores that focus only on games such as worldofboardgames in Sweden, which cater to the growing Nordic games market. For the geeks themselves, there is a forum just about tabletop games called boardgamegeek.com or BGG, where you can find everything you want to know about games, from rules to expansions. You can even find small pubs and coffee shops where gaming and not beverages are central. Draughts in London is such a place, where people can stop by for a few hours of games and the occasional pint.
The ultimate board game conference
If you like large-scale conferences and conventions, you are certainly in for a treat when it comes to board games. Every year in October in Essen, Germany, the largest convention in Europe takes place. Known as Spiel 2015 or more commonly just as “Spiel,” German for game, it brings visitors from all over the world. Hotels and youth hostels are usually sold out months in advance and it shows that as niche as tabletop gaming can be, it is also big business.
The prestigious award Game of the Year is awarded annually just before the exhibition. The game that won this year was Colt Express, a game set in the Wild West and that is quick and easy to play. It is expected to sell around half a million extra copies this year just because of the award. That is around 10 million euros extra in profits just from a reward.
Top 5 board games
If you are unsure whether to play or not, here is the author’s top 5 favorite tabletop games for those who might want to venture into the wonderful geeky world of games:
5. Lords of Waterdeep. Think Dungeons and Dragons and combine it with placing workers, completing quests, and scoring points with up to five other players in less than 90 minutes. It sounds complex, but it’s a very easy and straightforward game.
4. Settlers of Catan is a very basic introduction to tabletop gaming, but offers a lot of interaction between players and the whole family can play at the same time.
3. Dixit is a very unusual game in which you are trying to score points by associating surrealistic images with your imagination. No dice and very easy rules that are perfect for an after dinner activity.
2. Tsuro has one rule: Don’t let your game piece fall off the game board! It is an abstract strategy game that is language independent and plays up to 8 players at the same time within 15 minutes.
1. Finally, for the number one: Imperial Settlers. In this fun card game from 2014, you build up your own civilization over five rounds by trading, attacking other players, and getting your production up and running. It has beautiful graphics and is a wonderful game if you have played a few other games and want a challenge.
So, dust off the old board games you have or buy new ones and invite a few of your friends for an evening of pure analog fun. You won’t regret it.
The views expressed are of the author.
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