Board Games: A Rising Tide

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In an age dominated by digital media, board games are making a killing.

In 2014, Toy Industry Association reported that board games and puzzles accounted for 1.46 billion dollars in sales in the United States, a nine percent increase from 2013. This rising trend has been ongoing since 2011, with board games bringing in more and more money each year for publishers and indie developers. Board games have entered a sort of golden age, one in which any type of player can find a game that suits them. So why is this increase happening now, in an age where video games, movies, and music are more accessible than ever? The short answer to this question would be that the internet happened, but there is more to it than just that.

Let’s roll back the clock first. In 1995, a little game called Settlers of Catan had just hit shelves in Germany. The game, created by Klaus Teuber, a dental technician who designed board games for fun, took the world by storm upon its release. Today, Settlers of Catan has sold 18 million copies worldwide, and is now sold at major retailers like Walmart, Target, and Barnes and Noble. Settlers of Catan opened the mind of many Americans to European style board games, which feature streamlined rule systems that required much more thought and player cooperation than American games of the time. Today the American board game market, which has traditionally released games that are heavy on theme and luck, have introduced more streamlined mechanics and player cooperation into their games. Monopoly is out, and Settlers of Catan is in to stay.

Settlers of Catan opened the mind of many Americans to European style board games, which feature streamlined rule systems that required much more thought and player cooperation than American games of the time.

Settlers of Catan opened the mind of many Americans to European style board games, which feature streamlined rule systems that required much more thought and player cooperation than American games of the time.

So with the advent of Settlers of Catan into the United States, board games began to shift towards a more adult market. No longer were board games just for kids, or a hobby that one was expected to grow out of, now whole groups of people were assembling to play Settlers of Catan on the weekends. More games were needed to fill this new niche of adult gamers, and publishers were happy to jump into the new landscape. American publishers took advantage of popular themes and trends to create a new generation of games, like the Lovecraft inspired survival coop game Arkham Horror, or the immense space opera Twilight Imperium. Other games that had already been around for years like Axis and Allies found new life. This influx of new and redesigned board games was helped along by a force we all know too well today: the internet.

Prior to the era of online purchasing, board games were often only sold at specialty shops. There was not much of a buzz or desire for board games in the United States outside of the established community. With the introduction of Catan and the widespread proliferation of the internet, that began to change. Today, potential buyers can find virtually any board game desired on the Amazon.com marketplace, and finding your nearest gaming shop is just a Google search away. Communities of gamers began to unite together online, and creating forums like Boardgamegeek.com to share their love of games and discover new ones. YouTube has been a powerful ally for board gamers as well. The Dice Tower, a channel focused on all things board game related founded by Tom Vasel, has over 100,000 subscribers to date. The reviews and discussions hosted by Vasel and his associates have had a positive impact on the community, allowing gamers both old and new to see for themselves what games they may enjoy or be interested in. Board games have really only benefited from the rise of digital media, rather than been hampered by it.

“In this disconnected, media centric, electronic world, we need something where we can get back to talking to people and playing and interacting with people,” says Katie Burton, the owner ofValhalla’s Gate, a specialty gaming shop in Columbia Mo. “I think board games provide a way for people to socialize and interact with each other in a fun, meaningful way.”

Burton’s words certainly seem to hold true, as Valhalla’s Gate recently enjoyed its fifteenth birthday and has become a staple business within Columbia’s gaming community.

Personally, gaming has always provided me with a perfect excuse to gather all my friends together. Some of my fondest memories involve sitting around a table with my gaming group, spending our time stabbing each other in the back and shouting angrily as we play Fantasy Flight’s A Game of Thrones: The Board Game. Though it seems at times that the pressures and stresses of everyday life work to push people further apart, board games serve only to pull people together again working in tandem. As publishers continue to license new games, and sites like Kickstarter help to launch new indie studios into the wild, I foresee that board games will enjoy a bright, prosperous future.

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