A Board Game Renaissance

Scott Tortorice

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One of the things that I am finding so fascinating about the current board game / minis scene is how fecund it all is! When I left board games in the early to mid 90s, the board game world was in dire straits. Giants like Avalon Hill, GDW, and others were all cashing in their chips. Of course, this was about then PC gaming and the early consoles were starting to gather momentum, so that probably had a lot to do with it. Still, it was very depressing. Now...wow, what a difference a few decades make! :D I think the board game and minis scene is now outpacing the world of video games in terms of sheer diversity. From garage studios self publishing via PDFs, to high quality shops like FFG and LnL, there is something for every budget and taste! Amazing!

I recently came across this article in the Boston Globe that made a similar observation:

http://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2014/11/26/board-games-are-back-and-boston-player/tMzvNNO1BlGo8J598Q3PZI/story.html

I found this particularly interesting:

“For several years now, we have been seeing a secular trend in gaming away from games played on a screen and toward tabletop games played in person with other players,” Milton Griepp, CEO and founder of ICv2, says by e-mail. ICv2 covers the business of pop-culture retail via a website and magazine. “There are no signs that this trend is abating.”

Non-digital games and puzzles racked up $1.9 billion in sales in the United States in 2013, according to the Toy Industry Association Inc., up 3 percent over 2012. The more focused “hobby game” market — which includes card games like 7 Wonders, dice games like King of Tokyo, and tabletop miniatures games like Warhammer 40,000 — has grown 15 percent a year on average for the past five years, and that segment was worth $700 million in 2013, according to ICv2. The toy and game giant Hasbro, based in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, saw sales rise 23 percent in 2013 for its Wizards of the Coast division, which publishes Magic: The Gathering and the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons. Mainstream board-game sales — of the Scrabble and Taboo variety — are also up. According to NPD Group Inc., a market research company, sales of family board and action games, such as Sorry and Life, grew 5 percent in 2012 and 14 percent in 2013. In short, you might say we’re in the middle of a Golden Age for board games.
The part I put in bold is what really caught my attention. As I blogged about last year (and this year, if not as vociferously :)) I feel like I am being driven out of video games by awful or nonexistent quality control (i.e., bug-ridden, incomplete games), by "iteration not innovation" (i.e., more of the same), by the often poisonous and juvenile community that collects around games (particularly MP games), and so on. Do you think this trend away from video games towards board games is a reflection of other people feeling the same?

All I know is that I am getting a kick playing against myself again. :) Not having to struggle against a mercurial / brain dead AI or another person is nice. And I am also enjoying being in total control of the execution of the game. Lastly, just getting out from under the "shadow of the phosphor screen" is refreshing! There is definitely something to be said for old school gaming. :)
 

dwardzala

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Re: Boston Globe: A Board Game Renaissance

A couple things about board games that make them attractive:
You control who you play a board game with - most computer MP games, you are playing with all sorts of characters, and if some of them don't mesh with you, either you put up with it or stop playing. You invite your friends over to you house to play a board game. If you don't like your friend, don't invite him to the next game.
The second thing is, many of us spend all day at computers, and I just want a break from it.
Thirdly, board gaming is much more social than on-line computer gaming and can be played a whatever pace you want. Most online games are real time which means you can't really take a break to go fill up your drink or grab some chips and dip.
 

Scott Tortorice

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Re: Boston Globe: A Board Game Renaissance

Good points!

A couple things about board games that make them attractive:
You control who you play a board game with - most computer MP games, you are playing with all sorts of characters, and if some of them don't mesh with you, either you put up with it or stop playing. You invite your friends over to you house to play a board game. If you don't like your friend, don't invite him to the next game.
That's for sure! Plus, you can play against the perfect opponent - you! :) Yeah, I am enjoying solo play again.


The second thing is, many of us spend all day at computers, and I just want a break from it.
Yup! I am finding it refreshing. Plus, it is nice to play a genre where you don't have to worry if your hardware is good enough "to run it." :D Well, except for your brain.


Thirdly, board gaming is much more social than on-line computer gaming and can be played a whatever pace you want. Most online games are real time which means you can't really take a break to go fill up your drink or grab some chips and dip.
Also a good point! One of the reasons why I love correspondence chess is for the same reason: you can play at your own pace. Of course, other board games also enjoy this facet, too. In fact, that is how I have been playing against myself. As with correspondence chess, I find myself taking a few minutes out of the day to just play a single turn or two of a game. I really enjoy that leisurely pace.

The only negatives I have for board games are the following:

1) Learning the rules! :D I forgot what it was like to need to study a game before playing it. :D Not to mention needing to constantly refer back to the rules.

2) Short print runs. PC gaming has spoilt me with its infinite supply of copies, even a decade or more later. It can be frustrating to find a board game that sounds really good only to discover that the print run ended two years ago, and now you have to scrounge for a copy - assuming there are any copies left out there. It seems like Print on Demand is helping to ameliorate this problem, but scarcity is definitely an issue. Now I understand why all those kickstarter campaigns for board games are so popular. The early bird gets the worm, and all that....
 
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Re: Boston Globe: A Board Game Renaissance

Here's a take on it from a British 30-something perspective. The video is a bit long though

http://www.shutupandsitdown.com/videos/v/board-game-golden-age-talk/

Basically I think the design of games has got a lot better, but the print run can be a problem. A decent review and you can find it impossible to get hold of a copy, particularly in the run up to Christmas!
 

Scott Tortorice

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Re: Boston Globe: A Board Game Renaissance

Here's a take on it from a British 30-something perspective. The video is a bit long though

http://www.shutupandsitdown.com/videos/v/board-game-golden-age-talk/
I watched the whole thing and found some of his points interesting. He did sort of lose me when he tried to sell the whole "are board games cool" thing - nobody over 16 should be worried about what is cool or not - but I agree with his other points. I was particularly surprised when he made the argument about how great it is to be able to change the rules of a game to suit your tastes - something you can't do with video games. Likewise his point about the cost of making a basic video game versus making a board game. I also think those are all contributing to why board games are now doing so well.

The discussion about the German influence on board game design was interesting, too. I remember publishing an article for GameSquad where one of our writers explored just that issue, but back in 2008? 2010? Interesting to see how the philosophy has morphed over the years. Also interesting how Americans like a narrative theme (as he put it), while Germans just seem to like mechanics in a narrative void.

He is a video game journalist so I am sure he didn't want to "go there" but I think he might want to explore the possibility that video gamers are flocking to board games because of the reprehensible nonsense going on in the industry these days. I know that is one of the reasons why I am starting to turn my back on video games. And while he did mention the attraction of face to face gaming, I think he also sidestepped the issue that the core of the multiplayer experience in the world of video games is often playing with nasty strangers. Again, I don't think people are choosing to play board games as much as being driven. :)

I will say that I am not as keen for deck building games and talking games (negotiations/bluffing/etc) as he is. I used to have a game group in college and we played some of the talking games...and they were usually very contentious games that left people with bad feelings (he even described similar incidents). As a result, we didn't play a lot of those. As for deck building games, while I am sure they can be a lot of fun, there is just something about seeing a whole bunch of deck piles laying around that turns me off. :D Reminds me too much of Solitaire (a game I always hated). Give me a board, too! And pieces to move!

Basically I think the design of games has got a lot better, but the print run can be a problem. A decent review and you can find it impossible to get hold of a copy, particularly in the run up to Christmas!
Yeah. Even games that are still in print seem to run out of stock very quickly, leaving you on a waitlist for an unknown period of time. That needs to be the next evolution of the board game business: being able to keep a board game in print and in supply indefinitely, or at least for a year or two! I imagine having games go out of print so quickly probably has prevented more than a few games from catching on and becoming as popular as they might otherwise have become.

In other news, here is another board game Golden Age article:

http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/239676?utm_content=bufferf60a1&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Old-School Games Get New Life

Think the rise of consoles and mobile devices means it’s game over for old-school tabletop gaming? Think again.

The digital revolution hasn’t killed board games, role-playing games and other offline diversions. Instead, new technologies are rewriting the rules of hobby-game publishing and production—and raking in some serious cash. We’re not talking Monopoly money here, either. ICv2, a site dedicated to hobby gaming (defined as titles sold primarily via the hobby channel of game and card specialty stores), reports that shoppers in the U.S. and Canada spent $700 million on hobby games in 2013, up 20 percent year-over-year and almost double the totals of 2008. The collectible-games category (properties like Magic: The Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh!) leads the charge, with 2013 retail sales of $450 million; miniatures (including Warhammer 40,000 and Hordes) are nextat $125 million, followed by board games at $75 million, card and dice games at $35 million and role-playing games at $15 million.
 

Scott Tortorice

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Re: Boston Globe: A Board Game Renaissance

And ANOTHER board game renaissance article:

http://www.geekwire.com/2014/boardgames-latest-analog-craze/

Again, I think writers are over-emphasizing the social aspects, at least when it comes to people who are regular players of video games. I mean, it's not like gamers have completely forgotten about friends while they are playing video games. In many cases they are playing with their friends online or even with them on the same couch! So this idea that "hey, what if we play a game together?!" is some novel idea is just silly. No, I think what is driving this BG renaissance is two things:

1) The improved overall quality of board games (be it chit-based or otherwise), and the affordability of the popular new line of 15mm miniatures
2) The sorry shape of the video game world

Yes, those are the driving factors for me, but as I am pretty typical with these things - heck, I apparently got involved with BGs the same time as a lot of other people did based on these articles :D - I think those are the real driving factors. I suspect that because many of these writers also cover VGs, they don't want to poison their own well by airing the dirty laundry of the other games industry, especially in light of #GamerGate which demonstrated just how rotten things are.
 
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Re: Boston Globe: A Board Game Renaissance

I guess the social aspect does make a nice story, but I think there is an element of choice. When we started having 'games evenings' with friends a lot of the time it did start with us playing party games on the Wii or PS, but has gradually morphed into playing modern boardgames.

Part of the problem for us might be that we've seen most of the genres of video game and they are getting a bit tired. Whereas we're still discovering different styles of boardgames, and I think there are more to come as the hobby develops. I do wonder how much this applies to the younger crowd though, are they fed up with the state of the video game industry? You're probably right that the journalists who cover video games aren't going to want to piss in their own bath water for too long.
 
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Re: Boston Globe: A Board Game Renaissance

Here's another side to the rise of the board games, the rise of the board game cafe.

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/dec/13/night-out-board-game-cafe-better-gaming-online-alone

I've been to Thirsty Meeples a couple of times and the write up reflects my experience when I was there. It's a good opportunity to try out some new games, drink some tea and eat some cake. Hmmm... Cake. I guess the only downside is that you feel as though you've only got your money's worth if you play a few games, which generally means short games rather than some of the strategy ones.

It's interesting, and really good, to hear that they are thinking of opening some more stores. I read on SU&SD that a cafe had opened in London and apparently there are some gamer friendly pubs out there as well.
 

Scott Tortorice

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Re: Boston Globe: A Board Game Renaissance

Another good article, Chris! Thanks!

Wish I had a place like that by me. But, then again, I am really enjoying the solo aspects of board gaming. :D But for Elite launching in two days, I probably wouldn't be paying any attention to PC gaming at the moment.
 
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