Roll with it: The Board Game Renaissance
Not to be dramatic, but board games are in our blood. For centuries upon centuries, humans have turned to games as a means of bonding, communication, and relationship building; and some things never change. The oldest known board games can be dated back to the earliest dynasties of Ancient Egypt. Mancala has come a long way from being played with beans and stones over 1300 years ago across Africa, with now over 800 different names and around 200 modern iterations existing of the classic two-player game. Take Senet as another example – the exact rules and gameplay are a little muddied given the fact it originated in around 3100BC, but the fact that we have paintings of people playing it in tombs across Egypt proves that board game nights ain’t exactly a new thing.
Evidence exists of Senet being played in the areas surrounding Egypt, too, particularly ones where the Ancient Egyptians forged strong trade partnerships. Board games have been bringing people together for centuries. I told you, it’s in our very human nature.
Board Games are back baby
We are right in the middle of a board game renaissance. Board games have moved on from your dad stealing your Monopoly money when you were six (no-one? Just me? Alright…) and they have become a worldwide phenomenon…again. The USA has the largest overall board games market, while the UK and Germany hold the top spots in Europe as the biggest consumers and revenue generators. In 2016, over 5,000 new board game cafes were opened in the USA alone, and the number is still growing. From cafes to bars, to friendly local gaming stores with their own board game clubs, the way in which we consume, buy, and play board games is ever evolving.
While Americans might be the most prolific dice rollers, it is “Eurogames” that are the most popular genre of board games these days. These games tend to be strategy based with a lower-level of luck involved – think Ticket to Ride, Catan, or Carcassonne. These games sit in contrast with “American Style” games (often affectionately referred to as “Ameritrash”) which emphasise the luck element of the game more than the strategy, and often involve a very highly developed, in-depth theme – Twilight Imperium, Arkham Horror, and Talisman are some decent examples of popular (and not so trash) American style games.
Demographically speaking, it’s young adults who are the driving force behind this growth and newfound popularity. More than ever, people just don’t want to go out. Remortgaging your house for a vodka and coke, loud music, and getting far too close to literal strangers in crowds? That’s a hard pass from me, and so it seems to be from more and more people. Studies and experience show that people increasingly skip the nights out in favour of having a group of friends over to play some games and grab some food. Low pressure, lower cost, and in bed by a reasonable hour. Heaven.
“But what of consoles? What of PCs?” I hear you cry!
The board game industry isn’t blind to the wild and long-standing popularity of video games, but nor are they particularly threatened. More board games are featuring digital or app-based tie ins, from Unlock! using a phone app as a clue aid in three escape-room style scenarios, to other games using external digital devices for anything from spookily curated soundtracks to tracking scores or timing rounds, like XCOM The Board Game. Some board games, such as Ticket to Ride, have even released full digital versions of the game where you can play online against people from all over the world. It’s all swings and roundabouts though, as more and more often we are seeing games like Plague Inc. and Fruit Ninja releasing physical copies of their popular apps, as well as the likes of Fallout bringing out a miniatures game based around the plot of the game series. The conjunction of digital and traditional gaming does nothing but make the board games industry more versatile. Embracing new technologies and using them to ameliorate and enhance your traditional “in person” gaming experience means we can hardly accuse the industry of not rolling with the times (don’t get me started on dice-rolling apps, that’s a whole other article for a whole other time…)
It’s what our board game playing ancestors would want
So what is with the eternal and enduring draw toward board games? It’s all to do with socialising. Like we said before, board games were historically used as a way of building and maintaining relationships to help with trade, but now we have far fewer ulterior motives when we set up a game session. Humans are inherently social creatures. We thrive on human contact and interaction, and that is why we are forever drawn to things that allow us to come together over a shared goal. Even us wild introverts can find solace in a game with our friends, free of any kind of social pressure and expectation. That’s the magical thing about board games – they don’t care about who you are or what you do, and they don’t ask anything of you other than to let yourself have fun. So do yourselves a favor, grab a game and some mates, order some food in, and get gaming just like our Egyptian ancestors would have wanted – I promise you won’t regret it.