During the first week of lockdown and I found myself doing something unusual and playing an online game of Scrabble with a stranger. I’d normally, during a covid-19-free week, get together with friends to play board games. But since mid-March we’ve been missing our usual get togethers to play board games such as Catan, Gloomhaven or (dare I say it…) Pandemic.
We’re part of a curve, not Boris’s but one where the trend of the board game has been increasing for a few years. Zachary Horton, a professor who teaches board game classes on post-digital gaming, believes that the increase from late 2000 onwards is linked to the rise of social media. I agree, I believe more people are searching for those real social connections and a more physical, tactile experience to escape a digital world.
“The interest in board games is retaliation for digital media everywhere. People are looking for more social activities and get involved when they become more isolated by technology," Horton said. “People crave social relationships – which makes this genre really different from video games.”
For myself and my friends, another reason was to find something else to do other than drinking in the pub. We all have different interests but our drinking habits didn’t have to be the thing to unite us. We still wanted to get together socially and board gaming is a great way to bring our many interests together. It’s the same when I get together with extended family, all of which are varying in age, from different parts of the country and have individual interests but place a board game down in front of us and it brings us together. It hasn’t taken me long to realise that if we divert from the usual Monopoly game then it’s not always my cousin, Mark who wins. There are so many different games that you can always find one to suit a particular skill set, sometimes one you didn’t realise you had!
This interesting clip from the BBC discusses why gaming is becoming so popular too.
My friendship group started following vloggers online to discover new board games as the vast amount can seem a little overwhelming. YouTube vloggers, ’Shut Up and Sit Down’ is one of our favourites, now reaching 274,000 subscribers, I feel it’s the best place to get a grip on the evolving scene, or even just as a quick intro into the basic rules of a game. But there are many others, one of the biggest being 'Geek and Sundry’ which has a huge 2.12million subscribers.
There are thousands of games available and loads of genres. Including dice, card, co-operative, dexterity, trivia, the list goes on. It’s big business and it doesn’t seem to be slowing. In fact, it’s set to grow by $5.17 billion dollars between 2019-2023 according to a report made last year by Technavio.
The rise in crowd funders is helping this and has brought a huge surge of game builders entering the scene. One game that my friends and I play regularly began as a Kickstarter. Gloomhaven hit the scene as a Kickstarter campaign in 2015 and raised $386,104 from 4,904 backers. It retails around £100 in stores, which is a reduced price since the sequel, Frosthaven, which launched on Kickstarter in March 2020. This latest Kickstarter campaign raised $13 million by 83,000 backers.
As you can see this trend was set to keep growing before the global pandemic and lockdown hasn’t stalled this but created an even bigger increase in sales. Data from Google trends saw that the term ‘board game’ was searched more often in March 2020 than any other month since records began in 2004. And ironically, the most searched for board game was ‘Pandemic’, a co-operative game where you have to eliminate disease from world. Sales of board games and puzzles spiked by 240% in the UK during the first week of lockdown but what also boomed were digital downloads. Nostalgic games such as Ludo, Chess, UNO, Monopoly, Scrabble and even snakes and ladders entered the list of some of the most downloaded apps. I also jumped on the bandwagon and downloaded a Catan app so I could keep playing with friends.