Online forum BoardGameGeek includes pages of statistics generated by its users, and it shows a steady increase in how many games have been played over the past few years: in 2017, there were about 6.3 million recorded plays by users—in 2018, this number increased to nearly 7 million.
The trend shows no signs of slowing
Polygon recently reported statistics provided to them by Kickstarter, who revealed that the tabletop games category raised an all-time high of $165 million in 2018, $27.23 million more than it did in 2017. In contrast, the video game category raised only $15.8 million last year. Why, then, are board games flourishing in this current climate?
You may think that technology and the increased popularity of video games would mean the end of tabletop games as a form of entertainment, but the internet has opened new avenues for board games that had not previously existed. Discussions on social media platforms like Reddit and Twitter and on online forums like BoardGameGeek have fostered discovery of lesser-known, independent games and have brought the gaming community together.
Social media networks introduce like minds to each other, paving a path for talented designers, artists, writers, developers, etc., to work on games together and create something entirely their own. Through these same channels, word of board game conventions (such as Gen Con in Indianapolis) reaches further than it has ever done in the past. In addition, game designers and creators can easily share their crowdfunding campaigns on platforms like Kickstarter and potentially reach an enormous audience—all they need is for one retweet to start a fire.
The Internet has also brought about the birth of live streaming platforms such as Twitch and YouTube, which—though primarily used for video game streaming—feature popular broadcasts of groups playing role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons (Critical Role) and board games (Wil Wheaton’s TableTop). These shows help interested audiences learn the rules and become familiar with different types of tabletop games, as well as illustrate what a potential play experience could be like (if your players are all charming actors or entertainers).
Board games are no longer limited by players needing to be in the same physical place. By simply logging on to their computers or picking up their phones, players can play tabletop games online, versus a computer or versus other humans. In 2018, Wizards of the Coast started the open beta for Magic: The Gathering Arena, which translates the classic collectible card game into a digital format and aims to push out expansions faster than in Magic: The Gathering Online. Apps also exist that adapt specific board games (e.g. Tsuro, Ticket to Ride, and Settlers of Catan) for use on phones or tablets. Even more free-form is Tabletop Simulator, which is essentially a virtual sandbox that allows players to create real-world board games for a digital space and play online with friends, or Roll20, a digital tool used for remote Dungeons & Dragons sessions.
Of course, video games are also growing in popularity, so board games aren’t dominating the gaming arena. Considering the two, tabletop gaming doesn’t directly compete, necessarily, with the video game industry. Video games are incredibly popular, yes, but what makes a video game great doesn’t really have much to do with what makes a board game great. It’s easy for one person to enjoy both equally, depending on their mood: if you’re burnt out from socializing and just want time to yourself, a single-player video game is probably the way to go, but sometimes you need that face-to-face interaction that board games can provide.
While certainly limited by physical space (how big is your table, how many chairs, etc.), board games bring people together around a table much more than video games do. Local “couch” co-op, the main in-person offering of video games, usually only goes up to four players and is limited by how many USB ports for controllers are on the console or by how many laptops can fit in one room. Many board games, on the other hand, can be played by up to six or seven players, and if there isn’t enough room for all those bodies in your house, you can always move the party to a board game cafe. There is a multitude of board game stores/cafes and gaming bars here in our home town of Seattle alone (Mox Boarding House, Flatstick Pub, Raygun Lounge, to name a few), where players can go to eat, drink, play games, and befriend like-minded people.
Tabletop games also grant a lot more freedom to the player should they want to create house rules or homebrew content. Any board game rule you don’t like, you can simply choose to play without it or offer a substitute rule, testing your own game design. Certain video game publishers do allow modding—perhaps Bethesda most famously with the plethora of Skyrim mods out there. What video game modding offers the player is worlds apart from what homebrewing tabletop content does, but both provide extraordinary opportunities for creativity and exploration.
Board games and tabletop games are no longer niche hobbies—with the unique possibilities they offer and with the aid of recent technological innovations, everyone can become involved in the community.