What’s Driving Board Games Popularity in 2020?

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There is no denying the meteoric rise in board game popularity. You need only look to market analysis to see just how fast this hobby is becoming mainstream. If that doesn’t convince you, there has also been an explosion in board game cafes opening up around the world that attract even more people to play board games for entertainment. How about the fact that board games are dominating on Kickstarter?

Alright, so we can all agree that board games are on a steady rise to pop culture success. But why?

Board games have been around practically forever, so where did the popularity fall off and why is it on the rise all of a sudden? As with any trend, modern technological advances play a huge part.

I’ve narrowed down the recent resurgence in board games to 6 key factors that have evolved in the past 5-10 years:

  1. Video Games
  2. Nerd Culture
  3. Board Game Cafes
  4. Ease of Making Games
  5. Social Media
  6. The Unplugging Trend
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A (Brief) History

Naturally, we need to jump back a little bit to figure out where the board game craze fell off. So we will go all the way back a very specific time in history 1935. The year that Monopoly was released.

This was the prime time for board games to take over the world. The United States was just coming out of the Great Depression, which allowed more people to pay for luxuries like entertainment. Luckily, Monopoly also had an extremely cheap price point, which made it a prime target for mass appeal.

Conversely, the world was slowly slipping into World War II. Again positioning board games as an extremely mobile and cheap form of entertainment for troops. So where did the popularity drop off?

Technology took off. As movies became a mainstay of a weekend out, and televisions became the staple of living rooms, board games were left as an outdated hobby. But what caused this hobby to spring back to life?

How Board Games Came Back

Of course, there is a litany of factors that contribute to the crazy trend that board games have seen. But I’d like to start with one of the unlikeliest reasons for the great success of board games that I hear almost no-one credit. In fact most people credit this as part of the reason board games are not more popular:

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1: A Video Game Boom

The video game industry has seen a huge boom since its creation in the 1970s. With that came a culture of gaming and the rise of board games alongside their high-tech alternative. Ever since then, we have seen classic and modern board games pop up on every game medium out there. Top-selling lists on the app stores and game platforms like Steam are filled with board games. Better yet, some board games were created entirely digitally like Hearthstone and Armello.

All of those advantages doesn’t touch the biggest advantage video games have given to board games: accessibility. Board games available in these platforms allows people to play board games with anyone anywhere which only adds to the draw of the digital versions. I, personally, have no-one close to me that is even remotely interested in Chess. However, I play several games a day with people all over the world. All thanks to the technology that board games are able to capitalize on.

2: The Rise of Nerd Culture

Tied right along with the video game boom in the ’70s is the rise of nerd culture. At the same time period, comic books hit their spotlight with comic-cons popping up. Similarly, huge fan bases evolved around shows like Star Trek that enveloped even more people into the nerd sub-culture.

Probably the biggest game to capitalize on this trend is one of the most popular role-playing games of all time: Dungeons and Dragons, which saw huge popularity with the nerd crowd when it released in 1974. Today we are seeing the results of the continued growth of nerd culture to the point that it is mainstream with movies like Joker and Avengers consistently making box office records.

Naturally, as nerd culture became mainstream, board games were included. It’s easy to find someone that has played games like CatanPandemic, and Gloomhaven

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3: Success of Board Game Cafes

With the energy around board games spreading, the success of board game cafes in recent years has only added fuel to the already growing fire. And considering over 5,000 board game cafes opened in 2016, these cafes had no small part in spurring a huge part of the movement to board games.

Just as with digital versions of games, this helps the accessibility of games immensely. More importantly, it creates a space for enthusiasts to rally around and become a community. 

Cafes support events to get people in specific niches of the community together. These can be D&D nights, Magic: The Gathering tournaments, or even mini-painting nights. All of these events build a place where enthusiasts know they will find people just like them.

4: Prosperity of the Game Developer

All of these recent events that give board games such a big boost in popularity has also fit together to make creating board games easier and a more viable business than it has ever been. There is a bigger market for board games than ever which gives a huge pool for indy board game developers to pull from. But what about funding for such a small run of a game?

I’m sure you already knew the answer; Kickstarter. The crowdfunding website has become the epicenter of indy board game developer projects. Tabletop games took 69% of the money pledged on Kickstarter in 2019, a staggering $687 million. With short-run games becoming cheaper to make and a supportive community to back them, there have been tons of successful board game campaigns.

With the increased amount of people gravitating towards the hobby, and the accessibility that digital games and cafes present, finding people to playtest the game is a non-issue. Also, social media and Youtube make it easier than ever to hit the target market for a niche game. This leads to our next reason for the crazy board game resurgence…

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5: Effects of Social Media

Although the title says social media, I’m going to throw Youtube, Twitch, and Board Game Geek into the mix here.

Social media has given us an opportunity to know exactly what is going on in the world of board games at any given point. You can get live updates from any board game convention going on, the next episode of your favorite Youtube channel, or even constant updates about board games from me.

Just as with board game cafes, this creates a community. However, this one is far larger than any board game cafe. It’s obvious what the potential is here by just looking at the amount of people on Board Game Geek. One key metric that stood out as I researched this topic is that D&D had their best year ever recently thanks to Twitch and Youtube live campaigns.

Similarly, Tabletop was a hugely successful Youtube series solely focused on board games. Undoubtedly, with the millions of views per episode, this caused a ton of people to be introduced into the hobby and become lifelong fans of board games.

6: Unplugging

Lastly, the recent trend of spending less time in front of a screen and more time interacting with people is probably playing into the rise of board games to some extent. There aren’t many things to do when everyone gathers for drinks but picking up Cards Against Humanity is an easy way to kill some time and enjoy the people yours with.

I’m skeptical of just how much this is impacting the success of board games since I don’t see many people genuinely trying to reduce screen time other than for their kids. But it’s still worth noting since there is at least awareness around the amount of time we spend online.

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Where does it go from here?

So now we know why board games are still popular in 2020. But where does it go from here?

With the increased demand for board games, supply is going to have to fill the gap. There have been plenty of hit games made from crowdfunding that have filled some of that demand, but demand is still out there with plenty of niches to fill. 

As for content, the (now cancelled) Tabletop series on Youtube has proven there is room for more board game content in video. The success of this and other board game blogs is more proof that there is room for even more written content in this niche as well. So get involved in the local board game community, make a game, start a board game cafe, make a website, or start a Youtube channel. Go get involved in this hobby, it’s only going up from here!


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