We are living in a board game renaissance

By Cody Carlson

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Aug. 30 2013 7:15 a.m. MDT

Battlestar Galactica, from Fantasy Flight Games, Star Trek: Fleet Captains, from WizKids, and DC Comics Deck Building Game, from Cryptozoic Entertainment, are examples of fun and dynamic movie and TV board game tie-ins.

Cody Carlson

You may not realize it, but you are living in the middle of a board game renaissance.

In a recent video post on his website Shut Up & Sit Down, British game journalist Quintin Smith noted that we are living in a golden age for board gaming.

“For the last 10 years board game sales have been going up every single year between 10 and 20 percent, that's enormous,” Smith said. “There are two things that are amazing about this: first of all is the sort of phoenix-like return of board games. Why did that happen? And the other thing is that the sales are still going up.”

Smith answers his own question: “It's because games themselves are getting better.”

He also notes that traditional games like Monopoly have not benefited from this sales increase. “People are realizing there are better board games out there.”

These better games, Smith states, are the result of a coming together of different cultures — European and American. Not so long ago there were two kinds of board games: “Eurogames,” which boasted dynamic and inventive game mechanics, but had largely uninteresting themes; and so-called “Ameritrash” games, which had wonderful themes and beautiful components, but game play itself remained quite basic.

About 10 years ago, Smith says, American game designers started looking closer at Eurogames. At that time, Eurogames like Mayfair Games' Settlers of Catan were achieving popularity in the United States, and American designers began to incorporate some of their more dynamic mechanics into their own games.

Unlike many American games, which boasted concepts such as “roll-the-dice-and-move,” long player turns and player elimination, Eurogames found ways to keep all players invested from start to finish, actively engaged even when it was another player’s turn.

“German games embrace the physicality of the medium,” Smith said, “which is a big deal because Western games didn't even have color manuals 10 years ago.”

Smith offered a sign in his power-point presentation that read: “European Design Ethos + American Storytelling = Perfection.”

As an example of this marriage of European and American games, Smith presented the evolution of Fantasy Flight Games' best-selling product, Twilight Imperium. The first two iterations of Twilight Imperium, a sprawling galactic adventure with different species engaging in trade, politics, science and war, had fun components and a wonderful theme, but suffered from a problem typical of American strategy board games — players' turns took a very long time, causing other players to disengage and get bored.

According to Smith, for the third edition of Twilight Imperium, designer Christian T. Peterson introduced strategy cards, which could be played by one player during his or her turn, but required the involvement of other players to vote on political agendas, establish trade agreements or research technologies.

“You pay attention to the game because you don't know when you're going to have opportunities to do cool stuff,” Smith said.

Kalinda Patton, communications manager at Z-Man Games, offered her opinion on just why board games have really been taking off in the past 10 years.

“Families have started to play with more 'new-wave' games compared to more traditional games like Monopoly,” Patton said. “Games like Carcassonne, Agricola and Pandemic are very popular games for families that are getting introduced to a different kind of gaming. On the other side of things, the avid gamers are still an important part of the industry and are searching for a game with that little something that they have never seen before. That makes game companies like us always on the lookout for that new aspect that could make a game that much better.”

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