Ask any teenager what some of their current favorite games are and odds are you’ll get a long list of whatever the latest hot video game is, with a spattering of some of the older classics still holding their attention.
But ask people just a bit older and the answers will probably be a little different.
Chances are, they’re picking lots of board games.
The games they’ll mention aren’t the classics like Monopoly, Operation, or any of the other game titles that have littered department store shelves over the years. The games they’ll say will have names like Settlers of Catan, Ticket To Ride, or Agricola.
That’s not news to Sorana Gatej, Marketing and Event Coordinator for That’s Entertainment on Park Avenue in Worcester. She says that college students make up a large portion of the store’s board game customers.
Gatej said, “Being a college town and with the (WPI) campus just over the hill we see lots of students coming in and purchasing games.” She added that board games are a great way for people to gather and not have it cost a lot of money.
Clarion Game Studios owner Michael Ciaravella agrees that economics is one of the driving forces in the current board gaming craze.
Ciaravella said, “If you look at the cost of going to a movie as a couple, in some places you’re shelling out $30. Now add the cost of snacks or dinner, and you’re getting into some real money. If you need a babysitter, now you’re costing yourself big bucks.”
“With board games,” Ciaravella continued, “you usually have an initial cost of between $35 to $50. But unlike the movie you saw you’ll always have the game to keep playing. If you have two or three other couples doing the same thing everyone can get together and play a different game each week. Even adding in the cost of a potluck dinner or takeout you’ve cut the cost of your evening’s entertainment significantly.”
When asked if the glut of games currently available makes it harder to get new titles noticed, Ciaravella replied matter-of-factly, “A good game finds the audience. With there being so much fan interaction on blogs and social media it only takes a handful of the right people to say they like your game for it to start selling. Despite all the technology around word of mouth endorsements are still the best sales tool”.
At a gaming event called Summer Sizzler in Marlborough last Sunday longtime board gamer Jim Torkelson, who has seen many ebbs and flows in the hobby, pointed the finger at Facebook as being one of the catalysts for the current boom in board gaming.
“With Facebook, there are lots of groups dedicated to board gaming, and that allows for people in the same area who might not have known each other to get together to play,” Torkelson said.
Proof of that came just minutes later as this reporter was sitting at the sign-in desk for the event collecting notes when two attendees saw what was written and quickly admitted that a Facebook board gaming group was how they had originally met. They also said their entire gaming group of nine people’s first connection was that board gaming group.
The Summer Sizzler event was organized by a group called Total Confusion, who run the largest gaming convention in New England every year during the weekend after President’s Day. During last February’s convention, the 31st TotalCon event, they had over 3,000 through the doors for the four day convention, with a large number of those playing in the board game area.
TotalCon Board Game Director Rob Kircher estimated the number of board games played at the February convention to be in the 300-350 area. He said an exact number isn’t possible to determine because while many of the games are scheduled events there’s also a significant number played in what’s called “Open Gaming”, where several people grab one of the hundreds of board games available, sit at a table, and play.
Steven Parenteau, the Event Director for all the Total Confusion events, added that board gaming had been their biggest area of growth over the last few years.
Torkelson also said that hobby stores seeing the potential financial gain in having an open gaming area and holding game demonstrations are a huge bo
ost to the hobby. Gatej agreed, mentioning That’s Entertainment holds frequent demos of games to help people new to the hobby find games they would enjoy.
After getting a lot of inquires about specific game titles based on what was being played at Gen Con, the largest tabletop-game convention in North America, or appearing on various celebrity YouTube channels, the store began keeping a wider variety of titles in stock. Inevitably customers began asking questions about the games available, so That’s Entertainment began scheduling demos of some games. Gatej says the results have been all positive.
Gatej said, “Not only have the demos) introduced people to games they might not have tried before, it’s also created great relationships not just between us and the customers but between the customers themselves.”
Gatej added that in lots of cases people become so attached to the hobby that they want to help the store run its game demos, which will be the case Sunday during the stART on the Street festival that takes place right in front of their store.
That’s Entertainment has moved their usual Saturday game demonstration to Sunday to coincide with stART on the Street, with their in store event running from 11 AM-5 PM. It is open to the public and free of charge.
“Playing board games is a lot more than just playing the game. It’s the interaction with the other players that’s also a big draw. Board gaming is really a social event,” said Tim Forrest, who started playing board games after buying Settlers of Catan from Barnes & Noble years ago.
“My friends and I were hooked, and soon we’d bought all the expansion sets for Settlers,” Forrest added.
Forrest is far from alone, as over the last twenty years board games have gone from a niche hobby to a huge mainstream business. Pop culture website ICv2.com estimated that in 2015 the board and card products created for the hobby market had a value of $1.2B in just North America.
And that’s not in Monopoly money.