**Originally posted 04/11/17. Updated 04/12/18**
When you think of board games you probably think of games like Monopoly, Sorry, Operation, and Risk. In most cases the nostalgia of playing the games is much better than the games themselves. Some of your memories of these games might be positive but they may also bring up memories of conflict and arguments. Luckily we live in the year 2018 and there are thousands upon thousands of games out there to create new and better memories with…thanks to Germany, a Dentist, and the internet.
After World War 2, German companies had had quite enough of war and conflict for a while. This showed in many areas of the culture, especially the board games they produced. Thus the creation of the “Euro Game”, these games involved very little conflict, had a wider variety of themes from farming to racing, they were often easy to learn, and unlike Risk and Monopoly, there was no player elimination. While American companies were producing games that make you hate your family like Monopoly and Sorry, Germany was producing conflict free and sometimes even cooperative games. In 1978, the Spiel Des Jahres award was created. With a jury of German speaking critics from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, they annually choose the “Game of the Year (Spiel des Jahres)” This award can increase game sales from 500-3000 copies to over 10000 just for a nomination. With the winning game expecting to sell between 300000-500000 copies. Because of this award game companies now had a monetary reason to make higher quality games.
For the longest time these games were only available in Europe. Until 1995 when a dental Technician with an affinity for Vikings released a game called Die Siedler von Catan in Germany. It was a massive success, so much so that an american company called Mayfair games got wind of it and bought the rights to translate and distribute the game to the North American market by the name The Settlers of Catan. This was the beginning of the cardboard revolution in Canada and the US. Up until this time very few people had known that this style and quality of games existed. Once a little trickle, beginning with Klaus Teuber’s game, became a flood of games from other European designers and eventually the North American designers followed suite with equally compelling games.
Fast forward fifteen years and the board game renaissance continues with a new craze, the Board Game Cafe. Snakes and Lattes opened their doors August 30, 2010 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Since that day there has been a surge of similar cafes open around the world with over twenty just in the Greater Toronto Area. This has only strengthened board games’ rising popularity. They are great places to grab a coffee with friends and socialize while playing a game. With so many Cafes available it has allowed people to try out many different games before buying, and has also allowed the hobby to grow through the general market where it had been more niche before.
In the last few years board gaming has reached astonishing heights thanks to cafes, the Spiel Des Jahres, and the internet. The web, in particular YouTube, has become a medium in which a show that might not garner enough attention for cable can survive and thrive. One such show is Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop. Wil Wheaton, from Star Trek the Next Generation fame, started his show with actress/Writer/ director/producer/internet celebrity Felicia Day three years ago to help grow the hobby of board gaming. The premise is a simple one, Wil Wheaton explains how a game is played then gets a few of his friends together and plays, and in true reality show form, they each give a humorous commentary along the way. They edit the show to ensure great entertainment and in a decent amount of time. The show allows viewers to get a feel for the game, and preview how it would be played before they would purchase it. Board game stores can typically expect to see an increase on games that are featured on the show.
The Dice Tower is another YouTube based board game media outlet. The Dice Tower isn’t so much of a show as it is a network of board game review, preview, interview, talk shows and more. The president/game guru is Tom Vasel, a former teacher, former youth pastor from Florida that now dedicates all of his time to Dice Tower. Tom and his friends Zee Garcia, and Sam Heeley (Sam who is also involved in his church) will also do reviews, previews, and how-to’s as well as special ‘Top 10’ shows in which they list their ten favourite games from various categories the whole while ribbing each other about each other’s choices and generally having a good time. This makes for great entertainment as well as good information for those looking to check out a new game.
Sam Heeley also has a podcast in the network that dealing with gaming from a christian perspective and opening communications to try to bridge the gap between differing world views. This podcast that he does with the “GameBoyGeek” Dan King is called The Dice Steeple. They bring people with differing world views together to talk about games but also about various topics and themes that might be found in gaming.
Besides Tom, Sam, and Zee there are many others in the Dice Tower network and beyond, On YouTube, podcasts, and online blogs giving their reviews and thoughts on games so that the viewers know what to buy and what not to buy when considering games. (Shut Up and Sit Down, Ludology, ManvsMeeple and MANY more)
In the past few years there has been a HUGE BOOM in game production. This is in part thanks to crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Independent designers can now get their games out to the public market without trying to get noticed by a major publisher or having to use a lot of their own funds up front. Crowdfunding allows a designer to sell the game ahead of it’s production thus A gaging it’s popularity before production and B allowing the game to pay for it’s own production costs. Kickstarter has raised over $136 million for board game development in 2017 alone. Compare this to $16 million for video game projects . Board game sales in general are nowhere close to video games in the general market but they are growing. Global sales increased to $9.6 billion in 2016 from $9.3 billion in 2013 and the industry continues to grow at a steady rate.
Next time you and your family are looking for an activity to share go out to your local game store and pick up a board game. Bring it home, set up some snacks and unplug for a bit. I promise that you will make many positive memories.