Cardboard Revolution, Part 1
Maybe you’ve noticed it? The growing number of boardgame cafés in cities around the world. The expanding footprint of the games section in your local book store. The appearance of specialised boardgame shops at even the most exclusive high street adresses.
Boardgames are invading wish lists and Christmas eves, family vacations and dinners. They were always around, but they’ve massively increased their presence the last 10–20 years. It’s no longer just “Snakes and Ladders”, but a wide variety of titles with a constant stream of new games published every year. You might have played “Settlers of Catan”, “Pandemic” or “Ticket to Ride”. Or maybe you haven’t, because you’ve missed them in the flood of games coming out and vying for your attention.
There are more boardgames out there then ever before. While it is obviously hard to exactly quantify the number of published and produced boardgames, there is very little question that the industry has seen massive growth in the 21st century. Boardgamegeek, the IMDB of boardgames is the best source of data on boardgames. Analysis of this data (by Dinesh Vatvani) shows very clearly how the number of new entries (and newly published games) accelerates every year, displaying the exponential growth.
Every year more games are published and the rate seems to be accellerating. But quantity is just one part of the story. Production values are going up, with components and design massively improved over the past decade. More importantly the inherent quality of game design has also seen a great uptick, with modern games offering less downtime, more engaging mechanics and intriguing narrative structures.
As mechanism such as deck building, worker placement, traitor mechanics, legacy games, cooperative games and many others have been refined, game design has matured into a professional field with a shared language and shared trends. This has helped games distill their mechanics and removed the fiddly overhead and confusing rules that often plagued more complex games traditionally.
Elegant mechanisms that can be easily understood but provide interesting choices and a deep immersive experience coupled with attractive and engaging presentation is a powerful combination. That’s helped boardgames reach a much wider audience, moving out of the niche market and into the mainstream. As games have improved their appeal and accessibility, sales have exploded, further boosting the virtous cycle.
These days boardgames target a multitude of audiences, spanning casual adult players, families, children and hard core gamers. Games are published with specific audiences in mind, but concepts and trends often cross over and inspire. Hard core gamers will often recognize stripped down and streamlined versions of mechanics in family games. Some games for children or casual players are considered “gateway games” that will make the transition to meatier games easy.
But what happened? Why did boardgames invade our living rooms and dinner parties? And why did it happen in a period where digital entertainment options multiplied and saw a similar revolution? Why push wooden pieces and plastic figures around a cardboard map when we could be watching HBO or playing Fortnite?
The Internet did it.
In this miniseries of posts I will look at the many ways the advent of the Internet fueled a boardgame bonanza and how the digital revolution brought about a cardboard revolution. This is a fascinating story in its own right, but it also tells us a great deal about the ways in which the Internet can boost and bolster physical goods and services. Hope you enjoy it.