In our house it’s usually Scattergories, Sequence, Uno or one of a myriad of trivia games that find their way to the kitchen table when we want to play a board game.
The titles change over time. With children you might move from Connect 4 to Go Fish, to games that build on spelling and counting skills. As children get older the opportunity to try more involved games becomes possible.
We have games that require us to sing, draw, buy, sell, build, strategize or test our knowledge of favorite TV shows. We also had a few notable years when the movie High School Musical was the biggest thing going and among its huge merchandising empire was its own board game.
It featured sound clips of the movie’s songs requiring players to finish lyrics or copy dance moves. I can only imagine how long it took our kids to erase the image of mom and dad playing that one.
In most of our homes, shelves are storing countless game boards, tokens, spinners and dice, not to mention thousands of dollars in cash in various collections of board games. Almost 60 per cent of us own between 1 and 25 board and card games, while 22 per cent have up to 50. Then there’s the 11 per cent of households with more than 100 of them tucked away.
Must be because of the pandemic, right? Actually, not entirely. Prior to 2020, global sales were growing, driven largely by millennials who were looking for different ways to socialize with friends. Board game-themed cafés and bars grew in popularity, as did game nights at home, particularly for those focused on debt reduction and increased savings, and looking for lower cost entertainment options.
Enter the pandemic and we can see some of what happened next. In just the first week of lockdown in the UK for example, sales soared by 240 per cent. Similar stats showed up in other regions as people exchanged nights out for games nights in, along with parents who were searching for non-screen activities for their children.
In some ways it could be seen simply as a continuation of something people have been doing for centuries.
Queen Nefertari and a young Tutankhamun were known to be aficionados of one of the earliest known board games, Senet. Upper class members of Egyptian society moved their gaming tokens across ornate game boards, while others with fewer resources scratched grids into stones or tables.
Today, fans of Settlers of Catan or Risk may have wanted to join in on rounds of Ludus Latrunculorum, a strategic game played by Roman soldiers, while those who are chess masters might have enjoyed a precursor, Chaturanga, played in India.
Originally conceived as a game for four, it transformed into a game for two players, but underwent its biggest change in the 15th century when the queen became the most powerful playing piece to reflect the number of female monarchs on thrones at the time.
So, what are people playing the most today? It’s hard to gauge, but according to sales revenue and survey results, at the top are Scrabble, Catan, Sequence, Codenames, Jenga, Battleship with Planes, and Monopoly, a game said to be one of the best examples of people rather unfamiliar with aspects of the original game because over time so many have developed their own house rules.
That, actually, is one of the reasons I absolutely love board games. Each family develops their own rhythm and yes – sometimes rules – for how they play, hopefully resulting in hours of great times, laughter and maybe even some amazing stories along the way.
I have a lot of games on my phone and there are times when I quite enjoy them. They require no set-up, no clearing off a game surface, no gathering of people around the table. Therein lies the deficiency—no gathering of people around the table.
Video game sales skyrocketed too, in some places over 1,000 per cent, adding to the legions of devoted players, amongst them those who have built entire careers as gamers, signing lucrative endorsement deals and selling out stadiums. The growth projected over the next 30 years is staggering.
But there’s also something to be said for gathering around a game board and seeing where the fun and conversation go. Spectacular graphics and well-engineered audio are great, but perhaps no match for the sight, sound and stories of playing dominoes with grandma, checkers with grandpa, or brainstorming strategy and analyzing answers with all those called teammates. It truly is fun for the whole family. That’s my outlook.