Board games aren’t only for nerds anymore
I’m not usually the type of person to destroy things out of sheer rage. But recently, I found myself on the wrong end of some violently flipped furniture. When I savagely gripped the corners of the coffee table and thrust it into the air, colorful cards and little pieces of plastic flew in all directions. My friends were entirely awestruck — not so much by my berserk outburst, but by the seemingly trivial matter that induced it. It was just a board game.
But nowadays, board games are extremely effective at producing impassioned engagement. A common praise of a superb board game is its ability to ruin friendships.
Intense, immersive entertainment may explain why tabletop gaming is now a rapidly growing industry — a counterintuitive trend in a world where high-tech gaming modes like augmented reality and hyper-realistic video games seem to be the norm. Even still, board game sales have been on the rise every year for the past decade, board game bars have been popping up all over the world, and tabletop gaming channels on YouTube and Twitch are reeling in hundreds of thousands of subscribers.
“Board games are gaining popularity because they offer an opportunity to unplug, sit down, and connect on a more personal level,” Keith Meyers, owner of Denver’s most beloved board game pub, Board Game Republic, tells us over the phone.
When Meyers stumbled upon North America’s first tabletop gaming bar, Snakes and Lattes, he instantly knew his 30 years in the board game industry had led to this. His career had been devoted to gathering people around a table to play, and with a board game bar, he could finally witness the end result; he could watch the interaction, discussion, and laughter unfold.
In the decade since Meyers’ discovery, board game bars have been spreading across the globe, reaching cities as varied as Beijing and Berlin. The bars’ success and the surge in board game popularity may seem out of place in an era of advanced video games. When digital platforms offer us intricate, interactive worlds, why are we so enthralled with simple pieces of plastic and playing cards?
The clearest explanation may be our need to connect with people, to have a meaningful personal interaction, or to work with friends and family toward a collective goal. Video games can induce a sense of seclusion, where board games can deliver a more social experience, bringing friends together for face-to-face play. In fact, many believe that the isolation of video gaming has driven people towards tabletop gaming.
“The interest in board games over video games is absolutely the personal connection,” Meyers explains. “With video games, the players are often scattered over all different parts of the world. And you don’t have a lot of information about who you’re playing with — all you really have is their screenname. But with board games, you can sit down with actual people and see actual facial expressions instead of just emojis.”
The way Meyers sees it, the need to feel like part of a group goes back to our days as cavemen. Because board games unite us and engage our evolutionary group tendencies, they’ll always have a timeless appeal.
There’s also the long-held theory that board games instill us with valuable life lessons. When we play a board game, we’re practicing social skills, strategic thinking, and learning how to win and lose. In many games, we’re headed down one path and it’s not working out well, so we need to rethink things and change course. Without even realizing it, we’re exercising our planning, organization, resource management, and adaptability to changing circumstances.
Best of all, there’s a board game for everyone. At Board Game Republic, Meyers has seen the whole gamut of gamers. For those who want something simple and speedy, there are mass market games like Clue, Taboo or even Rock em Sock em Robots. But for those who want something strategic and challenging, gateway games like Catan, Ticket to Ride, King of Tokyo, and Pandemic will get you addicted to elaborate gaming. These are mine and Meyer’s favorites.
“With gateway games, the components are much better quality and the play requires much more cunning, so for many gamers, these are the most rewarding,” Meyers says.
But the rewarding experience is enjoyed most by those who love reading, ooze creativity, and have an active imagination. After all, games in their heart are stories. Love for literature and creativity allow you to immerse yourself in the adventure. And only with imagination can you fill in all the gaps of the narrative and envision how everything unfolds.
But ultimately, the beauty of board games is not in the fantasies. It’s in the friends.