By Goblin Gaming on February 11th, 2021 ~ 12 minutes Read
What are tabletop board games? Where did they come from? Why are tabletop games popular? These are questions that have been asked since the dawn of time.
Well, not quite since the dawn of time but it is true that tabletop games have enjoyed a massive spike in popularity over recent years, with a current (estimated) market value of, 9 billion USD – a number that is increasing every year. Market research group NPD, which claims to measure around 70% of the UK toy market, has recorded a 20% rise during the past year alone in the sales of tabletop games. These days you’d be hard-pressed to find somebody that hasn’t heard of Catan or Warhammer. And I’d imagine there’s almost nobody in the country that hasn’t been forced to ‘enjoy’ Monopoly at least once.
As somebody who currently lives, breathes and eats tabletop games whilst working full-time at Goblin Gaming, it’s been quite fascinating to watch the popularity of this rather unique brand of media grow from obscure hobby to internationally recognised staple of home entertainment. Gone are the days of face pulling and ridicule at the mention of plastic miniatures, having personally witnessed the same people that would deride such things become regulars at our store. It’s clear (to me at least) that, both socially and professionally, the popularity of tabletop games is rising quickly and shows no signs of slowing down.
The history of tabletop gaming
Now, it’s important to know that tabletop games have been around for an awfully long time, and aren’t some new fad that just jumped out of the woodwork. Chess, for example, has been played for well over a thousand years and ancient game pieces and dice have been retrieved from archaeological dig sites across the globe.
However, it was in Queen Victoria’s England back in the 1800s that boardgames became a far more popular pastime. With automated printing presses being able to churn out printed boards at alarming rates, far more folks of the time had the opportunity to indulge in games that didn’t involve expensive trips to the local billiard hall. “The Game of Life” was a particularly popular example from the time that was later redesigned into a more modern format in the 1960s and is still sold today.
In more recent times, the increase in the sophistication of printing technologies and introduction of moulded plastic pieces has allowed board and tabletop games to be designed, printed and shipped at a blistering rate. And something even a single person can achieve at a commercial level.
So why are tabletop games still popular? What is it about moving little pieces about a board that people find so entertaining, or, more accurately, why are they becoming more popular now?
Why has tabletop gaming become so popular?
Well, if it’s a simple answer you’re looking for I’m sorry to disappoint. As like many things it’s a combination of various factors that have come together to influence the modern zeitgeist and pushed a wave of tabletop based nerdism to the forefront. Here are some of the main factors influencing the rise of tabletop gaming:
Board game cafes
Board game cafes are commercial locations that allow you and your friends to walk in and play a board game and a huge number of them keep popping up. It’s actually getting quite difficult to walk down a high street and not trip over one, which makes you stop and think “hmm that looks kinda fun.” Board game cafes are an excellent way to try a game before you buy. Often these places will have extensive catalogues of games to choose from and frequently also offer refreshments to enjoy as you play, (my local offers incredible homemade cakes!) It’s easy to see how the frequency of these establishments have influenced the popularity of tabletop games, and indeed how the popularity of tabletop games has caused more of them to spring up. Having one in your town or city is sure to get folks playing and buying games to play with their friends or family at home. And many cafes will sell you the games themselves.
YouTube is an interesting one. It’s very quickly becoming one of the most-watched sources for entertainment media with millions upon millions of views every hour. Being a platform that anybody can make a channel on allows for a vast collection of videos on almost any topic you could think of and likely a high number you wouldn’t. As you can imagine, there are a fair collection of channels dedicated to tabletop gaming, all specialising in different areas. This also attracts those from outside the general sphere of gaming, and celebrities and YouTube personalities alike are scrambling over each other to play games like Secret Hitler with each other. Those watching at home will then see their favourite celebrities playing games and of course ‘if they enjoy it, so will I!’
Movies and video media
It’s not hard to notice the trend of modern media taking a headlong dive into what was previously a somewhat niche culture. The massive popularity of the Marvel universe and Star Wars (though Star Wars was always quite popular) and the pop culture phenomenon that was (stressing “was” here) Game of Thrones, have all contributed towards this shift in public opinion of what most would have previously been considered “too nerdy to deal with.”Tabletop games were often shoved unceremoniously into the “nerd” corner of pop culture. However, with the nerd explosion that has been building for the past fifteen years or so, tabletop games seem perfectly situated to ride the shockwave into the focus of the mainstream. Taking a quick look at the stock values of some of the hardest hitters in the industry like Games Workshop (THE veritable titan of wargaming) Asmodee (one of the largest growing distributors of tabletop games), one can plainly see that they have an ample surfboard upon which to ride that pop-culture wave.
High street venders
Having stock available on shelves in high streets has always been a way to get your product moved. As the broom of nerdery sweeps the pop-culture landscape, shelves that previously held toys are now being filled with a much greater variety of board and tabletop games, which in turn drives more sales. Which then piques further interest.
Huge rooms the size of aircraft hangers filled with avid players is a fantastic way to enrapture anybody’s interest. Though, admittedly, most people who aren’t already into the hobby won’t have attended the rather singularly fascinating spectacle that is a tabletop convention. However, those not involved in tabletop gaming who wander into these giant temples of gaming often can’t help but have their curiosity piqued and invest in a board game or two, and thus the cycle grows.
It’s not terribly difficult to see the influence of the past year or so on the sales of tabletop games. People are trapped indoors, and often they are tired of getting blown up by kids with grenade launchers on Call Of Duty. Let’s face it, lockdown is (or was if you’re reading this in the future) boring, and is still here as I’m writing this article. A great way to alleviate this boredom and keep you talking to your significant other/children/housemates about things that aren’t their unwashed dishes is to get together and play board games. Let’s just hope people don’t forget about them once we’re all allowed back outside again.
Computer games and tv screens
Digital media is another entertainment dominion that has seen incredible and rapid growth over the past decade. Computer game markets are often quoted to be worth more than movie markets. And, as the sophistication of software increases and the user entry bar is lowered further and further by better and easier tools needed to make computer games, this is set to grow. However, after nearly a full year in lockdown with no access to outside entertainment more people have been picking up computer games and at this stage, it’s gotten kind of… boring.
Some would argue that the ubiquity of digital games is driving a revolution in board games. People are sick of sitting in front of screens day after day – don’t get me started on Zoom – and parents are sick of looking at their kids waste away in front of their PlayStation or bathing in the neon glow of their RGB-laced computer towers. The same could be said of TV. With the death of terrestrial and satellite television, more and more of the market is switching over to streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+. With such a vast dearth of brand new high-quality high-budget shows on offer these days, it’s easier than before to just sit and binge-watch all your favourite shows.
As a result, people are feeling more and more isolated by technology. What better way to restore a little of that human connection than to get together and play a board game? Unlike computer games that tend to be nothing but a noisy and confusing digital mess to those over 50 and somewhat restricted to those under 10, tabletop games are a cross-generational bastion where everybody of all ages can shelter and bask in the glow of a well-constructed family game.
If you’re itching to stay glued to your plasma screen and fancy playing with folks all over the world rather than your housemates – because they still haven’t finished their washing up – then, it’s possible to do so. Several online tabletop gaming resources are adding to the dearth of ways to get involved in the community. Here are a few of them:
- Tabletop Simulator is a computer game that does exactly what it says on the tin, allowing you to play a vast number of games with surprisingly tactile feedback as you physically move your pieces with your mouse. Boasting a massive library that anybody can add to by building a game inside their engine, you can play everything from Ludo to Warhammer 40,000.
- Roll20 is great for online Dungeons & Dragons or in fact any role play games, using a system that is essentially a chat-room that allows you to draw on a digital board in real-time, as well as offering the Dungeon Master unique tools to manipulate the play area.
- Board game area boasts over a million players and is free. There’s no shortage of ways to scratch that board gaming itch.
If there’s one corner of the internet we can thank for the recent explosion of new tabletop games it’s Kickstarter. Kickstarter is a website that allows people to place up projects onto a public platform and then others can view said project and choose to “invest” in your idea by throwing money at it. A desired goal is put up when a project launches and so the creators can show how much they need to raise to make it a reality. This allows anybody to fund whatever project they want to see enter the market, giving creators the funding to see through whatever project they’re working on. A huge number of the most popular new tabletop games have been funded through Kickstarter and many of the highest-grossing projects on the platform have been tabletop related. Popular games like Exploding Kittens, Conan The Barbarian Board Game, Kingdom Death Monster, Dark Souls Board Game. Honestly, the list goes on and on.
Word of mouth is a surprisingly effective method of board game acquisition. Folks will force their friends to sit down and play a game with them and their board game buddies. Surprising themselves, the new people enjoy themselves immensely and think it would be a positively spiffing idea to get one of these “board game” things in their own home. They go out and buy a box, then force their friends to sit down and play who in turn enjoy themselves and subject more of their friends to extensive board game sessions. Indeed PrintNinja claims that 71% of people heard about games through their friends and colleagues. Most people already have a passing notion about the existence of board games and only need the smallest push in the direction of a good game to fall off the edge and join us in our wallowing love of all things tabletop.
Here we stand then, eyes cast upon the vast ocean of fascinating and engaging tabletop games, having seen how the market for these games has grown and how the number of people playing is steadily increasing and where the interest has come from. Tabletop games are a vitalising and engaging pastime that pulls people in from all walks of life from many different sources, showing you really don’t need to be a special type of person to get in on this growing trend. Or if you’re already somebody with a vast library of colourful boxes decorating your shelves, that you’re in luck and when the chaos of the global pandemic has calmed and we are once more allowed to emerge from our hobbit holes to bask in the warm glow of social interaction once more, that there are plenty of new folks to show your favourite game to.
If you’re interested in adding to your library or looking to get started on a new and rewarding social hobby, check out Goblin Gaming and see if we can help you find what you’re looking for.