A brief history of board games

Remember the times before cell phones and tablets when you would get together with loved ones socialize, laugh, and have a good time. It seems as though those days are gone. Everyone is plugged in and logged on to various devices. Face-to-face conversation is becoming a thing of the past, and quality time with family and friends is becoming more rare. Video games, Facebook, and Snapchat have taken over free time of millions of individuals. We have forgotten how to have fun without our devices it seems. If we unplug what then? Join the Cardboard Revolution. Play board games. When you think of board games you probably think of games like Monopoly, Sorry, Operation, and Risk. Some memories of these games might be positive but the games may seem pretty old hat and bring memories of conflict and arguments, and I would agree with you. Luckily we live in the year 2016 and there are thousands of options out there. We have Germany to thank for this.

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, you could not be ‘out’ of the game. 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 European designers.  

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. 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 the hobby grow. 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 for length but they typically play quicker games anyway. 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 typically see an increase on games featured on the Tabletop program. For those that are a bit more interested in games there is Dice Tower. Calling Dice Tower a show is too small, think of Dice Tower as a network. 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. On a very basic level Dice Tower is a board game review video network, but it is also much more. Tom and his friends Zee Garcia, and Sam Heeley (Sam who is equally if not more involved in his church) also do special ‘Top 10’ shows in which they give their favourite games from whichever category they tackle that particular show, the whole while ribbing each other about each other’s picks and generally having a good time. This makes for great entertainment. Sam Heeley also has a podcast in the network that deals with Christianity and gaming called The Dice Steeple. Besides Tom, Sam, and Zee there are many many others in Tom’s empire and beyond giving their reviews and thoughts on games so that the viewers know what to buy and what not to buy when considering games.
In the past 3 years there has been a HUGE BOOM in game production. This is in 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 and waiting for their sometimes long production schedule before your game gets printed and distributed. It allows for a game to essentially sell ahead of time to pay for its own development and production which can cost a lot for someone doing it as a hobby. Crowdfunding has raised $196 million for board game development since Kickstarter launched in 2009. Compare this to $179 million for video game projects (including mobile games, and hardware). Board game sales in general are nowhere close to video games though but they are growing. In 2014 the hobby market saw sales of $880 million which was 20% higher than the previous year and it continues to grow.

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