Millennials are driving the board games revival
Games benefit from a ‘growing desire to interact and socialise away from screens,’ say publishers
Board games are returning as a mainstream entertainment among families, kids, and even childless millennials looking for a new way to socialise with friends.
The board game boom has not only led to the creation of new games but also to cafes and bars focused on gaming.
Global sales of games and puzzles have grown from US$9.3 billion in 2013 to US$9.6 billion in 2016, according to Euromonitor International, with expected year-on-year growth of more than 1 per cent this year.
The interest in board games is at a significantly higher level now than it was five years ago, says Peter Wooding, owner of independent board game retailer Orcs Nest in central London.
“The renaissance of board games interest started around five or more years ago with the big increase in interest in Euro Style games. In the past two or so years it seems to have hit a plateau and the market has become more or less saturated, with some products being very good and innovative, but a lot of not so good items that are just really bandwagon jumpers,” Wooding told CNBC via email.
Euro Style games are a genre of board game which generally emphasise strategy and co-operation over conflict and luck, and often revolve around economic themes.
The best example of Euro Style games is “Settlers of Catan”, a German board game first published in 1995, which popularised the genre around Europe and the US. The game involves a group of players colonising an island, building a settlement and requires the players to trade for resources, emphasising co-operation, negotiation and social skills.
“I like Catan because it’s so easy to pick up but you can add so much depth to the game just by how you play and who you play with, so no game is ever the same,” Alice Bell, a video game journalist and fan of the board game, told CNBC via email.
“I think I’ve only ever won a game of it once, but I still love it.”
More than 18 million copies of the game have been sold worldwide, according to The New Yorker, and in 2013, it was the fourth largest board game brand in the US with retail sales of more than US$80 million, according to Euromonitor International.
Guido Teuber, managing director of Catan, explained how the game’s popularity has lasted more than 20 years.
“Catan has benefited from a growing desire to interact and socialise away from screens. Specifically, Catan is a game in which players are always involved. There is no downtime. It requires social skills to play cleverly. It’s a game that is characterised by creating win-win rather than a zero-sum situations,” he told CNBC via email.
Teuber added that board games are continuing to grow in popularity.
“It is based on our observations, which include a robust growth in the retail space, families’ desire to bond over an analog experience, as well as a resurgence of an interest in analog experiences in general.”
The independent board game sector, including games like Catan, has been the highest growth area of games and puzzles, according to Matthew Hudak, toys and games analyst for Euromonitor International.
“New games are being introduced every year that are largely aimed at millennial consumers, such as ‘Codename’, ‘Star Wars: Armada’, and ‘Pandemic: Legacy’ in 2015. These games can be either competitive or cooperative and are typically aimed at adults looking for an activity to do while drinking and socialising with friends,” he wrote in a guest post for Global Toy News.
To capitalise on this trend, several board-game themed cafés and bars have sprung up in the past few years, such as Draughts in North London. Around 30 per cent of millennials say they are interested in visiting a board-game themed café or bar, according to a report from market researchers Mintel on the leisure habits of millennials, published in August.
“There’s also the nostalgia element,” Catherine Cottney, manager of trends Europe at Mintel, told CNBC during a phone interview. “I think millennials are probably the last demographic which have been fully raised on board games. So I mean if you look at the generation after them, they were raised more on screen games.”
Cottney added that board games appeal to millennials from a financial perspective, as debt-laden millennials must now save towards priorities such as housing deposits, holidays or paying off debts. While a board game may be an initially expensive purchase (for instance, copies of Catan retail at around US$48.99), it can be reused almost indefinitely and taken anywhere.
“You can go out to a pub, you can have a couple of drinks, but the focus can be on board games and that’s basically free,” Cottney told CNBC during a phone interview. “It’s a way of socialising but it’s a way of doing it in a financially responsible way.”