Gaming is going digital, but board games are here to stay. Here are 5 reasons why.
Several years ago I helped clear out the old family study room. As we sifted through piles of crumbling pamphlets, old suitcases, and a web of dead wires, two items caught my interest: the first, an old board game, the second a Play Station 1. Both were yellowed with age and had a dusty texture, the result of years in a musty cupboard.
But here’s the thing: one was still playable while the other had long since been reduced to a hunk of plastic and circuitry.
You can guess which one I kept.
Once upon a time, when Atari ruled video games, the line between video and board games was clearly defined. The former was played mostly alone—an asocial activity. The latter was played with others—a social activity.
Today, the line between video game and board game has blurred. While one is still printed hardware and the other written software—the advent of team-based video games and online chat services like Discord that connect players has made the argument that video games are asocial ring increasingly hollow. And as modern games increasingly weave engaging and thoughtful content in their stories, the second classic argument that video games melt one’s brain has also begun to sound plucked from the nineties.
It seems inevitable, then, that as the rest of our lives move online, from socialising with Facebook and Twitter, to shopping with Amazon, movies with Netflix, travel with Grab or Gojek, that gaming, a pastime from time immemorial, would join the rest and migrate online, permanently.
Except it hasn’t. Instead, board games have experienced a resurgence in popularity, so much so that the global industry is expected to be worth 21.26 billion USD by 2025.
And though this is minor compared to the gargantuan video game industry, which generated a cool 119.6 billion USD in 2018, it shows something: that board games still offer something video games don’t.
Lewis Chessmen: if you play chess on a computer against a bot, is it a board game or a video game?
The first thing I mentioned is that:
1. Board games physically last longer.
There are chess pieces dating back to the twelfth century, and the original print run of Monopoly from 1935 is still playable. But you don’t need to go that far to make a case for the durability of physical games. You can play Xiangqi (Chinese Chess) with a grandparent and their worn set, and the games you buy now can also be played many years down the road. Some of the games I grew up with were sets my father played when he was a teenager.
Steve Jackson Games: Ever wonder what Stevie did with his time before designing Munchkin?
And while of course you can’t play a video game your grandparents owned because it didn’t exist then, you’d be hard-pressed to play a video game that came out even at the turn of the century. Anyone still own a Play Station 2?
This talk of the durability of technology brings up another point:
2. Board games come in a single package.
Unless you’re playing something like the Pokémon Card Game or Magic: the Gathering, 99% of board games come complete in a nicely shrink-wrapped cardboard box, no batteries required. Video games, by nature of the medium, can’t claim that. Most are only available on select platforms, some of which—consoles—require you to buy a dedicated processor before you can even play a game. And even for PC games bought off a digital store, just having a computer isn’t enough—you need high enough specs to run the game. (I would know—my computer fried itself last week trying to run Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.)
Tally up all those costs, and suddenly, $50 board game seems a bit more reasonable.
But if we only looked at cost and durability when picking games we might as well entertain ourselves with a game of ‘catching’ or hide-and-seek. What really makes board games pop is people. Which brings me to my next point:
3. Playing board games is a social activity.
Traditional video games of Super Mario or t