Board Games, an Ever-Evolving World
Board games, also known as tabletop games, have always been a popular source of entertainment, bringing friends and family together around a table. But the board game industry has undergone a true revolution over the past few decades.
In this article, we will explore the evolution of board game types over the last 20 years, examining how classic games have made way for exciting new trends.
A Constant Growth for 30 Years
The board game industry has experienced remarkable growth over the past few decades. Unlike other leisure activities that have suffered from economic crises, board games have maintained double-digit growth over the last 30 years. This phenomenon has gained popularity and reached a wide audience, surpassing the image of being solely reserved for children. However, last year’s war in Ukraine and its aftermath, including inflation and economic uncertainty, marked a halt in this uninterrupted growth. For the first time, the board game industry faced temporary setbacks. Nevertheless, it is important to emphasize the resilience of this industry and its potential for recovery.
Classic Board Games
To understand the evolution of modern board games, we must first acknowledge the classic games that laid the foundation for the industry. Timeless games such as chess, Scrabble, and (even the controversial) Monopoly have stood the test of time and continue to be enjoyed today. These games taught past generations the concepts of strategy, negotiation, and competition, establishing the building blocks upon which the board game industry was constructed.
The Rise of Modern Board Games
Over the past two decades, with a significant acceleration in recent years, we have witnessed the emergence of a new generation of modern board games. Titles like “Settlers of Catan” and “Pandemic” have paved the way for this revolution. These games introduced new gameplay mechanisms, focusing on strategy, cooperation, and player interaction.
The “German” or Eurogames Boom in the 2000
During the 2000s, “German” or Eurogames experienced a true explosion of popularity. These games, often characterized by strategic gameplay mechanisms and tactical depth, captivated many passionate players. Iconic titles like Carcassonne, Catan (formerly known as Settlers of Catan), Agricola, and Puerto Rico marked this era. At the time, German-style games were considered the dominant category in the board game industry, attracting players eager for intellectual challenges. However, in recent years, the popularity of these games has slightly declined. While expert-level games like Terraforming Mars, Wingspan, or Ark Nova continue to achieve great success, they no longer represent the dominant category in the market. Players have shown a growing interest in other types of games, such as narrative games, cooperative games, and small “aperitif” games.
The Rise of “Aperitif” Games
Among the various categories of board games, small or “aperitif” games have experienced tremendous success in recent years. These games are social, affordable, and based on simple concepts, making them accessible to all, including casual players. They can be played in a few minutes and are perfect for livening up an evening with friends or family. Titles such as Time’s Up, Jungle Speed, Just One, Exploding Kittens, Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow, Perudo, Love Letter, Las Vegas, Skull, Code Names, The Mind, Hanabi, The Crew have won over the hearts of players. Their popularity stems from their light, fast, and enjoyable nature, making them indispensable choices for entertaining a group of people.
Cooperative Board Games
One of the most notable trends in recent years has been the rise of cooperative board games. These games invite players to work together rather than compete against each other. They promote cooperation, communication, and the development of common strategies to achieve a collective goal. Titles like “Pandemic” and “Ghost Stories” have achieved great success by offering players a unique collaborative experience that strengthens participant bonds. Cooperative games can also be found among the “big material” games.
Over the past decade, the rise of crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter has paved the way for the emergence of games with extensive components, often referred to as “big games”. Zombicide, a cooperative game with a strong theme, was one of the first games to make a significant impact in this category, and since then numerous games, including some published by Mythic Games (such as Darkest Dungeon), have been released. These games stand out by aiming to provide an immersive experience through exceptional components, including detailed plastic miniatures. They often blend multiple gameplay mechanisms, combining elements of competition, narrative, and cooperation.
One key factor in the success of these games with extensive components is the crowdfunding model, which has reduced profit margins and made their production feasible. However, this category of games has been particularly affected by the combined crises of COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine. Production delays, logistical challenges, and cost increases have been major hurdles. Despite these obstacles, games with extensive components continue to have a dedicated following of enthusiasts. Their impressive aesthetics and unique immersive experience attract players in search of thrilling games with visually stunning elements.
Narrative Board Games
Another significant evolution in the world of board games is the emergence of narrative games. These games place the story at the heart of the gameplay experience, immersing players in rich and captivating worlds. Games such as “Time Stories” and “Gloomhaven” offer complex and evolving scenarios, where players must make crucial decisions that influence the course of the story. This fusion of storytelling and gameplay provides a deep and engaging ludic experience.
Board Games in the Digital Age
The advent of digital technology has left an indelible mark on the board game industry. Digital board games combine the tactile and social aspects of traditional games with the interactive possibilities offered by mobile applications and integrated electronic elements. These games use technology to explain rules, add sound effects, animations, and advanced gameplay mechanisms (such as card scanning), creating a unique and immersive experience for players. Examples include games published by Fantasy Flight Games (Mansions of Madness, Descent: Journeys in the Dark, Journeys in Middle-Earth) or Lucky Duck Games (Chronicles of Crime, Destinies). Let’s not forget fully digital games, such as digital card games like Hearthstone or more recently, the excellent Marvel Snap.
In conclusion, the board game industry has witnessed the evolution of different game types over the past few decades. From classic games to “aperitif” games, from Eurogames to narrative games, and from games with extensive components to cooperative games, each category has contributed to diversifying and enriching this ever-changing industry. Board game enthusiasts now have a wide range of choices that cater to their preferences and gaming desires. As the industry continues to innovate and adapt, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for board game enthusiasts, including the place occupied by hybrid games, digital games, and AI-assisted games.
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