Join the Board Game Renaissance, Take a Break From Digital Games

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In a world where seemingly all things are digital — look around in any public place and you'll undoubtedly see all eyes glued to mobile devices —  a unique trend is popping up: a renewed interest in board games.  

Sales of hobby games — a complex and strategic variety of board games — in the U.S. and Canada grew 21% in 2016, says Milton Griepp, president of industry news outlet ICv2, topping $1.4 billion. Big-name retailers such as Target — which launched 70 exclusive board games on Friday — are building on  the trend. And board game bars and cafés are popping up to provide enthusiasts places to play.

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“The board games trend is booming as families and friends look for fun, memorable ways to spend time together,” says Scott Nygaard, Target's senior vice president of merchandising. “We’re continuing to see double-digit growth thanks to hits like Oregon Trail and our vast assortment of curated exclusives — and the momentum shows no signs of slowing."

Story Tavern, a bar in Burbank, Calif., which is stocked with board games like Risk and Exploding Kittens, opened in 2012. 

The Exploding Kittens game. (Photo: Target)

Now, owner Brian Slaught says Story Tavern’s game room is filled to capacity on many nights. “We saw that there was a desire for that kind of entertainment,” he says.

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BoardGameGeek, an online forum dedicated to board games of all types, recorded 9.5 million unique visitors in the fourth quarter of 2016, a 10.7% increase over the same period in 2015, says W. Eric Martin, a news editor for the site.

The board games section at Gen Con, a national gaming convention taking place each August in Indiana, currently makes up more than 5,000 of the convention’s 19,000 events, says Gen Con spokesman Jake Theis. Hundreds of new games are introduced at Gen Con each year.

“Board games are becoming more mainstream,” says Theis. “They’re part of our pop culture, part of our families’ DNA.”

And they provide a retro, real-time connection with other people, says Paul Booth, a professor of media and cinema studies at DePaul University and the author of Game Play: Paratextuality in Contemporary Board Games.

“There is something very human about sitting around with other people for an extended period of time and all working together on something,” says Booth. “You could be competing or cooperating, but you’re all focused on the same thing.” 

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Kathleen Donahue, owner of the Labyrinth Games & Puzzles store in Washington, says her store is thriving.  

“When we first opened, people walked in and said that it’s geeky and weird,” Donahue said. “Now, they’re excited. It’s not weird anymore.”

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