A couple of weeks ago I read a blog post that kind of stuck with me. It was a short piece, only a couple of paragraphs long, talking about how it seemed like fewer and fewer people are playing board games compared to the number that used to. It was an opinion piece, and that was fine, however, I can’t help but disagree.
Instead, I believe we are in the opposite. I believe we are in a renaissance of the physical gaming form (miniatures, board, card etc.) and as the Internet connects us together with countless blogs and forums it will continue to grow. We are in a renaissance, and it is ours to own.
A Few Facts
This year I attended the UK Games Expo, along with a lot of other board game enthusiasts. The annual event started off with modest beginnings and only a thousand or so attendees back in the early 2000s. This year it took over two of the largest halls at the NEC in Birmingham, as well as a large chunk of the attached Hilton Hotel. This year there was a record number of attendants, coming from all four corners of the globe. All in all around 30,000 entrances were recorded, making it the third biggest gaming convention in the world. This represented a 29.7% growth in individuals attending the event (source).
The biggest, Gen Con, was founded in the early 1970s by Earnest Gary Gygax (better known as just Gary), the founder of D&D. He was a miniature wargamer at the time, and the earliest Gen Con had less than 100 visitors. Now it opens its doors to tens of thousands each year.
In regards to revenue, Kickstarter announced that in the first half of 2017 they made over one-quarter of their money from tabletop games (source). Kickstarter. That is insane. People don’t only like talking about and playing games, but they enjoy buying them as well. We’ll happily pledge for a game we know we’re not going to receive for another four to nine months, and all in the name of this hobby we love.
This hobby has boomed over the past few years – with incredible game designers, passionate players, and innovative thinking putting it back on the map. Slowly but surely more and more people are taking to the hobby, seeing it as a social alternative to video games or a cheaper alternative to other more expensive hobbies.
Players are now getting asked more questions than “so you must love Monopoly then?” as mainstream and high-street stores now stock copies of games like Catan. I walked into a Waterstones a couple of months ago and there was a pile of Catan boxes. It was beautiful.
The introvert market has especially boomed in this hobby, with more and more people who struggle with everyday noise getting into a hobby where we can sit with close friends and enjoy an evening rolling dice.
The growth and expansion of the marketplace, the reinvention of the party game, has also opened the game world up to traditionally non-gamers. I work in an office of around 40 people, and about ten of those people own a copy of Cards Against Humanity. There are only two of us who regularly play tabletop games, but it shows that at least ¼ of the people are prepared to give tabletop games a go. That makes me proud. They may not all be gamers, but the willingness to accept the hobby, as something for adults to do in their spare time (where traditionally it is associated with childhood), is a start.
Indie gamers and game designers also have a far larger audience, meaning the sheer variety of games out there is huge. It is massively varied. We own a few indie RPGs that vary from telling tales to fighting demons, survival of the fittest to elite secret service agents. This weekend we have gone away with my girlfriend’s family and they actively asked us to bring games for them to try. As such we have games about monsters, Chinese whispers, pirate adventures, and sandwich making. It’s incredible that now game designing is not just up to the big boys in the industry.
Alongside indie games and this world of exploration we now live in, we have seen the birth of a recognised subculture in society. Where tabletop gamers have been sidelined for the past couple of decades, whilst video games have had their day, we are now seeing a rebirth of a recognised culture. We have seen webseries like Tabletop, Shut Up and Sit Down, The Dice Tower and No Pun Included give gaming a face on the internet. There are companies like Geek and Sundry promoting their own entertainment based on the tabletop phenomenon. Finally, we have seen a growth in tabletop based merchandise to both make our own game rooms our own, with companies specialising in making incredible gaming tables that can be the centrepiece of a home, not to mention an increase in wearables. I’ve lost count of the number of tabletop game related t-shirts I have, and I have a relatively small collection compared to some people I know.
The Here and the Now
We are riding a wave and it is an exciting wave at that. Miniatures games are being reinvented and redefined from Skirmish Games to incredibly beautiful systems played more like the traditional board game than anything else. We have seen a resurgence of exploration and cooperative board games. Gaming is now so much more than roll and resolve, and comes in so many types and sizes that there are games for everyone.
What is truly amazing though, and this is the point I really wanted to get to, is that this a renaissance everybody owns. For too long there have been a few big names in the industry, and now – yes, there are still big names, but they have changed. There is no longer a focus on just producing as many half-arsed games as possible, and instead, there is a focus on creating incredible, unique forms of entertainment that force us to go “wow”. It is we, the gamers, who have helped push this forward by always wanting more, always wanting to play and explore more, always wanting for this hobby of ours to be the best that it can be.
Thanks to this, there are names pushing innovation in gameplay and quality – names like Fantasy Flight, CMoN, Z-Man Games, and Space Cowboys. Each developing games made to last.
Finally, this is our renaissance. We, the gamers, own this as more and more gamers become designers. More and more gamers become contributors to the community. More and more gamers form gaming groups of their own to explore this hobby we own. This is the beautiful thing.
Viva la revolution.