What Board Games Can Do For You

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They can teach you about farming, improve your love life, empty your wallet, and more!

One of the great things about publishing books is it opens your eyes to worlds you didn’t know existed.

We were complete strangers to board game culture until Sutherland House signed up Joan Moriarity and Jonathan Kay’s Your Move: What Board Games Teach Us About Life (coming September 11, 2019 and available for pre-order here). Suddenly we’re seeing board game stories everywhere.

The evidence for a board game renaissance is quite clear. According to Your Move (the photos above and below are from the book), North American sales increased from $75 million to $305 million between 2013 and 2016, the last year of data. A recent research report projects the global board-game market at $12 billion by 2023 (growing at a rate of 9% annually between 2017-2023).

According to a story this week in ICv2, an industry website, a lot of the action is on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter, where in the first half of this year $80.5 million was raised for 1,321 new tabletop games. That’s a crazy amount of new product. Almost 70% of new games launched on Kickstarter wind up getting funded.

Bloomberg reports that the board-game market is developing a luxury component. Individual games can retail for more than $1000, and people are spending more than $2,700 for purpose-built gaming tables with organizers for cards, tokens, tiles, etc.

We read that libraries are going nuts for board games. Local branches of the Toronto Public Library are not only lending games but hosting board-game meetups for children and adults, and Make Your Own Board Game classes.  Similar reports are coming in from the Sooke to Dallas, Texas.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel has just run a feature on a new board game café opening in Palm Beach. Almost every major North American city now has multiple board game cafes and some are starting to see board game bars. This is a trend that started in Europe and made its way to this continent via Toronto. Joan Moriarity was board game concierge at Snakes & Lattes, the first such café in Toronto, and is currently Dungeon Master at Storm Crow Manor, a licensed downtown board-game bar. (Below: games night at a New Zealand bar).

The board games themselves are increasingly sophisticated and interesting. Eighty-five-year-old Monopoly has modernized, dumping paper dollars in favor of a voice-activated banker who monitors transactions on the board and keeps players from cheating.

A newly-released game called The Poll: The Great Indian Election Game, has been credited with rendering the subcontinent’s politics explicable. Agdaily last month ranked the seven best farming games, including Farmageddon and Life on the Farm, the latter a dairy game favored by college Agriculture majors.

With all this activity comes the inevitable social science research. The Journal of Marriage and Family reports on a study that found couples who play tabletop games together release more oxytocin (the feel-good hormone) than couples who don’t, suggesting that board games are a love potion.

That result is challenged by an advice column from The New York Times last month. A pregnant woman wrote to complain that her husband wants to go to a Settlers of Catan tournament the weekend they are scheduled to move into a new house. The adviser, Judge John Hodgman, told her to let her husband attend the tournament on the grounds that he wouldn’t have a lot of time to play games once their child is born.

Kirkus, by the way, was very complimentary to Your Move in the book’s first review: “perceptive and intriguing … an illuminating book that both introduces and critiques an often overlooked art form.”

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