Most of us remember playing games when we were younger – games of Monopoly that lingered into the early morning hours, epic dice battles trying to win new territories in Risk, or evenings gathered around the dining room table, trying to out-answer one another in Trivial Pursuit. Perhaps we remember teaching our children to count by playing Hi Ho Cherry-O or even trying to figure out the perpetrator before other players in Clue.
While our classic board games may have found a place in our memories, as well as on a shelf in the basement, many new titles are leading a resurgence in the popularity of board games.
“Board gaming is hot right now,” says Russ Siler, owner of Vahalla Games in Effingham, one of about a dozen retail stores across Illinois specializing in board games. He says his store stocks hundreds of different board games.
“It is a very interesting time,” Nick Jones, owner of Titan Games in Springfield, Champaign and Peoria, explains. “Even though we have all of these phone apps and video games to choose from, it’s the board game industry that is growing. There continues to be more and more options, and games are simply better than ever before.” “The lure of board games is simple,” says Scott Thorne of Castle Perilous Games and Books in Carbondale.
“The appeal is that people like to compete with each other and with themselves,” he explains. “We simply enjoy competition, and we enjoy banter – interaction with each other. We just like getting together and making each other laugh. It’s not about who’s going to win, it’s about getting around a table with friends and having fun.”
He says board games are finding new players. One of his customers, Lawrence Gaydos of De Soto is a perfect example. Gaydos says he first visited Thorne’s shop to get comic books for his sons.
“We went in there to look at comics and I saw all of these games. I was like, ‘What is this?’ because I didn’t expect it,” he recalls. “I had grown up with all of what I call the big box store games – Sorry, Monopoly, Risk and the like – that was all I knew. I never saw anything like these games. We spent an hour just looking at the boxes.”
Gaydos took home a few new games and soon was hooked. Today he has more than 100 board games in his collection.
“There are so many different games now and just as many reasons people play them,” Gaydos says.
Many experts say one reason for the uptick in gaming – believe it or not – is the proliferation of electronics.
“Over and over again, you will hear people are getting tired of the digital age, and I think that’s why these ‘analog’ games are so popular,” Gaydos notes.
Siler agrees. “These games are social,” he says. “You sit across from someone while you are playing. There is an extra level of interaction. In the middle of the game, you might stop and tell a funny story. You don’t get that with online games.”
“Board games are simply a way to get unplugged,” Jones adds. “These are games you can sit down with your family or friends and really enjoy.”
Thorne says there is a wide variety of games available, but most fall into one of two categories: competitive games where players compete against one another, and cooperative games where everyone works together. He says competitive games such as Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride and Smash Up are gaining national audiences. Cooperative games include Castle Panic, Shadows Over Camelot and Forbidden Island.
He adds that some sets are called “legacy games,” where permanent changes are made to the way the game is played as participants take their turns.
“These games come with stickers for the board and secret envelopes you open at specific times, so you end up creating a customized version of the board game. In a few years, your version of the game will be very different than someone else’s,” Thorne adds.
He says the group funding website Kickstarter features about 14,000 new games at any one time. “We see about 80 to 100 new board games every month, but only a handful catch on. There’s something for every taste.”
Even with all of the new games, the classic titles are still relevant. Many of the newer games have ties back to the games of our youth, Siler says.
“Many of the core mechanics are the same,” he explains. “Learning the new games is not that difficult because they have ties to some of the classic games.”
Jones says people interested in trying new games should seek out others who are into board games and can make recommendations.
“It’s interesting to see how quickly people will play a new game and learn it. Then it opens their eyes to a whole new world of games,” says Jones.
Even though he stocks as many as 300 different games, Thorne says he also keeps lists to help find players discover other games they may like.
Gaydos explains that new games even help him appreciate the old classic games again.
“When I first started back into board games, I’d find some of the old ones that I thought were boring and I began looking at them in different ways,” he says. “It’s opened me up to nostalgia and second chances.”
While Gaydos has rekindled his passion for older games, he loves the new offerings.
“There’s more strategy in the new games, more creativity and there’s a lot of effort into the art of board games now. It’s all fascinating.”
Siler adds that board games are all about getting together with others and taking on a new challenge.
“While some of the new games are difficult, many are very easy,” he says. “Those are the ones people like – the ones with a personable element that are easy to learn and hard to master. It’s all about being social.”