Tabletop—board, card, dice, roleplaying—games are more popular now than any time I can remember. I know people who only a few years ago wouldn't play a board game who now have a regular night each month, or week, when they get together with friends and play them. The games they are playing cover all types. They might play a favorite they know well or try a new game they hope will become a new favorite.
It's hard to pin down why people are playing more games than they used to. Everyone has their own reason for sitting down at a game table. Even though a thousand people will have a thousand different reasons, there are some generalizations to be drawn.
Getting together has been a favorite past time for generations. In the past the reason may have been a different type of social event—helping neighbors in the garden or with the animals. My mom talks about how her family would get together to bottle up fruits and vegetables at harvest time. People still have dinner parties where family and friends get together. But now they might have dinner and a murder mystery to solve.
Games provide a focal point during social events. I grew up with my parents having friends over to play Pinochle or poker. I would get with my siblings and we would play Risk, Aggravation, Feudal, or two-handed solitaire. I know I’m not alone in this upbringing. Even sporting events are people getting together for a game, either to play or watch.
Times now are no different—people like to get together and socialize. What has changed are the types of games available and general attitude about games.
Rise of Game Diversity
Games used to be quite basic. I remember three main types of games that were available when I was a kid. There were race games, winner take all games, and party games. Some even combined the two, you race around the board buying property and raising rent until you forced others into bankruptcy and out of the game. That style of games, and many of those games, are still around. And they have their place on a game shelf. I keep some around. In collecting some older games, I've found there were other games that were harder to come by. Games that expanded on the basic concepts and used new ones to define what made a game. Now those games that were pushed to the side are what people are looking for.
A lot of games now allow everyone to play to the end. These games are called Eurogames by many people. Instead of working to see who gets to the end of the race first or who gets knocked out first, everyone is playing until a victory condition is met. Some of these are set for the person who reached to requirement to be declared the winner. Others hit the end game and then everyone counts their score to see who won. This style reminds me of many of the card games we played when I was a kid. No one is defeated out of the game who then waits for everyone else to finish before they can join in on a new start. Everyone is involved, something people growing up in youth sports have heard the past forty years.
There are also more mechanics used in how to play games. We still have card drawing and dice throwing. We also have deck building, drafting, role-playing games, cooperative games, and more. Each style brings new challenges to how a game is played and new ways for players to think. Not all games are for everyone. I know people who don’t like heavy strategy games, others who don’t like deck building. You name a style and you will find someone who doesn’t like it. The flip side is also true. Each style will have its champion. A friend of mine has a daughter who is a worker placement guru. She very seldom loses when playing one.
The rise in diversity of game design allows access to those who didn’t want to just play a game to become the ruler of the world.
There have been games based around storylines, but many new games have richer stories that carry through the game instead of just creating a setting. Even those using a backstory before play begins have a stronger sense of place. People collect specific settings. I know a person who has a hard time turning away from any game that includes zombies.
The development of story in games provides a stronger connection to the game. No longer are people just pushing their pawns around the board, they are taking on the role of the space settlers fighting against other alien races to create an outpost on a distant planet. This draws people in.
Games create a draw that can be found in both books and movies. You have a story to start with, but with more activity than just reading. They contain similar elements to movies, something that really comes out with games that are based on people playing a personality as part of the game.
Designers and Artists
Designers and artists are gaining followers. Many enthusiasts follow creators of games they enjoy and look for other ones they designed. Artists are also making names for themselves by creating works for games. I heard a conversation of Magic the Gathering players that was focused on the artists who created the art used on specific cards, other cards they had done, and how some of the cards are collectible purely for the depiction on it.
Some follow a good author or director who has already produced something enjoyable. There isn't really any difference
This ties in with the increasing number of independent developers. I looked at some of the older games in my collection and many don't list who the designer was, just the company making it. Independent publishing allows smaller game companies and individuals to create and produce their games without having to first get approval of a larger company.
When you combine these four features, there are strong reasons why games are on the rise. You have the opportunity of sharing an experience with friends of a story you create based on what others have started without having to spend new money once it's on your shelf.
If you are already part of the hobby, you understand the attraction. If you are new to it, you will probably be surprised at what is out there. One convention I attend is a combination of electronic and tabletop gaming. Every time there is a group of people who arrived for the electronic games and ended up playing tabletop games.
Fellow Panelists (information from program guide)
Ryan Decaria is host of the Meeple Nation Board Game podcast, where he covers the hot new games, news, and kickstarters, and discusses the board game world. Ryan is also author of Devil in the Microscope, a YA mad-science fiction novel, and a sequel arriving later this year. madsciencefiction.com, meeplenation.com
Natasha Ence cut her teeth on Dungeons & Dragons before moving on to other rules systems like Mutants & Masterminds. Table-top gaming and a voracious love of stories lead her to study literature, teaching, and creative writing at university; this gave her the solid foundation she needed to become a full-time professional game master. talesoffthetable.weebly.com
New York Times bestselling author Dan Wells is best known for his horror series I Am Not A Serial Killer. His other novels include two young adult science fiction series. Dan has written for the television series Extinct. He cohosts the Hugo-winning podcast Writing Excuses. He also writes short fiction and game fiction and edited the anthology Altered Perceptions to help raise funds for and [increase] awareness of mental illness. Dan lives in northern Utah with his wife, six children, and more than four hundred board games. thedanwells.com
Aaron Lee Yeager has worn a lot of hats. Author, radio DJ, pilot, newspaper editor, space education flight instructor, teacher, game show host, actor, ambassador, stage hand, playwright, set builder, salesman, director, and stand-up comic. But of all the hats he has worn, the two that mean the most to him are husband and father.
Daniel Yocom runs Guild Master Gaming, which has supported tabletop gaming and other things geek. It includes reviews of games, books, and movies. Articles also appear on other websites. He has short stories published and is working on his first novel. guildmastergaming.blogspot.com.