Thanksgiving (Is) For Games

I am deeply thankful for games, and for the people with whom I have played them over the years. I am particularly thankful for board games. Clarifications: I am not criticizing video games, or the people who play them; some of the board games I like best are actually card games; perhaps tabletop games is a better term than board games; I am not thankful for every tabletop game ever, and do acknowledge than many of them stink; neither am I thankful for every single person with whom I’ve played a tabletop game…

Is this board games’ golden age? Owen Duffy’s article in yesterday’s Guardian argues that it is. I agree, and hope that an even better (platinum?) age will follow. It is certainly a good time for board/tabletop games: “the past four years have seen board game purchases rise by between 25% and 40% annually.”

So why is this a good time for board/tabletop games? There are at least two explanations. I think of them as the compliments explanation and the complements explanation.

“Games are simply getting better” is the compliments explanation. That quote from the article compliments designers and publishers of games on making better games available.

Another quote illustrates the complements explanation. “The rise of smartphones and tablets has given players an inexpensive way to try digital versions of board games, and many go on to buy physical copies as well.” The digital and physical versions are complements, rather than substitutes. To be more specific, and perhaps more surprising: the existence of the digital version increases, rather than decreases, purchases of the tabletop version, even if the tabletop version costs ten times more than the digital version.

Dear readers of this post, it may be time for parting words. If you celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, I hope that you do so safely and happily. If you are “tabletop game compatible”–and I believe that most humans are–I hope that games play a positive part in your holiday season, and in the rest of your life.

If you are interested in the impact of technology on our lives, please bear with me for another paragraph or two. It seems strange that tabletop gaming and smartphone usage are on the rise at the same time. Who wants games with components of cardboard and wood, costing dozens of dollars, when there are so many mobile games available for a few bucks, or at no immediate financial cost? One answer is that such gamers are rare, and becoming rarer.

Despite our affection for them, the market for board games tumbled 9 percent in 2010 and the road ahead is straight downhill… With apps, every boardgame can be brought to the screen, be carried in your pocket…. online game centers… knit people together.

The quote, from Michael Saylor’s book The Mobile Wave (2012), presents an argument that games on mobile platforms will substitute for games (sometimes the same games) on the tabletop. The book presents an argument that connected mobile devices will substitute for pretty much every existing way we do pretty much any thing. I suspect that data from the few years provide tend to support the general mobile wave thesis.

But the games for which I am thankful seem to be buoyant, their cardboard boxes floating on the mobile wave rather than being swept away by it. I think that tabletop games will remain on top the the wave, although sales figures may bob up and down.

Here are some of the questions on my mind. I’d love to see responses, and further questions.

  • Will the current “golden age” of board/tabletop games continue, or even turn into a more precious age?
  • Are digital versions of tabletop games complements to, rather than substitutes for, the tabletop game itself?
  • In what other arenas are digital versions complements to, rather than substitutes for, “the real thing”?

Have a great Thanksgiving, or Thursday, or weekend, or whatever it is for you,

ps edited for clarity on Dec 3, 2014

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