Tabletop games are back in business

Players enjoy table top games at Snakes and Lattes, a board game cafe in Toronto. / Credit:


Dig up your old Monopoly board because family game nights may be making a resurgence. According to John Natale of the Wells Fargo blog, as of 2016 “the board game market has posted seven consecutive years of growth to become a billion-dollar industry.” Game collectors are spending their hard earned money on new and vintage games alike, with Gen-Con 2016, a tabletop gaming convention seeing more than 60,000 unique attendees (200,000 overall) over their four day run.

Alex Patteson, an avid collector of all things pop culture, says he’s been collecting things since he was only five years old.  “It started with keychains when I was only three years old, and from there only grew to include the fads of the day (POGs, Pokemon cards, Crazy Bones) as well as video games, movies, and board games.”

Patteson says he was surprised by the rising popularity of board games.

“I have been collecting board games for about five years now, but when I started, I was mainly picking up the motorized games of the nineties, and games based on random pop culture, like Ghost Writer and Biker Mice From Mars.”

As for prices, Patteson says they  keep going up. “It has gotten really hard to find the things I love to collect, but when I do find them, actually be able to afford them. While a lot of people like me are really into collecting the old stuff, I’ve seen that stores like Hot Topic are doing great business selling new shirts, toys, and accessories of old TV shows and other such nostalgia.”

A few years ago, Patteson says he was introduced to the new world of board games by some friends. “I was expecting silly pop culture games or the old standards, but I was blown away by how many cool new board games there were that I’d never heard of. It was really eye opening.”

Board game cafes have been popping up all over Ontario. Two have opened in Hamilton in the last few years, offering customers a massive library of games of all formats and genres to play for a small entrance fee of $5. The cafes also serve snacks and drinks and several offer games for sale. Though that would seem to be counter-intuitive to their business model, having games at home will  not necessarily stop people from coming out to the cafes.

“Each one usually has their own unique thing they bring to the table, no pun intended,” says Patteson.  “I’ve been to one that has fun snacks at great prices, so it’s great for gamers who are on a budget but want to try a new game. I’ve been to another one though that had a lot fancier food, and really nice specialty drinks, which might appeal more to a group of gamers looking for a real game and meal experience. It’s all a matter of finding the café that suits what you and your group are looking for.”

In St. Catharines there aren’t any dedicated board game cafes, but board-gamers in the city can look to other places for an in-person gaming experience, such as coffee shops.

“I play most of my games at home with a few different groups of friends,” says Patteson. “I have some friends who are really into the new games I bring to the table, and we play a serious game for a few hours.”

Patteson says he also has a group of friends who are really interested in vintage games as well. “They’ll want to come over and play a quick round of Dream Phone or Nightmare: The Video Board Game. Lucky for my friends, my interests are all over the place, so no matter what kind of gaming mood they’re in, I’ve usually got a game that fits.”

A major factor in the creation of new board games, —often referred to as tabletop games by players since many of them don’t actually involve a traditional game board— comes in the form of crowdfunding websites. Sites like Kickstarter, said Milton Griepp, head of the research firm ICv2, in an interview with Quartz, represented around 20 per cent of the North American board game industry’s total sales. Griepp said funding for technology industries on the same websites accounts for only a fraction of sales. What’s the difference? While technology and video games were once thought to have killed the board game, game designer Dan Shapiro told the New York Times that the opposite has actually happened.

“It has unlocked a whole generation of innovative game play experimentation that just wasn’t feasible before,”  said Shapiro.

Patteson says the resurgence may be backlash against the disconnect of the digital age. “I think it is an equal mix of nostalgia, and communal gaming that video games don’t offer as much anymore.” Patteson adds that many games don’t offer a multiplayer experience anywhere but online. “You might be playing with your friends, but you’re all in different houses. I think a lot of people miss sitting on the same couch playing a game against each other and having a good time.”


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