How Did Board Games Become a Huge Deal?

It's an evolving industry

Board games
A Target customer looks at a display of board games while shopping at Target in San Francisco, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

It’s fair to say that, in the last decade, something changed within the world of board games. Specifically, the scale at which they operate seems to have, to borrow a term used in other avenues of gaming, leveled up. I say this as someone who plays board games with some regularity — Scythe is a particular favorite — sometimes in person and sometimes virtually, a practice that the pandemic ratcheted up.

What feels like it’s changed is the way that board games have gone from a subject that was largely in the purview of dedicated shops to an industry where a big box store like Target is likely to have a decent selection of games on hand. It’s been a subtle cultural shift, but it’s also a substantial one — and it begs the question of how we got here.

In a new article for The Washington Post, Jaclyn Peiser explored the rise of board games in an era where video games — whether on phones, computers or consoles — seem paramount. The article makes the case for a perfect storm of factors contributing to board games picking up steam.

Part of that is technological. Game developers can raise money via Kickstarter, which has had a number of high-profile success stories over the years. YouTube is also an invaluable place to watch tutorials to get up to speed on a new game, and to watch hands-on reviews to decide if something’s worth purchasing.

Peiser also notes, though, that board games are a good way for people to socialize — whether at home, at a bar or at a store that’s home to gaming events. Given that loneliness continues to be an issue for many people, it’s not hard to see why an activity that counters that has a substantial appeal.

The Post article cites a value of the global market for board games that’s between $11 billion and $13 billion — and it’s still growing. That’s also led to deals that relate directly to gaming’s social side, such as the 2021 purchase of the site Board Game Arena by the gaming company Asmodee. The factors helping board games grow are numerous, but their effect is highly focused — and shows no signs of slowing.

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