The future of gaming – board games?

I started gaming in the late 70s, when my brother taught me hard-core Avalon Hill board games like Third Reich and Panzer Leader. He was 6 years older than me and looking for someone to resoundingly beat at these games, and he found me (and I was well and truly beaten). I played a lot of board games in the 80s, but, even as Trivial Pursuit became a craze that restored the lustre of ‘party games’, the type of game that I played, ‘hard-core’ board games, was overwhelmed by the onslaught of computer games. One-by-one, the giants of the board game industry (Victory Games, SPI, then finally Avalon Hill), slid under the waves, and the industry disappeared.

Sort of.

Even though all the giants of the 70s/80s are gone, there’s a new generation of board game makers out there, making games that have simpler rule sets and less pieces, but still have great strategic depth.

A couple of years ago, I was in talks with Eagle Games about doing a board game version of Railroad Tycoon. That never happened, unfortunately, but Eagle Games has done some solid board games, including both original titles like Attack! and ‘ports’ of computer games like Civilization (i.e. they make board game versions of games that originate on the computer.)

In the last two months, I’ve been addicted to Ticket to Ride, by Days of Wonder. I’m actually playing the computer version of the board game – it plays on the computer but feels like a board game. And the on-line version is free to play, and can be learned quickly. Highly recommended.

Finally, in a slightly different, but still interesting direction, I had lunch yesterday with a local entrepreneur, Stuart Montaldo, who has been producing a line of board games (Cogno) aimed at kids 7-13, that include educational science content, but are designed to camoflage it so well that the kids don’t even know they’re learning as they have fun. His games have won all kinds of toy industry awards, and lo and behold, there’s a lengthy feature about him and his company in this mornings Wall Street Journal (Marketplace section, bottom of the front page). He seems to be on a successful trajectory, too.

More power to the board games. As strategic PC games and educational games fade in the marketplace, perhaps this is just the cyclical return to another proven kind of entertainment. And maybe, just maybe, in 10 or 15 years somebody will write a similar blog piece about the return of PC and educational games.

[edit – So I was checking the various sites mentioned above to grab the right links, and I see that the deal for the Railroad Tycoon board game went forward after all, and the game is now out! Very cool. I will be checking it out and posting my thoughts in the future.]

5 Responses to “The future of gaming – board games?”

  1. euplayer Says:

    Board games are great,sociable relaxed, and of course easy to mod with house rules, etc.

    Growing up i played all the classics, then went on to AH and SPI wargames.

    With a kid now, ive gotten to play the classics again. Shes old enough for something more sophisticated, but not into my old wargames. I thought maybe Settler of Cataan, or something.

    Where does one find board games (beyond the milton bradley big sellers) in brick and mortar stores these days. Wizards of the Coast had a great selection, but theyre out of biz. Seems like its either Toys R Us, or the internet.

  2. Phil Steinmeyer Says:

    I think you find them mostly the ‘net, and at a handful of specialty hobby/game shops (i.e. the kinds of shops that sell D & D stuff, comics, and/or Magic the Gathering stuff.)

  3. doho123 Says:

    The most well-known site for purchasing Eurogames (games that could be classified as, more or less, simple strategic games, as opposed to the typical dice roll fest Hasbro puts out, and of which Settlers, and Ticket To Ride belong in) would be http://www.funagain.com.

    As a side note, Acquire, which was written about previously a couple of weeks ago, is sort of considered the grand-father of the Eurogame; there’s a lot of light strategy to it, yet is simple enough for most people to pick up.

    Probably the best site for board game info right now is http://www.boardgamegeek.com, where you’ll see that the Railroad Tycoon board game is very highly rated.

  4. hamumu Says:

    Yes, Funagain! And for the first person who sees this and wants to use it before 12/31, I have a 5% off code for there from my last order: 589283. I won’t use it, so you better!

    For brick & mortar, you have to find your local shop. They’re pretty common, in the sense that there’s usually one tiny one hidden somewhere in every smallish or larger town. Check the phone book. You generally won’t find this stuff in the big stores at all.

    I have read that boardgames are currently growing at a massively larger rate than video games (which are basically declining). Video games are far bigger for now, of course, but the growth just isn’t happening.

  5. soniCron Says:

    You know, Phil, that’s very interesting. I just read this for the first time, and it really validated some feelings I’ve had about these sibling markets. I think, in a lot of ways, the casual gamespace is attractive to the same types of people who are interested in popular board games.

    Frankly, I believe that once the casual market has evolved enough, then we’ll see an abundance of the board game experience, online. It’s already present in many of the facets of the market, but I suspect that casual games will largely become multiplayer in focus — the new “Solitaire,” (sic) if you will.

    These are exciting times in which we live, and it’s great to be a part of this brave, new world!

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