In Brief

A monopoly on family fun: the resurgence of board games

Coronavirus lockdowns herald new era of old-style gaming

Staying in has become the new going out by necessity this year, leaving millions of people looking for ways to stay entertained at home. 

Coronavirus lockdowns have triggered huge increases in book sales and time spent watching TV and streaming services, along with a surge of interest in activities such as gardening or baking. And families have been making the most of their time together to enjoy some at-home play too.

The first week of the lockdown that started back in March saw sales of board games and jigsaw puzzles soaring by 240%, as The Guardian reported at the time. According to research published by research company NPD Group, Monopoly Classic was the best-selling game, with other titles in the top ten including Cluedo and Scrabble. 

Quality time

The surge in demand for board games has been fuelled by three factors, says Claire McCool, owner of British game manufacturer Drumond Park and creator of family favourite Articulate!. “Firstly, families have spent longer together over the past few months than they have in a very long time,” she explains. “We were designing games all through lockdown and actually test-playing them on our kids.”

Second, board games have offered a means of escape from the constant “bad news” reel during the global pandemic, becoming a staple form of entertainment for both young families and for parents of older children who have returned to the nest.

“There were definitely different levels of anxiety going around and what better way to lighten the atmosphere than with playing a light-hearted good-fun game,” McCool said.

Ironically, new technologies have also boosted the popularity of traditional board games. At a time when many people are feeling so disconnected, digital communication channels such as Zoom, FaceTime and WhatsApp have become vital tools for everyday lives. And with the click of a button, people can play games in a video conference without physically meeting up.

Drumond Park are among the many companies who have embraced the shift to online board-game play. McCool said: “We made Articulate! cards available digitally, which meant that if you had a game of Articulate! but your friends didn’t, all they had to do was go online and they could access the cards at no cost.”

This strategy was an instant success, with the Articulate! online cards accessed more than 150,000 times in the first four months. 

’Tis the season to be playing...

This year’s sales boom follows a steady increase in demand for board games over the past decade. Along with traditional classics such as Monopoly and Scrabble, new games including Settlers of Catan, Codenames and Pandemic are becoming increasingly popular, while eight million copies of strategy game Ticket to Ride have been sold since its initial release in 2004. 

The board games industry has always been exceptionally seasonal, says McCool, whose company is releasing a second edition of its popular LOGO quiz and further products under the Articulate! brand. “Historically, Christmas is the peak time to play games because it’s the time of year when families get together.”

With England’s second lockdown expected to end in early December, Christmas shoppers are likely to be snapping up more games for festive fun. 

“The vast majority of people just want a simple, fun game where they can have a good laugh,” McCool adds. 

Sounds like a winning strategy for us all. 

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