Chalk it up to a surge in STEM concepts or a parental movement for more offline play, but any which way you roll the dice, board games are on the rise in a big way.
Market research firm The NPD Group recently reported that the US Games and Puzzles category grew by 18% in 2016 to US$307 million, making it the fastest-growing toy sector of the year. And research shows every type of game is fueling this uptick, from family strategy and board games, to preschool-skewing ones.
As the demand for science-based content and toys reaches new heights, companies like St. Louis, Missouri-based Genius Games are introducing board games that teach kids STEM principles at a lower price than other high-tech counterparts. The company’s newest offering is Cytosis: A Cell Biology Game, which takes players beyond the basics of biology and deposits them directly into a human cell.
The science-based strategy game features a board shaped like a cell, and requires players to collect resources like mRNA from the nucleus or ATP from the mitochondria. Players use those items to complete hormone, receptor or enzyme cards and gain health points. At the end of the game, the player with the most health points wins, though the goal is for everyone to walk away with a greater understanding of how the body functions.
Cytosis launched on Kickstarter on March 14 with the aim of raising US$14,500, and reached its goal in less than five hours.
“One of the nice things about Kickstarter is that it’s an all-or-nothing system,” says John Coveyou, founder and director of Genius Games, which is also behind Peptide: A Protein Building Game, Virulence: An Infectious Card Game, Ion: A Compound Building Game and Covalence: A Molecule Building Game. “So if we have a specific amount of money that we need to manufacture the game and we don’t raise that much, no one’s credit cards get charged, we don’t get any money and it’s kind of dead in the water. And what that does is protect both the customers and the publisher.”
While Coveyou says there is a growing appetite for science-based and educational products—his company sold more than 20,000 games globally last year—the built-in protection of crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter is crucial for smaller publishers.
“It would be tragic if we really only needed 2,000 or 3,000 games and we printed 10,000 or 15,000 ones,” he says.
The Kickstarter campaign can’t tell Coveyou how many units will actually sell when the game becomes available just before the holiday season, but it does allow him to gauge general interest within the community. (No retailers are on board Cytosis yet, but previous Genius Games offerings have sold in the US, Canada and the UK at science centers, specialty stores and schools.)
According to Kickstarter, board games are becoming increasingly popular among backers on the crowdfunding platform, which has seen more than US$265 million pledged to tabletop games to date. Coveyou believes board games continue to succeed on Kickstarter due to the communal nature of gaming.
“With a board game, you need so much feedback from testers and your audience,” he says. “It is almost like a viral experience to engage with a game and play it.”
Not only does Coveyou think more games will continue to flood the market, but he also predicts the demand for higher quality board games will increase. “I think, moving forward, we’ll see even more families playing together,” Coveyou says. “From the publishers’ side, I think games will continue to become more and more immersive.”
And in addition to games improving in quality with better concepts, artwork and materials, Coveyou anticipates the nature of gaming will continue to evolve in order to serve more sophisticated kids.
“I think we’ll see more games using high-quality mechanics, with fewer ones involving player elimination or luck-based dice rolling,” he says. “I think the ones we’ll see moving forward will be much more constructive, rather than destructive. Instead of seeing players competing head-to-head, I think we’ll see more fun experiences with players building and creating something together.”
Market leader Hasbro, for one, continues to invest in new and innovative board game offerings, which is paying off for the Rhode Island toy manufacturer’s Games category. The division saw gains in both Q4 2016 (up 11%) and fiscal 2016 (up 9%), due in large part to Magic: The Gathering, Pie Face, Duel Masters, Simon, Bob-It and the new game Speak-Out.