Did you have a closet full of board games as a child? You probably have pleasant memories of your first round of Mouse Trap, and not-so-pleasant memories of the first time your cousin beat the vocabulary out of you at Scrabble. But over time, board games gathered dust. In the case of millennials (born 1980-1995), these pieces of cardboard and plastic grew instantly antiquated when placed beside the omnipotent aura of the video game. Why would you play boring old Monopoly when you could scream at your buddies over a 3 a.m. match of GoldenEye or World Of Warcraft? Times have changed, but fortunately, the world of board games has too. Here’s what we learned diving back into the industry after a two-decade absence.
They’ve Grown Up With You
Over the years, board games slowly dropped to the status of “easy Christmas gifts.” Even though they had the best commercials in the history of advertising, that was that. Board games were out. But behind the scenes, board games were going through puberty too. Not only were they becoming more complex, but they were also growing up. Sure, there have always been games made for older hobbyists, but what we mean is that this is now a character from a commercially popular board game:
In case you need an explanation for what you’re looking at, that’s a miniature from the horror game Kingdom Death: Monster named Wet Nurse. It appears to be a bulbous, throbbing sex organ with a baby face for a nose, a pair of boobs for eyes, and 20 boobs for boobs. It’s H.P. Lovecraft’s RedTube. Of course, nudity does not automatically equal quality adult content, but let’s take a gander at some of the other creatures from the game. Just because something isn’t all breasts doesn’t mean it’s safe for children.
Wow! Silent Hill doesn’t have monsters as disturbing as that. Now to be clear, this is pretty much as hardcore as it gets. These are creatures from a $400 board game in which you can wear the skin of your enemies as armor and roll dice to mate. One reviewer summed it up by saying it was life-changing, yet disturbing to the core and offensive to anyone with a pulse. Basically, it ain’t for everyone.
If you’re looking for something adult and familiar that won’t make your friends hate you, some video game franchises have already made the jump to board games. The Witcher, Bioshock, Assassin’s Creed, Gears Of War, X-Com, and the upcoming games based on Dark Souls and Doom have all successfully transferred what made their games great into a plastic version. Game Of Thrones has been turned into multiple board games. Dexter, a show about a serial killer, has a game. And these ARE popular. Kingdom Death: Monster recently raised almost $12 million on Kickstarter, becoming one of the most popular projects ever.
If you’re looking to ease back into the cardboard world without skipping a house payment, try party games. (Which this game happens to be.) Thanks to successes like Cards Against Humanity, “adult party games” are now their own mainstream genre. Many classics like Taboo and Outburst now have dirty versions that would anger your “please stay chaste forever” parents. And this stuff is mainstream. Adults-only games like Monikers and Nasty Things are sold right on the shelf next to Candy Land at Target.
They’ve Embraced Technology
When you start to explore the world of board games as a video game fan, you realize that the two are not bitter enemies, but in fact are complementary. Some, like those made by Jackbox Games, blur the line completely. Board games and video games have now been made one. And they will conquer.
But video gaming’s one advantage is being able to play with anyone, anywhere, right? What if there was a way to play board games with friends across the country without downloading a rotten iPhone version? This isn’t a unicorn dream, friends. Enter Tabletopia, a PC app that is the Netflix of board games.
The platform has over 300 games, everything from newcomers like Scythe to whatever Canadian Checkers is. Games are pretty accurately recreated, and the best part is that you don’t even have to pick up all the pieces when you inevitably flip the table in a blind rage.
But maybe you want something more than a neatly packaged digital version of some indie game you’ve never heard of. In that case, you want Tabletop Simulator, which is a literal board game simulator. Unlike Tabletopia, there are no 21st-century conveniences like score counters or auto-shuffling. In order to play the games in Tabletop Simulator, you must physically pick up and move the pieces, or draw cards from the deck with your mouse. Everything is manual and physics-based. There are no rules unless you follow them voluntarily. A game of poker can suddenly become a house of cards building contest, just like real life. The game even lets you upload your own art and create a game, like this completely unauthorized fan version of the Pokémon Trading Card Game which I’m assuming you are going to go download now. It’s beautiful madness.
It’s compatible with virtual reality, too, so that’s about as realistic as it gets, folks. This is nerd porn.
The game Risk is probably in your attic right now. To catch you up, it’s a world domination game in which you fight against a handful of other people to take over the Earth via brute force. You make the biggest army you can and try to make your buddies cry. A lot of the game is based on rolling dice and building up territory, so later in the game, it can get a little slow and tedious rolling dice 47 times to take over Australia.
In 2012, Hasbro figured that the 50-year-old game was getting a little stale and released Risk Legacy. This is a completely different game, and it was the first of its kind. This is a game that you play over and over with the same people across multiple sessions until a predetermined amount of games have been finished, changing the game as you go. But here’s the kicker: You can never play it again after that, because the game changes become permanent. This board game has actual spoilers. For example, the very first action you do is choose a faction and one of two power-ups. You’re supposed to pick your favorite, then throw the other one away. No, you don’t toss it in the discard pile. You literally throw it away.
During the game, players unlock various rewards for winning each game, like naming your own territory. In this case, you take a Sharpie and write it on the board. So name your new place “Screw-Greg-Istan” if you want, because really, screw Greg. There are even spoiler cards that unlock after certain conditions are met that are sealed in an envelope like an Academy Award.
This is a $50 board game that you destroy over the course of playing it. In case that sounds stupid, the success of the game has created a new subgenre. Pandemic, a popular strategy game about curing global disease, now has a legacy version. Even this parody game has a legacy version that parodies legacy versions of games, like taking a niche interest and then drilling holes into it to make room for more niches.
There Are Modern Versions Of The Classics Now
OK, maybe this still isn’t convincing you to go check out some new board games. Maybe you legitimately do miss the old games you used to play and would play them all again if they had some mechanics that weren’t invented in 1910. Monopoly is great, but it’s basically Woodrow Wilson’s America: The Game. Speaking of the era before World War I, when was the last time you played Monopoly? Because much has changed. First off all, credit cards have been added in Monopoly Ultimate Banking Edition, an update to the classic in which everything is credit-based. There is no more multicolored cash. Wanna buy a property or pay rent? Scan your Monopoly Visa.
Oh, don’t worry, they still make the original version, but even that’s seen its share of changes. First, Hasbro decided to officially include common house rules in the game, because their market research told them that 70 percent of players have never read the rules and just make it up as they go (we could have’ told you that for free, Hasbro). Remember how weird some of the tokens were? There was a car, a boat, a dog, a hat, and wasn’t there a shoe and an iron? Well, not anymore. In 2013, the iron was voted out and replaced with a cat. Sorry, irons, but you were no match for the ultimate meme pet.
I should stress this was chosen by an internet poll. In 2017 they did it again, removing the thimble, the boot, and the wheelbarrow, which have been in the game for half a century. While the final replacements came down to more sensible choices, candidates included a hashtag and an emoji, because those things are timeless. Jeez, internet.
Remember Clue? The one in which you had to solve an old-timey murder mystery? Instead of a stuffy house that has lead pipes just lying around willy-nilly, the new game takes place in a mansion during a party for rich celebrities. All of the characters have updated names and bios (all the women actually have actual jobs now), and there’s new weapons and rooms. Victor Plum is now a dot-com billionaire, and I can only assume that Colonel Mustard really wants you to be a distributor for his new line of herbal supplements.
What’s that? You want the authentic experience without all the bells and whistles, because you like to pretend you live in an era with no toy safety regulations? Just pick up retro recreations of all these games, hopefully without the lead paint.
The Indie Renaissance
We’re sure many people have simply seen their available time slip away from them as they grow into adulthood and are forced to take on actual responsibilities. Video game price is less a worry compared to “do I have the 80 hours necessary to properly guide my Witcher through the swamp of Magictopia?”
As a video gamer, have you ever had an idea pop into your head and thought, “That would make an AWESOME game!” But how do you create it? Where would you even start? AAA video games are made by huge teams of people over multiple years for millions of dollars. Even as an indie developer, you probably need employees and capital long before you’re designing mages and dwarf ladies.
Meanwhile, anyone can come up with a card game idea in the shower, and in a couple of minutes, I can draw a quick version on cut up pieces of paper. In a week, I can have a workable prototype printed on demand for about 50 bucks, and within a month, I can have a free PDF online for anyone in the world to download. The ease of entry for indie developers into this space has led to a $200 million board game renaissance, driven by companies that people crowdfunded from their house. It’s one of the only genres of entertainment I can think of in which the indie titles might be more popular than the ones from the big corporate publishers (you probably haven’t seen the brands Milton Bradley or Parker Brothers around much since Hasbro swallowed them.)
But the market is still there, thanks to hits like Settlers Of Catan, Fluxx, Munchkin, and countless others. This isn’t Magic: The Gathering happening in a dingy basement anymore. It’s your cool aunt playing Cards Against Humanity. The reason is, thankfully, that board games are hip again.