Business: Board games Not twilight, but sunrise
Table-top games are booming in the video-game age.
ESSEN is not one of Germany's better-known cities.But for the world's growing band of board-game devotees, it is paradise.Each October it plays host to Internationale Spieltage, or Spiel, a board-game convention that is half fan-club gathering, half trade show—and, alongside America's Gen Con, one of the biggest gaming festivals in the world.This year the organisers expect more than 160,000 visits over the festival's four days.Attenders will be able to watch and play more than 850 board, card and role-playing games, including a much-anticipated board-game version of “Magic: The Gathering”, a highly popular card game launched in 1993 in which players take on the role of duelling wizards.
The whole thing will be capped off with the largest contest yet seen of “The Settlers of Catan”, in which 1,000 people will compete to colonise a fictional wilderness.The market for such “hobby games” is booming.ICv2, a consulting firm, reckons it is worth $880m a year in America and Canada alone.“We've seen double-digit annual growth for the past half-decade,” says Milton Griepp, ICv2's boss.Some of the games at Spiel will be aimed at children, but grown-ups are doing most of the buying.
There is something for every taste, from “Fluxx”, a lighthearted card game whose rules change with every card played, to “Power Grid”, a fiendishly tricky business game featuring aspiring electricity tycoons, to all-day chin-scratchers such as “Twilight Imperium”, a game of galactic civilisation-building.Steve Buckmaster of Esdevium Games, a British distributor, says that far from diverting people, video games—especially ones on smartphones—have brought gaming to a larger audience.App versions of popular games often boost sales of their physical counterparts.The internet has helped fans organise get-togethers, tournaments and the like, while crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter have made life easier for aspiring designers.They, in turn, are integrating computers into their games.
“X-COM”, a board-game tie-in to a popular video-game series, uses a smartphone app that takes the role of the incoming aliens which players must battle on the table top.Meanwhile bricks-and-mortar game stores have adapted, running tournaments and providing the face-to-face sociability that online gaming lacks.And with “Game of Thrones” on TVs everywhere and cinemas packed with superhero films, the general triumph of what used to be mocked as “nerd culture” has made the fantasy and sci-fi themes featured in many games less of a turn-off.Not every analogue pastime is suffering in the digital age.