When board game and console merge

In parallel to computer and video games, the market for board games is booming. From Thursday, game publishers from all over the world will be showing their latest creations at the Spielmesse in Essen. Digitization is also finding its way here.

The land of Andor is in danger: The enemies, skrals and other evil creatures are moving closer and closer from the forests and the mountains. But Anja, Sabine, Peter and Michael – all around forty years old and employed in their normal lives – have teamed up to fend them off. Every Wednesday the four of them meet in an apartment in Cologne – and slip into roles that couldn’t be further from their everyday lives. As a dwarf, archer, sorceress and warrior. They let the dice roll on the A3-sized and detailed landscape game board and then move their hero figures and those of their enemies on the board.

It’s not just digital games on consoles, smartphones and computers that are booming: the demand for board and card games remains high. For example, the parlor games business in Germany grew by nine percent last year; In total, more than 50 million games went over the counter in this country alone – both of which show that more and more analogue games are being played in Germany.

The main reason for this development: board games connect all generations. They are not only used in this country as a communicative and cooperative, emotional and educational experience, for example during a game evening with friends or family. For some people, in these times when their own smartphone is practically omnipresent, analog gaming is also becoming an exercise in “digital detox”, ie a conscious decision not to constantly stare at flashing displays. For those who are enthusiastic about games, the annual “Spiel” trade fair, which opens its doors in Essen for the 37th time on Thursday, is a must. The event, which has meanwhile advanced to the world’s largest public fair for board games, expects 1200 exhibitors from over 53 nations and five continents this year.

Dominique Metzler, head of the trade fair organizer Friedhelm-Merz-Verlag, based in Bonn, is expecting significantly more this year than the 190,000 gaming enthusiasts from all over the world who came to Essen last year. This means that the analog trade fair is half the size of its digital sister event “Gamescom” in Cologne, which around 373,000 video game players attended at the end of August.
“The more people play and the more positive experiences they have, the more demand and interest in board games grows,” says Hermann Hutter, head of the industry association for games publishers. “The publishers provide the basis for a further boom with innovative ideas on current social issues.” Currently, games such as “Ocean Crisis” (publisher: Shepherd Kit) or “CO2: Second Chance” (author: Vital Lacerda) are taking up the topic Environmental protection and playfully develop visions for a clean future.


But the analog gaming world has long since expanded to include numerous digital channels such as social media, blogs and YouTube videos, in which players can discuss the latest game hypes in special forums or find out more about the multitude of board games – one of the most important trends in the analog game world.
For example, there are numerous board game channels and blogs on the video portal YouTube, similar to the digital game world. Here the scene can find out about new releases using Let’s Play or Unboxing videos. The largest YouTube channels in this segment include Tom Vasel’s “The Dice Tower” with 226,000 subscribers and 14,770 videos, Rodney Smith’s “Watch It Played” channel (160,000 subscribers) and Richard “Rahdo” Ham (89,200 subscribers) with his popular “ Rahdo Runs Through “Videos.


Boardgamegeek.com, on the other hand, as the world’s largest English-language game portal for those interested in board games, has a database with more than 100,000 registered games. If you believe the nerds and game freaks there, “Maracaibo” from the pen of the Austrian star designer Alexander Pfister from the German publisher DLP Games, “Cooper Island” from the German game developer Andreas Odendahl from the German publisher Frosted Games and “Alubari: A Nice Cup Of Tea ”by the British Tony Boydell (publishers: Studio H, Board Game Box) on the strategic newcomers currently most discussed on the portal.
In all three board games, gamers immerse themselves in the respective epoch – the Caribbean in the 17th century (Maracaibo), the era of seafarers’ discovery (Cooper Island), tea plantation management in Darjeeling around 1840 (Alubari) – and compete against each other in completing their strategic tasks on. The games are aimed at experienced connoisseur players from 10 years of age who are not afraid of particular complexity and a playing time of 60 to 120 minutes.

So-called legacy games continue to conquer the board game market. This genre is about games in which – depending on the respective decisions of the players – the rules and components change and develop from round to round: For example, by discovering new game material, painting and sticking the game board or creating new characters. A currently popular example of this is “Machi Koro Legacy”, the new game by American player inventors Rob Daviau and JR Honeycutt (Pandasaurus publisher).

In addition, so-called cooperative games such as “Cities Skylines” by the Swedish game designer Rustan Hakansson (publisher: Kosmos), a board game implementation of the six million sold PC mega-seller of the same name, are currently booming. Here the players follow a common strategy to build their respective dream city. Other board game implementations of PC classics are “World of Warcraft: Das Brettspiel” (publisher: Heidelberger), “Age of Empires III: The Age of Discoveries” and “Civilization – Das Brettspiel” (both publisher: ADC Blackfire) or “Doom” (Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games).

“Zombicide Evolution-Las Vegas” (publisher: CMON) even merges board games and consoles into a hybrid gaming unit. In the game, players can track their characters using an app that runs on their smartphones. This, in turn, is networked with the manufacturer’s so-called Gamemaster app and is therefore able to surprise gamers with malicious intelligence. The game will be shown as a prototype at the fair and will be financed in the coming year via the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, which is also interesting for the board game industry.

Meanwhile, the four geeks from the Cologne board game have been playing their fantasy adventure for a good two hours before they know whether they will emerge as winners or losers from the adventure. This time the four heroes successfully defended the land of Andor – all heroes survived, only the dwarf lost a few life points. In the world of Andor, the board game group can now devote themselves to one of the numerous other scenarios, slip into the role of other heroes and master new challenges.