Every year at the international match days in Essen, visitors have the opportunity to come into contact with players, authors and publishers from other countries. Sometimes a conversation turns out to be completely unexpected.

Different countries, different customs - and different board games anyway. Even if there are board and card games that sell well in almost every culture, there are special social conditions in every country that noticeably influence the gaming industry. Like in Russia, where board or card games have a market, but are not nearly as popular as in Europe, Asia or the United States. In Russia there are special requirements for board games - for adults, but especially for board games for children.

A conversation with Sergei Abdulmanov about Russian gaming culture brought surprising things to light: in Russia, board and card games have to serve a purpose. Just having fun is not enough.

The completely different game culture in Russia

The Russian children's game Kids go wild formed the beginning of the conversation. After just two moves, it became clear that the level of interaction for a board game is enormous - and hardly manageable for us adults. The game principle is simple and well-known: roll the dice, move the figure, draw a card, perform an action.

The card imprinted us to do a headstand, with help, but we also declined with thanks. The question of why such strenuous activities seem to be popular with Russian children lags behind. Fortunately, our conversation partner Sergei Abdulmanov was not a bought-in stand supervisor, but a real Russian - and at the same time Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of Mosigra. Mosigra is one of the largest operators of board game shops in Russia, with shops from Moscow to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.

Why the actions behind the cards of Kids go wild from the point of view of an adult seemed so over-motivated, it quickly became clear: this board game was developed by children for children. As is well known, children follow their own logic, which at first has little overlap with that of an adult. It is a special experience for children to play this board game with their parents, says Abdumanov. "Kids go wild is often played at children's birthday parties or within the family,” he adds.

Our cultural beliefs about people in Russia do not always coincide with reality. This is particularly noticeable in board games. Photo: André Volkmann

Our cultural beliefs about people in Russia do not always coincide with reality. This is particularly noticeable in board games. Photo: André Volkmann

How unusual the idea behind Kids go wild is - and how unusual are the ideas that children can bring themselves into the development of games - the individual action cards clearly show: often multi-step game actions are required by the participants, which cannot be carried out easily at every location. Here is an example: a card asks you to put a pot or pan on your head. Behind this is the idea that you can Kids go wild mainly plays where household items are available. Home. Preferably on your own. Even better with the family. 

Games have to be educational

Board and card games that just entertain children are bought less frequently in Russia than purely "fun" games. First and foremost, board games have to be educational – and then they can also be fun.

In Russia, great importance is attached to child development. It is essential for Russian parents to encourage their own children, to offer them the best possible conditions to start a successful career. 

Where in this country doctors, policemen or zookeepers are considered to be the dream jobs of children, in Russia they are jobs in science, information technology and - it is hard to believe - as mafia godfathers or leaders of a gang. 

Belonging to a criminal organization enjoyed a dubious reputation among children in Russia, especially in the 1990s.

The future career of their children is of particular concern to parents in Russia, which is shaken by economic crises. The fact that fun alone is not necessarily on the timetable of Russian children is due to the desire for a better life situation - and vice versa, fear of existence. Understandable, but still alien to our local understanding of gaming culture. "Gamers don't like games without educational content," explains Sergei Abdulmanov.

Russia is currently slowly recovering from past crises and this is also noticeable in the toy industry. The market is lively, even if the pure sales figures for board and card games tend to stagnate.

Board games are now considered to be a popular gift item in Russia: they are usually pretty, there is a purpose behind them and they are not particularly expensive. 

Highly inviting character: Most titles almost invite players to communicate with their table neighbors. Russian board games are fast, colorful and interactive. Photo: André Volkmann

Highly inviting character: Most titles almost invite players to communicate with their table neighbors. Russian board games are fast, colorful and interactive. Photo: André Volkmann

In Russia, a lot of importance is attached to game packaging in particular. "If a retailer tries to sell a small game box for 10 to 15 euros, he will not be very successful in Russia," explains Mosigra's Abdulmanov. Russian customers also want value for their investment from a visual point of view. The box has to look good, whether bought as a gift or for your own use. High-priced board games hardly have a market in Russia anyway. Even more than in Germany, the course of expert games is considered a niche. The average Russian player likes it simple, comparatively cheap, but above all interaction.

Our impression of a always sociable, open-minded Russian is wrong: most people in Russia tend to be withdrawn and behave passively in society. Interactive games then thaw the ice on us and bring people into contact, whether with family, friends or at work. Technological progress does not stop in Russia either: computers, tablets and smartphones are real time wasters - and sometimes prevent social situations.

Shallow card games that get players talking are popular in Russia. These "social games" are therefore available in shops for various social occasions. Even the obligatory table talk between children and parents is initiated or even initiated in many families by card games. Parlor games in Russia always have a deeper meaning. There's always some fun involved, but the average Russian player probably wouldn't buy a board or card game for the entertainment value alone. 

Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk: board games in the ice

You can buy board games almost everywhere in Russia, even in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. German students sometimes know the city in the Far East of Russia from their geography lessons. Board games play a special role there. There is also a board game shop in Vladivostok. It is often closed and mostly buried under masses of snow, but when it opens it is mainly the workers of the industrial companies located there that go shopping in order to earn their time far away from home with fun and games. 

Transporting products from Moscow to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk can take up to three weeks, says Abdulmanov. Impulse purchases are therefore rarely possible. Workers in the oil industry in Vladivostok invest their wages, which are good by Russian standards, on site. Even in games. They like to buy a lot at once, even if they do not buy regularly. In the end, even in Russia, board games are sometimes only used to pass the time.

Those interested can find information on Russian board games in English on the official website of Mosigra.