The future of board games is video games - it's a bold proposition, but recent developments in both industries at least point to a clearer merging. Virtual board game environments such as Vassal, Tabletop Simulator or Board Game Arena are not only becoming more popular, the game titles on offer are also becoming more and more attractive for frequent gamers. At least part of the board game scene could migrate to the other camp. There are many reasons. An opinion.

One could draw bleak scenarios: things are not going well for parlor games; board games are dying; Player rounds can no longer find players; Nobody buys board and card games. None of this is true. The toy industry has been experiencing a real boom since the Corona pandemic. Board games are in demand like never before. And anyway, the value of playing games together has been more noticeable than ever since the long phases of abstinence due to the virus situation. And yet: board games are coming from a direction that was not expected to come from just a few years ago – from the Internet. 

The board game meeting point on the Internet

It's a paradox: board games have competition from board games. More precisely: from digital board games, i.e. adaptations of already existing "analogue" titles. Platforms such as Tabletop Simulator or Board Game Arena are in demand, and new games are constantly being added to the game libraries there - but so far everything has been running at a comparatively leisurely pace. If that changes, i.e. digital board games are booming more than ever, the balance could shift. 

The board game – hitherto understood as a prototype for a physical product – will then primarily consist of two things: ones and zeros. 

The trend will not be stopped - for several reasons. The technologies behind digital board games are getting better. And they're getting cheaper in some areas. Modern tabletop video games are not only close to their templates, they also look good. They accurately capture the look of the board games and also enrich the gaming experience with animations, sound effects and music. This means a denser atmosphere especially for those titles where it counts: dungeon crawlers with a story, campaign games, strategic board games with combat situations for example. The list of board games or genres that would benefit from a greater focus on audiovisual content goes on. 

In addition, the technical presentation is easier to bring to the customers. VR and AR peripherals are currently still niche products, their time for the mass market is yet to come. Board games in digital form will then also be playable on it. The implementation of the classic Catan as "Catan VR" already shows that you want to take the step. All this still seems like an experiment at the moment, but it indicates a direction. Even joint gaming experiences at the (virtual) table would then be possible on a different level. VR could replace the currently common combination of board game simulator and video stream - the experience would be significantly different. A more immersive one.

And even without VR or AR, digital board games will gain momentum as a genre. Studios such as formerly Asmodee Digital (now: Twin Sails Interactive) occupy the market with increasingly high-quality titles. Gloomhaven, Raiders of the North Sea, Terraforming Mars, Games of Thrones: The Board Game or Through the Ages - all of these board games have long been playable on computers, smartphones or tablets. Alone or in community. 

The latter is one of the most powerful arguments for board games. The shared gaming experience in Presence seems to be unbeatable when it comes to the “leisure experience board game”. That has softened in the meantime: Yes, playing together. However, presence is no longer a must, at least since the experienced alternatives during the corona pandemic. You connect via video stream, overcome distances, and make it much less complicated than terminating a game round. Getting four adults at a table can be a challenge. There is not more time with online board games, but you can organize yourself much more spontaneously. Digital board games and the platforms behind them are therefore pragmatic solutions. At least that's tempting.

Another pragmatic feature of digital board games is the elimination of preparation and follow-up during construction. No tedious "pinch out" - yes, not everyone likes it; no construction including searching for materials, and in the end no dismantling either. A large table would then no longer be needed anyway, at most a large screen or optionally a comfortable computer or console place. There are details that die-hard board gamers probably don't see as a flaw - but it's probably different for beginners. For them, actions from card shuffling to token distribution seem tiresome, depending on the extent of the preparation, the necessary movements can be a real mood killer. 

The digital gaming platform scene has not only evolved over the decades, it has become more professional. Tabletop Playground or Tabletop Simulator, but also browser-based solutions such as Board Game Arena, D&D Beyond or mostly started as fan projects - meanwhile behind them are companies that are firmly rooted in the toy industry, sometimes even market leaders. This alone indicates that digital board games are no longer a fringe phenomenon and that the genre wants to be allowed to grow. There are many advantages for game manufacturers: no expensive production and even more expensive logistics, fewer price wars, opportunities to analyze player behavior. 

Purchase prices are currently playing into the hands of digital formats anyway. Instead of having to buy Gloomhaven as a board game for around 120 euros, you can buy the adaptation for a fraction of that price. Gloomhaven is still one of the less practical examples, because at least in multiplayer mode everyone needs a variant of the campaign game. So you could also split the costs when buying a board game.

Money always matters

Nonetheless, money plays an important role. Always more. Board games have become luxury goods, especially in the high-volume segment. Prices of 70, 90 or even 120 euros are no longer the exception, but the rule. It gets really absurd in the crowdfunding area. There, miniature games with lots of material cost several hundred euros. The corona pandemic has made the price carousel turn even faster. Increased costs for production and logistics are reflected in the final prices for board games - and the most recent crisis surrounding the rise in energy prices and, last but not least, inflation will ensure further price increases in the medium term. Physical board game products are more vulnerable than their digital versions - so far it has been the case that adaptations are based on existing board games. Is it possible in the future that the digital games will appear first and then their printed versions? Definitive. 

In the course of digitization, prototypes could be better developed on the PC in order to then mature into a finished product. In the crowdfunding segment, it has long been recognized that board game demos can be powerful marketing tools. More powerful than any paid Youtube video. Players can convince themselves of the quality of a board game. 

Publishers and authors have long been taking advantage of the digital possibilities, something for game testing. This is possible with a significantly larger number than players and at the same time cheaper: Because you can simply do without the production of prototypes. 

The topic is also controversial within the editorial team. “I think the mere possibility of testing games via TTS and then deciding whether you really want the game is a big factor,” says our editor Sven Karsten. "For crowdfunding campaigns, games with a demo usually do a little better emotionally." In the end, he nevertheless believes that "the digital segment will never overtake the analogue segment". The reason is as obvious as it is often mentioned: being together is simply too big a factor. 

And in fact there is little to object to: anyone who plays parlor games for the sake of society will probably always prefer face-to-face rounds. Video streams or pure audio talks are usually not real alternatives. 

Our author Tim Nissel has long since discovered the advantages of digital for himself: "I save myself the annoying build-up". His example: the cartographer from Pegasus Games. "I get an extra cartographer from the shelf and have to turn over maps and draw in shapes myself - or do I click around on the app," he jokes. The app in particular has another strength: you can play almost anywhere. “I can play anywhere”, agrees Tim, “but often only by myself”. However, that shouldn't be a problem. "No structure, no illegal moves possible, but usually no possibility of correction," he concludes. And something else particularly appeals to him: being able to play games with friends who live far away. 

What we all too often forget about board games (thanks for the reader tip!) is the haptic component. The mouse pointer and touch gestures cannot replace what you do in a board game at the table: hold real cards in your hands, throw dice and hope that you can influence physics and chance, touch figures and slide them over a game board - playing parlor games means so also to appeal to more senses. Is that a must? Maybe it's a matter of taste. Undeniably, it is part of the board game experience. 

Lots of new players

By the way, numbers underpin the trend: Steam's tabletop simulator experienced a small boom during the Corona period. In the spring of 2020, the number of players jumped by around 150 percent. Thousands of new players found their way to digital board game formats. In the meantime, operations have returned to normal, but the numbers are still around twice as high as before the virus situation. This suggests that players who have tasted the forbidden fruit continue to eat it afterwards. Asmodee has long recognized the potential: the group bought with Board Game Arena one of the most popular platforms. And mega-corporation Embracer Group immediately bought Asmodee – the Swedish group poaching in video games as in the toy sector

In the end, one shortcoming remains: you are dependent on the technology. If the computer breaks down, or the console, it has played itself out for the time being. When it comes to online multiplayer titles, everything depends on the internet connection. Fiber optics regulates, even in Germany. Sometime. 

The market could provide some oddities in the transitional period, you already know from video games. There you can buy boxes that contain nothing more than a download key. Paradox? Yes. But also clever: because it still brings pure download titles to the retail shelves. That would also work for board games. You stroll to the checkout with the Terraforming Mars pack, pay and install the digital offshoot at home using a serial number. Waste of resources? Yes. But also a presence in bricks-and-mortar retail despite digitization. 

The parties have mixed up anyway: there are hybrid board games that can only be played with app support. There are companion apps, explainer apps, sound apps. All of these are small signposts, but they add up in the meantime. 

Will the board game die out? Probably not, because the magic of a face-to-face game round can hardly be replaced because social interaction is more than just mechanical gameplay. As a creature of habit, humans are often difficult to convince again. So digital board games need one thing above all in order to be able to assert themselves: time. They've had enough of that. The advancing technologization of the world speaks for a boom. Not today, not tomorrow, but he will come. 

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Last updated on 2.12.2022/XNUMX/XNUMX / Affiliate Links / Images from the Amazon Product Advertising API. * = Affiliate links. Images from Amazon PA API