Even as the global video game market now eclipses the international box office, and is on track to exceed $220.79 billion in sales this year, there are still those who prefer something a bit more “old school” when it comes to gaming. Board games of all sorts are still very much in vogue, and its revenue could double in size in the coming years.
In fact, the global playing cards and board game market saw sales reach $13.75 billion last year, while it could exceed $31 billion by the end of the decade.
There are numerous factors as to why board games remain so popular. One part of it is that tabletop games are far more social than video games, but it is also far easier than ever to produce a board game. Whereas in the past, even making a mock-up for a design was extremely costly and labor intensive – today’s on-demand printing allows anyone with an idea for the next Trivial Pursuit or Settlers of Catan to get “on board.”
However, there could be another consideration, namely YouTube.
Board Game Videos
One of the biggest complaints about many board games is that the rules have become increasingly complex to understand. Even the most complex video games offer a “tutorial” that can teach players the finer points, but until recently, board games required that you read the rules before you can start playing. In many cases, a potentially great game was even ruined by poor instructions.
Now there are several channels on YouTube that can help players get the game going and the dice rolling. Among these is the Players’ Aid, a review website and YouTube Channel that provides opinions on various new games, and more importantly, even offer examples of how it is played.
“We focus on conflict simulations and historical board games as we are fans of history and want to learn about our past,” the creators said in an email. “We share our thoughts on how the game plays and what it feels like. We do however occasionally do full play-through videos where we will show how games play and discuss the rules. Some people want to see the game in action to better understand how it works.”
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The Full Rules
For those gamers that need even more instructions, there are channels such as “Harsh Rules,” “JonGetsGames,” and “Before You Play,” which offer detailed walkthroughs. Each has short videos to get you started with a game, as well as lengthier segments that feature everything from setup to conclusion.
Though none of these has the audience size of some of the more popular video game channels, the experience is similar, and perhaps even a bit more rewarding as watching the play-through of a board game is essentially instructional. It isn’t surprising to these content creators that they’re finding viewers.
“I am an example of someone who went from entirely focusing on video games over to board games,” explained Jonathan Cox of JonGetsGames. “The ’00s were dominated by video gaming in my spare time, from playing Rock Band daily to World of Warcraft.
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He added that within a year of diving into board gaming, his interest in playing new video games fell by a surprising amount. The enjoyment Cox received from playing a game face-to-face dwarfed what came from playing video games
“At one point in my early 20s I seriously considered pursuing a career in video games due to my enormous interest; I do find it humorous that I work full time in gaming now but it’s for board games instead,” Cox admitted.
For Ben Harsh of Harsh Rules, he was hooked on tabletop games when he received a copy of Axis & Allies for Christmas back in the early 1980s. When he loves both video games and board games, Harsh said videogames actually suffer when it comes to more complex simulations – notably military and historical games. That explains why many of these more complex titles have found an audience.
Yet, with the great complexity that many board games now offer, comes a massive rule book that not everyone will want to read.
“I don’t believe you need to give up complexity and ‘dumb things down’ to grow the audience,” Harsh explained. “What I do believe needs to be a priority is improving the accessibility to gaming with superior instruction. Without proper instruction, people are only going to buy so many boxes of cardboard bits and plastic pieces.”
Until that happens, Harsh is among those who will do the teaching for the rest of us – even for games with instruction manuals that seem aimed at someone with a master’s degree in board game studies!
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Hitting The (Rule) Books
One concern for Harsh is that the rule books are actually being reduced so as to not frighten off the gamers.
“A lot of companies trying to cram and compress their rulebooks, because they fear consumers are turned off by the length,” he warned. “Honestly, I’ll take 40 pages of clear writing, diagrams, and play examples over 20 pages of disorganized, walls of text, littered with acronyms and no contextual references.”
Another issue is that board game designers tend to be board game players, and thus make too many assumptions, said Harsh. “You’ve got to make sure a new player has the proper background information that most experienced players take for granted.”
His videos on YouTube are thus aimed more at those who haven’t rolled dice a million times, or spent countless Saturday afternoons setting up a game for that evening. Instead, Harsh tries to make sure his instructions will aid new players, while still assisting the more experienced gamer.
Of course, the question to ask these creators is who teaches the teacher? Cox, who has seen his JonGetsGames channel grow from being a part-time endeavor when it started in 2017 to become a full-time gig during the pandemic, said it is necessary to take it as seriously as any career. While it may seem to be all “fun and games,” Cox has to routinely hit the books – in this case, the rule books.
“Each time I sit down to a new rulebook for a game, the first thing I do is set the game up according to the rulebook’s instructions,” Cox noted.
That lays a foundation for him to get familiar with the space the game occupies, as well as all of its components. From there he begins the process of reaching the rules, which includes methodically learning one section after another and not moving on until he feels he fully understands even the most complex aspect of the game’s mechanics.
“The rest of the world usually falls away and I am frequently surprised at the large amount of time that has gone by once I get to the end and feel comfortable with how the game works,” Cox continued. “I do genuinely enjoy reading rulebooks for games, it’s wonderful to see how all the pieces come together.”