From Monopoly to Exploding Kittens, Board Games Are Making a Comeback

Sales have grown by 28%

Exploding Kittens launched via Kickstarter in January 2015 and raised $8.8 million in 30 days. Exploding Kittens
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It’s a digital world, but consumers increasingly are seeking out entertainment from a source that’s decidedly analog: board games. In the last year, board game sales in the U.S. grew by 28 percent, per NPD Group, and global sales increased to $9.6 billion in 2016 from $9.3 billion in 2013, according to Euromonitor International.

“It plays into the nesting trend,” said Juli Lennett, toy industry analyst at NPD Group. “More people are binge watching and cooking at home, and they’re also playing board games at home, rather than going for an expensive night out. Instead of Snapchat or texting, it gives people an opportunity to come together face to face and have fun.”

Along with Star Wars, there are Pokemon, Disney and Jurassic World board games, to name just a few.
X-rated, adult-themed Taboo is best for late nights when the kids are in bed.

Riding this wave is Hasbro, owner of the granddaddy of board games, Monopoly, which debuted in 1935. The game’s latest Token Madness contest about which tokens to keep or remove from Monopoly scored 4.3 million votes on social media. Brands got in on the action, too: Zipcar ran a #SaveTheCar social campaign, and the New England Aquarium hosted a #VotePenguin campaign on Facebook Live.

Since 2013, Hasbro has held these contests to tap into Monopoly’s rabid fan base (it has more than 10 million fans on Facebook) and to keep interest high.

“Social conversation is helping to drive the gaming business,” said Jonathan Berkowitz, svp of marketing for Hasbro Gaming.

For classic games, the key to success is appealing to a new generation of kids and parents, either through licensing with popular characters like Star Wars or Disney’s Frozen, or new versions of games like Life that use electronic banking cards, rather than cash, said Jim Silver, CEO and editor in chief of toy review site TTPM.

“It’s about making the games relevant to today’s consumer,” he said.

Social shareability also plays a role in development for new games, like Hasbro’s Speak Out, where players try to say different phrases while wearing a mouthpiece, and Pie Face, which has parents posting photos on social media of their kids getting “pied” in the face with whipped cream.

“It used to be enough that a game was fun to play, but that added layer of being fun to watch, and fun to share, takes it to the next level,” Berkowitz said.

The adult game category also is a hot segment, growing 183 percent in the last year, according to NPD Group. Settlers of Catan, which debuted in Germany in 1995, is considered the godfather of strategy games and has played a big role in board games’ renaissance. Hasbro has added more adult-themed games, like Trivial Pursuit X and Taboo Midnight, to its lineup, and looks to Kickstarter for its new-game pipeline.

Games are the biggest crowd-funding segment on Kickstarter, where Cards Against Humanity got its start in 2011. Exploding Kittens, which launched via Kickstarter in January 2015 by raising $8.8 million in 30 days, has sold more than 2.5 million games to date.

Exploding Kittens raised $8.8 million in 30 days on Kickstarter and has sold more than 2.5 million games.

“We’re seeing a renaissance back to party games that are fun, quick and easy,” said Elan Lee, co-creator of Exploding Kittens. “Exploding Kittens wasn’t designed to be entertaining—it’s designed to make the people you’re playing with entertaining.”

Players also are flocking to board game bars like Kingmakers, which has locations in Columbus, Ohio, and Indianapolis and employs board game “sommeliers” who, for $5 per player, teach and recommend selections from its library of 500 games based on the group and mood of the players. Thirty percent of millennials have expressed interest in visiting a board game-themed bar, according to Mintel.

“Our target audience is the working professional, older millennials who are over the bar scene,” said Malika Jacobs, Kingmakers’ co-founder. “People are looking for a way to disconnect from their phones—they enjoy being unplugged, and having a conversation with the person next to them.”

TTPM’s Silver sees longevity in the trend. “In 25 years, the price of movies and other forms of entertainment has gone up, but the price of board games has stayed relatively the same,” he said. “It’s an extremely profitable segment, because as long as the graphics are new and the game play is still fun, what’s old is new to today’s kids. If you have a successful game, it could be around forever.”

This story first appeared in the April 3, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@ChristineBirkne Christine Birkner is a Chicago-based freelance writer who covers marketing and advertising.