In It To Win It

Sales of tabletop games and puzzles in the U.S. grew 14.4% in 2021 versus 2020, according to NPD Group research conducted for the Toy Industry Association. That was on top of a 32.5% increase during the peak lockdown year of 2020. While sales are unlikely to maintain these lofty growth rates in 2022, marketers and retailers report that interest in these categories remains strong.

As a result, new licensing deals continue to close at a fast pace. In tabletop games (board, card, and dice games) alone, the following agreements, all announced in the last three months, illustrate the wide variety of property owners still establishing or expanding their presence in this sector:

  • The New York Times Company licensed Hasbro to create a physical board game based on the popular daily online game Wordle, which quickly took off in popularity after being introduced in October 2021 and which the Times purchased in early 2022. Wordle: The Party Game hews very closely to the rules of the digital game, but is tailored to group play for ages 14 and up. Available for pre-order now, Wordle: The Party Game will launch in October.
  • The NFT brand Bored Ape, represented by Global Merchandising Services, paired with Imagination Gaming for Ape-Opoly, billed as the first-ever NFT-inspired “boredgame.” The trading game features 22 Bored Ape characters—owned by members of the Bored Ape Yacht Club community, including collector and rapper Spottie WiFi—and offers players the chance to win exclusive NFTs through a sweepstakes. The game helps players learn about NFTs as well as being designed as a fun physical game in its own right.
  • The classic film E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, is featured in a board game from Funko called Light Years From Home. Licensed by Universal Brand Development, it was designed by the same team that designed board games based on Jurassic Park and Jaws, two other films from E.T. director Steven Spielberg.
  • The Op (Usaopoly) is producing a new Disney edition of Smash Up, an Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) game that is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Characters from both Disney and Pixar are included in the card game. All the editions in the Smash Up series are compatible with each other, allowing for thousands of different permutations of game play.
  • The Bundesliga, the German football league, paired with Superclub, the football manager game, for a branded expansion pack set to launch in October. The deal was brokered by Bundesliga’s agent, IMG. Players from all 18 Bundesliga teams can interact with the main Superclub characters or be played separately in a Bundesliga-only version. There have been several other licensed expansions to the game since 2021.
  • Paramount partnered with Playmonster for a new game, Criminal Minds: Unknown Subject, based on the long-running CBS TV show Criminal Minds. Players can take the role of one of the FBI agents or of the killer the team is trying to catch (the “unsub”).
  • NASA licensed Masterpieces for a full line of games, puzzles, and DIY wooden build-and-paint sets. The space agency reviews all the products for accuracy and STEM value. The collection initially includes four NASA versions of classic games, including NASA checkers, NASA-Opoly, a NASA Shake it up! dice game, and a NASA matching game, as well as several puzzles and two craft kits.

Most of these recent deals center on standalone, one-off board games in which the property simply lends itself to a fun game (although more could follow based on initial results). Others are licensed expansions of an existing tabletop game franchise. The Masterpieces deal, meanwhile, encompasses a full product line, with several licensed games as part of the mix; creating a full range of tabletop games at launch like this is an increasingly rare phenomenon in this category.

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