Unplug and Play

A couple of decades ago, makers of physical board, card, and tabletop games were rushing to sign deals that would bring their game play into the digital world. Those sorts of agreements are still happening, of course; Hasbro and its licensee Marmalade Game Studio introduced a new mobile game based on Clue (known as Cluedo outside of North America) in one of many recent examples.

One thing that would probably have been unexpected 20-plus years ago, though, is that makers of digital games are now equally as enthusiastic about translating their titles into physical board games to foster offline play.

One notable manifestation of this strategy is Target’s exclusive assortment of retro board and card games, tied to properties from the 1990s, introduced this summer. Many of the properties involved are digital games, including Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, The Oregon Trail, and Super Mario Bros.; other IPs in the program include the late artist and public television star Bob Ross, Nickelodeon’s Legends of the Hidden Temple game show, and the Saved by the Bell TV series. The board games that are part of this initiative—which are produced by licensees but exclusive to Target—are clearly aimed at the millennials who are largely driving the surge in board game interest since 2016.

Other recent digital-to-physical game extensions range from Cryptozoic signing on to distribute a board game based on Master of Orion, a classic video game series, to Lucky Duck Games partnering with Halfbrick Studios for a Fruit Ninja board game launched through Kickstarter. Among the many other video games, both console and casual, that have offline board game versions are Angry Birds, Assassin’s Creed, Doom, Gears of War, Plants vs. Zombies (a co-brand with Risk), Resident Evil, Street Fighter, and World of Warcraft.

The NPD Group finds that U.S. board game sales grew 28% in 2016 compared to the previous year, while ICv2 estimates that sales of hobby games (including tabletop, card, and board varieties) were up 21% in the U.S. and Canada in that same period. Researcher Technavio forecasts that global sales will continue on their robust growth trajectory for the foreseeable future, projecting a compound annual growth rate of 29% from 2017 to 2021.

Analysts point to a number of factors spurring sales among families and, particularly, millennials. The nesting trend is causing consumers to look for activities they can do at home, and many are seeking pastimes that give them a respite from the digital world. Board games are also a less expensive option than many other leisure-time pursuits.

In addition, there is a community element to offline games that is attractive. Playing board games gives friends and family some quality face time with each other at home, can be a focal point of larger-group parties, and increasingly takes place in communal settings such as bars and restaurants. Hobby games also represent one of the most successful and active categories on crowdfunding platforms, which offer another outlet for community as well as enabling a steady stream of new game titles.

Of course, the popularity of board and other physical games means that all kinds of properties, not just digital gaming IP, have their eye on the board game category. Recent deals in the character/entertainment space, for example, include Ghostbusters with Cryptozoic (for a second game), The Terminator and The Howling with Space Goat Productions, Power Rangers with Hyper RPG, Roald Dahl with both the Green Board Game Company and Winning Moves, and Shopkins Cutie Cars with Goliath Games.

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