During the resurgence of tabletop board games almost half a decade ago, and even during this current period of growth, the question still lingers: "People still play board games?"
This question is usually asked while thinking about our current era of digital entertainment. Between video games, streaming services, smartphone apps, music, and all forms that have abandoned physical entertainment for ubiquitous internet connectivity digital counterparts, board games seem quaint. It seems anachronistic to meet strangers in a physical social space, fiddle with all the bits and dice and cards and stuff, and teach yourselves the rules. All this is done easier online, so why have board games come back and maintained their place as a non-digital pastime?
There are probably two simple answers.
One, design. The broad, diverse landscape of tabletop board games has proven to be fertile ground for fans and designers. There are thousands of new board games published every year, every one of them a new and unique concept, or a clever reimagining, or an artful combination of proven ideas. There is so much room for innovation and creating fun, unique, and memorable experiences.
The other, sociability. Tabletop games are far better equipped to help individuals make face-to-face social connections than video games. Sharing in these experiences is one of the most enriching features of the hobby.
And while the physicality of tabletop games is actually really gratifying, it can be a barrier to taking in and sharing experiences with people, especially in the midst of a global pandemic. However, this doesn’t extinguish the passion that fans have for board games - instead it inspires new solutions.
Board games have taken on a variety of digital forms, in this era of technology and connectivity. Board game publishers often hire ace app developers to publish their games on smartphones and tablets. For the more video game inclined, Tabletop Simulator is a physics sandbox that board game and wargame fans have populated with digital versions of their favorites. And finally, one of the best ways to enjoy the fruits of the board game hobby online are websites like Happy Meeple, Tabletopia, Yucata.de and, probably the most notable of the bunch, Board Game Arena.
And of course, when there are a number of different options available, some are more preferable than others. Each board game site offers a different selection of games, but there’s rarely a “killer app” for board games. Instead, just as almost every other web service, success depends mostly on ease-of-use. The flexibility of sandbox experiences like Tabletop Simulator and Tabletopia is nice, but their learning curve is a little steep. Players need to learn how to play a game, of course, but also how to manipulate pieces with a mouse and keyboard. These options are less "plug-and-play" than their counterparts.
Instead, Board Game Arena and similar sites have a unique interface for each game they host, much like an app. This makes learning new games easier, almost as easy as having an explicit tutorial. And since web-based board games can be played by anyone on almost any device, they’re just as easy to share with friends and other fans.
Board Game Arena has become our favorite for playing board games online. We’re happy to subscribe to it, as it’s inexpensive, and prevents the site from randomly evaporating like many hobbyist projects that are free or run on donations. There’s a lot of other reasons why, too:
- It’s easy to sign up and play, and bring other people in to play.
- The community of regular Board Game Arena players is large.
- No ads. Well, one ad for their premium service, but no annoying 3rd-party banner ads during games.
- Wallet friendly play options. Some popular games are behind a paywall, but only one inexpensive subscription unlocks all of them. Play any game in either real-time or turn-based (play-by-email) modes.
The 2020 global pandemic has changed a lot about modern life. Online, remote versions of many of our daily activities have become quotidian and normalized. However, even though we have innovated a lot in the digital sphere to accommodate the social distancing necessary during the Covid-era, there still is a beckoning for many to return back to face-to-face interactions. Board Game Arena and the like have done a great job mitigating a lot of pains of playing board games remotely, but they have not alleviated the desire to surround a kitchen table with friends and family for a late night gaming session.
Between the digitizing of a lot of forms of entertainment and the social distancing that have impacted millions of lives, we've seen an influx in inventive ways to revisit "normal" activities. Don't worry about the extinction of tabletop gaming post-Covid. We are certain that you cannot replace the experience of vis-à-vis "IRL" tabletop gaming event. We are glad Board Game Arena, Tabletop Simulator, and the like have filled the void. Even so, we know Face-To-Face Tabletop Gaming is here to stay. There is plenty of tabletop space to share. So pull up a chair, because everyone is invited!