Digital detox and post-pandemic catch-ups fuel board game boom

Once niche activity enjoys renaissance as families and friends meet up for slower, more mindful ‘logged-off’ activities

From “Dirty Scrabble” dating to children’s board game afternoons, fans of living room games are taking their love affair into the real world as the desire for a digital detox and post-pandemic catch-up with friends and family fuels a boom in events.

In the weeks after the pandemic took hold in March 2020, sales of board games, card games and jigsaw puzzles soared as families stocked up on in-home entertainment to while away lockdown.

The easing of pandemic restrictions has also led to a sharp rise, but this time in fans meeting in cafes, bars and at large-scale events to share a rediscovered passion for traditional gaming with others.

“We’ve all been looking forward to these logged-off moments for the last 18 months,” said Christopher John Eggett, the editor of the monthly Tabletop Gaming magazine, which covers the world of board, card and role-playing games. “Events are a celebration of that desire.”

The live event boom has shown no signs of slowing down, according to figures from the online booking platform Eventbrite,which recorded 60% more tickets sold to fans in September than the same month in 2019.

“Playing board games used to be seen as a niche activity by a dedicated but small community,” said Eventbrite’s Sebastian Boppert. “Today it seems that board games are being enjoyed by many more people than before the pandemic. I’d say the extended lockdown, a need for digital detoxing and a trend toward slower, more mindful activities all played a role here.”

Events range from simple gatherings for enthusiasts, sometimes coupled with a pizza night, to kids’ board game afternoons. More unique and themed events have also emerged such as A Night of Bowie Board Games, Vintage Board Game Night and Board Games for Mindfulness.

“Board games bring people together in a fun atmosphere and take our minds away from the daily routines and the tension,” said Nermine George, the managing director of La Chalet tea rooms in Leeds, which runs a monthly board game night with the organisers Cards or Die.

The global market for playing cards and board games is expected to continue to grow strongly to reach $21.6bn (£16bn) by 2025, an annual growth rate of 8.7%.

Gaming and so-called nerd culture have been on the rise in recent years, made cool by Silicon Valley businesses such as Google and Facebook and the spread in popularity of games from Fortnite and Grand Theft Auto to Call of Duty.

The pioneer high street chain Games Workshop, which mixes the sale of products with fantasy in-store playing of its hit Warhammer franchise, has a £4.4bn market value, almost double that of the online retailer Asos and on a par with Marks and Spencer.

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