Gaming Muse

The rising appeal of board game cafés

Malu Rocha analyses the recent popularity surge of board games among millennials

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In recent years, millennials have shown an increasing interest in tabletop games. So much so that the global board game market is predicted to be worth more than £9 billion by 2023. The millennial generation is constantly searching for escapism and instant gratification, and spending a night playing board games and sinking someone’s battleship on a first hit provides just that.

Playing board games can be quite a nostalgic experience especially considering that millennials will have grown up alongside quite a few emblematic titles such as Cluedo and Operation. Revisiting these memories by playing classic games or even trying out new ones can elicit a comforting sense of familiarity and nostalgia. This familiarity, combined with the excitement of playing with new people under a new context every time, is a very appealing mixture.

Realising the potential profit from this phenomenon, gaming cafes and bars have capitalised on the idea and a growing number of these establishments have popped up across the UK and York is no exception. Random Encounter is a gaming café located right in the city centre at 9 Gillygate. Venues like these often have hundreds of game boards available for people to pick and choose from alongside a selection of food and drinks on site. Most will also have staff members who know many games like the back of their hands are more than willing to teach the rules for beginning and newcomers. The idea is that people will come together for a few bites to eat or a few pints to drink, but the main focus is on the board games and the experience they provide. These cafes attract a vast audience, ranging from professional gamers who come together a routine Friday night tournament, to parents who want to spend quality time with their kids, and young adults who are simply exploring alternatives to a night out.

Although the premise may seem somewhat basic, it’s important to note that these board games are lightyears ahead of the old, never-ending nightmare that some consider Monopoly to be. While there is every chance you will be the unlucky one to go bankrupt in the first few rounds of Monopoly and have to sit there miserably while everyone else keeps on going for hours, the board games offered by these new establishments have a different purpose. The commercial tabletop games found in gaming cafes often fall under the Eurogames style. Originally from Germany, this genre boasts a selection of games that emphasise strategy and co-operation of blind dumb luck. They guarantee (at least in theory) that no player will be eliminated before the end of the game, thus making the whole experience more engaging for all those involved.

This increasing popularity of board games has been so extensive that it has even influenced how YouTube personalities cover the gaming industry. Channels that used to feature exclusively videogame-based content are now broadening their scope to include tabletop game reviews and discussions. In fact, American actor and internet personality Wil Wheaton even has a web series on YouTube entitled ‘Tabletop’ where he invites celebrities to play board games with him. His presence is so well respected in the gaming community that if a game is featured in his series, sales will increase significantly.

His content (like many of the type) is perhaps geared specifically towards millennials, most of which are becoming increasingly more aware of gaming cafés and what they have to offer. More and more millennials are looking for new ways in which to socialise that don’t necessarily involve going to the same pub down the road for the third consecutive time and switching it up by going to a gaming bar seems like a good solution. We are constantly seeking more substantial social interactions, and spending a night playing board games offers precisely that. The fact that this generation grew up alongside online multi-player video games where the other players have become increasingly more and more anonymous and robot-like, partly explains why the human aspect of playing a physical game sounds so appealing.

This doesn’t mean that millennials are altogether abandoning their obsessive need of constantly being present online; every single person around a game of Jenga will probably be recording the final tense moments of a game as the tower is about to crash. Instead, this increasing popularity of board games simply means that more and more young people are trying to find new ways of socialising that don’t solely involve staring at a screen for hours on end because at the end of the day, everyone craves human connection.

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