What came as more of a shock though was to discover just how big board gaming is getting. In terms of sales, the big games in this ecosystem sell substantially better than any videogame franchise. Settlers of Catan has sold more than 15 million copies - a figure which outstrips even games like Halo 3. It's a success that has started in countries with a strong family board gaming history - like Germany - but has spread through Europe, and more recently the US.
It seems to be an interesting and pivotal moment for board gaming. The success of these bigger name games (Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne to name a couple) is drawing attention from a wider audience. Much as we have seen in videogames, this will lead to new companies coming into the market with ideas to broaden their appeal and sell beyond the ranks of hardcore followers - the Wii of the board game.
One route to expand things has been to change the medium. Releasing versions of games on XBLA is a great way to reduce the commitment you need to play the game. There is none of the manual reading and setup time involved with a traditional board game - and players are seamlessly led through tutorials that help them get started. Features can be expanded to play to the videogame audience as boards become animated and rules part of the fabric of gameplay. And online multiplayer and leaderboards extend the experience beyond the living room.
But unlike videogames that can be easily skewed towards a casual market, board games' tactile, physical nature protects them from such profiteering. Bringing a game to XBLA can't recreate the experience of sitting down and playing with physical pieces, not least because - more often than not - you can't actually play locally with more than one player - because of the restrictions of sharing information on the same screen.
The hardcore board gamer is confident in the niche appeal of their hobby. They have won their stripes with long hours learning how to play obscure German creations, and expanding their encyclopaedic knowledge of Carcassonne variants. The hours invested setting games up, only to have them accidentally knocked over, have not been in vain.
It is these very barriers to entry that protect their hobby from being overrun by the masses. And it's interesting that very few gamers these days would have the patience or perseverance to really be able to call themselves a hardcore board gamer.
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