Full Force: The Board Game Revolution

Full Force is GFN’s weekly look at some of the biggest news in geekdom, from video games to anime to movies and everything in between. We also welcome your comments below, if you want to join the conversation. This week, our panelists talk about the revival of board gaming.


Board games are back with a vengeance, featuring more elaborate experiences than ever. Do you prefer the simpler games of olden days like Sorry and Monopoly, or the newer, more intricate releases such as Arkham Horror?

Crystal: I’ll admit that I haven’t played any recent board games. I did, however, play a lot of Sorry and Monopoly as a child. Some card games are fun too… I’m just more involved with video games now. I think in a sense, we as social people have transformed the way we communicate and interact with others. Maybe it’s because I’m growing up and I just don’t have the time to sit at a friend’s house and play board games, but it’s so much easier to hop online and play a quick game or two.

Grumbl3dook: I think there’s a little corner of my heart that will only ever be filled by the rattle of dice and that smell of cardboard and plastic you get when opening an old board game. Personally I don’t think complex board games will ever really catch on – sure there’ll be some obscure, cultish following XD but board games don’t necessarily appeal because they’re intriguing or complicated, they appeal because they’re a social activity you can play with a bunch of people IRL. That’s much easier to do with Monopoly that Advanced Quadratic Dream Coil Calculus Bot 57 or whatever crazy games are being brought out now!

LadyCroft3: Like Crystal, I must admit that I haven’t played any really recent board games (unless Scattergories counts). I prefer games like Clue or Sorry, my family is actually rather partial to Parcheesi actually so I have played a lot of that. In reality I never really played a lot of board games as I child or as an adult, I guess it wasn’t my thing. When friends and I get together to play a thing that isn’t a video game it’s typically Cards Against Humanity.

Murf: Oh, I am a huge board game fan. Honestly, the more recent classics are just as simple as those past experiences. Sure, you can get into the really elaborate titles that rival Risk and Monopoly in TIME TO COMPLETE ONE GAME, but games like Dominion and Ticket to Ride are super fast as well as challenging.

If I have a preference, it is for simpler titles. The older I get, the less opportunities I find to have my buddies over to play 5+ hours of a single board game. It can be incredibly difficult to get new players up to speed on some games too, so it is best to stick to those that are more pick up and play friendly.

Chip: I fall somewhere in-between the past and present of board gaming.  I grew up in a family that regularly brought out stuff like Cranium, Apples-to-Apples, and Clue.  Anytime I make the pilgrimage to visit my relatives, there is a guarantee of some form of family board game night.  It’s probably because of this early and frequent exposure to these titles that I have made friends with people who keep me up on the latest board games that hit the market.  We will regularly get together for game nights packed with hours of newer offerings like King of Tokyo, Dominion, and Settlers of Catan.

But my true preference for tabletop gaming is definitely card games.  Whether it’s collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering or classic playing card games like Euchre, I love the strategy and chance of the cards.

Chris: I like the collection of games you mentioned. There will always be a spot in my heart for the classics, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed a lot of the board games that have come out in the last 5-10 years. Settlers of Catan, Dominion, Castle Panic, Smash Up, King of Tokyo, Formula D, Arkham Horror, Elder Sign, Ticket to Ride, Last Night on Earth…the list goes on and on.

Now, that comes with a caveat — it can’t get TOO complicated. Arkham Horror doesn’t get played much these days because we got like four expansions for it and now games are three-hour marathons that are near impossible to explain to newcomers. But I’ll take something like Agricola over Sorry any day of the week.

Wrong Button: Both of our families were really into the classic board games when we were growing up. Emily: I remember playing a ton of Monopoly during family vacations. We were all so competitive though, that sometimes it turned into a yelling match. Like I would have Park Place and Boardwalk and my Dad would land on it and have to pay a $5,000 and would just walk away. Or that the games would last for 2 days because no one would give up. Peter: My siblings are quite a bit younger than me, so it was always easier to play the “family” games like Monopoly and Sorry!. When I was a teenager though, I got really into Yu-Gi-Oh with my friends and my brother, and my tabletop gaming progressed from there.

Now we’re definitely more into the newer tabletop games. We really like Forbidden Island, the Dragon Age RPG, Magic: The Gathering, Pandemic, Sentinels of the Multiverse, Munchkin and others. We’re huge fans of Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop on Geek & Sundry and find out a lot about new games from watching the show.

Ashley: I love the new elaborate board games and the quirky RPG-style board games that are coming out these days. I did grow up playing Monopoly and LIFE and tons of card games — but nowadays I prefer games like the Battlestar Galactica board game, King of Tokyo, etc. I don’t play them a TON, but my coworkers play board games quite a bit, which has gotten me into them. Even during lunch breaks, we’ll play a quick game of King of Tokyo.

Why do you think board games have managed to make such a comeback, even though we’re in an age with immeasurable electronic options for gaming?

Grumbl3dook: Video games are more instantly accessible, but less personal. Until the eSports scene allows you to actually see your opponents weeping after a humiliating defeat (in high def 3d) there’s a savage, untamed part of all of us that’s drawn back to board games.

LadyCroft3: As Grumbl3dook stated, it’s a much more personal way to play with family and friends. I think that paired with the sheer amount of board games coming out based on pop culture shows and whatnot (The Walking Dead board game, The Big Bang Theory trivia game, etc.) it’s fun for the family that watches these shows/movies/what have you together.

Murf: With the exception of Nintendo, video games have pulled back from trying to emulate the ‘everyone in one room having a shared experience’ nature of board games. We all have our own screens, rooms, couches, etc. now that online play is so prevalent. Voice chat helps bring some of that old school feel back, but it isn’t quite the same. Board games will always have a place as long as video games can’t affordably be played en masse in a single room.

Chip: I agree with everyone thus far that board games provide a more personal way to play with your loved ones, but I also think it’s a matter of nostalgia and accessibility.  Not every person has played a videogame before (particularly older folks), but it seems like every person I have met has played a board or card game in some form.  Since there is a previous experience with cards or tokens, the challenge of learning a new game type seems less daunting than learning every button, key, and rule of most modern video games.

To look at it from another angle, think about some of the most popular mobile games.  Many of them are directly based on a board or card game (Words with Friends, Draw Something, all of those hangman clones).  These games have also brought board games back to the limelight, even if it is just tangentially.

Wrong Button: Everyone nailed it. Tabletop and board games are more personal and a little more accessible. For instance, Emily’s mom or sister would never sit down and play video games with us, but they’re down for a good game of Battleship. And with board games, you have to rely more on lucky draws, strategic planning, and working with other players, more so than you would on a video games. So even the most experienced gamer could lose if they get dealt a bad draw in Magic and even the most casual of gamers can win something like Ticket to Ride.

Ashley: Yep, I think playing board games is a fun built-in social activity. The electronic age has only made us like more kinds of games, but board games are still the best for a social experience. It’s super fun to play with friends and family, but also busting out a board game is a great way to break the ice if you have a group of people who don’t all know each other. I’m totally an advocate of having a board game on hand at a house party. But then, I only go to nerdy parties.

Chris: Can’t disagree with anything above. Board game nights are still a thing even now that I’ve moved out of the dorm stage of my life (and even the apartment stage). It’s an easy way to bring together a collection of people that don’t necessary overlap in their friend circles. What better way to get to know someone than to see what horrible combinations they put together in Cards Against Humanity, for example?

You’re stranded on a desert island, and a leprechaun steals the only item you brought with you. But a wizard murders the leprechaun and then offers to replace your item with one board game. What’s the one game you would play to fill time for the rest of your life?

Grumbl3dook:  Risk. No, Warhammer. No, D&D. No, wait, I have it: HUNGRY HUNGRY HIPPOS. Also why is that damn wizard not just giving us our item back? Also, is it too late to change my answer to Jumanji?

LadyCroft3: But board games aren’t fun when you are alone… If I had to chose, I suppose I’d pick Mass Effect Risk. I could develop a second personality and play it against myself. That game can last forever.

Murf: As much as I love Risk, the thought of playing it on repeat with a bunch of monkeys and pirates for dibs on coconut and rum gives me a headache. Assuming I can have the expansions too, my preference goes to Dominion.

Dominion is a deck-building game. Players draw hands and use their hands to perform actions or buy new cards from a set of cards that are available to everyone to buy. To win, you must acquire as many Victory Points in your deck before the game concludes (based on a few factors mostly tied to cards running out).

It is incredibly varied and strategic. Each card you can purchase has the potential to shape your deck in radically different ways, completing changing your strategies for acquiring even more cards. Unlike most board games, it plays quickly but with depth. The cards might get soggy in the salt water though!

Chip: Ooh, Dominion is an excellent choice, Murf (especially if there are monkeys and pirates for opponents).  I also enjoy the variety of play styles and strategies that come from this deck-building game.

If I had access to a more literate and creative group of tropical animal companions on this deserted island (let’s use Disney logic), then I would prefer a game closer to Betrayal At House on the Hill.  I am a sucker for unpredictable, story-driven titles, but not everyone goes in for longer, more involved board games.  But if there’s a wish-granting wizard on the island, I assume he’d be down for a narrative-type board game.

Chris: I might have to go with Dominion as well, if only because with a full complement of expansions, the replayability value would be through the roof. It’s a simple concept that has a ton of intricacies to it. If I’m stranded with a group of people, it’s either Dominion or Catchphrase. If I’m by myself? Well, Arkham Horror has one-player rules, I suppose. It’s going to be a sucky existence no matter what.

Wrong Button: Hands down it would be Munchkin. We have sat around the house playing that game for HOURS. It’s really fun and funny and I think with all the different expansion packs (we’re counting those), you’d never really get bored.

Crystal: I’d be the loser that ended up playing Solitaire or building card houses in sand storms for the rest of my life.