June 04, 2016

Not Your Parents' Board Games-Part One

In January 2016, KaCSFFS member and notable board game collector David Means gave a presentation to the club about his collection. It was so interesting, I asked for permission to reprint it as a series of posts on this blog. He graciously agreed, and supplied me with his script. I have added the illustrations, hyperlinks, embedded videos, etc. We hope you enjoy! --Jan S. Gephardt

Not Your Parents' Board Games
Part One
By David Means 

It would be nice to start this article with an overview of the history of board games, but that would be an entire essay all by itself, so I’ll skip all that. I will say that humans have been playing board games for at least 5,000 years. Boards and playing pieces have been excavated from tombs in Mesopotamia and Egypt, some dating back to 3000 BC or earlier.

This is the "Royal Game of Ur," dated about 2600 BCE.

Jumping to modern times, here in America board games have usually been considered “kids’ things” and often lumped in with toys. With some rare exceptions most games designed in the US have been for children, with only the faintest nod towards the adults that might play the games with their kids.

Old and new versions of the children's game "Candy Land."
For decades, only war games have been designed specifically for adults.

Americans only designed war games for adults, until recently.
Official logo of the Spiel des Jahres.
But in Europe, and especially in Germany, board games have long been considered inter-generational, and have been designed to appeal to both children and adults. There is even a national award -- the Spiel des Jahres, “Game of the Year” -- for the best family game released each year, which gives game designers incentive to continue coming up with new games. Board games are a great way for kids, parents, and grandparents to interact together, face-to-face.

In 1995 Klaus Teuber designed “Settlers of Catan” (now just “Catan”), which was the first German game to catch on outside Germany, and really took off in the US. Catan won a string of awards around the world and the Washington Post referred to it as “the game of our time.”

A lively game of "Settlers of Catan."

There is even a 2013 documentary movie about its popularity, called Going Cardboard, available on Vudu. Editor's note: here is the official trailer:

The popularity of Catan and other “designer” board games from Europe sparked a revival in board game design in the US, and much of it was focused on games with inter-generational appeal.

Board games can be fun for people of all ages.
New and different mechanics, a wider variety of themes, improved quality of parts, better graphics, and easy sales and shipment via the Internet have all contributed to the explosive growth of board games in the past twenty years. In 2015 the Guardian newspaper estimated the growth in the board game industry at 25-40% annually since 2005.

Another thing adding to the popularity of boardgames is the Wil Wheaton podcast TableTop, which is available on YouTube. In this series Wil reviews board and card games by sitting down and actually playing them with friends, fellow-actors, and other YouTube personalities, such as Felicia Day, Seth Green, Grant Imahara, Hannah Hart and many others. TableTop has been running for several years, and each episode usually runs twenty-five to forty-five minutes long, depending on the game they are playing. 

IMAGES: Many thanks to Dicey Goblin’s “The Full History Of Board Games,” for the image of the Royal Game of Ur, to the blog “Life’s a Batch” for the photo of old and new versions of the “Candy Land” child’s game, to the “Wargamer” website for the photo of the elaborate war game setup, to the Spiel des Jahresofficial website for the award’s logo, to Wikimedia Commons and Matěj "Dědek"Baťha for the image of girls playing “Settlers of Catan,” to YouTube, for the Official Trailer for Going Cardboard, and to Carlton BollingCommunity Learning, for the photo of two different board games, being played by people of multiple generations.

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