By Meghan Morris
Board games have come a long way from Monopoly.
What used to be a niche hobby has turned into a thriving subculture, with packed BYOB game nights across the city. This gaming resurgence is bringing younger gamers around tables even as video game sales climb higher.
Lexx Dunning caters to both new and experienced gamers with two Chicago stores, including one that just opened across the street from the convention center. He said this is a golden age for gaming.
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“When I first started getting into games in the late 80s, early 90s, it was very much hardcore historical games, recreationist games that had a tough learning curve,” he said. “Some of my favorite games I now play with my grandparents and with my hardcore gaming friends – they’re that accessible.”
Game companies are profiting from a wider audience than the nerdy “wolf shirts and beards” Dunning said used to characterize the board game demographic. More women and young people have joined the gaming community, leading to banner growth. Dunning estimates his sales are up 20 to 25 percent over the last five years, numbers that are in line with game companies’ six straight years of growth, according to trade publication ICv2.
During and after the recession, tabletop games such as Settles of Catan became more popular. Gamers viewed the $60 to $100 price tags as a cost-efficient form of entertainment for groups that could spend the same amount on a meal or going out to the movies.
Dunning said twenty and thirty-year-olds looking for social opportunities are driving games’ current popularity. Chris Metel is part of the new generation of gamers who said he likes to get together with friends to play strategy games.
“It’s very sociable because it can bring around a lot of people, unlike Xbox or PS3 with people just playing against you,” the 20-year-old said. “You see others’ reactions in what’s going on in the board game.”
Game companies are also attracting non-gamers through smartphone applications and other online components that complement physical games. Star Realms, a popular deck-building card game, has recently brought new customers into Dunning’s stores.
“People come in here looking to learn how to play the physical game because they’re so addicted to playing it on their phone every day,” he said.
As companies develop better technology and more Millennials pick up board games, Dunning said he predicts even more growth in coming years.
In Chicago, watch Medill Reports video stories on CAN-TV channel 27