The board game market is seriously dysfunctional

Honestly, it sounds like you’re reacting to something that gets pointed out in this forum (and other board gaming spaces, including BGG) – the boardgame industry/hobby is in a really awkward growth stage right now, and will be for a while. We’re likely to see some kind of Atari home console-like market correction in the boardgame biz in the next 18-24 months that may have some catastrophic short-term consequences for some developers out there. That kind of feels inevitable.

But it also feels like an end result of almost exponential interest and growth in demand in the hobby at a time where the boardgame industry is struggling to match it. Developers and publishers are still having to use game manufacturing channels and logistics infrastructure that feel horribly inadequate to the level of demand that exists within the hobby. And from what I can see, there’s not a quick fix for it.

And while all that’s going on, I cannot stress enough how poorly video game reviews analog to board game reviews and I would not remotely want to compare the two. Other than being reviews about leisure time activities, they’re really really different, especially when it comes to reviews from persons playing the game.

Professional videogame criticism has been through some of the same issues that board game criticism is going through now. I think and hope it will get better, as I’ve seen more and more sources of deeper, critical, unafraid to be very honest-seeming about calling out games where the emperor wears no clothes. But those are still in the great minority, for sure. A whole lot of “game reviewers” are more aptly termed “game promoters”. It is what it is. And plenty of videogame reviewers and sites still use the 7-9 scale too – there are just more alternatives to find dissent from that scale.

And player reviews for boardgames I think will never carry the same deeper honesty that videogame reviews carry. Spending $50, $100, $200 for a single game…that’s a serious cash outlay for most of us! And so whether we’d like to admit it or not, for a lot of us there’s a kind of investor’s bias that is almost certain to creep into our view of the games we buy. If I spend $75 on a game…man am I going to want it to not suck! And I might do some unconscious or conscious mental gymnastics to get myself to the point of liking a game that might otherwise have disappointed if I spent a bunch of cash on it. That’s just human nature.

I came to realize this a couple months ago when a friend of mine asked me about Dead Reckoning. I looked it up. I’ve played other games by the designer, which I like, and it looks like a really fun piratey adventure game!

Oh, except, you can’t buy it. If you wanted it, you should have pledged the Kickstarter in July 2020. Or, if you knew about it, you could have late pledged in August 2021. Now? No chance.

My local gaming store just has fewer and fewer things that I want. They mostly stock minis anyway. They have all the expansions for Nemesis… but they don’t have Nemesis (or Lockdown). I have store credit there that I just can’t seem to use.

So, yeah, the state of the board game industry is pretty messed up at the moment.

Or you could pledge to the Kickstarter next week.

And then wait a year for it to show up.

Sure. Just saying, you can buy it.

I got into board games around 2008 (quite a bit after Nightgaunt). The lack of availability of games feels pretty similar to what I remember of that time. People would be raving about the newest Essen games and I’d be waiting 3 months to a year before they came out here. If you missed the first wave of a game, it was usually 6-24 months till it’s back in stock (which seems pretty similar to now). If I went to a brick and mortar and asked to preorder an Essen release, they often wouldn’t have heard of it. Cool niche games were always out of stock.

I definitely agree about the evangelism side. It’s really hard to tell when a game is actually doing something interesting when the level of excitement board game reviewers give the newest tetris-game is on par with everything else. My favorite niche of mid-weight Euro games with light historical themes is much less central to the conversation nowadays, and it’s pretty hard to find a critic who is actually evangelizing the games I’m excited about regularly. The cool games are out there, it’s just a lot more work to find them, and I’m similarly questioning whether it’s actually worth the effort.

Hey, on a related note, I just saw that Awaken Realms (Tainted Grail, Nemesis, Etherfields, others) is now teaming with Asmodee for distribution, starting by the end of the year. So at least some of those previously KS-only games will start to be more available in retail.

Like others here, I’ve been playing ‘fancy’ boardgames since the '90s, and as noted, availability has always been something of a problem. In the early days the euro releases would take months/years to make it over, if they ever did. Then it got better for a while, but the rise of crowd funding has brought the problem roaring back.

To add to the dysfunction I’m starting to wonder about stuff I have backed on crowdfunding and what the fate of those games might be if the relationship between the US and China deteriorates. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that, but the tension around Taiwan could certainly escalate.

I don’t think these companies have a back up plan if China is no longer an option for manufacturing.

However dysfunctional the board game market is – and I agree it’s problematic – I think we’re in a golden age of board game design. In the wargame space, there are smart people like John Butterfield and Mark Herman who come up with ideas I could never have dreamt of. Outside that space, the boardgame landscape was dismal when I started playing them, in the late 1960s. In fact that tradition of lackluster games – roll-dice-and-move games like Monopoly, Life, Chutes and Ladders – still discourages friends my age from trying boardgames. They think of them at best as social experiences, not interesting games.

I agree that BGG has become more cheerleader-ish, but you can still find negative reviews. I always read those, and I discount the positive ones. I also find it helpful to watch video playthroughs.

I don’t do Kickstarter. I do P500 with GMT; that’s about it.

Ha, whenever I check out a game that interests me at BGG it feels like folks are tripping all over each other to crap on it. Maybe I’m looking at the wrong games though.

Nerds in specialty forums being overly negative about stuff? Seems implausible to me.

I agree with this. I LOVE the variety of games available today. I love thinking about what games I would enjoy with different people.

But the market is a mess. I mostly blame crowdfunding for thr situation, as many publishers now just use it as a FOMO machine to generate cash. It has tugged up the cost of games, and is just blatantly bad for the environment with the amount of plastic, and the number of boxes getting shipped all over.

I like it for small publishers or first time designers, but that is where the risk is as a consumer. Most everyone else just uses it to churn customers for more cash. I mean, Foundations of Rome has a new KS and you have to spend $200 to get the game now, with mandatory expansions. The newest expansion isn’t even really explained on the page, mechanically. As a consumer it just hurts my soul. And yes, I do participate in the dysfunction (Moonrakers…ack).

But, at the end of the day, I love playing the games. I played 36 games last month (10 different games), and I don’t think I was disappointed a single time. I just wish the market and the journalism didn’t feel so gross.

When I think about how phenomenally frustrating it was to read about all the new games in the latest issue of Sumo and try to figure out how I was going to get my hands on any of them, because there were no US publishers, and US “distribution,” such as it was, was whatever one game store in Boston decided to carry, well, gosh, you guys sure do have it rough.

Seriously, if you’ve never bought a big-box Fanfor Verlag game because it was the only German game in stock at the game store you’d literally driven 700 miles to visit (cue Vietnam vet voice) You weren’t there, man, you don’t understand.

Yes, the board game “market” is extremely hostile. They cost an arm and a leg, and Kickstarter is just about the only way they get made anymore so if you aren’t willing or able (for example, if you don’t follow board gaming streamers or BGG obsessively you probably just won’t hear about most games until you’ve already missed out) to preorder a game unplayed well tough shit, hope you like paying a massive premium over the already high price on the secondary market or just doing without (this is what I do). Even if you can get it after there are often “KS-exclusive” (ugh) expansions you will probably just never be able to find for sale. Every game has become the equivalent of that one craft beer that gets made once a year and you’d better buy tickets to the festival for if it you want to try it, only of course it’s just a beer and really in the end not worth all the hassle.

I’m a casual boardgamer and really, more of an actual collector if we’re being honest. I mainly just follow SUSD and completely ignore Kickstarter. I’ve managed to find a ton of awesome games through them and some on my own so I don’t really have any complaints at all. There are a few games I would like to get that are just not available but that’s just something that happens with a physical product, especially something like boardgames. As far as price goes, maybe it’s just the type of games I’m purchasing but they’re normally in the $15-80 range. And I don’t feel bad that about even the more expensive ones as games generally seem to hold their value pretty well, probably because of the fact that they eventually go out of print and disappear for good.

I’ve been into the new age of boardgaming for over a dozen years. I have backed less than 20 boardgame Kickstarters over those years. And I disagree with your assessment.

But that’s because I have bought enough boardgames and know what I like enough that my KS FOMO is pretty much completely gone. If I buy a boardgame there, it’s usually a reprint with a proven track record or expansion for a game I already enjoy.

Otherwise, I watch boardgame reviews, buy from local shops or buy second hand on a gamers group.

My collection has grown up to 170 board games and is down to about 100 now. I own out of print games. Big games. Small games. My reduced selection is all games we’d be happy to play pretty much any time.

And you know what? The notion that you can’t find good boardgames to play or that you are missing out if you don’t spend your life and savings on BGG/KS is not my experience one bit. In this day and age, every genre and type of boardgame you might want to play is out there and more come out constantly.

The good games which aren’t relying on the strength of minis and FOMO will be available eventually; in shops or from the publisher’s site.

Thinking the boardgame market and good games are limited to KS leads to a blinkered, FOMO driven vision of boardgaming, IMO. The bling and shiny campaign does not a game I’ll play for a long time make. And if I really want it, I’ll find it somewhere.

And I’m saying that as someone who does spend time reading the list of new projects every week.

Shops and second hand (once in a while) are the heart of boardgaming. And, IMO, it’s nowhere near as dysfunctional a market as some seem to think.

I disagree that the good games off crowdfunding will necessarily be available eventually through other channels. There’s plenty of stuff I adore that has only ever been crowdfunded and only ever will be crowdfunded, most likely, unless you happen to have a local store that backs crowdfunding projects and has a few copies that way. Some of that stuff is probably never going to be made again as companies move on or go out of business. Even if it does come to retail, availability is often extremely spotty at best.

That said - if for some reason you don’t want to take advantage of the many delights of crowdfunding, which I remain wholeheartedly in favor of doing, that just means you’ll miss out on some good games. You’re going to miss out on good games regardless. There are too many boardgames being printed too infrequently not to. And there are absolutely plenty of great games going direct to retail. I just find that the specific sort of thing I’m personally most looking for usually isn’t (highly thematic, at least mildly deep coop games with nice production and a strong emphasis on narrative with or without a campaign) and not infrequently doesn’t make sense to stock at retail afterwards because of things like shelf space, cost of production and so forth. All of which said…apparently Awaken Realms did a deal with Asmodee to distribute their games? So maybe that’ll be changing for one publisher’s great games!

That’s good news. After playing the PC card game is Tainted Grail I am interested in the board game but it’s only available at extortionate prices at the moment.

There’s an upcoming Gamefound campaign for a standalone expansion that will also offer the preceding content. But a retail option would be good too.

I would like to say Kickstarter has been great for board games overall–it’s almost the perfect way to fund something that can be designed and refined on the cheap and then needs an infusion of cash to come to final realization and release at scale. But at the same time, it does seem to be at the root of a lot of the problems today, as well, even if they’re just side effects. Perhaps it’s just a market finding its maturity.

Where my experience conflicts with yours, Wendelius, is that I think the information ecosystem is locked in with the Kickstarter-driven production ecosystem. So you find out about games when they’re not available–or maybe not even finished–and the buzz is on to something else by the time those games that piqued your interest are becoming available. It’s like I need to listen to games podcasts, etc, a year after they’re released to have information that’s relevant to me. But, uh, with updates for all the stuff that didn’t turn out the way it was supposed to or that soured after early exposure. It’s not actually feasible.

Or maybe I just need a more reliable way to track a wishlist of stuff I’m interested in, and walk into my local stores with a shopping list of stuff I heard about six months or a year ago. Anyone have a good method for that? I used to keep up a boardgamegeek wishlist. Maybe I need to get back to doing that.