Entertainment

Beyond Monopoly: The growing world of alternative tabletop gaming

Posted March 23

When most people browse their board game cupboard, they will find classic titles like Monopoly, Risk, Sorry or Trivial Pursuit. Fewer people are familiar with games like Exploding Kittens or Secret Hitler. Yet despite their low profile, many original games like these two are becoming increasingly popular.

On March 17, a panel made of board game enthusiasts and developers answered questions from attendees of Salt Lake Comic Con FanX about the current state and the future of the board game industry.

The panelists agreed that recent advancements in technology have had an important impact on the board game industry.

“The resurgence of tabletop gaming can be seen as a reaction to all the new mobile gaming apps. Some people just want to unplug, sit down and play a game with their friends,” said Adam Sidwell, the founder of Future House Publishing.

Speaking about board games that are starting to incorporate smartphone functions such as augmented reality into their gameplay, game developer Craig Nybo cautioned that some such games will become unplayable.

“These games can be very fun, but the question is how long will the technological side be supported,” he said.

On the other hand, local comedian and board game player Shayne Smith noted that many popular board games such as Pandemic, Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan have smartphone app versions that allow people to play on their own or from the comfort of their bed.

The panelists also answered questions about what they considered the biggest challenges of designing a board game.

For Sidwell, the biggest challenge is balancing the creative and business aspects of game design.

“Your imagination can run wild as you’re designing the game, but then it might end up costing $150,” he said.

“I don’t like having six palettes of game boxes in my garage waiting to ship out and having to explain to my wife why they’re still there,” added Tracy Hickman, a Utah-based writer and game designer.

Many of the best new games are being independently produced and distributed, according to Hickman.

“The retail industry has been very slow to adapt. They only have the old traditional games on the shelves. If you want new games, you have to go to specialty shops or Kickstarter,” he said.

Kickstarter is a website that allows entrepreneurs to raise funds directly from supporters in order to accomplish their respective projects. Exploding Kittens, a self-described "highly strategic kitty-powered version of Russian Roulette," is one example of a Kickstarter success. It was able to raise more than $8 million from over 200,000 donors, which was more individual donations than any other Kickstarter project ever, according to a 2015 article on entrepreneur.com.

While these and other new board games may never reach the mainstream popularity of Monopoly, they are gaining a loyal community of supporters who are willing to pay for unique and innovative games.

Email: jadams@deseretnews.com

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