As entertainment expands into the digital realm, there's a quiet but resilient force holding its ground in popular culture: board games.
Gathering around a board on a table and setting up the pieces has a certain charm, whether you're a casual player or a seasoned strategist. As a blend of recreation and social interaction, board games are a staple of family nights, dinner parties and even solo adventures. While often stirring up nostalgia for days spent indoors during childhood, board games continue to be in demand among adults.
The global value of this market is estimated to be around US$12b in 2023, with revenues reaching US$2.39b for the tabletop games segment. A renewed interest in the hobby was bubbling even before the COVID-19 pandemic kept us at home, with some attributing this precisely to the games’ contrast with digital media and a yearning for closer social connections. Hobby games often involve cooperation between players and have attracted significant attention in recent years too, with some raising millions through crowdfunding platforms.
Hasbro’s ($HAS) Monopoly, true to its name, remains one of the world’s most recognisable games, with an estimated 275m units sold (even if research indicates it is played less often than other classics such as Cluedo). The original version was conceived as The Landlord’s Game, which would demonstrate how owners benefited from receiving rent from tenants. With many people facing tough housing markets, the social commentary is still relevant today and the game has acquired a reputation as a source of heated debates.
Licensing agreements allow Hasbro to create countless versions of Monopoly in response to shifting customer tastes and cultural trends, while the main concept stays the same. Mattel ($MAT) has taken a similar approach with Uno and Pictionary. A partnership between these two competitors means that a Barbie-themed Monopoly set is now available. In another interesting deal, Hasbro owns the exclusive rights to Scrabble in the U.S. and Canada while Mattel holds them for the rest of the world.
The trend of creating various types of merchandise based on popular media content is at the centre of Funko ($FNKO). Through intellectual property agreements with film studios and sports teams, the firm has created a range of games based on existing characters and stories. The company deals prominently in Disney ($DIS) content, from old school Mickey Mouse to Marvel and Star Wars.
As popular as some of these board games are, few have as long a history as strategy games, which have continuously drawn us in over the centuries. Chess has experienced a resurgence among young people since Netflix’s ($NFLX) The Queen’s Gambit was released in 2020. There are channels on Twitch ($AMZN) and YouTube ($GOOG) dedicated to it, and even ads like Louis Vuitton’s ($LVMUY) featuring Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo gave a nod to the grandmasters.
Despite the pull of face-to-face interaction, many board games have made the transition to a hybrid or online format (chess.com’s servers were creaking under the high amount of new users in early 2023). That’s when these games also serve as a playing field for the enduring battle of man vs machine. Back in 1997, IBM’s ($IBM) Deep Blue supercomputer sifted through millions of potential moves in seconds to famously get ahead of Gary Kasparov, our best chess-playing human at the time. Then it wasn’t until nearly 20 years later that Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo beat Lee Sedol at the ancient Asian game of Go, but it happened – using the neural networks behind many current AI models.
A competitive spirit continues to thrive among players as well as businesses, with enthusiasts keeping an eye out for the industry’s next move.