There’s no doubt about it — the video game industry is booming. What began as a niche hobby has grown over the past few of decades into a cornerstone of modern entertainment that rivals even the feature film. However, just as the movie industry can trace its history back to traditional theater, gaming has its own nearly forgotten roots. Before there was Xbox Live, before there was a movement to three dimensions, even before there was Mario, there were board games.
Most people hear “board games” and think of childhood classics like “Monopoly,” or “Sorry!.” The common line of thought is that these games are for kids, and that by the time we’re in college we should have moved on to more “mature” forms of entertainment. This is because most people have an incredibly narrow familiarity with board games, whether they realize it or not. Here’s a hint: if you think that board games don’t get more strategic than “Risk” or “Battleship,” then you’re only looking at the tip of the tabletop iceberg.
New board games are released far more often than you might suspect. The only problem is that it’s difficult for non-digital games to catch any mainstream attention. When was the last time you saw a commercial for a board or card game? It’s a form of entertainment that has been largely left behind by our tech-obsessed culture, because we believe that we’ve seen all there is to see from board games. That idea couldn’t be more wrong. Modern board game companies are brimming with innovation, far more so than high-investment mediums like movies and video games. Board game designers can still afford to take risks, and as a result there are still fresh and interesting games being released even now. Even decades-old classics are kept alive through re-releases that keep things from getting stale.
Take “Cosmic Encounter,” for example. Originally released in 1977, it’s been revised and refocused enough that it still feels like a new experience (the latest expansion hit the shelves earlier this year, adding variety to the 2008 reboot of the game). It pits five players against each other in a struggle for control over the galaxy, but it’s a far cry from “‘Risk’ In Space.” The game includes 50 vastly different playable alien races, with each player representing a different species. Each alien has unique abilities that drastically change the way the game is played, ensuring that no two games play out in the same way.
A more recent release, “Dominion,” was created in 2008 and has since won multiple awards for its enthralling gameplay. Still, you’d be hard pressed to find it on the shelf of anyone but an active board game enthusiast. These kinds of games simply cannot break into the public view. If the market for these kinds of products was just a little wider, they might stand a chance of getting the recognition they deserve. As it stands, though, they still remain esoteric and relatively unknown.
In an age where most forms of entertainment make tens of millions of dollars on release day, board games remain woefully underappreciated. They aren’t very flashy or well-known, but try going out on a limb with a new game and you may end up with one of the most original gaming experiences available today. It’s an entirely unique feeling to sit across the table from your opponent, and who knows? You might come to prefer doing your gaming unplugged.