How the COVID-19 Pandemic Caused a Tabletop Gaming Renaissance

Amidst the rise of the COVID-19 some 18 months ago at the time of this piece being written, the gaming industry as a whole has seen unprecedented growth in the face of global adversity. Between periodic lockdowns and quarantine mandates, the rise in live streaming services through platforms like YouTube and Twitch has offered gamers a variety of ways to remain connected to one another, regardless of where they find themselves located geographically.

The pandemic has also caused niche sub-sectors within the overarching gaming industry to experience a resurgence in both sales volume and user growth. One such sub-sector has been the recent rise in more traditional tabletop games, which more commonly fall under the category of “games and puzzles” (GaP). For reference, GaP games can include:

According to market research conducted by Euromonitor International, the GaP market was valued at some $11.3 billion in 2020 with an expected growth to $12.1 billion in 2021. This represents a second marker of year-over-year (Y/Y) growth for the GaP gaming sub-sector, up from approximately $10.4 billion in 2019.

As to why GaP games in particular are witnessing such growth, Marc Alonso, a senior analyst at Euromonitor International, had this to say:

“Tabletop games have witnessed increased growth in 2020,” Alonso said in an interview with Dicebreaker earlier this year. “This category was already growing among adult consumers, and COVID-19 restrictions have catalysed [this] growth even further. The closure of entertainment and socialising venues, and increasingly [digitised] lifestyles, has led many towards more traditional sources of entertainment.”

According to the same Euromonitor report, the U.S. alone is responsible for some 30% of the growth of the GaP market in tabletop games since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, growing by some $500 million from $3.7 billion in 2020 to a projected $4.2 billion in 2021. For comparison, that same market in the U.S. was estimated to be valued at some $400 million in 2020 with projected growth to only $414 million in 2021.

“In the UK, the economic uncertainty brought on by an undefined Brexit and COVID-19 also played a role in the growth of Games and Puzzles,” Alonso said in his same interview with Dicebreaker. “Consumers are forced to prioritise purchases by their value more than ever. Entertainment will always be a key necessity, but especially during lockdown, and tabletop games offer ‘unlimited’ play at a low unit price. Traditionally recognisable games such as Monopoly have attracted many consumers back with their licensed variations of the game, appealing to a nostalgic audience with more time to indulge in these games.”

Despite the impact of the COVID-19 on businesses worldwide since the spring of 2020, this rise in GaP games likewise coincided with the record-breaking growth in crowdfunding campaigns for similar games via Kickstarter. These crowdfunding projects for tabletop and other GaP games reached over $236 million in 2020 alone—a near 33% increase from 2019. Similarly, more crowdfunding campaigns than ever before (more than 3,000 separate projects and campaigns) saw success in reaching their crowdfunding goal last year via Kickstarter, of which some 87 were able to raise $500,000 or more. 

One project for Frosthaven, the highly-anticipated sequel to GaP game Gloomhaven, even set a new world record for the highest-funded board game on Kickstarter since the platform was launched, having raised over $13 million last year from more than 80,000 backers for its project.

Though Alonso and other industry analysts predict the growth of this market to slow as COVID-19 restrictions become increasingly lax over the remainder of 2021 and into 2022, the data has made one thing extremely clear: the popularity of these games and their dynamic growth throughout the length of the pandemic has continued to spark interest in the market amongst adult gamers and younger generations alike. 

While this growth is predicted to slow in the (hopefully) final days of the pandemic, their resurgence over the past 12-18 months has helped introduce entirely new demographics of gamers to the value that more traditional tabletop and board games can bring to them and their social circles, which can further serve to grow this sub-sector of gaming in the years to come.

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