In a vague attempt at trying to be cleverer than I really am, I hunted out some facts and figures for you. Using statistics on Google and pulling some strings with my friends at Zatu, I have got the lowdown on board games during lockdown. I also got some fancy infographics from Betway too – nothing shouts serious journalism like infographics!
Now I’m going to warn you, some of the following makes for depressing reading for more seasoned gamers. There are however, glimmers of hope, so push on through!
In a very academic way I should inform you this feature focusses mainly on data during March 2020, the month the world was going into lockdown due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
High Climbers in Google Searches
Faced with the prospect of not leaving their homes for the imminent future, nearly double the amount of people searched for board games when going into lockdown in March than in February.
A massive success story of the Coronavirus outbreak was the game Pandemic, according to Google data ‘Pandemic board game’ received 246,000 searches worldwide in March. America accounted for about half of these and stock was temporarily depleted at most board game stores. This was the closest the board game world got to a toilet roll shortage! Pandemic attracted more than twice as many searches as ‘Risk board game’ which was second with 90,000. Interestingly, the previous time Pandemic ranked highly was during the Swine Flu outbreak in 2009, but that was only about a third of this astonishing number.
For those that don’t know, Pandemic is a co-operative game. Players work together to cure and eradicate outbreaks of four different diseases around the world. Whether the surge in searches is a little macabre I will leave to your judgement. I personally love the game and have been playing it for years. Quite excitingly the publishers have announced a new version that is quicker to play and a little lighter called Pandemic Hot Zone that has just hit the shops.
After the 306.6% increase in searches for Pandemic, the percentage increase in searches largely affected the boring ‘old favourites’. Yes, sadly it was Ludo, Battleships, Game of Life (or Life in some countries) and Monopoly that saw the biggest rise.
The Most Searched For Games
As stated, Pandemic and Risk were the most popular board games searched for in March according to Google data. The American’s accounted for 40% of searches for ‘board game’ and their search dominance accounts for the appearance of Sorry! which is rarely played outside the USA, despite being invented in the U.K. To be precise 61.3% of searches for Sorry! were from the US.
Game of Life is another firm family favourite in America and the UK, trust me there are better games out there than this now! It is still on the list though. Looking at the infographic Jumanji in sixth place was a bit of a surprise, but I assume the new movies are playing their part on that particular offering.
Board Game Searches around the World
As you can see in my final infographic below, it is a miserable array of fairly traditional games that are the most searched for in each country. Monopoly, Scrabble and Ludo dominate the world. Japan searching for Catan offers a minor lift in moral, but let’s be fair, to most modern board gamers this is also now a classic.
I don’t know why but Ludo’s popularity is a little surprising. Investigating this I discovered that the game originates from a sixth century Indian game called Pachisi. Delving deeper into Keyword Planner, I noted that between February and March searches for ‘Ludo board game’ increased by 400% in India to 6,600 searches.
Scrabble performing well in French speaking countries is largely attributable to the French alternative of the game Francophone Scrabble, for which regular championships are held.
I can’t hide my disappointment, but equally I am unsurprised that Monopoly is a firm favourite for searches in Europe and Asia. The brand have really cashed in on rehashing this in any way possible. This includes 37 different languages and more intellectual properties pasted-on than anything else in the history of the world (that latter bit may not be a fact, but it certainly feels like it).
Board Games vs Video Games in March 2020
Sticking with Google data, some board games outstripped video games in certain regions. For example, when I compared Scrabble with the FIFA video game, Scrabble attracted more searches in France, Canada, America, New Zealand and Australia. On the flip side, Animal Crossing wiped the floor with Monopoly searches everywhere accept Russia. I think it is still encouraging that people are searching for Tabletop games as well as desktop and console games, often as fervently.
The Glimmer of Hope
I did suggest in my introduction that modern board gamers would get some glimmer of hope. I offer this in the form of the top ten games sold by Zatu in March. Most board game hobbyists would agree these to be very good entry level games. Topping the list was Ticket to Ride Europe, a variant of our Hall of Fame version. The highest sales then continued as follows: 2. Carcassonne, 3. 7 Wonders Duel, 4. Bananagrams, 5. Pandemic, 6. Ticket to Ride (Original/America), 7. Catan, 8. The Mind, 9. Codenames and 10. Azul.
Although the top 10 best sellers at Zatu may not contain any new heavyweight Eurogames, the fact that entry level games are among the best sellers suggests that many people are still progressing from the likes of Monopoly, Scrabble and Ludo. For tabletop game producers to keep finding a market and wanting to service our hobby, the industry needs a continuing influx of board gamers. My glimmer of hope is therefore this: there seems to be a steady stream of people exploring the next stage of board gaming at Zatu and hopefully elsewhere.
All data analysis should come with a very well written conclusion or summary. However, the daily briefings in the UK and the toxic news has reminded me in lockdown, more so than ever before, how data and statistics can be manipulated to tell a good story. Take my Board Games vs Video Games in March 2020 section as an example. Had I conveniently left out Animal Crossing it would’ve sounded brilliant. It could easily suggest that Tabletop Games had opened a can of whoop-arse on video game searches. When actually looking at the breakdown video game searches are often more popular. You have to remember FIFA comes out in September, so video gamers are less likely to be searching for it in March anyway.
So, my clever conclusion is that actually all the above, while entirely factual, should be taken with a pinch of salt. Also, board game reviewers like me, need to work harder at showing the world that there are better tabletop games than Monopoly, Scrabble, Ludo and the Game of Life!