ST. CLOUD, Minn. >> About two weeks ago, Gino Marinaro received a special shipment at his store: six copies of Mega Civilization.
Marinaro, the owner of Paddy’s Game Shoppe, said he ordered only a small supply of the five-to-18 player tabletop game that covers the development of civilization from the last Ice Age to the end of the Iron Age, the St. Cloud Times reported. There were many reasons for a small order: The game has thousands of pieces, hundreds of cards, a 7-foot board and comes from Germany (because it isn’t available for distribution in the U.S.). But the main reason Marinaro chose such a limited order? The hefty $500 price tag.
Marinaro and his wife, Dawn, decided to keep one copy of the game as an anniversary present. One game was left in the store and available for people to try in-house. The other four were available for purchase.
Those four were gone within one week.
It’s part of a movement that people, especially millennials, are gravitating toward in droves.
“(Tabletop) gaming has received a lot more social acceptance than it did in the past,” Gino Marinaro said. “Several years ago Dungeons & Dragons (for example) was looked down upon and had all of these made-up stereotypes about the game and its players. But now we see a lot more celebrities even saying they are huge gamers.”
That list includes actors like Vin Diesel, Mike Myers and Felicia Day in addition to author Stephen King, TV personality Stephen Colbert and NBA star Tim Duncan.
Tabletop gaming is profiled on popular shows like the Big Bang Theory. And Star Trek actor and Big Bang Theory recurring character Wil Wheaton even has a YouTube channel devoted strictly to trying out the latest tabletop games.
“A lot of people used to think that playing games was childish,” said Jerry Christensen, a local tabletop game enthusiast. “And if you were an adult the only games you could play would be cribbage. But a lot of today’s games are not children’s games.”
Cards Against Humanity, anyone?
It’s a phenomenon that not only has increased business at the local game shop over the past seven to 10 years, but has also captivated a national audience.
Kristin Morency Goldman, a spokesperson for the Toy Industry Association, said sales in the U.S. alone grew approximately 20 percent between 2015 and 2016.
Kickstarter, a crowdfunding site that had successfully launched board games like Exploding Kittens and Zombicide, has seen a tremendous increase in dollars designated specifically for tabletop games in comparison to video games.
Polygon, a Vox Media affiliated website, estimates Kickstarter tabletop game campaigns earned twice as much money as video games in 2015. Last year, tabletop games outpaced their virtual counterpart nearly sixfold.
Traditional board games like Monopoly and Scrabble are still part of the mix. But today’s board gamers want (and frankly demand) more creativity.
“It just shows that people who grew up playing games got bored and created their own,” Christensen said.
Justin Willard, owner of St. Cloud’s Lionheart Games, said today’s tabletop games are much more focused on strategy than chance.
“It takes a longer time to master some of these games,” Willard said. “There is some math, some deduction skills that provide a lot more depth to these games.”
Creativity is found not only in the way the game is played, Dawn Marinaro, co-owner of Paddy’s Game Shoppe, said.
“The artwork in some of these games is phenomenal,” she said. “And a lot of that is based on the standards Magic: The Gathering has set.”
Unlike traditional board games, today’s games can be played in as little as 20 minutes — for games like Flapjacks & Sasquatches — or can last as long as 12 hours — for something like Mega Civilization. Styles vary from cooperative games like Eldritch Horror (in which the object is to defeat the game) to casual “beer and pretzel” genres that take little concentration and can be more socially enjoyed.
“We are stuck in a digital world with video games and smartphones,” Willard said. “And people are feeling an urge to be more social. They crave that face-to-face interaction. And playing a board game can give people that feeling. And they are really digging it.”
That means continued business for Willard and the Marinaros.
Paddy’s Game Shoppe has a game room where people can test out a variety of games or join in on organized leagues like Pokemon, Magic or D&D, kids often in tow.
“Board games provide two things,” Dawn Marinaro said. “They are cost-effective. It’s a lot cheaper than taking the family down to the movies. And they are social. You can play them over and over again. You can talk with people. And you can have fun.”
Morency Goldman believes tabletop game industry’s transformation is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.
“I really can’t predict the future, but based on the past few years of innovation I don’t think the popularity will wane anytime soon,” she said.
In fact, gaming and game development has even made its way to become a merit badge for the Boy Scouts of America in 2013 (Girl Scouts have a badge for computer/video game development).
“Being a nerd is getting to be cool,” Gino Marinaro said.