When I was a kid, my family was really into playing board games. For my brothers, I’m sure it was all about the strategy and a little “friendly” competition. For me, it was all about the tiny game pieces. (I mean, who doesn’t love the adorable Scottie Dog of Monopoly fame?)
Those family game nights spent sitting around the dining room table talking, laughing and conspiring over the game board hold fond memories. The lessons we learned from being challenged by a new game went way beyond the rule book. It turns out, these were the lessons of life.
Then along came 2020. Being stuck at home for work, online school and any social interaction whatsoever forced us onto screens for too many hours than I’d like to count. But this new-found time stuck at home with family gave us a golden opportunity to expand our horizons.
We unplugged and broke out the board games!
Board Games Are Back
I know my family wasn’t the only one to return to the game table in 2020. We finally had too much time on our hands and nowhere to go — our schedules were cleared for the foreseeable future. Though we were disrupted, it just made us try harder to enjoy the little things in life.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to keep us socially distant, game lovers are still creating memories — and fighting boredom — experiencing classic games they know and love or as a new shared experience. In fact, Hasbro, maker of classic board games like Monopoly, recently reported a 21-percent increase in gaming sales, which has been attributed to the rise in homebound families seeking entertainment to get through the past several months of the pandemic.
And you don’t have to ask one group of board game enthusiasts, who would all agree that this trend continues and board games are better than ever.
Meet the Game Experts
I had the chance to catch up with board game designers, reviewers, previewers and all-around board game experts, Derek and Lizzy Funkhouser, who shined a little light on the board game world for me (given my novice knowledge of the industry).
“Derek and I designed and developed The Walking Dead: Something to Fear. It is a set collection/tableau builder. It’s a little bit cooperative and a little bit competitive. You are fighting off walkers and hoards while trying to collect the best sets and keep the damage to a minimum. Everyone shares damage from cards that you let ‘escape’ and if at the end of the game if it’s over 20 points, everyone dies. If it is less than 20, then everyone adds up points from the cards they have collected and whoever has the most points wins,” Lizzy explains.
‘The Board Game Spotlight’ Community Shines On
“Our community is The Board Game Spotlight on Facebook,” explains Lizzy, who is holding down the fort at home in Chicago during this pandemic, while husband Derek is deployed in Europe. “We are both originally from Illinois. Though we move around a lot and have lived somewhere new each year, we held the Elfster [game] exchange.”
And that is no small feat! With a super active Facebook community 21K members strong, ‘The Spotlight’ has become a way of life for the Funkhousers. Being part of such a dedicated community has afforded them the opportunity to connect in person (prior to the pandemic, of course) at conventions and local board game stores.
“The Spotlight was originally started by our friend James Hudson,” Lizzy explains. “He is the one behind Druid City Games, though Derek and I have designed for him and Derek also helps with game development. Druid City focuses on family to mid-weight games with diversity and inclusivity a big goal for them as well. When the spotlight started to grow back in 2017, he brought on Derek and later myself to help facilitate its growth. So while James is still a big part of the community, Druid City is its own separate space from the Spotlight.”
“We tend to be omni-gamers mostly. We welcome any type in the group though we do try to keep a more family-friendly atmosphere with our posts and interactions (e.g. no cursing, salacious art, politics.) We’re excited to see the growth with a lot of families who were stuck at home together turning to games to help ease their boredom. We also saw a lot of people dabble in solo gaming with the loss of regular game nights/board game stores. We also have quite a few publishers and designers that are a part of the group and most of them reported surges in board game sales which was very exciting. Our community grew so much in 2020, we started the year at 16.7 and just hit 21K January 2021. We’ve also doubled our active members within the group as well,” says Lizzy.
Board Gamers Rolling Dice and Making Nice
For the third year in a row, and by popular demand, the Funkhousers decided the show must go on and hosted a game exchange during the 2020 holiday season.
“We set a base limit of $40 for the exchange with no cap and the gifts had to be board games or board game adjacent (inserts, game upgrades),” Lizzy explains. “We opened it worldwide which allowed anyone from the group to participate. Our group has members all over the world and it’s very important to us that everyone felt included and was given the option to join in.”
“There are other communities that have gift exchange programs and Derek saw how our community was growing and thought it would be fun to try it out,” she says. “We’ve definitely gotten better at promoting it and figuring out what price points would work best. And we always have people request it starting in September/October. We weren’t even sure we would do it after the first year, but the community loved it and got behind it and we realized this was something we were going to have to continue doing every year.”
“It has gotten a little easier, but there are always little hiccups and people who didn’t receive their gifts, especially with the crazy slow shipping this year,” Lizzy adds. Overall though it’s a huge positive in our group and I can’t imagine not continuing it.”
Game Exchange Encourages Generosity
“I’m just always so blown away by the wonderful and thoughtful gifts people give every year. We always have a handful of people who don’t receive their gifts,” she continues, “but every year before they exchange I have people message me saying they were happy to provide a gift for anyone who didn’t. The spending limit is set as low as we can to let as many people participate as possible, and every year most people got over and above the limit gifting huge games or multiple ones. We’ve even had international people send fun gifts that aren’t available in someone’s home country. Last year, Derek and I received potato chips from Canada in flavors I’d never heard of before in addition to a game from our list.”
According to Lizzy, the group members get very into it. “There are always friendships formed and new games discovered,” she says. “Last year a friend and fellow content creator got paired with a group member we met while we were living in California. Ducks are a huge part of his channel and he messaged me to see if it was all right if he included some rubber ducks in the package for fun. When he told me who he was paired with, I started laughing because it was our friend who was coming over to game the next day. I said it would be fine, and the two actually formed a friendship over it.”
Game Tips for Beginners or Veterans
Looking for a hobby you can share with family and friends? Or maybe discover a new game that’s more out-of-the-ordinary? Here are a few suggestions from Lizzy:
For the beginner gamers I would suggest:
- Skull King — especially if you like trick taking games
- Codenames — it’s great with big groups and so simple to learn
- Sushi Go — great for families
- Azul — what we would call an “evergreen” title; it has been around for years and everyone loves it
- Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle — starts really simple and builds as you go through the school years and get better at the game
For seasoned veterans I would suggest:
- In The Hall of the Mountain King — it was my number one game of 2020 and its incredibly unique in gameplay and theme
- Duelosaur Island — it’s a two player version of a very popular game, but I think they streamlined it perfectly and you get the feel of Dinosaur Island without the huge game set up and it plays quite a bit faster
- Orleans — a bag building game, it is older so if you have been around for awhile you’re probably familiar with it but if you haven’t played it yet you must
- Fossilis — great for all ages, another one of my top games from 2020 and I cannot get over how ingenious it is
I’m gonna cheat a little on this and include my 3 favorite roll and writes since its my favorite genre:
- Cartographers (if you like polyomino type games)
- Fleet: The Dice Game (especially if you love engine building/chaining actions together)
- Welcome To (for those who enjoy numbers and statistics)
Get on the Board Game Bandwagon
Board games are trending right now and I’m happy to say that thanks to the need for a little indoor adventure, my kids will share similar memories to the ones I cherish! Once we can be together again, I look forward to meeting friends in person and breaking out the board games.
If you haven’t hopped on the gaming bandwagon yet, it’s the perfect time to give games a try! Elfster can even point you in the right direction with our curated Game Gift Guides for every skill level.
Looking for an easy way to spread joy in your community? Try a Secret Santa generator that simplifies the process. Elfster makes it easy to pair people up, shop for gifts, and start a Wish List. Plus, you can access it all from an iPhone app or Android app.