One thing that I hear quite often is how expensive board games are. If you've ever been browsing board games, you should know that they can come with a hefty price tag with some games selling for over $200. If you think about the time investment to come up with and produce the game, the quality of the components and the amount of time you'll spend playing the games, what you need to ask yourself isn’t why board games are so expensive but are board games actually expensive?
While board games may seem expensive, the amount of money they cost for the hours of gameplay you get actually make board games less expensive than many other activities. Most board games are ones that you can purchase and play without any additional components, which makes it easy to pick up a new game and bring it to the table. While there are games that have expansions, these aren’t required to play or enjoy the game - with few exceptions.
Board games are also somewhat unique because they provide social interaction and solo gameplay; creative experiences and brain burning challenges. Sports games, strategy games, dungeon crawlers, party games, war games, and so many more. There are so many categories of games that anyone can find a game that will suit their tastes.
While there are a lot of free activities you can do, for the sake of argument, I'm going to take a look at some common activities you do with friends that cost money. To pick on one particular industry, going to the movies will run you about $15 a piece, or $60 for tickets (plus about 20-40 for snacks would put the total closer to $100). If you don't get any snacks - which face it, who goes to the movies and doesn't at least get popcorn - you're looking at a price that is about that of a new board game.
As a matter of fact, $60 is more than the price of a new copy of 7 out of the top 10 games listed on Board Game Geek. For the price of entrance to the movies, you'll get about 1-2 hours of entertainment where you're basically sitting down and staring at a screen. With a board game, you're looking at many hours of entertainment where you're interacting with your friends, laughing, arguing (good-naturedly, of course), and building memories to last a lifetime.
Board games offer so much more emersion, social experiences, and entertainment that movies just can’t match.
To not pigeon-hole the discussion to a single activity, I looked back at some of the activities that I've done with my family in the last year. These costs should help put the price of a board game in perspective:
- Bowling - $50-80
- Miniature Golf - $40-60
- Eating out - $80-100
- New Video Game - $60-80
My point isn’t to say that you shouldn’t do these other activities, just to compare them to board games that people say are expensive - as I said before, to put things in perspective. When you start to build your board game collection, you can end up spending a lot of money. Just pace yourself and do your research into each game and you'll have a well-rounded game collection that won't break the bank.
If you look at the cost of these games, it is pretty insignificant compared to how many hours of enjoyment you get out of the games. I've lost track of the number of hours I've played games with my wife to say nothing of the time I've played those same games with our group of friends. If I had to guess, we’ve probably gotten 10-12 hours from some of our games.
To some, that may not seem like a lot of time, but we are still new to modern board gaming, and some of these games are ones that we’ve only had for a few months. I don’t think we have any games that we’ve said we won’t play again so we can count on many more hours of gameplay in our future.
We also use board games to help disengage our kids from their electronics and help stimulate their imagination, strategic thinking, or even just their social skills. There's nothing quite like the excitement of my girls when we sit down to play a new game.
Now, let's look at why board games can seemingly be expensive.
Board Game Costs
I often hear board games compared to video games, and while I don't think that it is a fair comparison, I can see why the comparison is often made. When you look at the visual appeal and engaging gameplay of video games compared to the seemingly static gameplay of board games, how can you justify the cost of a $100+ board game compared to a $60 video game?
Just a quick note, I know that not all board games are in the $100+ price range. There are plenty of games in the $30 - $60 price range that make them more appealing for anyone looking for something less costly. In all honesty, the $100+ price range was an arbitrary number that mostly deals with big-box heavy games - and of course premium upgrades for some other games.
Back to business, the primary comparison between the price of board games versus video games comes down to economies of scale. If you don’t know what economy of scale means - and at the risk of over-simplifying it - economy of scale means that producing something in larger batches results in a lower price per item. This holds true from everything from candy bars to board games to computers.
I found it hard to find out how many board games are printed in a specific run, but one number I’ve seen passed around is 5,000 games. Looking at production runs of video games - not counting digital sales - has production runs of 80k or more. The quantity of video games sold makes it easier to recoup the costs of production, even when those production costs are far higher than that of board games.
Board games also have more physical components than video games, especially for games that include miniatures. In the era of digital products, it's easy to forget about the cost of producing physical goods. In addition to the design, art, playtesting that has to be done to make a good game, you have the production and distribution costs to consider.
With video games, most of the cost is in producing the digital product that will be delivered on the disc. Producing additional copies costs little more than the price of the physical medium itself or the near-non-existent price of a digital download. But with board games, each copy of the game will carry the same price, which is only lessened when it is produced in large quantities.
Board games are a hobby that provides a unique experience that I don't think is duplicated anywhere else.
Benefits of Board Gaming
My oldest daughter - 8 years old - thoroughly enjoys reading to the point that she can spend most of the day reading. I don't want to disparage her love of reading - I also love to read - but we sometimes need to get her nose out of her books. I love how much she loves to read, but I also want her to develop excellent social and critical thinking skills. When she sits down with me to play a game, she’s completely focused and often surprises me with how well she strategizes.
I plan on writing another article to go into more detail, but here are a couple of skills that board games provide:
They help with critical thinking and strategy. Regardless of which game you’re playing, there are often many different strategies that you can use to win (I’m ignoring the roll and move and pure luck games that are popular with younger kids. Think Candy Land). The ability to evaluate your options, adapt your strategy to your opponent, and have the forethought to think several moves ahead is a skill that will serve you in many different areas of life.
They also help with socializing. I don’t think I’ve played any game - at least there aren’t any that I can think of, besides solo games - that didn’t have socialization as a component. You talk to your opponent, your teammates, or just others at the table with you. In my experience, games help open you up and make you comfortable with other people around you. It is incredible to see people that are typically incredibly shy - like myself, for example - open up when they sit down to play a game.
Keeping Costs Down
Even though I’ve shown why board games costs are warranted, I know they can still be expensive. There's nothing like looking at your wish list and knowing you can't afford the game you want. Luckily, there are several ways that you can get into the hobby - or expand your collection - without breaking the bank.
You can buy a game with friends. If you pool your money, the price per person will be less, which means less out of pocket for you. You probably shouldn't take this option if you or your friends don’t share well, or if your friends don’t know how to take care of games.
You can buy used games. If you’ve looked for used games, you probably know that they tend to hold their value well. However, you can sometimes find games on apps like Facebook local or OfferUp that have incredible deals. I wouldn’t recommend buying used games from people online where you can’t check the condition of the game before you hand over your money as different people have different definitions of what like-new means.
Board games can seem expensive, but they aren’t more costly than many other common hobbies. They may not have the visual appeal of video games - and the massive production budgets that go with them - but because of economies of scale, the production cost per game is usually higher. You can help keep costs down by looking for good deals for used games or pooling your money with friends to get a game. Board games also offer benefits that aren’t found in other activities - at least not in any single activity - and they aren’t just passive activities that are only used to pass the time.
Hopefully, I’ve given you some insight into the board game industry and why these games can seem expensive (even though they aren’t). If you have anything to add, disagree with me, or just want to join the conversation, please comment below.
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