I was recently having a friendly debate with a friend of mine who said that board games should be considered a sport, not a hobby. He pointed out there are competitions held for various games, as well as the recent trend in e-sports becoming recognized as a sport. I grew up playing several different sports, and categorizing board games as a sport just didn’t feel right. Though we couldn’t come to an agreement, it was a fun discussion and one that I wanted to share.

Board games are not a sport because they do not require strenuous physical activity, nor do they have a wide appeal as a spectator activity. Even board games that have organized competitions do not qualify as a sport. E-sports don’t have physical activity, but they do meet the requirement of being a spectator activity, with thousands of people flocking to watch players play their favorite games.

What a sport actually is

I don't usually like to go to the dictionary when I discuss a subject like this, but to make sure we’re clear on what a sport is I think it it's useful in this case to look at the dictionary definition of a sport.

An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment

E-sports is a relatively new form of entertainment that I hesitate to call a sport. The usage of the term e-sport seems more like a marketing ploy to compare e-sports to traditional sports to set up the way the events are held. That also opens the doors to sponsorships from companies to teams. That's something I don't think you would be able to do - at least not as quickly - if you just called them something more mundane, such as video game competitions. Since board games are often compared to video games, the argument is starting to be made that board games are also a sport.

Poker is about as popular as you can get for a board game - and I say that a little bit tongue in cheek. There are sponsorships, sponsors, and poker events that are televised, but that still doesn't make it a sport.

The critical thing to look at is that a sport needs to involve physical exertion and is done for entertainment. Board games don't have much if any physical aspect when playing them - though you might get a shoulder workout. They also don't have the broad appeal to audiences for entertainment like some video games do, either. And no, a hugely popular game doesn't mean it will be fun for other people to watch.

Why board games aren’t a sport

Just because you enjoy doing something that has an aspect of competition doesn’t make it a sport. Something you enjoy doing is merely a hobby, whether or not you can compete with others. Foosball - otherwise known as table football - is a hobby that pits one person against another - or teams against each other - but I don’t know anyone that would consider it a sport. That makes it a competitive hobby, not a sport.

Just because a board game is popular doesn't mean that it will be fun to watch. Chess is incredibly dull to watch, and it is one of the most popular games in the world. So is golf in my opinion, but there are enough people that enjoy watching it for it to remain popular.

Board games are incredibly fun to play, but they're also incredibly boring to watch. In fact, there is an entire genre of games invented - in my opinion - to fill the time between games because they are so dull to watch. While they can be incredibly fun to play, filler games are quick, lightweight games that exist merely to fill the time between when you and other people finish your respective games before starting a new game.

They aren't sports, but you can play sports

There is a way where you can enjoy sports while playing board games, and that’s if you play one of the many sport-themed board games. These games mimic the mechanics or feel - or both - of a sport in a board game form, allowing you to compete against other players or the game itself. You have games that allow you to imitate the sport, act as the manager of a team, or apply some kind of fantasy element of the sport to play.

I don’t know of any board game that completely emulates the feel of a sport that would give you the same level of satisfaction as playing the game, but many sports games are quite enjoyable. Take 1st & goal, which simulates a football game. You and your opponent choose plays by selecting cards, and the cards you use determines which dice you roll. You then roll the dice and see whether you gain or lose yards, and how much. A relatively new game called Breakthrough Football is rated highly, but I haven't had a chance to play it yet, so stay tuned.

When I used to play Madden, I liked to play in franchise mode. The fun of drafting a team and trying to compete to win the super bowl with a team that you built was a ton of fun. Unfortunately, I haven't found a game that does a good job of emulating this type of gameplay. The games I've played are too numbers-intensive and just aren't fun to play. I hope to be able to add a game to this category in the future, but as of right now, there aren't any that I can recommend.

Fantasy sports games

If you like fantasy and sports, there's a fun little niche that combines the two. I'm not talking about the stat-based metagame based on real-life games masquerading as fantasy football, and it's ilk. I'm talking about games that blend fantasy elements - think elves, orcs, goblins, etc. - with sports gameplay to make games that are both incredibly fun and richly themed. Two games come to mind that fit this category exceptionally well: blood bowl and guild ball.

If you're a fan of real football - that is American football - then you'll understand the appeal of blood bowl. The gameplay is more rugby style, characters from Warhammer suited up for a bloody, fight-filled battle for dominance…on the field. This is a miniatures game that pits two players in a head-to-head battle that is seething with chaos from the aggressive players and fans alike. There is a bit of luck involved in the game, but if you prioritize your movements, you can mitigate this. But the back and forth you feel fighting for every inch you gain in this game does a decent job of emulating a football game.

For those of you out there that like soccer - or fútbol, football, or whatever else you want to call it - there’s Guild Ball. This game has a similar theme to Blood Bowl, but it’s a lot more like a traditional tabletop wargame. So yes, you’ll need to break out your ruler to move your characters. This game is a lot more tactical than Blood Bowl, and there are more unique abilities for your characters, making the game seem more realistic. That being said, I don’t feel that Guild Ball feels as much like a sports game as it does a wargame with a ball.

Final thoughts

Board games can be a competitive hobby, but it definitely isn’t a sport. Some board games have gained notoriety - namely poker and chess - but they still don’t qualify as a sport. That being said, there are other sports out there that don’t qualify as sports, such as e-sports. E-sports has grown in popularity recently and have attracted a considerable fanbase, but the lack of physical exertion makes this a competitive hobby, too. If you want to play sports as a board game, there are quite a few games out there that have a sports theme, including some crossover games that combine fantasy and sports elements. That being said, if you want to play sports, grab a ball and go outside.

Does anyone have an argument on why board games should be a sport? Is the dictionary definition wrong and need to be updated for the 21st century? Please comment below and let me know your thoughts. I’d love to continue this conversation!

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