How Coronavirus Will Change Board Games (7 Guesses)

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The coronavirus pandemic has weighed heavily on my mind ever since I first bought a basket full of Nyquil in tiny neighborhood Walmart on the first day of March. We’re going through a world-changing event right now. It’s scary and it’s going to be a long slog with no easy way out.

Both terrible and beautiful things have happened, are happening, and will continue to happen. Nothing will be unchanged, including board games. Yes, the coronavirus will change board games. That’s what I want to talk about today.

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Look, I’m no psychic. I thought iPads were stupid in 2010. Obviously, I was wrong. I will be wrong many, many more times in my life. Predicting the future is a notoriously difficult trade. Nevertheless, trying to do so leads us to have interesting and necessary conversations.

Board games. Some of us play them for entertainment alone. Many of us design them for fun. Many others still design them for profit. Whether you love board games for the gameplay, the creative outlet, or the money-making potential, the coronavirus is going to change the way you play board games.

I want to talk about what I think’s going to happen. I want to hear your thoughts in the comments below, too. Let’s process this together.

1. Solo and 2-player games are going to be massive.

Board games are social in nature, so we tend to think of board games as being for at least 2 players and usually 3 or more. Yet this does not reflect underlying trends that have been simmering for a long time. For example, there are a ton of solo board games out there and the market for them has been pretty good for a while.

A lot of people are still stuck in their homes. Many others are going to voluntarily stay in their homes for a while. The number of people who are going to be spending time alone or with only their significant other or roommate is going to be much higher than in 2019. Board games, therefore, need to reflect this change in social dynamics. The ones that do will sell more copies.

2. Board games will become more popular because they feel like luxuries but are inexpensive.

Economic recessions have weird impacts. For example, lipstick sales famously went up during the 2008 recession. This makes no sense until you realize that lipstick is an inexpensive way of feeling attractive and put-together. That feeling might otherwise be pursued by getting a fancy haircut or new wardrobe.

People need to feel connected to others. They need human connection. Normally, a concert or big event would be a great way to fill that need. However, both of those are expensive, and board games do the job reasonably well for less money. (This is not even to mention the impacts of social distancing on large events.)

3. Board games will become more popular because people need human connection.

Speaking of filling a need for human connection, board games won’t just excel because they’re a cheap way of connecting people. They will excel because they’re an available way of connecting people.

Casually going to the movies, the theater, a concert, or a convention is not going to be nearly as common in the next few years as it used to be. Yet the same behaviors that drove people to do those things will still drive them to seek human connection – just in different ways. It won’t always be Zoom calls!

4. Tabletop Simulator and Tabletopia will spike in popularity.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced people to adopt technologies that they would otherwise be much slower to even notice. One of those technologies is video calling, or anything related to remote work. Yet how do board game developers work remotely?

Enter Tabletop Simulator (or Tabletopia). These tools make it possible for developers to play-test together and for gamers to play board games online. While playing board games on a computer might have seemed tedious even six months ago, it’s a relief in a time when it’s literally dangerous to touch physical board game pieces.

5. The coronavirus has ended traditional board game conventions for the foreseeable future.

One of the best ways to prevent spread of the coronavirus is incredibly simple: stay several feet away from other people. Physical distancing is such an easy-to-understand concept, but it precludes so many events that we take for granted. Among them, board game conventions.

We’re not going to see traditional board game conventions in 2020. We may not see them in 2021 either. If the opportunity to go to a convention arises, many people will be very reasonably skittish about going.

There has been a lot of talk of virtual board game conventions. Certainly, technology makes it easier to have virtual board game conventions. However, much of the magic of board game conventions comes from the sheer stimulation of a 1,000 geeky booths and 100,000 geeky people all around you.

It’s not the same on Twitch. It could be better and it could be worse. We’ll find out soon enough.

6. Many small publishers are going to close.

I hated typing that sentence. I don’t want to be Brandon the Game Doomer here. Nevertheless, I’ve written this blog with the earnest belief that it’s important to talk about the hard stuff, no matter how uncomfortable it may be.

This is not a good time to have a small business, generally speaking. Some businesses, particularly eCommerce or professional services that can be performed remotely, are doing great. Everyone else, well…

You can’t go to that restaurant (or shouldn’t). You can’t go to that store (or shouldn’t). Need I go on?

Now board games can be sold online, and many publishers will do that. Board games, in general, I believe are a great business to be in right now. However, many publishers rely on local gaming stores, or worse, conventions, to sell their games.

That business model, simply put, is just not going to work in 2020 and probably not in 2021. That’s a long time to go without revenue. A lot of our beloved publishers are going to have to adapt or close.

7. Super small board game publishers will have the best chance they’ll ever have to succeed.

Demand for board games is probably going to go up. High-quality publishers, on the other hand, are likely to fold. That means the massive demand for board games will still be there but will remain unmet for a while.

If you are a solo creator or a member of a small team of board game creators, you will soon have the levelest playing field you’ll probably ever see. People will crave well-made games and there may not be enough of them to go around. Start creating something worthwhile in advance so you can fill that need.

How do you think coronavirus will change board games?

I’m still trying to comprehend the scale of the changes that we are seeing right now. What do you think the board gaming world is going to look like a year or five from now? Let me know in the comments below!

I Make Board Games in Tabletop Simulator (A Guest Post)

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As the coronavirus lockdown continues, a lot of people are having a hard time getting their board game fix. The ability to play board games online, however, has never been easier. That’s because it’s easy to make board games in Tabletop Simulator, an inexpensive board game simulation tool available on the Steam store.

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I’ve talked about how you can create a Tabletop Simulator demo for your own game before. This week, though, I have something special in mind. Because so many people are interested in Tabletop Simulator right now, I want to introduce you to Kenny. Kenny runs the Pangea Games social media as well as a company called Overboard Games, which makes board games in Tabletop Simulator for various different publishers.

It’s a super cool niche for him to be in and I love his business model. That’s why I want to give him a chance to tell his story.

Who Am I & What is Tabletop Simulator?

Hey! My name is Kenny, and I create games on Tabletop Simulator for publishers and designers. I also create all the social media posts for Pangea Games, including the weird cheese question.

Tabletop Simulator is a physics-based board game engine which you can buy on Steam. With over 30,000 games, it’s the biggest platform to play all your favorite games. Overboard Games has made 30 games in Tabletop Simulator so far and that list will keep getting bigger.

If you’re looking to learn the game you can read our article, How to Learn Tabletop Simulator. You can learn how to install and then play the game like a pro.

How Did I Start?

I started playing board games originally on Tabletop Simulator in 2017. This later spawned an online community called Overboard Games. The Discord server grew over the years and it’s currently sitting at 700 members. I would love for you to join and play with other like-minded board gamers during this lockdown.

After a year of playing games, I decided to make board games in Tabletop Simulator from publicly available print-and-play games. My first creation was a demo of Blight Chronicles: Agent Decker for their Kickstarter which was simple but functional. I continued importing games for 7 months into Tabletop Simulator before commissioned to create Chai by Steeped Games.

How Chai Changed the Way I View Tabletop Simulator

Chai showed me what a Tabletop Simulator workshop creation needed, atmosphere, quality and a well-designed workshop page. Chai was the first game on the workshop to have a custom environment akin to the Tabletop Simulator DLC’s (downloadable content). This made the Tabletop Simulator creation stand out and it showed. It kept gaining followers and subscribers, which was fantastic!

From this point on, we knew that a custom environment was essential. Tabletop Simulator alone isn’t exactly the prettiest platform. With each game we created, our quality improved and we were able to provide better functionality.

Tabletop Simulator allows you to script functions within the game. This allowed us to take on more complex games and automate set-up. Something as simple as scripted setup can do wonders for your game. Shuffling decks, dealing tiles, and assigning first player at a push of a button is very useful.

Chai Board Game – 2018 Original by Overboard Games
Chai Board Game – 2020 Update by Overboard Games

This birthed our motto: “We don’t want to put your game on a table and call a day. We want your game to be a showcase to be used for a lifetime.” From that point on, we’ve worked top names including Portal Games, Stronghold Games, and Garphill Games. All the publishers and independent designers with whom I’ve worked have been wonderful about supporting the platform and my business. I’ve thanked them before and I’ll thank again them now.

Kickstarters & Tabletop: A Match Made in Heaven

We’ve worked very closely with games before they launch on Kickstarter. Without a shadow of a doubt, we can say that Tabletop Simulator demos have been beneficial. Board games are expensive, especially massive miniature-heavy games. Therefore, Tabletop Simulator allows board gamers to play before they pledge.

I believe Kickstarter has created a very impulsive way of buying board games. Tabletop Simulator, therefore, counters that trend. It will help you understand what you want to buy and what is just hype. I think we’ve all fallen victim to purchasing expensive games that we haven’t enjoyed.

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The Unheard-of Benefits of Tabletop Simulator

Tabletop Simulator doesn’t just let people play before pledging, it’s also a great place to design and playtest games. Tabletop Simulator can be used to prototype your game with hundreds of people remotely with the freedom to change and customize on a whim. This freedom allows you to experiment with 100-foot minis or just 1 deck of cards. It’s entirely up to you.

Experimenting like this with physical components would be a very costly process. On a digital platform, the cost is basically zero. You pay $20 one time for Tabletop Simulator, and that’s it.

Of course, that’s all theory. Let’s talk about an actual person and their experience!

I’d like to share a story by Dustin Hendrickson. He originally developed and tested Don’t Let it Die on Tabletop Simulator so I reached out to him and this is what he said…

The Story of Dustin Hendrickson in His Own Words…

I’m a software engineer by trade, but have been designing and creating games since I was in middle school. After working on standalone video games as a one-man studio I decided to switch from video games to a childhood love of mine, board games!

Luckily, I also had extensive knowledge of Photoshop, so I set out to make my first board game using Photoshop and a software program called Tabletop Simulator. I had used Tabletop Simulator before to create some one-off custom mods and expansions for games such as Massive Darkness and Welcome Back to The Dungeon, but that was the extent of my actual board game design experience.

It didn’t take too long to get my workflow down for creating components in Photoshop and importing them into Tabletop Simulator. Some of the benefits that I immediately noticed was the speed at which I could make changes and get them to the table for testing.

I had luckily gotten the game approved for the Tabletop Simulator Spotlight section where they show off custom made content on the main game menu page. This kicked off the momentum and got tons of people to try the game and leave feedback. Blind playtesting of your games is very valuable when it comes to helping refine your rules and making sure your game is easily approachable.

Don’t Let it Die on Tabletop Simulator
How Tabletop Simulator Helped Dustin Hendrickson, in His Own Words…

Having a demo on Tabletop Simulator saves a ton of time and money. You would normally need to get physical copies made and shipped. Then any changes made would require a new print run of game components. It’s a money and time sink, but necessary!

Using Tabletop Simulator was also a great way to market without being sucked into the Facebook ads scene. I was able to offer the game for free to anyone who had Tabletop Simulator, which led to more people trying the game, liking it, and then telling their friends about it!

After getting a ton of messages from people asking about a physical copy, I decided to take the steps needed to make one. After tons of research, phone calls, and emails with tons of publishers and manufacturers, I decided the best route to get the game physical was to self-publish it on The Game Crafter and push the Tabletop Simulator version to create a fan-base worldwide, which would be needed if I were to crowdfund the game.

So all in all, Tabletop Simulator was monumental to the success of the Kickstarter campaign. It’s a valuable marketing, testing, feedback, and community-creating tool that all designers should take a look at. It may improve propel their efficiency and workflow when working on new game ideas!

Back to Kenny again…

Tabletop Simulator & A History of DMCA Takedowns

When I started playing games on Tabletop Simulator, there weren’t many publisher-approved creations. However, there were DLC’s – that started in 2015. Publishers at the time were strictly using Tabletopia since it has an official filtering system.

Tabletop Simulator, however, was living its life on the high seas of unofficial content. It didn’t last long, though. A few big publishers started sending DMCA copyright violation notices. At the time, the biggest DMCA was issued over Munchkin. Since then, Bang and Pandemic have gone thorugh the same thing.

One DMCA stands out above all others: the “Legend” DMCA. It’s said that Legend was DMCAed and forced to take down the Legendary Encounters series. However, this caused everything with the word “legend” in the name to be taken down, whether intentional or not. Oops.

For this reason, Tabletop Simulator doesn’t have the best reputation. However, over the years, publishers and designers have been using the platform in conjunction with mod makers like myself to promote their games.

This is great progress for Tabletop Simulator and for the industry as a whole. This way, we can respect Tabletop Simulator for what it’s doing for the industry. I anticipate the publishers and designers will continue to have mod makers create Tabletop Simulator versions of their games. Ultimately, we may see an official workshop list for big name games, which Berserk Games – creators of Tabletop Simulator – is looking into.

Final Thoughts on Making Board Games in Tabletop Simulator

Tabletop Simulator has a long history with a lot of bumps along the way. The freedom it offers us to create and play games with all our friends far outweighs the negative aspects.

I think as the years go by, Tabletop Simulator will garner more attention and support from publishers and designers. Tabletop Simulator can only improve and develop with your help, so please support it by downloading the game on Steam and uploading your board games as workshop items. And if you need help? We’ll be there!

3 Things to Consider When Pitching to Board Game Publishers

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It’s quarantine o’clock and I’m responding to comments that I got on a post I wrote a few weeks ago: What confuses you about board game development? This time, I’m going to talk about pitching to board game publishers. Yes, those mysterious entities with make-or-break power over your creative dreams. Let’s talk about what they want and why they’re so weird.

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First, I’ll level with you. There are a ton of perfectly good articles online about how to approach board game publishers. Here are a few examples:

This is really just scratching the surface, too. There are plenty more articles that aren’t at the top of Google. I encourage you to read them.

In this article, I’m not going to write about how to specifically word a pitch. I’m not going to tell you the name of the right publisher to contact.

What I will instead do is talk about the mindset you need before you pitch a board game to a publisher. You could even apply this advice to any kind of product by any kind of company.

I choose to focus on this angle because I feel this is what is really missing when people talk about pitching to board game publishers. You need to give them a reason to run with your ideas.

You can sweat over every single word of your pitch, what you wear, and the attachments on your email. Or, alternatively, you can focus on building an empathetic understanding of what companies need to succeed and how you can help them.

1. Board game publishers have to meet consumer demand.

The only reliable way to build a business is to routinely meet market demand. You have to make products that fit markets that already exist. Board game publishers, who were already working with super tight margins before the coronavirus pandemic, have to follow this rule with even more vigor than most.

That means if people want worker placement games, most publishers will try to make worker placement games. If people like sci-fi or fantasy, most publishers will try to make sci-fi games, fantasy games, or both. Publishers are not gods but rather they are captains of ships upon the waves of consumer demand, which is a much mightier force.

The law of product-market fit is ironclad. Companies that ignore it go out of business. Just ask Kodak and Blockbuster. That means if your game does not satisfy a need in the market, then it doesn’t matter how well it’s designed – it won’t make money.

Publishers have a moral duty to differentiate marketable ideas from unmarketable ideas. This is how they stay in business and keep their employees paid. People’s lives literally depend upon the ability to discriminate between board games that meet consumer demand and board games that don’t.

Thus, a publisher’s condemnation of your idea, if it comes to that, is not a condemnation of you as a person. It is merely the result of a hardnosed but necessary business move governed by the inexorable laws of what people want, which often differs from what is obvious.

2. Understand consumer behavior to understand board game publishers.

If pitching to board game publishers requires understanding that they have to meet consumer behavior, then there is a logical next question. “What does consumer behavior look like in board games?” I write about this in length in People are Weird, Markets are Weirder…Especially with Board Games.

I definitely encourage you to read the whole post I’ve linked because it’s a more nuanced take than I have space for here. Nevertheless, the basic idea is that there are tons of choices, people tend to make “safe choices.” They pick themes they already like with mechanics they already like at price points at which they’ve previously purchased.

For this reason, publishers tend to bias their decision-making based on revenue shown by similar games from the past. Material costs are also a huge factor, which is part of why some components (such as meeples) are more common than others (such as minis).

Now sometimes it is okay to take a risk on a new idea. Publishers will every once in a while do something wildly innovative. Yet when they do so, because it’s so risky, they hedge their bets by making “safer games” to offset potential risks from higher-risk games.

I’m not giving publishers grief, and I hope you don’t either. Again, they’re responding to how board gamers behave so they can keep their businesses running and employees paid. This must be understood when you’re pitching to them. Try to think how publishers think!

3. When pitching to board game publishers, consider their needs and how you can meet them.

The previous two points have addressed broad needs held by every board game publisher. However, publishers are all different. They have unique audiences, products, portfolios, and interests.

Before you pitch to any publisher, look at what they’ve released and what they are planning to release. You want your board game to fit in with their overall product portfolio! After all, a hardcore wargaming company like GMT Games isn’t going to make the next Twister. Nor should they be expected to!

After you do that, research each publisher’s style too. Every publisher has different branding, a different social media presence, and a unique “voice.” Study them and figure out what makes each publishing company tick. Find some of the people involved and get to know them personally without being salesy. By doing this, you can both network and figure out what the companies are actually looking for.

Final Thoughts

Pitching to board game publishers may seem mysterious, but it’s not. They are reacting to what board gamers want, which is exactly what they ought to do. Try to understand how their companies work and how you can help.

With a more nuanced viewpoint, everything else will be easier. Once you understand publisher’s needs, submitting your pitch will come much more naturally. Instead of being a desperate designer trying to shortcut a two-year backlog, you could be a trusted partner who thinks in terms of mutual benefit.