Gaming is a global hobby, not isolated to North America or Europe. People are united by the experience of play, regardless of culture, history, or politics.
We decided to look at the gaming cultures in different parts of the world. We talked to some experts in the hobby and got their opinions on what makes their gaming scene special and how it has evolved over the years in their part of the world.
Phoebe Wild has been board gaming most of her life, but you may have seen her most recently as a correspondent for Board Game Geek at major conventions and as the host of her review site: Cardboard Vault. She’s currently based out of Melbourne, but also has lived in Sydney and has experience with the board game scene in both cities.
“Board games are my passion, so I take every opportunity to be involved in the community. I’m a regular player, am a member of many gaming groups that meet in or around the city, and attend as many local gaming cons as I’m able to,” said Wild.
Australians are as ardent gaming fans as you’ll find anywhere, but because of the fact that most major publishers are on the other side of the world, it can be a pricey hobby. For board game fans down under, it’s necessitated some creativity in the way they get their games.
Wild explains, “We have Facebook groups solely dedicated to organizing group Kickstarter pledges to make shipping just that bit more affordable (for reference, a standard big box game like Ticket to Ride sells for $90 AUD or $65 USD). If there’s anything unique about the gaming scene here, it’s probably that. From what I can tell, Australia is one of the most expensive countries to ship to.”
None of that has dampened the enthusiasm of Australian gamers. If anything, it strengthens their resolve to game, in general.
“The board game community in Australia is passionate and (for the most part) welcoming. People love playing games, sharing that time with friends, and introducing new players to the hobby. We have cons being run throughout the year, and people travelling from one end of Australia to the other just to attend. The cons are starting to sell out, and passionate gamers are starting up more of them each year,”
The signs of a thriving industry are engaged consumers and new businesses opening up, and Australia is definitely trending in the right direction on both counts.
“More people are getting introduced to the hobby, and you can see the market’s increasing just from the number of new stores that are opening. Melbourne’s CBD has five stores within a few blocks of each other, and more online retailers are opening, as well, to meet the demand,” said Wild.
“There’s also been huge growth in board game publishing and designing. Over the last few years, a handful of small Australian publishers have started up. Last year, one of the largest chains of stores and distributors (Good Games) opened a publishing branch as well.” added Wild.
While Australia is still a small market in comparison to North America and Europe, it’s growing, and the positive sign is that the growth seems to be driven by the passion of the fans.
One of the big innovations in Canada has been the rise of public settings where gaming is allowed and even encouraged, sometimes referred to as Board Game Cafes or Bars. Joël Gagnon owns and operates the Randolph Gaming Pubs, two board game bars in Montréal, Québec. The Randolph opened its first location in 2012. Since then, thousands of patrons have come to play selections from their 1,500 plus board game library. Last year, they opened a second location, and the board gaming scene in the city is continuing to thrive.
“I’ve been in the business for 10 years now,” stated Gagnon. “In Quebec, when I started, people thought I was crazy with my idea to connect people with board games. Now, with the popularity of board game bars, gaming has become a trendy thing to do! People are as excited to try a new coop game as if it were the new Star Wars movie!”
Gagnon played games as a kid, but he got into the hobby seriously when he was in college.
“My brother made me play at all sorts of different games every weekend. At that time, I discovered Jungle Speed, Carcassonne, Catan, and many more. One Christmas, he gave me Citadels, my first game! I played that one a lot!”
For Gagnon, the influence of family gaming is a big part in why interest in board games is on the rise in Montréal.
“Montreal, and Québec in general, are clearly unique places in the world in regards to gaming. First, there’s a huge tradition of playing party and social games during the holidays with the family. Secondly, our toy stores in Québec have always had a huge selection of games from our best publishers, not just the Hasbro or Mattel stuff. The people in the toy store can actually give advice to the public, so it’s easier for everybody to decide which game is best for them.”
That sentiment might not seem so foreign today to the ways that a lot of good gaming communities operate, but it hasn’t always been that way everywhere. In the past decade, gaming has slowly gained mainstream acceptance and become something that is ‘cool’ to do. That public perception has been aided, in no small part, by places like the Randolph and their staff that knows how to make gaming fun.
Board game cafes and bars are not only a North American phenomenon. They have started popping up in Europe and Asia as well. One of the newest to make an impact is Board, run by a brother and sister team, Luke and Beth Mildenhall-Ward. In their small town of Exeter, they’ve managed to become a destination for veteran board gamers and people new to the hobby. Luke’s interest in tabletop gaming was reignited when he was abroad.
“I rediscovered board games as an adult, relatively recently in 2011, and was thrust into it, where else, but Snakes & Lattes in Canada. I instantly loved the tactility and social interaction compared with the impersonal digital games most of us have grown up with,” said Mildenhall-Ward.
Since returning home, he’s worked to turn Board into a welcoming place for everyone. Mildenhall-Ward sees the job as not just to provide a location for people to play, but also to actively grow the community.
“The number of board gamers locally is quite minor. There are a number of dedicated gamers encouraging their friends into it and a couple of local designers, but it’s very small in terms of meet ups and events. Because of this, a lot of our customers might consider us the hub of gaming locally,” he said.
Even in a small town, the team at Board are taking advantage of technology to reach out and bring people into the gaming scene.
Mildenhall-Ward explains, “Board’s Facebook open gaming group has more members than all the other local gaming groups, and we try to stay interconnected with other parts of the community as much as possible. Fortunately, we’ve introduced thousands of newcomers into the hobby since we opened, and we are continuing to push and bring board gaming to the table for new fans from all over.”
In Exeter, and England in general, board gaming hasn’t always been considered a cool thing to do. Mildenhall-Ward has started to see the shift in recent years.
“Board Gaming has always been a domain of the geeky over here, so had been relatively niche and hidden away in past years. However, thanks to the rise in the internet and online fandom, geeky interests have been crossing over with each other. Many of our customers have come to us after discovering the hugely popular TableTop YouTube show, which has been linked to from another interest in a movie, TV show, or video game. This effect is now snowballing and more and more young people, especially, are beginning to get into board games.”
With momentum going in the right direction, and, ironically, the digital world bringing people together to enjoy the analog world, the United Kingdom seems like it is an excellent destination for a board game fan.
This article originally appeared as a part of the CMON Feature Friday series.