Digital to physical: the rise of video games-themed board games

Marie Dealessandri
Digital to physical: the rise of video games-themed board games

Bloodborne, XCOM, Minecraft, Civilization, Street Fighter, Doom, This War of Mine, The Witcher, Plague Inc...

The list is quite endless: board games based on video games are unquestionably on the rise.

And we're not even talking about all the Monopoly editions. It seems that every single successful game out there has its Monopoly version.

So what's pushing publishers and developers to turn their IPs into board games?

It is important to understand that the vast majority of board gamers are also keen video gamers,” explains Ben Hogg (pictured, right), marketing manager at UK games distributor Esdevium, whose catalogue contains licensed board games such as Warhammer Quest, Doom, Gears of War and Civilization.

Due to this, board games provide an excellent crossover audience for video games properties. When an IP moves from one gaming genre to another, that's an exciting proposition for those board gamers who are already a fan of the video games series... and even if they are not, they might be if they play the board game.”

With board games based on existing IPs, it's potentially a win-win situation. Developers, publishers, board games designers, distributors and retailers: everybody can benefit from the move... provided the adaptation is of good quality.

Like any licensed game, they benefit from a pre-existing awareness and fan base, so initial interest is already there,” Hogg says. But the challenge for the designers is to create a game that remains true to what the fans have come to expect from the property, whilst being different enough to be a new experience.”

"Now people are just 'gamers',
which is not exclusive to board or video games.
If the game is good, they'll play it."

Ben Hogg, Esdevium


That's a challenge Steamforged Games has been eager to tackle. The Stockport-based board games creator launched a Kickstarter campaign last April to fund a Dark Souls board game.

The 50.000 goal was reached in three minutes and the team ended up with over 3m.

We don't think anyone could have expected the success that it reached,” says Steamforged designer and director Rich Loxam (pictured top far right). To break so many records, have such a strong community support... We and Bandai Namco are over the moon! Praise the sun,” he laughs.

It's Steamforged's first foray into adapting a video game, and Loxam agrees that getting it right is a difficult task – especially when it comes to Dark Souls, which is known for being a Herculean challenge. That's where gamers came into play.

We have had a lot of development and refining based off backers input via the Kickstarter,” Loxam explains. It's been an exciting expe-rience to try and cram in as much Dark Souls into the game as possible while retaining the accessibility of the product.”

‘Prepare to die', ‘hardest board game you have ever played', ‘brutally hard': the Steamforged team have warned players on several occasions about the difficulty of the title.

Although the board game is hard, it reflects the nature of Dark Souls,” Loxam justifies. This isn't a board game where you can run into rooms and swing your gigantic sword around without dying... You have to think carefully about each action you do as making the wrong choice can spell your end. Although the difficulty is high, the barrier for entry is not.”

An easy setup, a satisfying quality and remaining true to the original video game, these things are all the more important when you consider that licensed board games are not exactly cheap – usually well over 30.

Due to additional royalties and fees, licensed games are usually more expensive to produce and so the retail price is generally higher,” Hogg says. As such, a gamer would expect a high degree of quality from the game to justify this higher price.” So, with that in mind, how are these games doing sales wise? It varies, depending on the IP and quality of the game, but a video games licensed board game generally is quite an exciting proposition,” he answers.

Word of mouth counts for an awful lot and gamers are generally a little wary of video game tie-ins, not just because of the higher price, but also because in the past the licence has been deemed the most important aspect of this type of game and the gameplay has suffered as a result. Although there have been some great successes, such as the Gears of War or the Civilization board game a few years ago, if the game is not up to scratch, demand will dry up and it will not get subsequent prints.”

Demand doesn't seem to dry up though, with board games sales increasing faster and faster, generally up to around 20 to 30 per cent” a year, Hogg points out. This will only increase the appeal of the market to video games developers in the future and I expect to see many more IPs converted for this audience.”

Loxam further says: The miniature board games like Dark Souls will especially attract players.

Having physical models that accurately represent the characters they know and love helps to immerse people into the world. Add in the social aspect of getting together and playing, and it's a pretty appealing mix. Board game cafes are becoming more and more popular because of this -— people want to interact with each other more than just sat around drinking, watching a film, and so on.”

The social aspect is not the only reason why licensed board games have been so huge these past few years. Hogg believes the line between video gamers and board gamers is becoming increasingly blurred.

I think because of apps, video games crossovers and new tech in board games, people are generally becoming less and less segmented in their gaming,” he says.

Now people are just ‘gamers', which is not exclusive to board games or video games. If the product is good and the theme appeals to them, they'll play it. We see this general interest at video games shows, where we will demo the latest board games offering, often having no relevance to video game properties. But it doesn't matter, people are simply after a fun experience.”

Loxam also believes video games and board games appeal to the same audience.

On our Kickstarter we saw a large number of new backers we hadn't seen before [the firm also used Kickstarter on previous product Guild Ball], indicating that there was a potential big swing of video game players backing the project. There are a lot of similar traits to board gamers and video gamers — competitive natures, collecting habits, completionists, dedication to goals... all lead to both products appealing to the same people.”

Players also want to experience different worlds in as many formats as possible – if they love a video game, they'll be eager to learn more about its universe through a board game, which will allow them to see its subtleties from another perspective. That's exactly why Steamforged wanted to design a Dark Souls board game.

There are so many different varieties and variations of location that Dark Souls begged to be presented as a board game,” Loxam enthuses. The Dark Souls board game will be a complement to the vide

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