From 2016 to 2020, I belonged to a board game group which typically played a new game every week. Meanwhile, my parents still play Scrabble every day, sometimes twice a day. Two very different extremes.
My parents are in good company. In a newsmaker survey of 1,059 U.S. adults, 54% of adults would prefer to play a board game that they had played before, while just 16% would prefer to play a board game new to them (20% have no preference, and 10% don’t play board games). While the 16% who prefer something new—sometimes derisively called “The Cult of the New”—is a small segment, obviously they are a key segment, being the primary purchasers of newly published board games.
I’ve written before about “The Cult of the Old,” particularly the obsession with Monopoly and variants of Monopoly. My hypothesis has been that people prefer playing the same board games because they don’t like to learn the rules to new board games. Yet card games have easier rules than board games, and 61% of card-game players prefer old games. And video games and mobile games teach the rules through play, as you go along, yet 43-44% prefer to play games they’ve played before. So unlike with movies or books, when it comes to games as entertainment, in general people prefer what’s familiar.
Now some interesting behavioral data comes from Yucata.de, a site where people can play board games online against one other. I updated my analysis from 2016 with recent data, looking at the 200 games published on the site.
Games on the site do best their second month, then drop steadily. But a game can debut anytime during the month, meaning if we prorate the plays per day, assuming the games come out on the 15th day on average, the first month has the highest rate per day. In this way, Yucate.de games are more like movies: a great opening weekend, then dwindling interest each week.
This platform is not perfect: these are all games that have already been published as physical products, so the electronic release is an adaption, perhaps meeting pent-up or pre-established interest.
I’ve been thinking about the Cult of the Old and the Cult of the New recently as I rediscover old games. Two weeks ago, I played Galaxy Trucker for the first time since one play at a convention in 2010; we’ve now played it four times and are still enjoying it. In December, I played Star Trek Panic five times, a game I played once in 2017 and once in 2018, that is now no longer even published. While I prefer the new, I’m making more time for games I’ve played before.
Methodological note: In my 2016 analysis, I included data from early months where games were being beta tested; for instance, Alchemist was publicly released in September 2009 but listed 1 to 6 plays a month in the months before that. I’ve omitted beta-testing data from this updated analysis.