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Board games are having a renaissance — find the right one for you


While you were distracted by serious things, board games have undergone a renaissance. Even before the pandemic, more than 4,000 new games were coming out each year, published by dozens of small companies in an industry where just a few Hasbros and Parker Brothers once succeeded. Abram Towle joins us. He's the creative director of the Nerds on Earth website. They review board games. He joins us from Milwaukee. Mr. Towle, thanks so much for being with us.

ABRAM TOWLE: Hi, thank you for having me.

SIMON: What do you think accounts for the growth of board games?

TOWLE: Well, I think a lot of it is the fact that we're living in this increasingly digital world. You know, we have screens everywhere. We've got TV, movies, video games. And board games really give us that analog entertainment in a social setting. So it allows us to have something tangible to play while really enjoying the company of family and friends.

SIMON: Have the nature of board games been changing?

TOWLE: Yeah, I mean, I think that it's sort of like craft beer, right? You know, you start with the classics - your Monopolys, your Connect Fours. Those are great. But as people play those, you know, they found that they wanted something a little off palette. And so you have all of these different, you know, board game mechanics coming out, publishers coming to the scene, and people want to play them. I mean, everything's a little bit different. And it's great to see sort of this rise in board games.

SIMON: Well, what kind of new board games?

TOWLE: One of the most popular games right now is Wingspan, which came out a couple years ago. But it's a game about birds. And you would never really think that that would be something that people grasp on to, but it's got an educational element to it. You're playing birds into different habitats, scoring points, and it's completely different than something like Monopoly where you just roll dice and move around a board. We also really like Turing Machine, which is brand new this year, and it's a competitive deduction game. So you're trying to guess a three-digit code using punch cards, very similar to, like, those original old-school punch card computers. You know, think of Alan Turing.

SIMON: The game is apparently named after Alan Turing, of course, who broke the code during World War II.

TOWLE: Right. And you're plugging in these logic suggestions like, is this third digit - is it even or odd? Or is, you know, the second digit greater than the first digit? And so, you know, it's taking this puzzle aspect and turning it into a board game. And that one's really taken the board game world by storm.

SIMON: In your experience, is it sometimes hard to interest young people in games that don't have any moving images on a video screen?

TOWLE: It can be a challenge. I think the key is to try and appeal to what people are interested in. So if you know a person is really into national parks, for example - they love the outdoors - you know, finding a game that's really approachable and accessible for them, such as Parks, published by Keymaster Games. If you can find something that people really enjoy, you know, that's automatically going to spark their interest, and that's your in for getting them into board games.

SIMON: What happens when you meet people and tell them that you're a board game maven?

TOWLE: A lot of times they ask, what's that all entail? You know, what does that mean? Are publishers just giving you games? Are you just buying games? I mean, I don't even want to show you my board game shelf and how packed it is. But it's just great because it's something that I can share with them and try to get them interested in games and say - you know, a lot of people think that, you know, the Monopolys and the Connect Fours, that that's what board games are right now. But it's evolved so much beyond that. And so to kind of get them on that path and see, wow, it really is a pretty big world of board games out there.

SIMON: Abram Towle from Nerds on Earth. Thanks very much for being with us.

TOWLE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.