Though the board game aisle at your local store has been steadily shrinking for decades — hours of rainy-day fun nearly made Dodo-bird extinct by the flashing, beeping, blipping, blooping appeal of digital games and life online — card games and board games have actually seen a surprising resurgence in recent years, and not just among the "Chutes and Ladders" set. These days, board and card games for adults are a billion-dollar industry, with a lot of the seed money to create and publish new games provided via crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter. Local fans, vendors and creators of tabletop games say the social experience of playing a sit-down game with friends is never going to be matched by anything trapped inside a screen.
Josh Wilhelmi is the owner and general manager of Game Goblins, a card and board game shop in Little Rock. Opened in April 2012, the store features both a retail space and play area where customers can play games they've purchased, ones they've brought from home, or games selected from a demo cabinet. Wilhelmi said the underground popularity of board and card games is a response to the world becoming increasingly digital. He calls board gaming "Unplug and Play."
"Think about all the times during the day that we interact with technology," he said, "but how often do we truly interact with people? That's what tabletop gaming allows people to do. It's a way that friends, or people that were looking to make friends, can get together and have a fun time."
Wilhelmi said the hallmark of a good tabletop game is usually that it has a "low barrier for entry," meaning the rules aren't too complicated for a beginner to learn. He said faster-paced games that can be completed in an hour to an hour-and-a-half are also popular. There's a little something for everyone these days, he said, from 9 to 90 years old. "If you're not competitive, we have cooperative games," Wilhelmi said. "If you're very competitive, we have ultra-competitive games. If you like collecting things, we've got that. If you like painting things, we've got miniature wargames."
Chris Bruner, owner of Galaxy Games in Springdale, agrees that tabletop gaming offers a more relaxing social experience than online or digital gaming. "A video game doesn't have a face," Bruner said. "You're not able to sit across from other players and actually talk to them. You can go on Skype, but you're never able to interact with the people in the room."
Bruner said that when he started his shop last spring, it was mainly focused on collector card gaming like the 20-year-old industry powerhouse Magic: The Gathering. After he began carrying board games, however, he got deeply into playing them. "I didn't think I'd enjoy them as much as I did," he said. "I've come to find out that there are many people who enjoy them. It's not just your run of the mill stereotype of the nerd." The keys to creating a good game, Bruner said, are keeping the attention of players, allowing players to interact, and having sharp production values and good art to give players something to look at between turns. Both independents and established companies are putting out good games these days, he said.
"The newer board games have become a very good thing," Bruner said. "Mainly, it's because you're not worried about winning so much as you are about enjoying your time with your friends. While you're playing, you're not really competing to win the whole thing. You're trying to see what you can do to make the best play, the best option for you."
Both Wilhelmi and Bruner said that crowdfunding sites have been a boon to the card and board game world, allowing both independent and more established creators to produce new games and expansion packs for old favorites. One of the independent game producers who has benefited from this approach is Little Rock's Adam Hogg, who plans to start selling his card game People-Person in June.
A musician and stand-up comedian who works a day job as an accountant, Hogg said he started playing a card game called Illuminati three years ago and was soon coming up with an idea for a game of his own. A card game is a natural fit for him. "I've grown up playing with cards," he said. "I was really into card [based] magic when I was younger, so having cards in my hand was always a big thing I did."
Hamstrung by a lack of artistic skill, he enlisted the help of local artists Chris Raymond, Sean "Sulac" Sapp and Phillip Rex Huddleston. A crowdfunding effort through Indiegogo provided $4,500, which he put toward a bank loan of $8,000 for the game's production cost.
Hogg sent the final artwork for the game off to a manufacturer last week. Manufacturing 1,000 copies of the game will take eight-to-nine weeks, and Hogg hopes to have copies for sale and demo play in local coffee shops, bars and bookstores by mid-June.
The game features 73 "people" cards — featuring artwork and descriptions of quirky characters, which can either become the player's "friends" or "family" — and 113 "event" cards, including happenings both fortuitous and catastrophic. The goal of the game is to get 10 points in each of seven categories: authenticity, charisma, comfort, confidence, knowledge, respect and security. The game will retail for $25, and Hogg said he's already received 250 pre-orders. You can watch a video about the game at the People-Person website, peoplepersongame.com.
Hogg said his strong math background helped him in the creation of the game's rules, which were amended after the game had been played a few times by testers, mainly to speed up play.
"I've tried to do other things before," he said. "I've written a book, and I quickly realized that I'm not the best writer. ... With this game, I feel like I'm a little bit more sound, because it is math-oriented, as far as behind the scenes goes. You've got to make sure all your math is right, and you've got to account for random scenarios as far as what shows up in your hand."
Hogg said the appeal of a game like People-Person is both social and economic. "You buy a game and you get good at it," he said, "and before you know it, you've spent 80 hours on that game and it cost you 20 bucks. It's also a bonding thing. For a while, I didn't really play games unless I was around family. But now that I'm an adult, whenever we're just sitting around doing nothing, I play games with my friends all the time."
Hogg said that People-Person will be available in several local comic book and game shops, including Game Goblins. He hopes to get it carried by Barnes and Noble in Little Rock and North Little Rock. His ultimate goal is to find a distributor. The first shipment of 1,000 will go to his apartment, he said, which will leave him a bit cramped for space. As for his future as a game producer, Hogg said that his next goal is to produce a board-based option that allows players to use the People-Person cards to play a completely different game. Still, he said he's not planning on turning into the next Milton Bradley, even if People-Person turns out to be a hit.
"I have some ideas, but I haven't got them all sorted out," he said. "I'll probably do another game at some point, but as far as 10 or 12 games, no, I probably won't. It'll probably be a two-and-done thing."