Modern games are by no means cheap. While hobby gamers rarely blink at a $50-$60 price tag for a board game, most shoppers gasp loudly when they see our prices. We’ve heard such gasping many times in the shop, and because of this we have to continually convince ourselves that the games we carry are worth the price.
Typically when gamers defend game prices, they compare the cost of a game to the cost of seeing a movie with family or friends. Nowadays you’ll pay about $10-15 per person for a new release on the big screen, so a group of 4 will spend $40-$60 for a few hours of entertainment. Compare this to a similarly priced board game that can entertain a group of 2 or more people for anywhere from 2-30+ hours, and the game should be the better value.
But is the comparison between board games and movies really valid? A movie is a very and largely non-social experience, providing a few hours of often mind-numbing relaxation. A board game, on the other hand, requires some effort, not only to read and understand the rules, but to make challenging choices during the game and resist the urge to scream at your opponents when they utterly trash all of your plans for victory. We see movies to be entertained, the movie does all the work, and it could care less if we are watching or not. Games require that we do all the work, and the game breaks down if players provide no input. So, while a board game seems to provide more bang for your buck than a movie, the experiences are too different to compare, and for most people a movie is a better bargain precisely because it is a less demanding and perhaps more relaxing experience.
Video games are a bit more appropriate for comparison with board games. Both are games, and therefore require some user input. Both are similarly priced as well.Yet, despite the similarities, many households now have at least a shelf full of video games, and the expensive apparatus to run them, while a much smaller number of households have a shelf of actively played board games. So why does the $40-$60 price tag for a video game not bother as much as the same price on a board game? Again, I think it comes down to the amount of effort involved in playing a board game, video games still do most of the work for you, and you can largely just sit back and watch the show. Video games can also be played alone, allowing one to escape social reality for a while.
What activity, then, can we compare board games to if we want some accurate sense of their value for your dollar? I think sports actually provide a great comparison. Like board games, athletic games are active and social. Also like board games, many sporting activities have a high entry cost. Baseball, for example, requires the purchase of a bat, some balls, and some gloves. Even the casual soccer player needs a decent pair of shoes. Sports and board games both provide an escape from the sometimes overwhelming responsibilities of everyday life while still requiring social interaction. Both activities also challenge some aspect of ourselves. Athletic games challenge the body while board games stimulate the mind and foster creativity. Now this physical vs. mental comparison unearths the age-old high school jocks vs. nerds rivalry, which in large part still subtly exists in the collective unconscious. But if we grow up and accept reality, in terms of value, neither is better than the other, and both are vital.
Despite the similarities between athletic activities and board games, one major difference still remains – the barrier to entry. Sporting games generally make sense, take very little explaining, and don’t require reading a rulebook. Board games, on the other hand, are often confusing at first and require reading cryptic rulebooks. No matter what comparisons we make, this is where board games lose all value for many people, the effort required is too great, and too uninteresting. Sometimes it just feels too much like work. As far as entertainment spending goes, board games require more effort per dollar than really any other product on the market.
But the mental challenge and sometimes frustrating social interactions involved in playing board games are precisely why I, and many other hobby gamers, enjoy games so much. For us the effort of learning a game, the often painful brain-burning choices made during the game, and the social challenges are what give games their unique value. Board games are not for everyone, but they are anything but expensive when compared to other forms of entertainment. In addition to playing board games, I rock climb, mountaineer, fly fish, see movies, and play video games. And honestly, board games are insanely cheap when lined up with these other activities. I think ultimately, it is not just the price of the game that induces gasping, it is more the concept of paying any amount of money for entertainment that requires mental work.
Now the sales pitch: we try very hard at Cloud Cap to reduce the barrier to entry for board games, because we know that if that wall is breached, most people will find a very rewarding experience on the other side. So step into our demo room and let us help you learn a game. Or take a game home from our rental library, and if you don’t want to read the rules, watch a tutorial on YouTube. Better yet, come to one of our many game nights and learn from someone who really wants to teach you their favorite games. If you find a game you like and can play it for a lifetime with friends and family, you’ll discover that eventually, bang for buck, board games explode for just pennies.