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November 17, 2012

Batteries not required

Blockbuster board games are unusual, but Days of Wonder has one in its Ticket to Ride.

The already-classic cardboard game, in which players strategize over how to build the best railway routes, was released in 2004 and has worldwide sales of “several hundred thousand units per year,” said Eric Hautemont, co-founder of the Los Altos, Calif., game company.

That places it in the forefront of a blossoming independent game world, in which new titles such as monster bonanza King of Tokyo and kingdom-building game Dominion are fighting to join traditional classics such as Monopoly and Sorry.

Driven by online word of mouth on board game websites such as BoardGameGeek and by the popularity of online digital games, including Days of Wonder’s Small World, old-fashioned board games have acquired cult status and are growing in popularity.

The American board game thriller Pandemic and imports such as Carcassone and The Settlers of Catan are the titles most often cited as having fueled the table-top renaissance. They have been followed by hits such as the amusement park-themed card game Carnival, the coffee-focused strategy game Viva Java and the old New York game Tammany Hall.

Days of Wonder’s Hautemont estimated 900 games are released annually by about 40 active publishers, designed for a small but enthusiastic audience.

Russell Howell, 42, discovered the independent board game scene about five years ago, and today he maintains the LA Games group, which organizes gaming events at stores and coffee shops around Los Angeles.

“I found that designer board gaming held much of what I was looking for in a form of entertainment that video games quite often lacked: a personal connection,” Howell said.

Designing and releasing a game is not cheap. Hautemont said Days of Wonder spends about $20,000 simply to develop a game. That’s at the high end, but Hautemont’s company grossed $7 million the year Ticket to Ride was released.

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