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Board Games: How A Paper-Based Pastime Is Enjoying A Revival

Board games have enjoyed something of a resurgence in recent years. In fact, in 2019, over 4,500 new games – we’re talking analogue, not digital – were released compared to just 595 in the heady, pre-digital days of 1980.[1]

Before we delve into the whys and wherefores of this quite remarkable renaissance, let’s look at the history of board games.

A Brief History Of Board Games

The ancient Egyptians were playing board games some 5,000 years ago. There are depictions of Queen Nefertari playing senet, a popular game at the time, on the wall of her tomb, while King Tutankhamun was buried with five game boxes.[2]

Over the centuries, games have evolved and been adapted across cultures and societies. Some of the games we play today have their origins in ancient cultures.

The earliest form of chess can be traced back to an Indian strategy game called chaturanga in approximately 600 AD, although its origins could be much earlier.[3] It’s believed that the board game Go, popular in East Asia, was being played in China as long ago as the second millennium BCE.[4]

Backgammon originated in sixth century Iran while Nine Men’s Morris (also known as Merrills), popular in the Middle Ages in Britain, France and Germany, dates back to Roman times. The ever-popular children’s game of snakes and ladders can be traced back to sixteenth century India.[5]

With the growth in education in industrial-revolution Britain, the idea of educational play became popular. Board games, with their requirement for collaboration, critical and strategic thinking, grew in popularity, although they would have been affordable only to the wealthy.

The first commercially produced board game was the Mansion of Happiness, made in 1800 by Englishman George Fox.[5] Later known as Ludo, it was based on the Indian game Pachisi. The first edition of Mansion of happiness featured copperplate engraving and painted watercolours. [6] Later editions were printed lithographically, which is still the method used for the mass production of board games today.

The Role Of Paper And Paperboard In Board Game Production

Board game production is another example of the versatility – and durability – of paper as a material.  It’s interesting that the first use of a cardboard box is believed to have been for a board game made in Germany in 1817, called ‘The Game of Besieging’.[7] The game also features a game board made from card decorated with hand-coloured etching.

Early game boards would have been made from wood or stone or even scratched into the earth; however, with the advent of printing technology and the development of paperboard, which at the time would have been a thick paper containing linen or cotton fibre, it was possible to produce games on a commercial basis.

Today, paper and paperboard are still the primary materials used in the production of board games thanks to their availability in a multitude of thicknesses, weights and sizes; printability; ease of cutting, creasing and folding; durability and sustainability.

Board game packaging can be plain and simple, brightly coloured for children, or grown-up and luxurious, depending on the cost and the nature of the game.

Stored in a dry place – not too hot, not too cold – board games will last for years and even decades.

Why So Many New Games?

The classic board games many of us have grown up with – Monopoly, Scrabble, Cluedo, Trivial Pursuit and Risk – are still hugely popular. In 2022, Monopoly had almost a 32% share[8] of the global board games market, probably in no small part because it lends itself so well to personalisation for different audiences.

However, the renaissance of board games we mentioned at the beginning of this article is largely a result of the proliferation of independent board games, many funded by board game enthusiasts through platforms such as Kickstarter. Popular games funded this way include Exploding Kittens, Gloomhaven and The Witcher.[9]

Advances in printing technology are also making this growth in new titles possible. Traditional printing, such as lithographic printing, involves numerous stages of production, which can be time-consuming and expensive. As such, it lends itself well to mass production.

Digital printing by contrast – similar to a large office printer – requires little more than the upload of a digital image to a computer, allowing the printing of a single copy. It means games can be printed on demand, so there is no need for copies to be printed and stored in large warehouses awaiting sale. It also means that even individuals can have their own board game manufactured!

Playing Board Games Is A Social Experience

Most people’s experience of playing board games is probably within a home environment, often at Christmas. It’s a great way for different generations to come together and have fun – and discover that Auntie Pauline has a seriously ruthless competitive streak.

These days, however, playing board games doesn’t have to be confined to home. Gaming is a growing social scene with cafes, clubs and local game stores popping up offering a place to meet with friends, make new ones, and hire a board game to play while enjoying a coffee and something to eat. It’s a great way to try out some of the newer games as well as the more traditional.

Have An Idea For Your Own Board Game?

A quick internet search of ‘print your own board game’ reveals a plethora of printers and board game manufacturing specialists that offer custom printing to individuals looking for one-off or small production runs.

Recycling Board Games

While most of us keep board games for years, they can sometimes become damaged, or pieces lost, making play impossible. When a game reaches this stage, any paper components, such as game cards, instructions, the board and the box, can be separated from other materials and placed in kerb-side paper recycling.

Buy Sustainably

When buying a new board game, make sure the packaging carries an FSC or PEFC logo as a sign that the paper used in its production is from a sustainable source.

The Paper Fact File

Paper is one of the most sustainable and recycled materials in the world!

Visit the Paper Fact File to discover the facts about paper’s sustainable attributes. Some might surprise you!