Utah Policy Holiday Shoppers Guide: Unplug This Year With A Heaping Pile of Board Games

Every year for Christmas since they got married, Melissa and Steve Johnson have given themselves new board games. As their collection topped over 150, this year they’re only going to get one new game – something to pull out to play with the kids on holidays, Sunday afternoons, or otherwise.


“The goal is to engage the family and get people talking,” said Melissa Johnson, who is also mayor of West Jordan. “These games teach verbal and other skills that are lost in the digital age.”

The Johnsons are not alone in their love of board and card games. The tabletop gaming industry is in its fifth consecutive year of growth and articles on the financial success of the board game industry have appeared in high profile outlets such as NPR, Forbes, and others. The Guardian wrote:

Many [games] are easy to learn, tremendous fun and a great deal more rewarding than the likes of Hungry Hippos. They exercise the grey matter, pull families and friends away from laptops and TVs and, where Monopoly may present a familiar trudge around a pale green circuit, titles such as Ticket to Ride or Memoir ’44 deliver nailbiting face-offs, beguiling depth and, most importantly, really can fill a room with cheers and jeers.

While that may be sad news for all the Hungry, Hungry Hippo fans out there, it’s good news for the rest of us. Board games are so popular in Utah that the Deseret News published not one but two articles on the subject this year.

“I think board games attract people who are strategic thinkers,” said Jennifer Scott, aide to Rep. Jason Chaffetz. “For me, they satisfy the same strategic and competitive itch that sucked me into politics.”

Indeed, board game sales are increasing as video game sales are dropping. While the board game hobby offers an engaging offline alternative to Yet More Internet, the board game industry has leveraged the Internet extremely well to enhance visibility and sales. This includes online forums like Board Game Geek, YouTube channels like Table Top, and podcasts like The Dice Tower.

“Too much of our time these days occurs with us facing some sort of digital medium – whether smartphone, tablet, computer, or TV,” said Dice Tower host Tom Vasel, himself a father of six children. “Board games allow families to interact face to face, forcing kids to work with social cues and each other. Beyond that, they are seriously fun!”

The Johnson family particularly enjoys cooperative games, where everyone wins or loses together. Their favorite games are The Great Dalmuti, a light card game, and Encore, a singing game.

“It’s not like Monopoly,” Johnson said. “I don’t even own Monopoly.”

Tomorrow we’ll look at how one Utahn is using the Internet to bring his board games from his mind to the table!