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The Best Sellers of 2016 and the Future of the Board Game Industry

Us nerds love to chuck dice.

When the arithmetic was tallied at the end of 2016, it was shown that the board gaming industry had seen 8 straight years of growth. Thanks, Obama.

In fact, the hobby channel grew over 10% in 2016 and Bob Brynildson of Source Comics and Games in Roseville, Minnesota said that hobby board games are “getting a little bit of major market attention.” That can swing the sales on an item by thousands of units.

I can attest to that. With Source being one of my favorite FLGS (Friendly Local Gaming Shop), I have witnessed the increased foot traffic and the inventory changes that Source has made to keep up with demand.

The Future of the Board Game Industry

But can board games see a 9th year of 10% growth or will the glut of new games in 2017 finally be more than the market can support? Here are four possible outcomes for the future of the board game industry:

1. Keep on that train. Why start pessimistic? Let’s imagine a future of the board game industry where it can continue on those rails of sweet monetary success. After all, they are on a positive trajectory and the many reasons to play hobby board games is winning over more and more converts. The industry might simply keep on, keeping on.

2. The Kickstarter bubble bursts. We also know that consumer habits are fickle and that Kickstarter is playing a huge role in bringing board games to market. A couple high profile flops or simple over-saturation could almost certainly also mean a systemic unwillingness to take chances, instead relying on their core titles and expansions only, hoping to continue to appeal to long-time fans with known commodities.

Two other things to note about Kickstarter and board games:

  1. It is creating pressure on retail. If a popular CMON (Cool Mini or Not) game like Zombicide sells 30,000 copies through Kickstarter, how much wiggle room is left for the retail market. In short, why should your FLGS stock Kickstarter games?
  2. A couple high profile Kickstarter delays could sour the industry as well. And with the industry’s reliance on China to keep costs down, any disruptions in that trading market could ripple downstream quickly.

3. Retreat and get comfortable. Eights years of continuous growth could create a sense of complacency in retail. If they don’t continue to stay nimble and innovate, all these hard won new customers could just as easily dry up.

Under this future scenario, board games will return to being a niche. The hobby would continue, but it wouldn’t thrive. Creativity would be gone and there would little diversity in the titles. If Zombicide 9 would be cheap to make, the sequel would simply be pushed to market, hoping to get short term gains out of a complacent core audience.

4. The playmat expands. Encouraged by the recent success of innovative mainstream titles like Pandemic Legacy, board gamers of all genders, races, ages, and creeds could be welcomed into the hobby. This could lead to a further diversity among genres, styles, and themes. Inspired by a more diverse base, new niches could thrive and their success could raise all ships, bringing steady growth to the industry.

Image: Chris Norwood on BGG

The Best Sellers of 2016

But the above hypotheticals are simply us trying to predict the future, which is difficult even for wizards. Let’s close this thing with the here and now, celebrating 2016, another great year for hobby board gaming. Below are the best sellers of 2016 by category. I’ll link our review if we have one and a purchase link if we don’t.

Top 7 Board Games

  1. Pandemic – Z Man Games
  2. Scythe – Stonemaier Games
  3. Betrayal at House on the Hill – Wizards of the Coast
  4. Star Wars Imperial Assault – Fantasy Flight Games
  5. Mansions of Madness – Fantasy Flight Games
  6. Carcassone – Z Man Games
  7. Ticket to Ride – Days of Wonder

Top 7 Card and Dice Games

  1. Magic: The Gathering – Wizards of the Coast
  2. Pokémon – Pokemon USA
  3. Cards Against Humanity
  4. Codenames – Czech Games Edition
  5. Dice Masters – Wizkids
  6. Exploding Kittens – Exploding Kittens, LLC
  7. Superfight – Skybound

Top 3 Roleplaying Games

  1. Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition – Wizards of the Coast
  2. Pathfinder – Paizo
  3. Star Wars – Fantasy Flight

Top 3 Miniatures Games

  1. Star Wars X-Wing – Fantasy Flight
  2. Warhammer 40K – Games Workshop
  3. Warhammer Age of Sigmar – Games Workshop

Of course, those are just the top sellers and the most popular isn’t always synonymous with best. There is so much more out there in the world of hobby board gaming to explore. That’s what Nerds on Earth is here for.

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