Gamers are going analogue. And across the island, hundreds of people are meeting to enjoy this fascinating, and extremely varied, pastime finds ALIX NORMAN
You’ve played Monopoly and chess. You’ve tried Risk and Pictionary and Cluedo. But unless you’ve been an alien species rampaging across the Cosmic Encounter galaxy, you’ve never really experienced the true joy of board games, says Ramon Keoroghlouian!
Ramon is one of the team behind Cyprus Board Gamers, a local Facebook group dedicated to bringing all things board game into the public consciousness. Cosmic Encounter is his personal favourite, though he’s tried and played hundreds of tabletop games. And he has, over the last decade, seen his hobby go from niche pastime to major phenomenon. Why? Well, he has an interesting hypothesis…
“In the 80s and 90s when technology was emerging, it was exciting to be on a computer!” he explains. “But as our day to day lives began to involve more digital technology, we’ve begun to revert to the hobbies of the pre-screen era. Suddenly, there’s a whole new generation that’s constantly digitally linked, for work, for communication, for connection. And they’re now craving an after-hours experience that’s analogue…”
There’s more behind the recent boardgame trend. The internet has made tabletop games more widely known and available. Mainstream stores (such as Public and Mavros) now stock a greater array of board games. And parents who, themselves, were part of the initial rush are now introducing their kids to the pleasures of game evenings. Even TV has played a part: shows such as The Big Bang Theory, Stranger Things and Orphan Black all depict board-gaming characters.
A number of celebrities have also helped popularise the trend. Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard are known to enjoy a good game of Settlers of Catan, while Wil Wheaton’s former YouTube show Tabletop! was responsible for The Tabletop Effect – any game reviewed instantly selling out worldwide!
But Ramon seems to have nailed the crux of the matter: when digital connection is commonplace, there’s a lot to be said for an adventuresome analogue experience! Aged 37, and working as a software developer, he falls into this category himself. And so do many of the members of Cyprus Board Gamers…
“The page was launched in 2008, around the time board gaming really took off,” he explains. “Its aim was to promote the hobby and find like-minded people. And it was surprising how quickly it grew.”
Cyprus, it transpires, was actually riddled with secret board gamers – everyone from young teens disillusioned by tech to middle-aged women seeking a mental space of their own. Gathering in small groups entirely unbeknownst to each other, these localised cliques generally consisted of “people who’d discovered the hobby alone and then created groups of friends,” Ramon reveals. “Unaware that hundreds of other across the island had done exactly the same thing!
“Cyprus Board Gamers changed all that,” he continues. “It’s become a hub of connection and learning, catering to beginners and experienced board gamers alike. We have expats who relocated to Cyprus and are looking for the local scene; kids who want to learn more about board games; shops and cafés promoting their game nights.”
Posts cover everything from members’ recommendations and experiences to questions and queries. “We get asked where to purchase certain games; requests for clarification of obscure rules; for advice on which games to buy for the grandkids’ birthdays!” The page even hosts a linked group on Facebook Marketplace where members can buy and sell used games; if you’re hoping to get your hands on a decently-priced board game in Cyprus, Ramon acknowledges, this is the place to go!
With the newest boardgames often costing hundreds of euros, the Marketplace group is certainly a boon for local players. “When I first began board gaming, it wasn’t that expensive,” Ramon discloses. “But since its growth in popularity, an increase in manufacturing costs, and an improvement in both the quantity and quality of game components, we’ve definitely seen prices soar. There are manufacturers who won’t even produce games now unless they have a guaranteed $4 million-dollar interest from the get-go!”
Ramon is referencing crowdfunding – the most popular avenue for the launch of new boardgames. “In 2010, Alien Frontiers – the first boardgame to be funded on Kickstarter – raised hundreds of thousands of dollars!” Today, more and more board games – even those released by mainstream companies – are taking the crowdfunding route, and we’re seeing the emergence of specific board-game funding platforms, such as Gamefound. But even on Kickstarter, board games have remained the most popular category: recently Frost Haven, a follow-up to the hugely popular Gloom Haven, was crowdfunded to the tune of $13 million!
Most of these games fall broadly into two types: Euro Games (a category that originated in Germany, and involves strategic thinking, point scoring, and little to no luck), or Thematic Games (in which the theme is key, and there’s typically a win-lose condition). But there are any number of categories, Ramon explains. “Among the most popular themes we get Trading Competition, Cooperative, Solo, and Campaign System. And within these are hundreds of settings; Medieval Europe or a futuristic space era, for example.”
So popular has board gaming become that there’s now an annual award ceremony, a sort of Oscars for the board gaming industry. “It’s called Spiel des Jahres,” says Ramon. “A nomination can increase sales from 500 to around 10,000, while category winners can expect to sell over 30 million games almost instantly!”
Clearly, there’s a huge – and rapidly increasing – market for board games. Not least of all in Cyprus where, thanks to Cyprus Board Gamers, our once-secret gamers are now sharing their passion out into the open. And that’s really what board gaming is all about…
“At the end of the day, it’s not so much the actual game as the people you play with,” Ramon concludes. “It’s the company that makes board gaming so much fun. As in life, you get sore losers and dictatorial players. But mostly you’re just trying to help your team. And on the way, you’re having an immense amount of fun creating memories that will last forever!”
For more information, visit the Facebook page Cyprus Board Gamers