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How classic board games are bringing families closer during the pandemic

Rolling the dice and moving a few spaces is more than just a way to keep busy while quarantining.
/ Source: TODAY

To survive the reality of life, you may just need The Game of Life.

As temperatures around many parts of the country dip and winter looms, people have found an old standby to endure the uncertainty of the coronavirus while they remain holed up in the colder weather: They’re playing board games.

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Amanda Holdsworth, of Milford, Michigan, is a married mother of two girls, 5 and 9, who has been playing board games with her family since quarantine took effect back in March. She plans for that to continue.

Amanda Holdsworth says her family has been playing lots of board games during the pandemic.
Amanda Holdsworth says her family has been playing lots of board games during the pandemic.Courtesy Amanda Holdsworth

“With the winter coming, I expect it’s probably going to be a lot of weekends to where it’s, ‘OK, what’s our board game marathon going to be?’” Holdsworth, who owns a communications firm, told TODAY.

“It’s definitely something that we look forward to and I guess it kind of eases the frustrations or loneliness of having to be isolated altogether.”

The dawn of the pandemic dovetailed with the arrival of spring. People couldn’t necessarily socialize closer than six feet, but they could take bike rides outdoors or congregate in backyards as the weather warmed. Now, however, we are returning to frigid terrain. Coronavirus cases are rising in multiple states and many people are heading back indoors for what may be a long winter.

Enter board games.

Monopoly is one of many games selling well for Hasbro.
Monopoly is one of many games selling well for Hasbro.Hasbro

“I think people are seeking experiences that comfort them and looking for ways to connect to memories or past moments in their lives that made them feel safe and happy. Many of us have happy childhood memories of playing board games with family and friends so it makes sense that people want to recreate those experiences and create new memories with their families right now,” Eric Nyman, Hasbro’s chief consumer officer, wrote in an email to TODAY.

Hasbro has reported a 20% growth in sales in the third quarter of this year compared to last year at the same time.

“Our core games remain our best sellers, led by Monopoly, Jenga, Trouble, Connect 4, Sorry, The Game of Life and Operation,” Nyman said. Hepointed out that the public’s appetite for games soared shortly after quarantine began and that playing them met a critical need for consumers.

“As communities around the globe went into lockdown last March, we saw an immediate demand for our games increase. We quickly fielded global research to get consumer insights to better understand this change in behavior,” he wrote.

Even before the pandemic, UNO proved to be a hit for Mattel.
Even before the pandemic, UNO proved to be a hit for Mattel.Teri Weber / Mattel

“Using online surveys as well as hosting discussions with parents and kids in our proprietary online community, we learned more about the emotional connection consumers are having with board games given the stay-at-home world we are living in this year.

"The insights showed that games offer unique benefits that other activities do not because they require presence, are inherently inclusive and foster authentic connections across generations missing.”

Mattel has also seen an uptick in business. The company cites data from marketing company The NPD Group showing game sales are up 48% year to date.

“The games people already know have been selling really well because consumers want an experience they know will be well received and already approved,” Ray Adler, global head of games at Mattel, Inc., told TODAY, while singling out games like Apples to Apples, Blakus, Phase 10, Pictionary that are selling well. He also noted that UNO, which he calls “our flagship brand,” has grown nine consecutive quarters.

“Games are an inherently social activity that you can do at home or even virtually. We’ve heard so many good stories this year about how games have helped families get through this really tough time,” he added.

It’s not just behemoths like Mattel and Hasbro that are getting in on the fun, though.

Corporate Coffin pokes fun at office culture.
Corporate Coffin pokes fun at office culture.Courtesy Rob Reilly

Rob Reilly, a multimedia artist from Hamilton, New Jersey, has created a board game called Corporate Coffin, which he describes as “a day of work from the perspective of a creative person.”

“The whole point of the game is to be finding some sort of relief from the everyday pandemic news,” he told TODAY.

It may seem off to launch a game about office culture at a time when so many people are not in the office due to the pandemic, but Reilly says the game transcends the current world order.

“It’s relatable,” he said while noting people have had jobs they don’t love or dealt with job issues. “It’s all meant to be in good humor.”

While Reilly has entered the fray with a new offering, there’s a familiarity about many board games that people are currently playing while passing the time.

“Playing something that you played maybe decades ago with your family and maybe now you have a new family or your family has expanded and you’re able to play something that you played with your parents with your kids and I think that’s something that resonates,” Adler said.

“No matter who you’re playing with or who’s in your household, there’s a game for everybody, of all ages, skill sets and genres. And I think that’s really important right now,” Adler added.

Nostalgia may be a strong factor for adults, but there are also basic lessons to be learned for younger players. Adler cites the value of learning how to win and lose, taking turns, counting, matching and recognizing shapes and patterns.

“Almost every single game, even if you don’t think about it in that way, does provide some sort of social or educational benefit,” he said.

There’s also the matter of engaging in person, away from the seemingly omnipresent screens that have come to dominate the lives of people working on computers from home and students attending school remotely.

“Physical board games often provide a reprieve from the screen time that we’re all increasingly spending more time on right now,” Reilly said.

People also have the opportunity to marry the past and present by playing games from their childhood with their kids.

“It’s something you can share with a grandparent, a parent, a child and, again, it’s handed down, handed down, throughout the generations within your family,” Reilly said.

And while games may offer a window to the past, it’s also a way to hold onto the present, no matter how uncertain that may be.

“For me, its’s kind of holding onto that childhood as long as I can,” Holdsworth said.

“They want to play a game, they still want to play with me. I got a 9-year-old, she’s going to be a preteen soon. So when she says, ‘Hey, Mommy, can we play this game?’ I absolutely want to play with her because I’d rather her playing a game than asking me for an iPhone or an iPad or something to chat with friends or play online. I definitely think it’s great bonding.”