Families get on board with fast, easy games for Christmas

Rebecca Smithers
Photograph: Powys Photo/Alamy Stock Photo

Tired of Trivial Pursuit? Weary of Cluedo? Board games are booming in the run-up to Christmas, but this year shoppers are stocking up with “quick, pick-up and go” options with idiot-proof rules learnable in minutes.

Hardy perennial “big board” games such as Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit have dropped out of John Lewis’s Christmas top 10, elbowed aside by easy-to-learn, portable games such as Dobble and Bananagrams.

Sales of Dobble, a fast-paced observation game where players race to match the identical symbol between a series of round cards, are up 26% on last year, the retailer reports, while Bananagrams, an American import hailed by aficionados as a high speed version of Scrabble, is also popular. In its stores and online, sales of games are up 17% on last year.

Market research group NPD, which tracks 70% of the UK toy trade, says Dobble has become the bestselling game in the UK over the last year, while games have generally proved their resilience and were this year the second best-performing category, after action figures.

Lucy Benham, John Lewis games buyer, said: “Over the past five years we have seen a big change in the types of games UK households most like to play. One of the reasons we have seen easy-to-learn games like Dobble and Bananagrams grow in popularity for Christmas is that – even after they have had a big lunch and a few drinks – it’s easy to get people involved and the speed of the game keeps everyone entertained. People also want games which get everyone laughing rather than those which are known for leading to arguments.” Frédérique Tutt, global toy analyst for NPD said: “Consumers like playing games where rules are quickly and easily understandable. Some brands are even developing online videos to explain the rules since it seems we are not patient enough to read the small print in leaflets and on boxes.”

Games expert and self-styled “toyologist” Peter Jenkinson added: “It’s not that consumers are being lazy – it’s more about them having a bigger choice of quick and affordable pick-up and go games which they can carry around with them. They are still playing strategy games such as Jaws and Pandemic.” He also singles out “homegrown” games such as The Sock Game – devised by brothers Jono and Nick Green based on a game using their father’s walking socks. Now distributed by toy giant Spin Master, it sold out in many retailers last year after being highlighted on Phillip Schofield’s How to Spend it Well at Christmas on ITV.

Dozens of board game cafes have sprung up across the UK – inspired by their growing popularity in the US – while influencers and celebrities from Zoe Sugg to Jessica Alba and Cristiano Ronaldo post regularly about their game-playing antics.

Lifestyle blogger and influencer Bibi Bagnall, aged 23, is typical of the young generation who enjoy regular games nights with friends. “We all put our phones into a pile and are not allowed to reach for them. We all switch off from the digital world and actually engage with each other in the moment. We get wine or fizz and some snacks and have a cosy night in. What Do You Meme? and Cards Against Humanity have provided the most giggles so far this year.”

Even “geeky gamers” are benefiting from innovation triggered by crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter. James Bradley, 38, a London-based board game designer, recently raised £30,000 to create Civitas Nihilium, a solo-player game set within a cyberpunk universe. “I started as a kid playing Dungeons and Dragons. Despite today’s digital sophistication, nothing beats the kicks from a tabletop game,” he says.

But Monopoly is still the UK’s number one game brand overall. Juliet Ward, head of toy buying at Argos, said: “Families still see the value of board games that bring them together over the festive period and we expect to sell over half a million board games in the week leading up to Christmas alone. Complex games such as Monopoly offer families maximum play value and are the perfect way to ensure they spend quality time together. New versions of classic favourites, such as Monopoly Voice Banking, give an updated twist and it is expected to be one of our most fast-tracked products on Christmas Eve.”