The UK’s gaming sector now worth more than video and music combined and accounts for more than fifty per cent of Britain’s entire entertainment market. Video games are big business, but they have not replaced the board games and card games of old. Long-established games like Monopoly or Scrabble are enjoying a resurgence and independent board games are also on the rise, with industry analysts predicting that the worldwide board game market will be worth more than £9bn by 2023. It is no longer considered a niche activity to have game night amongst friends or to head to a dedicated board game cafe for an evening’s entertainment with some friends.

Nonetheless, technology has changed traditional games, with millions of people choosing to play the app-based versions of traditional puzzles and board games on their smartphones or other connected devices every day.

Puzzles and board games come to touchscreens

Board games have long been a great way for groups of friends or family to pass the time together, with a board set out on the kitchen table and everyone huddled around to buy hotels for Mayfair or Park Lane, plot to take over the world, or come up with another five-letter word that starts with “Q”. However, in the current socially-distanced world these physical games limit who you can play with to just the people you are quarantined alongside – enter the touchscreen.

Whilst their is certainly some nostalgic joy from the act of placing down your tiles or counting through your paper money with a traditional board game, virtual board games mean you can play with anybody, no matter where they are. Maybe you want to play with some friends who live abroad or maybe you just want to add an activity to the next family Zoom call – thanks to the app-based versions of most of these games you can now play with whoever you like, whenever you like – and you won’t even have to deal with lost pieces!

The popularity of the app-based versions of these traditional games should not be underestimated. The game development firm Zynga became a multi-billion dollar company on the back of relaunching digital alternatives to the like of Scrabble (Words with Friends), Pictionary (Draw Something), and others. In 2012, both Draw Something and Words With Friends were seeing around 10 million active daily users – an impressive feat at a time before smartphones and always-on internet connections were as ubiquitous as they are today.

Digital puzzles are extraordinarily popular too. When most people think of tabletop puzzles they think of jigsaws of everything from a beautiful castle scene to a tricky gradient, none of which work particularly well in digital form, but the sector is actually much broader. Cluedo (or Clue for our American friends) remains wildly popular both as a board game and as an app, with players trying to determine who killed Miss Scarlett with what and where. And on the iOS and Google Play app stores puzzles like The Witness and Evergarden are some of the most popular games on the whole platform.

Card games go online

Card games have long been popular with travellers thanks to the pocketable-size of a pack and the variety of games you can play. And whilst few of us carry cards in our backpacks anymore, our smartphones offer those very same games and more in a touchscreen device that is not much bigger.

Poker remains as popular as ever, with games live streamed around the world thanks to platforms like Twitch, which let thousands of people tune in to watch people plat for pots worth tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds. And the dozens of different styles of Poker mean that the game is popular both with highrollers and those happy to play for free for the enjoyment of its unique blend of chance, skill, and bluffing.

Other less glamorous games like Solitaire, Bridge, and Knock Out Whist also continue to be mainstays in app store top ten lists, with new variations being developed all the time. Only the most committed solo-card players will have heard of all the iterations of solitaire offered by Microsoft Solitaire Collection – “Tri Peaks Solitaire” anyone?

Beyond the 52-card deck, other popular card-based games like Uno and Exploding Kittens also have app-based versions available for download on both iOS and Android.

Games of chance

Whilst millions of people love strategy, puzzle, and other types of games both in board game form and on their phones, games of chance have also moved to the digital realm. You can now play the National Lottery and buy scratch cards online or via apps, and whilst the odds of winning remain the same you do benefit from having your tickets and cards stored online so you won’t have to dig behind the sofa cushions to try and find your ticket if your numbers do come up. Certain lotteries will even automatically let you know if you’ve won, so you no longer need to tune in to the TV broadcast or check the numbers in the (digital) paper.

Other games of chance, such as Roulette and Craps have also made the jump online, but whilst many online casinos will verify their random number generator to show the exact chance players have of winning, they do lose some of their appeal without the hubbub of the casino floor.

No matter what games you are into, there will now be an app for that. Board games remain popular thanks to their ability to bring people together, but as the world moves ever more virtual there will soon be a whole generation that has grown up with digital games as their primary gaming experience and that shift is the march to the future.


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