DAVID FOLKENFLIK, HOST:
Now let’s talk about board games. Whether you’re on your own or spending the holidays with family and friends, we’ve got game suggestions that can help you usher in the holiday cheer. Matt Jarvis is the editor of the Dicebreaker gaming site. He joins me now in talking about what’s cool and new in the gaming world. Matt Jarvis, welcome.
MATT JARVIS: Thanks for inviting me.
FOLKENFLIK: So this is year two, obviously we’re talking about games to play in the middle of a pandemic. How has the pandemic affected the gaming industry or the way people choose to branch out?
JARVIS: It’s been a year of ups and downs, I think, in the board game space, especially when the pandemic first hit. Obviously, people were confined. And we’ve seen sales of a lot of classic games – so your family games that a lot of people know about, so “Monopoly”, “Scrabble”, “Jenga”, things like that. The sales of these games increased because people suddenly went home. They had a lot of time. They spent time with their family and wanted to play these kinds of games.
We have also seen an increase in sales of some hobby games. So “Dungeons & Dragons” and its modern successors – these have grown because people have turned to online groups and video calls to continue or even start groups they already had. But particularly in 2021, we have faced a number of major challenges in the board game space, especially around the expedition, which in particular has very limited hobby games, therefore games. apart from “Monopoly” and “Scrabble”. So people might be familiar with things like “Settlers Of Catan” or “Carcassonne” or “Ticket To Ride”.
FOLKENFLIK: Let’s take an example here, let’s help some people. Let’s talk about a game that caught your attention this year. Tell us why it stood out.
JARVIS: There is a game that recently saw a re-release called “Happy Salmon”. And it’s a game that originally came out a few years ago and has a relatively small release. And now he sees a reissue from the makers of Exploding Kittens, a very popular card game. And…
FOLKENFLIK: (Laughs) Just the name.
JARVIS: Yes, “Happy Salmon” is incredibly simple and just involves doing four actions. So you bang your fist, you hit five, you run a happy salmon – which slaps your wrists in a certain way, like a beating fish – or you switch places. And the idea is just to match your own deck of cards with someone else’s. Perform this action and you both discard the card. The first person to get rid of all their cards wins.
So it’s this very frenetic game where everyone yells at each other about high fives and happy salmon, punches and all kinds of things. And it plays in about 30 seconds, two minutes maximum. But this is just a pure explosion of energy. It’s incredible.
FOLKENFLIK: Names of course are like 80% of the fun for me.
FOLKENFLIK: How about a game for isolated and lonely people this year again, something that can be played solo or with partners online?
JARVIS: I think one of the great things, even before the pandemic hits, is that more and more games are aimed at single player players. So one game that came out a few years ago but has just surpassed one million sales – which in board game terms is a significant number, especially in less than three years – is Wingspan. And it’s about collecting birds and putting them in the right habitats. And it’s a game that really got a lot of excitement when it first came out, in part because of the original theme, and it’s very true to the theme.
So all the birds on the bridge – I think there are about 150 that are North American birds. They are all relatively real-life based. So the number of eggs they lay is as true as you can get in a game. And it’s wonderful because when you place each bird, it will play the bird call. So they all have different bird calls in there. And it will also read a fact about the bird and really give it an educational feel, where you learn things about these birds. So, yeah, I think it’s one of those games that’s going to become a classic.
FOLKENFLIK: What about an intergenerational game that can be enjoyed by grandparents and grandchildren?
JARVIS: I think for an intergenerational game it’s worth pointing out things like quitting the game, which is part of a kind of continuing trend of “Escape Room In A Box” games. So escape rooms are you go to a place, and you’re basically locked in a room for an hour. And the room is filled with puzzles. So, to find your way, you have to solve a variety of puzzles, and each puzzle will normally direct you to the next puzzle in the series. So you might be looking in books, looking for some sort of hidden code. You might be finding keys or placing items in a certain pattern.
And “Escape Room In A Box” games take that but put it in one box so you can play at home. So instead of going to one place and being locked in a separate room, you just open the box and all the puzzles are inside the box. So it’s something that relies more on people working together to solve a series of puzzles. And I think that way it’s pretty intergenerational because since you would have people going for the journal and working on crossword puzzles together, you can have different people excelling at different aspects of each puzzle. So someone can be very good at organizing things into patterns. Someone may be good at puns or numbers.
And these exit games – they’re relatively inexpensive, and they play in about an hour. So it’s not a big investment. They are very simple. So I think they’re ideal for families who are just looking for a way to spend an afternoon together.
FOLKENFLIK: So my cool colleagues on the show tell me the nostalgia is big this year, the ’90s are back and everything old is new again, from clothes to styles to music. What does it look like for games?
JARVIS: Yeah, well, nostalgia is always a big factor in games. So a lot of the games that came out 20, 30, 40 years ago are still going strong now. I mean, for example, you watch “Monopoly”. “Monopoly” is almost a century old and still going strong. And it still has new editions coming out based on modern trends, like the “Fortnite” video game or the latest movie. And we also see it in other games.
FOLKENFLIK: I understand that “Pokemon’s” has yet another moment.
JARVIS: Yeah. So it’s actually part of the ’90s revival, I guess. Although “Pokemon’s” never left. So, over the past year or so, we’ve seen celebrities pay incredible amounts of money for unique Pokemon cards, so just those tiny rectangles of cards. So last October rapper Logic paid around – I mean it was around $ 300,000 for a 1999 Charizard. And that started that kind of buying and selling phenomenon that has continued this year. .
So you’ve seen celebrities like Steve Aoki – he’s a DJ – and Logan Paul, who’s a YouTuber – they just spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on unique Pokemon cards. So it’s been a year since Pokémon cards are back in the news because of the money they bring. But so is it – the celebrities who bought them also led many people to discover or rediscover them and come back to the game.
FOLKENFLIK: We spoke with Matt Jarvis. He is the editor of the games website and YouTube channel Dicebreaker. Thanks, Matt.
JARVIS: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.