Another year has passed and Gencon, the largest tabletop gaming convention outside of Europe, has just wrapped up its 50th year. As the oldest, and one of the most well known board games conventions in the world the event is an opportunity to see how much the tabletop industry has changed in recent months.

Earlier this month ITB’s Peter Blenkharn, a Gencon virgin, visited Indianapolis to witness the chaos first hand. Among the exhibitors both huge and tiny we learned a lot about the current state of tabletop, and noticed a handful of trends that surprised and delighted.

Some of these may seem obvious to industry insiders, but for amateurs and hobbyists interested in the pastime this rare view at the possible future of tabletop is hugely exciting. On the blog today Peter Blenkharn and Tom Ana walk you through some of the trends we’ve seen at Gencon and in recent months, and what they could mean for the future of the industry.

Image via GeekDad

Eurogames are broader than ever

It wasn’t long ago when the term ‘Eurogame’ was strictly defined by a handful of typical games (think Le Havre, Carcassone, Tigris and Euphrates). Simple (often dry) themes, low randomness and a winner-at-the-end reveal were some of the trademarks of classic Eurogames which existed largely unchanged for years.

Gencon, and a few other shows in recent months, has shown that the definitions of a Eurogame are now broader than ever. New and completely unexplored themes have emerged and pushed the boundaries of what can be considered a Eurogame – while new mechanics and ways of playing are also redefining this industry-defining archetype.

Games that don’t easily fit into classic definitions are more and more common. Whether it’s legacy elements like the upcoming Charterstone, or Champions Of Midgard’s blending of classic Eurogame with ‘Ameritrash’ production and theme, many games now exist in the places between the strictly defined categories of the past.

Outside-in(novation)

In the last few years the tabletop industry has seen incredible change and innovation. As Tom wrote about on the blog last week, these changes often spread out and filter through the industry as a whole.

In recent years these innovations have been clustered mostly around the ‘fringes’ of the hobby, namely the independent makers and publishers who are able to take risks in their approach to design and gameplay. While big companies tend to stick to what they know (and what they know will sell) these independent groups are able to push the boundaries.

At Gencon the most innovative new designs and ideas were predominantly seen coming out of independent companies rather than established brands. This trend has been seen again and again in recent years, and as the industry stratifies into a hierarchy of hundreds of small groups and a handful of much larger businesses the trend towards innovation within these smaller groups is also growing.

Quality from big names

All this is not to say, however, that big name brands don’t have a lot to offer. The reason that names like Fantasy Flight Games and other giants continue to succeed is because the products they put out are consistently good. Although innovation and experimentation is rarer the games these big names create are consistently strong, with well-tested themes, incredible artwork and solid production quality.

Older fans of tabletop, and especially those who grew up around eurogames, will remember a time when most games looked like bland spreadsheets packaged with a handful of neutral-coloured cubes. Today, however, board games are often filled with high quality components and art, as well as themes and mechanics that are tightly honed for the optimal experience.

Big names are continuing to offer these high-quality experiences, bringing things that smaller companies simply cannot compete with. Whether it’s big-name licenses like Game Of Thrones Catan, professional artwork or simple ease-of-purchasing, big companies demonstrated their strength at this year’s Gencon with an incredible selection of games that appeal to enthusiasts from all backgrounds and tastes.

One big happy family

On a quiet weekday afternoon the ITB team turned to the office group chat to see a handful of pictures from an excited Peter. Thousands of miles and several time zones away he had just spotted a man dressed as Wario cruising through the Gencon showfloor on a homemade go-kart to a soundtrack of Chamillionaire’s Ridin’ Dirty.

Wario was one of a growing number of people that took to Gencon in cosplay, marking one of the most interesting and hilarious recent trends of the show. Although Wario doesn’t have his own game (he’s not even in Monopoly Gamer’s edition!) his fan(s) have shown that it doesn’t necessarily matter when it comes to dressing the part.

Gencon this year featured crossover from all areas of nerd culture, from videogames to anime, from comic books to films – almost all aspects of geekdom were represented in some way on the show floor. As board games become a bigger part of the umbrella geek culture, and as the lines between hobbies are blurred with licensed games and brands, the crossover of these two areas continues to grow.

Image via Gnome Stew

Board games in the limelight 

Board games are a ‘fad’ that seems to be on a continual path towards mainstream success. Never mind that board games have, and will continue to be, played by people regularly across the world. Gencon, and countless other examples demonstrate that the hobby is steadily growing.

The tabletop industry is undergoing a new era of its relationship with the general public. As the stigma of shy nerds sat in a quiet cellar fades away more and more media outlets are keen to look to board games with eager fascination.

Setting aside the fact that many of these mainstream outlets tend to answer questions no one asked, or excitedly marvel at phenomena the community has known about for years – this mainstream coverage can only be a good thing overall. Gencon this year was packed with publications beyond the typical specialist hobby magazines, all eager to see find the latest trends and successes.