Updating board games

For those of us who have grown up playing Monopoly, Clue, and Life, here’s a thought to consider: Perhaps the games have grown up with us, too. Monopoly, which has always been the classic game of hoarding little colored strips of paper (i.e., Monopoly “money”) has now been updated to being the classic game of hoarding millions in little plastic cards with Visa logos on them.

The updating of games doesn’t end with Monopoly; a new version of Battleship produces “the explosive sounds of real-life warfare,” and a new version of Life has an electronic “lifepod” that helps players keep track of their money, property, and time. Even something like Candyland hasn’t been spared. In the Dora the Explorer edition of Candyland, the traditional gingerbread pawns are replaced by new characters: Dora, Boots, Diego, and Backpack.

Then of course, there are the theme games. We now have a game on practically every Disney movie ever produced, and a whole set of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter games. There is even a LOTR version of Monopoly, in which money becomes power, houses change to fortresses, and the player tokens are replaced by Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Frodo, Galital, and Gandalf. A Simpsons-style Life has players living in Springfield, USA, having unexpected visits from sisters-in-law, and trying to lose weight. There are even themed chess boards which feature villains and heroes from different TV shows and movies instead of black and white chess pieces.

Anne Moffa, an employee at Phantom of the Attic, a game store on South Craig Street, explained that board games have been updated ever since they were brought into the market. “[In games] that a lot of people know, like Clue, you look back at old copies of it and people have completely changed,” she said. “It started in England, and Mr. Green was ‘Reverend Green,’ and Miss Peacock’s been everything from a sort of Miss Marple-shy woman to a stylish woman.” The Spanish version, she added, has people named after fruits.

Game updating is probably the favorite marketing strategy of all the game makers out there, but won’t the games sell even without all the changes? If there are avid Monopoly or Clue fans, won’t they still buy the games anyway? According to Moffa, some board game enthusiasts might be more likely to buy newer versions of the games. “For people who are big fans of those specific games, a lot of people get excited over the special versions,” she said. “By the same token, I’m sure there are people who prefer the old versions of the games and just keep their old copies around.”

Along with game updating comes the conversion of all-time favorite board games into compact video and computer games, often preferable to an unwieldy box. Additionally, with the electronic versions of board games, you can choose from a variety of different versions just at the click of a button. Combine that with amazing graphics and sounds, and it may seem to be the end of board games which actually involve a board. But people continue to buy regular board games, boards and all.

Perhaps the reason board games are still popular is that they help players interact with each other. “One of the things I like about board games is the more social aspect; they happen at a more leisurely pace and you’re not all staring at the screen,” Moffa said. True, your computer or television can be entertaining when your player jumps into water or gets thrown into jail, but so can the people around you, whenever you get into trouble or land on a triple word score.

Updating games says something about the creativity of the game makers; it does take some effort to preserve what people love about a game while adding something new. But the effort seems to be paying off, as people continue to buy new-and-improved board games.