New Versions of Old Board Games

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The success of micro-blogging and digital media players is a testament to Americans’ ever-shorter attention spans, and although new devices have expanded digital gaming to anyone with a smartphone, don’t count the analog world out just yet.

Game manufacturer Hasbro (Stock Quote: HAS), the owner of pretty much every iconic game that’s ever existed (Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, Life, Scrabble, Simon – the list goes on and on), is breathing new life into the board game market with new offerings this year.  How? By speeding up the gameplay on classic titles and giving more players something to do when they aren’t the ones rolling the dice. Watch our video preview here.

Gone are the days when “bored games” let only one player play at a time while everyone else sat around and watched.

Longtime industry watcher and editor-in-chief of Time to Play magazine Jim Silver sees it as a reinvention of the whole board game world.

“In this age of instant gratification, I think game makers know to keep people involved on every turn - it’s not much fun to sit and watch for ten minutes. They’re trying to build it into every game and I think it’s going to be a part of most games in the future,” he says.

So how do they do it? The newest version of Trivial Pursuit, released in August and dubbed “Trivial Pursuit: Bet You Know It,” allows players that used to just sit there and wait their turn (while one lucky player got to ask the question) to bet on whether they think the active player will answer correctly.

The new Monopoly, also released in August, is called “Monopoly: Revolution” and involves multiple players through property auctions and “Chance” zones that affect anyone whose token is in a certain section of the board.

Meanwhile, Scrabble Flash, a digital version of the classic word-creation game, turns the game into a series of timed “lightning rounds” that make it impossible to stare at your seven letters for 15 minutes to find that mot juste.

The move has been good for Hasbro, which owns more than 1,500 brands and actively markets about 150 at any given time. While sales figures are not yet available, there is no doubt that the recession has been good for the board game industry.

John Frascotti, Chief Marketing officer for Hasbro, explains: “In the past two years, the ability for the family to have several nights of enjoyment around a board game has been attractive to a lot of consumers. Quality has also been a watchword in the recession – when times are tough [consumers] tend to gravitate towards brands they trust, and that has worked in our favor.”

Indeed, a quick look at the company’s stock performance shows an almost 50 percentage point increase in price during the last two years.

Cynics who think the company is just using a recognized brand to make money off of games that have nothing to do with the name might be comforted to know that the development process starts with the brand, not the game, and many ideas end up on the cutting room floor.

“The thing with these established brands is that there’s a trans-generational emotional resonance,” says Frascotti. “Older generations like to share the experiences with younger generations, so we have to give them new options and new experiences. They want to play their favorite games across the spectrum.”

While pushing new analog versions of its brands, Hasbro has also had success with its digital offerings. Its $2.99 Monopoly app was featured in a recent commercial for Apple’s iPhone, and the company plans to introduce a version of the game for Facebook early next year.

Purists might bristle at the idea of Scrabble without the velvet bag and tiles, or Monopoly without the money, but makers like Hasbro understand that one size doesn’t fit all. Some parents will prefer the classic version of Monopoly that uses paper money, because it teaches kids basic math when they have to count out their rent payments. But other parents might prefer the e-banking format of Monopoly: Revolution, since it teaches children the kind of banking that they will most likely use in real life.

While these changes might seem like a huge departure from the brand, sometimes those dramatic differences are what interest consumers the most.

“The ones that stick are the ones that totally reinvent the gameplay,” Silver says. “Scrabble Flash will not replace Scrabble; if they work they can exist together for a long time.”

Since board games are a relatively inexpensive form of entertainment (with suggested prices for Scrabble Flash and Trivial Pursuit: Bet You Know It at $29.99 and Monopoly: Revolution at $34.99), it sounds feasible that people will continue to buy multiple games, recession or not. For Silver, the next decade may represent a golden age of toys and play.

“I think what happened was families rediscovered board games, as an opportunity for parents to interact with kids, and there’s a bigger variety of games than ever before," Silver notes. "I’m very excited.”

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