Most parents would agree that staying home amid the COVID-19 pandemic and spending a lot of time together as a family is a throwback to their own childhood — those evening meals together after school and work, running around the backyard, helping the kids with their homework, and of course, playing board games.
This family-centered experience and the realization of childhood dreams is often a driving force in the board game industry. We had the opportunity to have a heart-to-heart with Bryan Pope, founder and CEO of Arcane Wonders, who explained how his entire industry experience has revolved around family and the launch of his flagship title, Mage Wars.
From Wage to Mage
Pope began the interview with some personal history and how board games started as a family activity that evolved into a tradition. This eventually came into its own as a full-time, hands-on business with his family working (or at least involved) with the company in some capacity. Arcane Wonders was essentially created because of a game he developed with his family to play at home. It was so popular within this small group, he decided to finally take that intimidating step and publish it (but more to come on that).
Pope shared that while he was always fond of playing board games, he couldn’t find a game that he was truly happy with or that he didn’t want to tweak or update in some way. “I made my first game when I was seven years old — a haunted house game. I just loved [board games] my whole life, and I told my kids as they grew up that one day I would start a company that would publish games,” Pope said. But the push to follow through with creating and publishing a game came years later for Pope.
“When my son was in his 30s he said, ‘Dad, you know what...you’re never going to do it, you just talk about it,’ and I was like, wow, he’s right — I never really got around to it. So I just decided I was really going to make it happen.”
At the time Pope, his family, and even friends would regularly get together to play a card game the family had created based on their love of fantasy and magic. This would eventually become Arcane Wonders’ first release, Mage Wars. Pope credits his oldest son Benjamin as co-designer of Mage Wars (originally Mage Wars Arena) and the one who suggested that it should be their first game.
The Winds of Change
Pope described how they evolved as a family to develop Mage Wars — it all started with a little bit of magic.
“We were all Magic: The Gathering fans, but we didn’t like some of the ways things worked there. When we had casual neighborhood tournaments with kids, I was always printing them proxies because they couldn’t afford the actual cards. I wanted everyone to be on equal footing, I wanted to create a mage simulator where it feels like you are actually a mage. What would magic feel like if it were real? If you know a spell, you should just be able to cast it and not worry about drawing it.”
Pope described how he and his family experimented with this early version of Mage Wars and making equal footing work. They developed a game where all players received the same cards, and simply playing them at the right moment determined a win or loss. Little by little, they left Magic: The Gathering behind and began to host tournaments where a dozen or more people were in the room.
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Gaming By Degrees: The Philosophical Journey of Dr. Finn's Games
Early in his career as a self-publishing game designer, Dr. Stephen Finn earned a reputation as a designer of filler games. In fact, Richard Ham, host of the well-known board gaming video series and podcast “Rahdo Runs Through,” has called Finn the “undisputed King of the Filler.” It was a title that Finn embraced. “There was a time,” notes Finn, “when ‘filler’ wasn’t a pejorative term, but I think it’s now becoming one. I was always proud to call myself the King of the Fillers, because I was thinking of ‘filler’ as just a quick thing.” “However, over time, I began to realize that it may be to my detriment and now, I try to avoid it.” Not completely. Finn continues to promote the phrase on his company’s website because “being King of anything is still a good thing.” “I was thinking maybe it would become something bigger.”
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COVID’s lasting impacts on our health and economy are still far from being understood. It will take many of us years, perhaps even a decade, to unravel what has changed in the last year. But some patterns are emerging, at least in the board gaming hobby, that indicate many publishers were well ahead of the curve even before the threat of a pandemic affected their supply chains worldwide. As the world began locking itself down to quell the threat of COVID-19, people continued to find solace in hobbies. Soon, the business journals and magazines of the world began tracking the increase of sales across a wide swath of interests as people did anything and everything to take their minds away from the weight of a pandemic circling the globe. Turns out, everything from toys, guitars, crafts, and board games were selling well despite a deflated economy. Report Linker’s “Board Games Market - Global Outlook and Forecast 2021-2026” estimates that sales in the hobby will grow by 13 percent in the next five years, even with continued lockdowns. But what about the hobby as a whole? This article examines how 2020 affected the board gaming industry through three facets — big box stores, local board gaming cafes and stores, and the digital space — and how the pandemic has shaped them in the interim as well as moving forward. Is this projected forecast of its growth still as rosy?
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