For decades, tabletop games had the undivided attention of gamers worldwide. Thanks to the launch of personal computers and home television, which made console gaming possible, the landscape changed drastically; more and more people became fascinated with digital gaming over board and dice games. Yet, for those drawn to fantasy themes and role-playing games, video games, in spite of their increased sophistication, could never compare to the real thing. Lately, it seems we are experiencing a resurgence in blending tabletop games and board games, whether through a tabletop simulator or with standalone titles. Could this trend signal that tabletop gaming is finally ready to move on to the next phase – and properly go digital?

Tabletop Games Stand Their Ground – but Video Games Are Skyrocketing

Tabletop games are an interesting case – there are traditional titles like Hasbro’s Monopoly that could never lose their spot in the hearts of people worldwide, even those who are not particularly keen on games. There are iconic franchises like fantasy RPG game-changer Dungeons & Dragons, who have introduced thousands of people to the art of gaming. And, then, there are unconventional titles that are beloved by niche audiences and are usually trying their luck with crowdfunding campaigns on Kickstarter – where, among 17,386 board game projects, the card game Exploding Kittens saw support from a whopping 219,383 backers and its sequel title Bears vs Babies drew in another 85,582 supporters. Whatever the case, tabletop games are still going strong; the board game market value is projected to amount to roughly $12 billion by 2023, which means it is set to grow at a CAGR of over 9% in the period between 2017 and 2023. The industry continues to be dominated by the usual suspects like Hasbro, Mattel and Ravensburger, but local vendors offering lower-priced games also account for the profitability of the industry.

Despite this resistance, the board game industry cannot compare to the sudden surge of video gaming: according to Statista, 60% of game developers are working on PC game projects in 2018, 36% are developing games for mobile devices, 30% are working on PlayStation 4/Pro titles and a further 26% on games for Xbox One/X. While 19% are currently involved in VR games and 7% in AR games, tabletop games rank considerably lower, attracting just 4% of game developers. Yet, as the recent launch of the beta version of Magic the Gathering: Arena demonstrates, the two genres are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, video gaming might breathe some fresh air into the tabletop games market by providing digital alternatives. This has been done extremely successfully for traditional tabletop card games like blackjack and poker, which are now available in their digital versions in online casinos like Betway – and many players prefer them for their advanced graphics and variety offered – or bridge on websites like BridgeBaseOnline, which both provides online bridge games and broadcasts of bridge matches.

How Board Games Conquered the Digital World

When it comes to traditional games, there are many different online websites that players can access – but brand names like MTG or D&D are a different story. In order for fans to play them online, they need to be released in a standalone digital title, which seems to be the current trend, as the MTG Arena digital card collectible game shows. D&D has also seen a dedicated online version, as have classic family titles like strategy board game Stratego. For those gamers who are not happy with the digital version of their favorite game – or when the parent company has not launched an online title yet – there are always more generic ways to convert a game to its online counterpart. Roll20 is a website widely beloved among RPG enthusiasts who are looking for digital tools that allow for virtual pen-and-paper games. D&D fans flock here, as do those looking to play games like Pathfinder and Shadowrun with friends from across the globe.

But perhaps the biggest splash in the road to merging tabletop games and video gaming was made by Berserk Games four years ago when they launched their Tabletop Simulator. After a successful Kickstarter crowdfunding round, the studio developed its simulator game which includes a sandbox that allows players to modify or create their very own tabletop games. The simulator can be used in a variety of ways, depending on what players want: it provides access to classic tabletop games like chess, checkers, and Mahjong, so you can stick to those if you prefer that. But, it is most renowned for its digital tools that allow gamers to become creators, such as the specific RPG kit that includes tilesets and animated figurines. The developers have also teamed up with Steam and made the game available on the online platform to raving reviews. The latest development is the addition of VR options on headsets like HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift – and as VR and AR technology is gaining ground across gaming applications, that could allow the Tabletop Simulator to go the extra mile compared to traditional board games.

Still, one of the most popular elements of Tabletop Simulator is the ability of a player to flip the table when they get frustrated with the results. Could this mean that tabletop games have an appeal that players will always yearn for – or does it confirm that anything is possible in virtual gaming, even transferring the most signature move in tabletop games? One thing is for sure: the boundaries between tabletop and video games are becoming increasingly blurry, resulting in some incredible games.