November 12, 2021

Analysis: 2020 Was a Banner Year for Board & Card Games. What Will 2021 Hold?

By Pattern Data Science / Ecommerce Trends

The holidays are upon us, which means that, for a lot of people, board game season is really ramping up. Shorter days, colder weather, and more time with family makes for a perfect time to break out an old favorite game, or to stock up on new games to give away as gifts.

With gametime on our minds, we wanted to dig into our data to learn more about the state of board games across the country. Did all the extra time spent at home during the height of the pandemic drive big sales for board games? If so, which games got the biggest pandemic bump? How big is the holiday shopping season? And which games have been the most (and least) popular over the past couple years?

We dove deep into our data to answer these questions and more.

Which board and card games have been the most popular so far this year?

There are countless types of games out there. From highly complex and intricate, to simple and broad, there’s certainly a game out there for you and your tastes. But which ones have been the hottest sellers this year?

Check and mate. When it comes to popular games, there’s no unseating the king, and chess has been far and away the most popular game this year.

The classic card game Uno, with its simple rules and low price point, wasn’t far behind in the #2 spot, however.

Another card game, the ever-popular Pokemon, was a strong number three, ahead of three standard board games: Clue, Risk, and Monopoly.

After a strong #7 spot for playing cards, we round out the top ten with Jenga, Dominos, and Settlers of Catan.

So there’s your leaderboard for the most popular games of 2021 so far. But what about last year? What kind of impact has the pandemic had on demand for board and card games?

What kind of impact did COVID-19 have on sales for board and card games?

Many of us have spent a lot of time at home since March of last year, so have board and card games seen demand skyrocket as a result? If so, which games were the ones that got the biggest quarantine boost?

Let’s start with a really broad look at monthly demand for all the board and card games in our analysis starting in 2019.

There’s absolutely no question that the first months of lockdowns and social distancing resulted in a huge surge in online demand for board and card games. March 2020 saw a 52% increase in demand vs the same month in 2019, while April experienced a 34% increase.

Demand then fell to just below 2019’s levels by June, but we saw a mostly stronger holiday shopping season last year as well.

2021 started the year with demand ahead of any previous year, but, as you’d expect, it failed to live up to last year’s huge springtime surge. October did see a slight increase in demand compared to last year, though, suggesting we might be in store for all-time high demands this holiday shopping season.

To put an even finer point on just how big the beginning of the pandemic was for demand for board and games, here’s a look at weekly demand since January 2020:

The first weeks of lockdowns saw online demand for board and card games surge to levels typically reserved for the height of the holiday shopping season.

Which board and card games got the biggest early pandemic boost?

Now that we’ve established how big March and April 2020 were for board and card games, we next wanted to see which ones were the most in-demand. To find out, we took demand for each game during those two months and compared it to demand during the same months in 2019.

Here were the top 15 biggest winners:

If you thought that a real-life pandemic would deter people from playing a board game called “Pandemic”—think again. The game, in which players work to discover cures to a deadly pandemic, saw a stunning 469% increase in demand in March and April last year compared to the same months in 2019.

The family-favorite game of Scattergories was next on the list, with an impressive 223% increase in demand. Other family-friendly games saw demand more than double, including Phase 10, Life, and Pictionary.

Those months were so big for board and card games that only a few in our analysis didn’t experience a year-over-year increase in demand: Sorry (-25%), Exploding Kittens (-19%), Azul (-19%), and Connect Four (-9%).

The real story, of course, is the success of Pandemic. Let’s take a closer look at monthly demand for that game:

There’s no doubting that the game enjoyed prolonged popularity throughout all of last year, with it receiving a substantial holiday season bump as well.

Here’s a weekly view, for an even closer look:

Demand for the game actually picked up in the earliest weeks of the pandemic, dipped slightly during the first week of shutdowns, then skyrocketed immediately after.

The popularity does appear to have been somewhat short lived, however, as 2021 has seen demand drop to 2019 levels for most of the year.

Which board and card games get the biggest holiday shopping season bump?

With the holiday shopping season approaching, we next wanted to see if there are games that get especially large bumps during the holiday shopping season last year. To avoid this figure being skewed by the early COVID surge, we decided to take average demand for November and December and compare it to average demand during the summer months (July through September).

Here’s what we found:

Last holiday shopping season, chess was the hottest item by far, seeing demand surge by 225% during the holidays compared to the summertime average. We have a theory as to what was driving chess’s shocking success, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Other big winners were Pictionary, Ticket to Ride, Trivial Pursuit, and Chutes and Ladders. Again, Pandemic experienced a significant holiday surge even despite it’s mega popularity during the spring.

The holidays were so big for board and card games that only two of them in our analysis failed to see demand increase during the holidays: Risk (-2%) and Uno (-3%).

Let’s take a closer look at chess, as something pretty interesting appeared to drive its demand to new heights.

Hit Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit drove a huge surge in holiday shopping demand for chess last year

That’s right, our analysis strongly suggests that The Queen’s Gambit, a hit Netflix series that premiered in October 2020, was why chess received a larger holiday shopping bump than any other game in our analysis.

Let’s start by examining monthly demand for chess since 2019:

As you can see, chess saw demand go up during the holidays in 2019, but to a much, much lesser degree than the incredible surge we saw in 2020.

To put it into perspective, demand in November and December 2019 were 36% and 79% higher than the summertime average that year. In 2020, November and December saw demand surge to a stunning 204% and 222% above the summertime average.

In fact, the show’s popularity bled into this year as well, with demand remaining quite high in January and February, and even outpacing the early pandemic bump we saw in March and April.

A look at weekly demand serves to bolster this hypothesis:

The Queen’s Gambit released on Netflix on October 13th, 2020, and by the week of October 25th, demand had increased by 114% compared to the week before the series came out. By the week of December 6th, demand for chess had surged to a whopping 301% over where it was before the series premiered.

While demand has evened out, it has remained consistently higher throughout 2021, and while we wouldn’t expect it to match the heights we saw last year, we expect the category to receive at least a moderate bump this holiday shopping season.

Which games appear to be on track for a strong 2021 holiday shopping season?

Lastly, we wanted to see if any of the games in our analysis were performing particularly well this year as we head into the holiday shopping season. To determine this we compared demand during September and October 2021 to the same months in 2020.

Here were the games that saw the biggest year-over-year increases in demand during those time frames:

Settlers of Catan appears to be particularly hot this year, at least heading into the holiday shopping season, with demand up 94% during the months heading into the holidays this year.

Hungry Hungry Hippos and Ticket to Ride were next on the list, with Connect Four and chess rounding out the top five.

Let’s take a closer look at Settlers of Catan:

Demand for the game surged in May and has remained high the rest of the year as we enter into the holiday shopping season. If we see a similar holiday shopping surge for the game this year as we have the previous two years, then many shoppers may find themselves having a hard time finding the game if they don’t act fast!

A lesson for brands

This year’s holiday shopping season is shaping up to be yet another big one for board and card games of all types. And considering the supply chain issues on the horizon, we wouldn’t be surprised to see all types of board games struggling to stay on the shelves.

Understanding the factors that influence consumer behavior can help brands better understand how to forecast demand for their products on online marketplaces, and even inform product design and marketing strategy.

For example, a hit TV show might drive one of the world’s oldest games to new heights of popularity, or a worldwide pandemic might actually increase sales for a board game about a deadly disease. Or an already popular game like Settlers of Catan may simply be setting up for a surprise surge in demand.

Either way, we’ll be keeping a close eye on these trends and more in the coming weeks and months.

To stay up to date on consumer behavior and ecommerce news, info, and trend analyses, be sure to subscribe to Pattern Insights.

And, if you’d like to learn more about how you can best leverage our data to help your brand win online, holiday or not, schedule a demo today.

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