The Pandemic is Changing What We’re Playing (Article by Chris Wray)

I recently pulled data from BGG for all games that had more than 500 logged plays in February 2020 (before many of the shutdowns started) and March 2020 (when many of the shutdowns started).  I compared the number of logged plays and users between the months. Based on an initial review of the data, COVID-19 is changing what we’re playing.

There were 233 games with more than 500 logged plays in both months.  Here are the 30 biggest winners, in terms of percentage increase in total plays.  Notice that the change is calculated two ways: one with the total number of logged plays, and one with the number of unique BGG users logging a play.  I sorted by the former.  (Some users may have to scroll over to see the right most portion of the table, depending on screen settings.)

GameFeb. PlaysFeb. UsersMarch PlaysMarch UsersPlays ChangeUsers Change
Can’t Stop1,1233323,287938192.7%182.5%
Sushi Go!1,4227183,3161,156133.2%61.0%
Stone Age9716522,0741,272113.6%95.1%
Chronicles of Crime1,1006571,9101,05473.6%60.4%
Dice Forge9885801,57575359.4%29.8%
Lost Cities1,5516552,45897458.5%48.7%
Clans of Caledonia7244751,09664751.4%36.2%
7 Wonders3,6951,7435,4741,86048.1%6.7%
Terra Mystica1,1246541,64081145.9%24.0%
Orchard: A 9 card solitaire game1,4112882,05033545.3%16.3%
The 7th Continent1,0064661,42257741.4%23.8%
Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar8445761,17675839.3%31.6%
Zombie Kidz Evolution1,0572221,45529837.7%34.2%
Puerto Rico8325471,14366237.4%21.0%
Railroad Ink: Deep Blue Edition1,1895851,63063837.1%9.1%
Pandemic Legacy: Season 12,4968433,41899836.9%18.4%
6 nimmt!1,6138632,16489134.2%3.2%

Note that games with digital adaptations are doing quite well!  In particular, games on the site BoardGameArena make up about half of the above list, and a few of the other games have apps.  (That is no surprise given that many of these sites are reporting a 400 to 500% increase in their number of users.)

The list also veers lighter than average. There aren’t many heavy games on this list.

The game Pandemic itself is making a bit of a surge during this pandemic, not only in base game form, but Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 as well.  The game has been getting a lot of publicity amidst the COVID-19 events, and designer Matt Leacock even penned a New York Times opinion piece about the game and recent events.

Here are the 30 games with the steepest decline, in terms of percentage decrease in number of plays.  

GameFeb. PlaysFeb. UsersMarch PlaysMarch UsersPlays ChangeUsers Change
Codenames: Pictures789288592206-25.0%-28.5%
Res Arcana2,4671,3031,797947-27.2%-27.3%
The Mind2,6581,0671,886793-29.0%-25.7%
Camel Up742463514332-30.7%-28.3%
Power Grid747608510409-31.7%-32.7%
It’s a Wonderful World2,9311,1711,958764-33.2%-34.8%
Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon1,198438800290-33.2%-33.8%
Deception: Murder in Hong Kong1,073387700247-34.8%-36.2%
No Thanks!1,529600993424-35.1%-29.3%
Just One4,0102,0692,5851,396-35.5%-32.5%
Undaunted: Normandy1,388607894422-35.6%-30.5%
Secret Hitler1,6255391,045331-35.7%-38.6%
BANG! The Dice Game1,023432614286-40.0%-33.8%
The Resistance: Avalon947301554161-41.5%-46.5%
On Mars2,5571,6691,265855-50.5%-48.8%
On Tour1,160379549233-52.7%-38.5%

Party games — those requiring a large number of players — are seeing a bigger decline in plays in the pandemic.  

Now let’s look at family games.  As a proxy, I’ve pulled in the Spiel des Jahres winners of recent years that were included in the sample.  

GameFeb. PlaysFeb. UsersMarch PlaysMarch UsersPlays ChangeUsers Change
Kingdom Builder56632672638028.3%16.6%
Ticket to Ride2,1451,0042,5421,16418.5%15.9%
Dominion (Second Edition)61416771216716.0%0.0%
Colt Express73749582953212.5%7.5%
Camel Up742463514332-30.7%-28.3%
Just One4,0102,0692,5851,396-35.5%-32.5%

Overall, this group of games did pretty well!  Many of the games have a digital adaptation, so that is likely helping.  But it is also possible that more of us are at home with our family.  The games that saw a decline tend to be the ones more oriented to large crowds, like Codenames, Dixit, Camel Up, and Just One.  Interestingly, Codenames: Duet (the two player game) saw an increase (2,358 plays for 715 players in March, versus 1842 plays for 607 players in February) that Codenames didn’t see.  So games for lower player counts may also be showing an increase.  

As a side note, you’re seeing somewhat of a U.S.-centric data sample here. Brandon Kempf, in reviewing this article, observed that French site Boiteajeux has a massive waiting room for Dixit players.


In short, the games seeing the biggest increase in this pandemic are games with digital adaptations, family games, and games for lower player counts.  And, a bit to my surprise, games with the name “Pandemic” in the title.  

There’s a lot of data to dig into here.  Are games with solo modes increasing? What’s happening based on game weight?  I’ll see what data I can pull in the coming days.  

Author’s Side Note:  All of this, of course, comes with the standard caveats, especially that all of this is all entirely based on BGG data, and BGG is not truly representative of the hobby at large. 

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3 Responses to The Pandemic is Changing What We’re Playing (Article by Chris Wray)

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  3. Louisa Berry says:

    Interesting. I normally don’t log online/digital plays, normally because 90% of them are against the AI. With the lockdown, my regular Thursday group has kept meeting virtually playing on Boardgamearena, plus smallworld 2, scythe, terraforming mars, mystic vale and ascension apps. Maybe I should start logging my multiplayer digital games…

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