16 December 2019 | 28 Comments
Five years ago, I compiled data from several sources for an article called How to Design and Publish an Evergreen Board Game. As we near the end of 2019, I thought it might be a good time to revisit the concept of games that continually sell well, year after year.
Please note before proceeding that the title of this post is a bit of a misnomer. There is no actual magic formula; rather, there are patterns, data, and averages to consider. You have control over some (but not all) of these factors, and there are several exceptions and outliers.
To compile this list, I looked at the last 5 of ICv2’s bi-annual articles containing the top 10 bestselling hobby channel board games, card games, and dice games (like this one). As ICv2 notes, “The charts are based on interviews with retailers, distributors, and manufacturers.” To qualify for this list, a game must have appeared at least 3 times on these lists, which span from spring 2017 to spring 2019 (the fall list won’t post for another couple of months).
Here are the 14 games that qualified for the list:
Here’s my interpretation of the results, including considerations for publishers (including Stonemaier Games):
- BoardGameGeek ranking (1089): I think it’s fair to say that having a well-rated game doesn’t hurt. But there is a vast world of game buyers and players beyond those who participate on BGG. Pick a target audience and make your game as fun as possible for that audience.
- Year Published (2012): I think the lesson here is “be patient.” Yes, it’s great to have a hit out of the gate, whether it’s on Kickstarter or released first to retailers. But bestselling evergreen games are all about the long tail, not short-term gains. Strategically budget and plan to reprint (and support with expansions) your game over many years…though I always try to stay nimble, as some games just aren’t going to hit the sweet spot you were hoping for.
- Max # of Players (5): Keep in mind that I only used data from core games, not expansions (as it’s the bestselling nature of the core game I’m examining here). While there are some extremely successful games on this list that only play up to 4 players, it seems that games that play up to 5 are appealing to a wide audience.
- Playing Time (45 minutes): A caveat is that this is the playing time according to publishers, so let’s add 15 minutes to it across the board (more if you include setup and cleanup). It appears to me that most bestselling games play in (or just under) an hour. On my playtesting surveys, I always ask about playing time (including setup and cleanup).
- Weight (2.10): This is a user-reported number on BoardGameGeek that determines how heavy/complex games are on a 5-point scale. Examples of games near the 2.10 average are Smash Up, Dominon, and Catan; I’d classify these as “medium-light games”. They’re games with fairly simple rules but plenty of interesting decisions that emerge throughout the game.
- MSRP ($47): While Gloomhaven and Scythe skew this data a bit, it sounds like games in the $40-$60 range definitely have the potential to become bestselling evergreens. Yes, a simple cards-only game can do well, but the $47 average is encouraging to me, as that gives publishers the flexibility to feature some beautiful, satisfyingly tactile components in their games.
What doesn’t the data show?
- Only 2 of these games have a major intellectual property associated with them (though many of these games have IP spinoffs–it’s possible they’re included in ICv2’s data).
- The majority (9) of these games are competitive, and 5 of them are cooperative or team-based.
- Most of these games offer a fluid style of play–players continuously take turns until the end-game is triggered instead of breaking the game into rounds (and sometimes a set number of rounds).
- There are no 2-player only games on this list, though almost all of these games play well with only 2 players.
- There’s only 2 games on this list that feature miniatures, and neither Scythe nor Gloomhaven are what people would call “miniatures games.” ICv2 does have a separate list for non-collectible miniatures games, but even those games are distinctly different than the typical miniature-heavy games that do so well on Kickstarter. Perhaps those games are just too expensive to have a long tail.
- Only 4 of these games originated from Kickstarter campaigns.
A few games started to creep onto this list but haven’t been around for long enough to meet the minimum of 3 appearances on ICv2’s lists to qualify. Among them, I think we’ll see Root, Sagrada, and The Mind show up on future lists. Other games that I think have the potential to make this list are Wingspan, Quacks of Quedlinburg, Welcome To, Just One, 7 Wonders, and Parks.
We only publish 2 new games each year at most, so my goal is that each of those games has the potential to become an evergreen bestseller. That isn’t why I make games, but it’s still one of my targets I aim for. Most of our games are close to the averages mentioned here, though several of them tend to run longer and be a little heavier. The price point is something I want to continue to be aware of, as it’s my instinct to deluxify the core versions of our games, but that often pushes the MSRP up beyond the $40-$60 sweet spot that I try to target.
What do you see in this data that I’m missing? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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