Though television and the Internet may have a vise-like grip on today’s
children, more and more North Americans have been turning to board games
and jigsaw puzzles as a fun way to bring family and friends together.
The trend has picked up since Sept. 11, and at least some of the credit
can be given to Hasbro Games’ Family Game Night,
a program initiated to boost family interaction through game playing.
“The resurgence started in 1998 when we started getting the message
out to families to set aside one night a week to play board games,”
said Mark Morris, director of public relations for Hasbro Games. “We
understand families are very busy groups. The message really resonated.
I think people are kind of waiting to hear something, [and] then they
say ‘Yeah, that makes sense.’”
Among the recent successes in this category was the Trivial Pursuit
20th Anniversary Edition, which was one of the best selling toys
as rated by dollar value in 2002. This enormously popular quiz game is
often credited with revolutionizing the game industry.
“What Trivial Pursuit did in 1988 was prove to the game industry
that adults would play games intended for adults,” said Morris.
“It was a phenomenon. They didn’t even recognize adult games
as a category.”
Part of the appeal of board games and puzzles is that, in addition to
their ability to teach children basic skills like sharing and turn taking,
they also include a family interaction component that appeals to today’s
“I think parents are trying to pull their children away from computer
and video games,” said Rob Rogers, vice president of sales and marketing
for the puzzle manufacturer MasterPieces (ToyDirectory)
. “They [parents] want products that offer educational value. The
bottom line is they want their children to learn something versus just
sitting in front of a screen shooting at spaceships. The connection between
adults and children’s puzzles is that it can be a family experience.”
Rogers believes there are promising signs that puzzles and games are
gaining a toehold in the youth market.
“By the time a child reaches the age of 7 or 8 we now lose them,
as they are going to the video market,” he admitted. “We are
starting to chip away at getting them back. It takes manufacturing a very
creative, fun and educational puzzle. Parents seem to be gravitating back
to more traditional forms of entertainment, so slowly we are winning them
This improvement has come after a difficult stretch for the game and puzzle
sector, precipitated by the toy retailer shake up of the late 1990s. For
example, RavensburgerFX Schmid USA Inc. (ToyDirectory),
which produces both board games and puzzles, lost a significant number
of its top-selling retailers during that time.
“The shrinking market occurring in specialty stores is concerning,”
said Thomas Kaeppeler, executive vice president and general manager of
the company. “We lost ten of our top 20 accounts from 1999. That
is an underlying trend that is a little more concerning. We were able
to increase sales, but it’s mostly mass market accounts.”
In 2001, Ravensburger stocked retailer shelves through the Christmas season,
then tracked sales weekly through targeted stores, finding an interesting
“A really strong selling season is the time from October to March,
which are the cold months on the East Coast,” he said. “The
numbers [at targeted stores] between October and March are pretty consistent
each week. They peak the two weeks prior to Christmas, but then they are
pretty steady afterward. During summer, sell-through is usually 70 percent
of what we get from October to March.”
Kaeppeler believes this steady performance reveals two misconceptions
about the industry. First, puzzles in particular are an impulse item;
something consumers pick up while they are buying other things or looking
for a handy birthday gift. Second, this trend shows games and puzzles
are not exclusively winter activities, according to Kaeppeler.
“America is the home of air conditioning,” he observed. “When
it’s hot out, people stay in the house in the air conditioning,
and they play games or do puzzles.”
Writer's Bio: Paul A. Paterson is a freelance writer
living and working in Southern Ontario. He has worked for, among other
publications, an Ontario based family magazine and a start-up online service.
His household includes four children, three cats, a dog and one wife.