Home decor and board games are the latest pandemic strange bedfellows, as home brands and retailers increasingly take inspiration from table-top classics.
Ahead of the holiday season, Anthropologie is releasing its own line of special edition, luxury Hasbro board games. Anthropologie isn’t the only home-focused retailer investing in luxury tabletop games as an alternative home accessory. Pottery Barn just launched a new Luxury Edition scrabble, and CB2’s latest board game launch is a crocodile embossed backgammon set. Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Bloomingdales, meanwhile, all sell a wide assortment of stylish puzzles and board games under their home décor categories.
Board games and puzzles sales skyrocketed at the beginning of the pandemic, but growth has since tapered off to single digits. To drive further incremental growth amid the rising competition, games brands are curating their products to serve as home accessories while home furnishing brands are releasing stylish board games. As a result, the games category’s packaging has become almost as important as the game itself.
“Much like the coffee table book has become a staple of family room décor, we’re now really seeing [consumers] gravitate towards these games as pieces that don’t have to come out just when they’re using the game, but also can be mainstay decorative pieces,” Stefania Squitieri, a senior buyer involved in product development at Anthropologie, told Modern Retail.
Puzzle sales saw wild growth at the height of the pandemic, up 370% in March 2020 compared to the year prior as stay-at-home consumers hunkered down. Over the rest of the year, growth in the puzzle and board games category leveled out: sales were up 14% from 2019 to 2020, according to data sent to Modern Retail by Euromonitor International. This year, the category is expected to grow another 4% to a total $12.2 billion in global sales by the end of the year.
Still, pockets of high growth remain. While the category has traditionally catered to children, adult interest in tabletop games, in particular, has grown over the past three years and was accelerated further by stay-at-home Covid-19 mandates. Over the past year, from November 2020 to 2021, the Reddit communities r/BoardGames and r/Puzzles grew 10% and 23%, respectively, on top of double-digit growth the year prior.
Carly McGinnis, Head of Production, Logistics, and Sales at adult-friendly, indie game Exploding Kittens told Modern Retail sales were up 50% year-over-year in 2021 year-to-date on top of a 93% sales increase last year. Meanwhile, the narrative farming app Stardew Valley’s tabletop edition sold out in a day and is currently fetching $250 to $400 on eBay as impatient buyers wait for an official brand restock.
Home retailers invest in games
Last year, Anthropologie partnered with Hasbro maker and distributor, WS Games, for a collection of “Vintage Bookshelf Editions” of board games like Monopoly and Clue. When in use, the games looked like the usual, decades-old tabletop classics. When stored, the packaging made the game look like a vintage hardcover book.
“We had carried the vintage book games off of [WS Games’] line last holiday season, and we had a great response,” said Squitieri. The retailer sold out of the vintage book games six weeks after launch. Monopoly and Clue, in particular, were the best performers for the retailer.
This year, explained Squitieri, the retailer is “taking it a step further” and investing in Anthropologie-branded board game exclusives with signature patterns pulled from the brands’ bedding and tableware collections. The retailer bought 10,000 more units of board games inventory in 2021 in anticipation of an even busier, game-focused holiday season.
The retailer has always considered décor for its classic, non-branded games like dominoes or chess, but wanted to bring a newer spin to trademark board games as well.
Frank J. Conforti, the co-president and COO at Anthropologie’s parent company Urban Outfitters, inc., said that the “home [category] continued to perform exceptionally well” in the retailer’s last earnings call. Conforti further pointed to the brand’s “record low markdown rates” and a 14% increase in same-store sales comps year-over-year.
“With the pandemic and customer preferences shifting more towards home life and entertainment at home last year, we saw a major revival in games,” said Squitieri. “While we anticipated 2021 to be different in terms of customer mindset, we still felt that games would remain relevant when it comes to not only connecting with our families, but now also opening up the space of connecting with our friends.”
Games and puzzle brands get creative
Alistair Matthews and Michael Hunter don’t just hope that puzzle and board game growth will continue in 2021 — they are betting on it, having just launched a puzzle company, called LePuzz, in October.
“I think that [table game growth] is going to carry into 2021, 2022, 2023,” said Matthews. “People are steering away from the digital world that we’re completely inundated with and [instead] really enjoy these tactile, real-life games and things you can do.”
Their random-cut puzzles feature images of other home accessories, like candles or bookshelf tchotchkes. LePuzz’s website describes itself as a “wonderfully whimsical” puzzle company, and Matthews has built a popular TikTok account that embraces a similar aesthetic.
On TikTok, she has 209,000 followers and 4.9 million likes where she regularly posts show-and-tell videos to give users a peak into her unique home accessories including — but not limited to — a statue of liberty nightlight, an undersized ceramic cheeseburger and an oversized bobby pin.
“It’s kind of funny, because it’s like I’ve created this TikTok that was like almost perfect for selling things, but none of it was for sale because it’s all [few-of-a-kind pieces] from eBay and thrift stores,” said Matthews. Now, she’s increasingly incorporating LePuzz into her videos. Matthews hosts a series telling viewers that if they like a certain object of hers, they might like a puzzle with a corresponding aesthetic or image.
Meanwhile, the puzzles themselves are also home accessories themselves.
The box was changed to incorporate an image sliver preview of the puzzle for bookshelf side storage, a text-only side that could appeal to “a more sophisticated aesthetic,” said Hunter. Matthews added the boxes were designed to be all the same size — no matter the size of the puzzle itself or how many pieces it had — for collectability and storage.
“Puzzles aren’t going anywhere, they’re timeless,” said Hunter. “But I think there are a lot of people playing around with the form.”