Why Are Board Games So Expensive? How To Spot Great Values

Getting the Most Bang for Your Buck with Board Games

We’ve all been there. You walk into a store you’ve never been in, something in the window catches your eye. Inside, you turn it over for the price and…sticker shock. Who would charge that much? Why is it so expensive? Is it really worth that much?

These days there are board games that run into the triple digits for costs. If you are just starting to get into the board game hobby, you might be a bit surprised by those prices. 

Why would something made of cardboard and plastic that takes an hour or two to play, be more expensive than a brand-new video game? What’s a good deal? What happened to all the cheap games?

What Makes up the Cost of a Board Game?

Many new board games are made by smaller game publishers and have relatively small print runs compared to the “classics” and party games. The custom boards, pieces, miniatures, cards, boxes, and art all come with a price tag, raising the production costs.

Each game also has assembly and distribution costs that trickle down to consumers, not to mention the hours upon hours of research and development. Larger companies with well-established games like Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride produce thousands of games and expansion packs every year, which means they can have slightly lower retail costs. However, a smaller game like Everdell may have a harder time offsetting the cost and so the price goes up. 

Some companies have found a way to fund their projects by using online crowdfunding like Kickstarter. They add in the various costs for the components, pricing out the game before creation, and then elicit potential backers to fund their game and receive some exclusive bonuses. For example, Trogdor a cooperative board game created from Strongbad Emails, a podcast from the website homestarrunner.com, was originally sourced on Kickstarter.

The Deluxe Kickstarter version is $60, but includes fancy painted plastic pieces, an additional mini-game, and the backers received their collector’s edition before the game was released in retail stores.

Worth the Money – Spotting the Value in Board Games

The average cost for a board game, as of now, is between $25-$50. You can expect to have some decent components like a nice game board, a few miniatures, player pieces (also called meeples), stylized money, and/or cards with original art.

Costs rise and fall depending on the quality of components as well as how many pieces are involved. Card games are relatively cheap, while games with dozens of miniatures will cost more.

Things to look for when comparing quality vs price:

  • Replayability. By nature, board games should have endless replayability. A good game is one that you are not going to get tired of pulling out at game night or one that is requested often. Betrayal at House on the Hill has 50 different “Haunt” scenarios, which means that potentially you could play it at least 50 times, and that’s if you don’t purchase the expansion. T.I.M.E. Stories is a mystery game that takes several game plays in order to solve a mystery and you can purchase more expansions once you have solved the first one that comes with the main game. 
  • Organization. Something that helps make a game more worth the money to me is when they come with in-box organizers to help keep track of all the pieces. Megaland by Red Robin Games was one of those games. There is something to be said about opening a box and seeing that the creators already thought about the organization of all the little pieces. Some games just come with some plastic bags to help with organization, which can be a hit or miss for me as some games could really use an organizational system. 
  • Miniatures. Another important element that can raise the cost are the miniatures. These pieces can be amazingly detailed and require a good deal of artistry to execute them. Rising Sun, a Japanese styled combat game, comes with 50 intricate miniatures, along with tons of tokens, coins, cards, and tiles. As you should expect from a game with that many miniatures, the game retails for $80 on average. There are several Dungeons and Dragons board games that are along the same lines with a similar price point. Pro tip: If you play any other tabletop games you may be able to reuse the miniatures for those games.
  • Number of Players. This is one that I don’t think a lot of people think about. How many people live in your home and regularly game with you? How often will you be able to play this game? Do you have a regular group of friends that can commit to an ongoing campaign game? I learned the hard way that a game like Werewolf really needs a very large group (at least 15 or more), which was a problem when our game nights were smaller.

    A game that needs several players that can commit to regular gaming sessions for an extended amount of time is Gloomhaven. With a list price of $140, buyers may balk at that price, but if you split the cost between friends and play for months (if not years) then the cost becomes more manageable and worth the price. 

  • Game Components. The one place where companies sometimes cut costs is within the basic components of a game. The paper stock for cards might be lighter, the cardboard for the board cheaper, generic plastic tokens, and the pieces less individualized for the game. Some games, particularly ones who use crowdfunding, will put more effort into their components, to make them stand out and this has not gone unnoticed by me. Tokaido has some great pieces, cards that withstand a lot of handling, and colored meeples that fit the game. Mystic Vale is a mostly deck-building game, but with a twist. Making use of clear (heavy duty) sleeves, players build their decks by adding cards IN the sleeves. Until I ran across this game, I had never seen someone make use of plastic sleeves outside of using them to protect cards. 
  • Additions and Expansions. Not every game needs extra pieces and expansions, but I admit that I am a sucker for “real” metal coins for my pirate games like Dead Man’s Doubloons. The aforementioned Tokaido has a great collector’s set that doesn’t necessarily add to the game, but the miniatures are beautiful. Many games have expansions. Some add more complexity (and time) to a game, like Talisman, but aren’t necessary to enjoy it. Others like Firefly: The Game, aren’t the same without the expansion. These days I don’t play Firefly unless I am playing the “whole verse”.

Where are the Cheap Games like Monopoly?

It is a fallacy that board games used to be cheaper. When Monopoly was first introduced in 1935 it was $2. Add in inflation and today that game would be about $37, which is about average to its contemporary counterparts. Of course, the pieces were made of wood not plastic, which is why you can get a copy of the original Monopoly now for about $12.

There are several modern games available that also come in under $20, some of my favorites being:

  1. Santorini  by Roxley
  2. Blockbuster Party Game by Big Potato
  3. Tiki Topple by Gamewright
  4. Deck Builder: The Deck Building Game by Dice Hate Me

The real takeaway here should be that games aren’t meant to be a one and done deal, which is why the ones you like are worth the investment. They can take years to develop, artists must be hired, editors for rule books obtained, and need some amount of start-up capital. A good game should have endless hours of fun and if you really love it, you may even find yourself buying more copies for your friends and family too.