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Terapeak Trends: Which Tabletop Games Sell Best on eBay?

By Aron Hsiao  on August 15, 2014

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The end of summer is rapidly approaching. Back-to-school aisles are full of frantic shoppers preparing for the coming fall and winter seasons and the shift from outdoor activities to indoor ones.

Fall and winter are indoor seasons—and time for families and friends to pull out Monopoly or other classic games for entertainment. (Images: © Fir0002/Flagstaffotos / GFDL)

As families and friends make the shift from outdoor fun to indoor fun, board games and other traditional kinds of tabletop games will come out of the closet once again, at the center of after-school play and, later on, of holiday get-togethers.

We wanted to see how the sales of these old-fashioned, non-electronic tabletop games play out over the fall and winter months, so we fired up Terapeak for eBay and began to run a year's worth of numbers.

The Games

We focused on eBay's "Board & Traditional Games" category, researching some of the best-known games of all time—as well as a couple that are more recent but seeing increased search attention on eBay. Here are the games we chose to survey, in alphabetical order:

  • Axis and Allies
  • Backgammon
  • Candyland
  • Checkers
  • Chess
  • Clue
  • Dominion
  • Dominoes
  • Monopoly
  • Pictionary
  • Risk
  • Scrabble
  • Sorry
  • Stratego
  • Trivial Pursuit
  • Twister
  • Uno
  • Yahtzee

Obviously this isn't a fair fight—some of these games predate modern history, while others were developed in recent years. There are so many games, however, that we couldn't cover them all—and we wanted a representative sample.

To mitigate this problem a bit, we also ran category-level numbers for the entire category—to give sellers a clearer picture of the opportunity size and shape across the board, so to speak.

Weekly Tabletop Game Numbers

With so many games in the results, we didn't know whether the chart would be messy and difficult to decipher or relatively clear. Turns out it's more the latter.

Sales peak during holiday season; Chess leads dollar sales throughout the year

Just two to four games stand out from the crowd in weekly dollar volume terms; the rest disappear into relative equivalence. By a very large margin, Chess is the tabletop game that eBay shoppers buy. And let's not forget that this only includes tabletop, traditional versions of Chess—no Chess gadgets, Chess software, or Chess computers, all of which appear in other categories. The only other major seller in our list is the board game classic Monopoly.

One peak is in evidence—during the holiday shopping season—with the rest of the year remaining relatively flat.

At peak times, however, Monopoly outsells Chess in terms of unit volume

In terms of items sold, there's a third big seller in the bunch, namely Scrabble—another classic—and we find out that in fact, during the peak of the holiday shopping season, more Monopoly purchases than Chess purchases are actually made. Between the two charts, the next games that can be discerned as "the best of the rest" happen to be Backgammon (in dollar volume terms) and Dominoes (in units terms).

In short, what we see here is that for all the work done by game companies to create the new latest-and-greatest games every season for decades, shoppers continue to focus heavily on the same classic games that their parents and grandparents were likely playing on kitchen tables during the fall, winter, and holiday seasons.

Yearly Tabletop Game Totals

Breaking the games out into yearly sales totals makes the gap even clearer.

Classics like Chess, Monopoly, Scrabble, and Backgammon remain timeless

In reality, when it comes to tabletop games, there's Chess, Monopoly, perhaps Scrabble—and then everything else. What's striking is the degree to which each of these games combines long, deliberate play, deep strategy, an important role for skill, and a great deal of social intrigue—apparently the recipe for a great tabletop game.

The Category as a Whole

Since we pulled numbers for a sampling of games, we wanted to be sure that we also pulled numbers for the category as a whole, in case we missed any key players or up-and-comers. This way, at least, it's clear just how big the market for tabletop games is on eBay.

Sales begin to climb in November, peaking at just under $1.2m weekly

Over the past year, products listed in the "Board & Traditional Games" category on eBay have accounted for sales of some $26.2 million dollars—not the largest market on eBay, by any means, but certainly nothing to sneeze at in a world in which these old-fashioned games have to compete with video game consoles and smartphone-based game apps.

On eBay, at least, tabletop games appear to be alive and well—and niche-minded sellers can rejoice in the fact that the market is particularly interested in classic games for which inventory is readily available in many configurations, styles, and conditions, and from a wide variety of sources and suppliers.

How did we get the data used to produce this article? Using Terapeak. This step-by-step tutorial walks you through our sources and methods.

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