By Carimé Lane

Erik Bigglestone, managing owner at Games of Berkeley in California, reported that puzzle sales rose steeply during the pandemic, but since opening up, puzzle sales have flattened. Now, they’re closer to their pre-pandemic numbers. Gamewise, board games and trading card games like Pokémon and Magic the Gathering are currently up. 

The customer request of-the-moment at Berkeley’s are conversation games. Bigglestone speculates the reason for this is that as friends and family are now gathering again, they want to get re-acquainted with one another. Miniature war games and role-playing games are also currently appealing to customers.

Erik Bigglestone, managing owner, Games of Berkeley in California. Sales of board games and trading card games are currently up, he said.

As for trends in puzzles, Bigglestone told us that pre-pandemic, many stayed loyal to a brand– for instance Ravensburger. However, during the pandemic, customers have stepped out of that box. Many branched out and tried other brands, as availability of their chosen brand dropped, or because more game companies and design houses began making more puzzles to match demand during that time. Customers currently favour puzzle artwork featuring birds or multicultural imagery, Bigglestone said. 

To sell board games and puzzles, the store focuses on experience and expertise. Each employee has a particular knowledge focus. For instance, their chief buyer is focused on board and miniature war games. 

A view of a board game display at Labyrinth Games & Puzzles in Washington, D.C. More expensive games are selling, as customers return to the store with saved up money to spend, according to the owner.

They also rely on exceptional customer service to make sales. “More than anything else, make customers feel welcome–engage with them in a way that isn’t overbearing and makes it clear that you consider them to a be a part of your community,” advised Bigglestone. 

Puzzles are different, said Bigglestone, as the key here is to stock a variety of options. Because they know the business well, they usually look at what sells best and order more in that area, but sometimes taking risks with unique or intriguing designs pays off, said Bigglestone. 

At the 1,300-square-foot Big Fun Columbus, they mainly sell vintage board games. Owner Jason Floyd Williams said sales of vintage games are on the decline, while he noted neighbors who sell primarily newer games have seen steady sales during the pandemic.

Of the Bellingham, Wash., Fairhaven Toy Garden, pictured left to right, Dylan Collins, Owner Tina Anderson, Sri Bhola and Ryan Mullenix. The staffers all consider themselves “toy gardeners.”

Williams sees the trend continuing–where new games will outsell most vintage games. However, he thinks that vintage games like Mall Madness, Dark Tower, and Hero Quest will always hold a special spot for collectors.

At Big Fun, their puzzle selection is small– primarily made up of Super 7 puzzles and vintage ones. But a few independent companies have reached out recently, so they’ll be expanding the selection with these, said Williams. “Our puzzles have sold well. I think puzzles have become therapeutic for folks during the pandemic.”

Kathleen Donahue, owner of the 3,000-square-foot Labyrinth Games & Puzzles located in Washington, D.C., said sales are up even when compared with 2019 numbers. Now, they’re starting to see customers–including some tourists–coming back excited and ready to spend the disposable income they put on ‘hold’ while quarantined at home. As a result, they’re selling more expensive games. And sales of collectible card games like Pokémon and Magic the Gathering are “still off the charts,” Donahue said. 

Trends in board games tend to be fluid, said Donahue, but they are currently selling plenty of two player and solitaire player games. They’re seeing an uptick in social party and complex games, but there has been a slight downturn in sales of games for kids.

Jessica Marks, assistant buyer, of Sir Troy’s Toy Kingdom, North Canton, Ohio. Lighthearted games have gained in sales during the past year, according to the game buyer and vice president.

Last spring, puzzles were flying off shelves more than ever, said Donahue. Now, sales have slowed since last year. Donahue noticed that non-puzzlers begin puzzling during the pandemic and have continued to puzzle since.  

Tina Anderson is owner of Fairhaven Toy Garden, located in Bellingham, Wash., where games are the best-selling category in their 1,900-square-foot shop, and annual sales are roughly $600,000. When Anderson compared current sales to Covid sales, games and puzzles are both down. However, when she compared current sales to pre-Covid sales, games are down and puzzles are slightly up.  

During COVID shutdowns, the store had many requests for two person and family games, as customers were only playing with members of their own households. Now, customers are coming in for all types of games again, said Anderson. 

“Classic games have made a comeback now that grandparents are getting together with their grandchildren again,” said Anderson. “And families are really starting to step out of their comfort zone to learn how to play new games–not your typical games of chance like Candyland or Hi Ho Cherry Ho–that are engaging for the adults as well as the children.” She also noted that EXIT and Escape games have been popular. 

Post-lockdown, people are still puzzling, but summer weather typically slows down their puzzle sales, said Anderson.  “However, when I compare the past two months of puzzle sales to prior years, I am finding that we are way up compared to the past prior few years,” she said. 

They are also selling a lot more 1,500-plus piece puzzles than they used to, mentioned Anderson. “We expanded our puzzle selection during Covid,” “So that may account for some of the increase in sales as well,” Anderson said.

To sell more board games, “make sure your employees learn to play as many games as possible,”
Anderson said. They have a lending library of games for employees to take home and encourage employees to play demo games in store when business is slow. “If they can explain how to play the game and why they like playing a particular game, then it will be easier for employees to sell them,” Anderson said.

An overhead shot of the sales floor at Games of Berkeley. Customers currently
favor puzzle artwork featuring birds or multicultural imagery, according to the
managing owner.

Heather Marks, game buyer and VP at Sir Troy’s Toy Kingdom said board games have experienced an overall steady increase in sales and popularity over the past several years at their flagship store in North Canton, while at their Medina, Ohio, location, sales have been very steady since opening in November of 2020.  

“The trend of family game nights and social gatherings of adults centering around games have been on the increase for several years,” Marks said. 

There was also a dramatic uptick in sale of puzzles in 2020, said Marks. “We believe everyone was seeking downtime from screen time – a digital detox – and board games and puzzles helped provide a fun balance to life in 2020,” commented Marks.

Gwendolyn Reza, store manager, Games of Berkeley. The managing owner said conversation games are selling well as people begin gathering in person again.

The most noticeable trend during the past year, noted Marks, was the shift in demand from complex multiplayer strategy games or more serious tabletop games to two to three person games that may not take as long to play and are a bit more lighthearted.  “Classic games were also strong contenders, as buyers looked for that comfort of the tried-and-true games they grew up with and wanted to share with their families,” commented Marks. 

Marks has seen a shift to the younger demographic where puzzles are concerned. The highest demand is for puzzles with licensed themes and mystery puzzles that have a game-like feel. “Traditional puzzles with scenic themes will always be evergreen, but we can’t seem to keep some of our licensed lines in stock!” expressed Marks.

Assistant Manager Jesse Ramirez of Games of Berkeley. Each employee at the store has a specific product knowledge focus.

At Sir Troy’s, the game and puzzle buyers’ passion for hobbies leads them to conduct a considerable amount of personal research, which they regularly share with other employees. 

“Being passionate about the products you carry is important, as there is no hard sell involved. expressed Marks. “We genuinely love the products we choose to carry.”