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Are Board Games Nerdy?

Board games and nerds may seem like an obvious pairing. Nerds like intellectual hobbies and board games are an intellectual pastime. But nerds are perceived differently these days, and there are thousands of new board games released every year – you don’t need to be a genius to play them all! 

So, are board games nerdy? Board games have typically been associated with nerds because it is an intellectual hobby. However, a wider variety of board games have made board games more accessible to everyone. Even hobbyist board games have become part of mainstream society. 

If we’re asking the question if board games are nerdy then it’s definitely up for debate and suggests they maybe they aren’t. At least, not anymore…

Chess board game with my nerdy glasses
Chess board game with my nerdy glasses

What is a nerd?

If someone asks you to picture a nerd, you probably picture the stereotype.  

An acne-ridden teenager wearing glasses and unfashionable clothes. They’re likely either overweight or really skinny. They may snort when they laugh, get bullied by the cool kids and get incredible grades in math and science. They probably like sci-fi, collect comic books and merch from their favourite films and tv shows. 

And while stereotypes are useful, we all know they aren’t the whole truth. What does hold true about nerds though, is that they are usually pretty smart and prefer intellectual hobbies over sports. 

What is a board game?

A board game is all games from Chess to Monopoly, to hobbyist board games like Catan (see it on Amazon).

Even card games classify as board games most of the time, if we’re talking card games other than those played using a standard 52 deck of playing cards anyway. See my article on Are card games considered board games? for why that is. 

Why are board games associated with nerds?

Not all nerds are board gamers and not all board gamers are nerds, but there is definitely some overlap.

Board gaming is an intellectual hobby

Board games use your brain, not your body like sports do. 

Chess is a great example. It involves abstract and strategic thinking – and thinking is not something that everyone finds fun! But nerds do. 

Chess clubs at high school attract the nerds and it’d be social suicide for a cool kid to join one! So it’s the nerds that get associated with board games right from school. 

The biggest board gaming website has ‘geek’ in its name

The biggest board game website in the world is BoardGameGeek. While yeah, you can geek out about anything, the fact that ‘geek’ is in the name, shows that the nerds and geeks connection was strong when BoardGameGeek was founded in 2000. 

Board gamers may self identify as nerds

Board gamers may self identify as nerds in the same way that outdoors fans identify as outdoors types. 

Big Bang Theory

First aired in 2007, The Big Bang Theory sitcom featured nerds regularly playing board games and tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons. (See my intro to D&D for non-gamers if you’re not sure what it is). Big Bang Theory helped to reinforce that nerds were associated with board games.

Do you need to be smart to play board games?

So given that board games are an intellectual hobby, do you need to be smart to play them? 

Before I got into the board game hobby, my knowledge of board games was games like Monopoly, Clue and Chess. I saw board games as fun to play with my family on a rainy day or during holidays, but not hugely interesting otherwise. 

I assumed that anyone who was really into board games enjoyed playing abstract games like Chess or strategic battle games like Risk. But I was wrong. 

There are hundreds of thousands of board games in the world with thousands of new ones released every year. That means there is a game out there for everyone. 

Board games that introduce people to the board gaming hobby aren’t complicated to play and are often called Gateway Games. These are games like:

Dixit Odyssey board game score board with animeeples
Dixit Odyssey board game

Dixit (more details at Amazon) where you guess the picture card played by another person based on their clue.

King of Tokyo
King of Tokyo

King of Tokyo (more details at Amazon) where you play as a monster in Japan fighting for control of Tokyo.

Has the perception of nerds changed?

I think there has been a shift in how nerds are perceived because nerds are running some of the biggest companies in the world and hobbies that were traditionally seen as nerdy hobbies have become more popular.

Tech giants

With the rise of tech giants like Facebook and Apple, nerds are now in powerful positions in the world. Because tech CEOs feature in the news regularly, they are helping to shift the stereotypical perception of nerds. 

Even on a smaller scale, nerds are the developers on computer games, the engineers behind smartphones and land jobs at cool companies like Google. 

Nerdy hobbies go mainstream

It used to be that superheroes, cartoon and comic books were seen as childhood interests that only nerds stayed interested in beyond school. 

But now, Marvel films dominate the box office, sci-fi and comic book merchandise are collectable and vintage Star Wars toys sell for crazy high amounts at auctions. These interests are not just for nerds anymore. 

Has the perception of board games changed? 

In the same way that nerdy hobbies have changed over time, so has the perception of board games. They’ve gone more mainstream too. 

Celebrities have embraced board games

Tabletop on YouTube

In 2012, Wil Wheaton (actor from Star Trek) launched a YouTube series called Tabletop. In each episode, he invites celebrities along to play board games with him. 

His guests don’t always conform to the nerd stereotype, for example, Aisha Tyler (actress and TV host) and Chris Kluew (retired American footballer). 

Vin Diesel plays Dungeons and Dragons

Technically a role-playing game rather than a board game, Vin Diesel (actor famous for his role in action films) made headlines when he joined Geek and Sundry on YouTube to play Dungeons and Dragons. 

Rich Sommer hosted a board game podcast

Rich Sommer (actor from Mad Men) hosted his own board game podcast called Cardboard. 

Board game cafes open all over the world

Board game cafes can be found all over the world. In board game cafes people can try out new board games and be taught how to play them by the board game gurus in the cafe. For more check out my post on board game cafes.  

The board game cafe in my city is busy with all kinds of people. Families, office workers, students, people old and young.

It’s not full of stereotypical nerdy gamers. 

Available in mainstream stores

There was a time when board gamers needed to go to specialist friendly local game stores to by their board games. But now that there is popular demand for games, you’ll find places like Target and Amazon stocking hobbyist board games.

Then there are modern mass-market games like Cards Against Humanity (link to Amazon) that have made board games a topic of conversation again.

Conclusion – Are board games nerdy?

Board games aren’t just for nerds anymore! For two main reasons:

  1. There are more nerds in the media that don’t conform to the stereotype
  2. Board gaming has become more of a mainstream hobby

If you want to check out some gateway games for people new to the board game hobby, remember to check out Dixit and King of Tokyo (see both at Amazon). 

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