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Barnes & Noble is launching a summer board game series to attract customers, but who is it for?

Barnes & Noble is launching a summer board game series to attract customers, but who is it for?


The nation’s largest bookseller is working to boost foot traffic in its stores

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Photo by Dante D’Orazio / The Verge

Barnes & Noble has had a rough couple of years facing competition from Amazon and the boom of independent bookstores, and it’s been struggling to boost its foot traffic in its 633 stores across the country. Today, the company announced a series of in-person gaming events that it hopes will bring in badly needed customers.

The Summer Game Night series will launch in all of the chain’s stores starting on Thursday, July 19th, and it will run through August 23rd. The stores will offer a 10 percent discount on the games featured each evening, whiles stores with a cafe will offer additional discounts on food and drinks.

The nation’s largest bookstore chain has been trying out a bunch of ideas in the last couple of years, from selling food and alcohol in a handful of stores to an in-person book club series. But that effort hasn’t exactly been going well: the company’s sales have declined this year, and CEO Demos Parneros was fired earlier this month for violating an unspecified company policy.

A board game series feels like it’s a good fit for the store, which has recently expanded its game and toy selections, and it plans to continue to do so after the demise of Toys R Us. Board games are experiencing a boom of their own: dedicated gaming cafes and local clubs are springing up across the world to bring players together.

Barnes & Noble’s lineup feels too little, too late

But after looking at the lineup of games, it feels as though this series is a bit of a desperate attempt by the struggling chain to plug a hole in a dam with a finger. While the selection of games gets progressively more difficult throughout the summer, they’re predominantly aimed at easy-to-learn family games that don’t require a lot of setup. Games like Exploding Kittens, Monopoly, Scattergories, and Scrabble are longtime favorites. When Barnes & Noble did a test run in a select number of stores last year, it focused on “what we’d refer to as the family/entry-level games,” Benjamin Higgins, the manager at Quarterstaff Games in Burlington, Vermont, told The Verge. “You don’t need to be familiar with the hobby games. They’re easy to learn, and you can have one person running around from table to table to teach them in five minutes.”

This hardly seems like the sort of initiative that will attract the people who are already hooked on board games. Barnes & Noble’s selection is made up of games that dedicated gamers will have already passed over in favor of more challenging ones. Higgins notes that he and other store managers feel that the boom in board games has essentially reached its peak. While there are some more challenging games toward the end of the series, like Carcassonne, Codenames, and Dixit, interested gamers are likely already going to a board game club or local game store. The Summer Game Night series is aimed at more casual gamers who are looking for a fun night out. And Barnes & Noble hopes they’ll also pick up that book they’ve been meaning to buy, or they’ll pick up a game that they’ve heard about.

Higgins noted that, as a store manager, he wasn’t particularly concerned about competition from the series. Someone who is trying out a game might move on to others in the future, which is good for everyone. But Barnes & Noble’s status as a latecomer feels as though it’ll have limited results. “Ultimately, they don’t have the staff or training to capitalize on the board game market as well as game stores can,” Higgins says. If customers want to try out something a little more complicated, like Terraforming Mars or Pandemic, they’ll likely head over to their local game store.