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Puzzles, Board Games, Chess: Our Pandemic Entertainment

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In living rooms all over the country, many Americans are proudly declaring “checkmate,” tapping that final piece of a particularly tricky jigsaw puzzle into place or perhaps stomping off in a huff after an especially contentious board game.

The pandemic has brought out the competitor in many of us, especially when it comes to puzzles, board games and chess. And the “old school” format of these pastimes – in person, not on a screen! – has been making a comeback these last few months. 

Whether fueled by nostalgia, family bonding time or a reprieve from all those hours spent on phones and computers, board game sales at Mattel were up 48% year-to-date, according to an article on Today.com. Meanwhile, demand for puzzles has been so robust that “there’s a global shortage of puzzles,” Brian Way, co-owner of the online retailer Puzzle Warehouse, told NPR. And hardly a pawn in this whole pastime frenzy is chess. The game had already jumped in popularity before a new TV series came along and “interest skyrocketed,” CNN reported.

Chess was already making its move before a TV series debuted, which helped spur a 125% increase in sales of chess sets.

Quarantining with the queen. A fictional limited series about a young female chess prodigy debuted in October – and that resulted in what House Beautiful called “The Queen’s Gambit effect.” In the wake of the show’s hit season, the magazine noted that “chessboards are flying off the (literal and virtual) shelves.” Just how much? In the weeks since the show premiered, sales of chess sets in the U.S. have increased 125%, Juli Lennett, a toy industry analyst, told The New York Times. And Bloomberg reported that Chess.com, a social network website, added about 2.8 million new members in November, compared with about 1 million each month since March.

The gift of games. U.S. retail sales of games rose 29% in 2020, compared with 2019, according to figures from NPD Group. And on Thanksgiving, sales of chess items surged a whopping 300% compared with the previous month, CNBC reports. Meanwhile, a Goldman Sachs Research survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers found that toys and games remained the No. 2 category for holiday gift plans in 2020 – though there was actually a slight decrease in the share of respondents who said they planned to give these gifts relative to 2019. 

With people continuing to stay in due to Covid-19, many Americans will have time to break in those new holiday board games or puzzles – or even buy some new ones. The U.S. cards and board games market, valued at $2.69 billion in 2019, is predicted to jump to $5.04 billion by 2025, according to Statista. That should give some of us plenty of time to brush up on our chess skills. 

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for individualized professional advice. Articles on this site were commissioned and approved by Marcus by Goldman Sachs®, but may not reflect the institutional opinions of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., Goldman Sachs Bank USA or any of their affiliates, subsidiaries or divisions.