Pandemic and Virus board games sell out across the UAE

UAE board game retailers are seeing a monumental increase in people purchasing the topical titles

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Mark Azzam, founder of Back to Games at Al Wahda mall. Khushnum Bhandari for The National
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In a strange twist of art imitating life, UAE residents are buying up pandemic-related games as coronavirus sweeps the globe.

Board game retailers across Dubai report they have sold out of the games Pandemic and Virus, as people choose to stay at home. The swift increase in business is at odds with much of the suffering retail sector, where sales have been dwindling.

Hopefully after all this is over we might have formed a bunch of new gamers in this country

Ebrahim Obaid, sales representative at B2B stockist Boardgame Space, says Pandemic is now out of stock, as was Virus. Boardgame Space imports games from abroad and sells them to retailers and cafes in the region.

"People are heading towards board gaming since this pandemic happened," he says. "We thought that like any other business it would be a downfall and it would be a few slow months to come ... but it's the opposite."

Pandemic is a multiplayer board game that has its participants fighting several viral diseases that have broken out across the globe. It was partially inspired by the Sars outbreak of 2003, which was also a coronavirus.

Pandemic was partially inspired by the SARS outbreak of 2003.
Pandemic was partially inspired by the SARS outbreak of 2003.

Players take on roles as disease-fighting specialists and their sole mission is to treat disease hot spots and research cures for each plague, before they get out of hand.

In Virus, players are charged with stopping an experimental virus that has escaped a laboratory. Players compete to be the first to eradicate the outbreak by "isolating a healthy body".

"I presume people are trying to virtually defeat this virus," Obaid says.

Others that have proven popular are card games Dixit, Codenames and Exploding Kittens, as well as strategy game Catan.

And now, as people across the world are urged to stay indoors, orders for board games are coming in thick and fast.

Boardgame Space offers retail stores an online platform to login and pick games, which are then shipped across the region.

The pandemic may make shipping logistics slightly more difficult, but for now, the games are still able to be moved from place to place.

Obaid says demand is particularly high in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

"There was a huge spike when everyone started working from home. People were buying us out of stock. I had some stores just saying we need games ASAP."

Boardgame Space hopes to translate Pandemic into Arabic by the end of the year.

Board games fastest mover at Kinokuniya

A representative for book store Kinokuniya in The Dubai Mall says board games have become their most-purchased products. The most popular games have been Pandemic, Virus, Catan, Exploding Kittens, as well as other card games. Catan, Pandemic and Virus are now sold out.

"Lots of people are coming in and asking what games to play and about puzzles and things to do."

While Obaid acknowledges it is a trying time for everyone, he says hearing how much interest in board games was peaking is "beautiful for me to hear, it's music to my ears".

"That's not just as a business but as a hobbyist," he says. "We want people to play board games and have fun and stay away from their electronics. People just need something to do with their parents, their kids or their partners."

Obaid admits staff in the retail stores he sells to often persuade those looking for Monopoly or other classic games to give a new, more modern game a try.

Gaming enthusiast Mark Azzam shares that sentiment.

He is the owner of board game chain Back to Games, which has stores in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and buys directly from Boardgame Space.

Back to Games has also sold out of Pandemic and has dwindling stocks of Virus. Business has been booming on plenty of other titles, too.

"Usually we do well on weekends but not weekdays, but since mid March it's been really insane," he says. "A lot of people have been coming for Monopoly and for Scrabble and basic stuff and we've been diverting them to a lot of the modern, incredible board games that we stock."

The store stocks more than 2,000 titles and many of its family games are selling out as well. The shop's localised games, which translate country-specific games into English and Arabic, have also proven popular.

"This whole thing has a silver lining for us," Azzam says. "People are investing more time to be social and to be with each other, especially when they're stuck at home with their kids.

"Hopefully after all this is over we might have formed a bunch of new gamers in this country."