“This is not going away anytime soon”: How soaring costs and long delays from the Red Sea shipping crisis are taking their toll on the board game industry

Soaring global shipping rates and heavy delays caused by attacks on shipping in the Red Sea have begun to have a serious impact on the board game industry – and experts believe the snarl-up could persist well into 2024.

The cost of shipping container space has more than tripled since the end of November, reaching levels last seen in the latter half of 2020, when the impact from the worsening Covid-19 pandemic staggered global supply chains.

Shipping from China, where the vast majority of board games are manufactured, to the UK and EU countries have been particularly badly affected by the ongoing attacks by Yemen’s Houthi militants, which have forced container ships to redirect away from using the Suez canal.

That is adding between two and three weeks to journey times as vessels take the longer route around the southern tip of Africa – which is also having a knock-on effect on upcoming planned deliveries, with ships tied up longer in transit and unable to hit their previously expected schedules.

In an update on its BackerKit page, Gloomhaven publisher Cephalofair said UK and EU deliveries of Frosthaven and other products from its $5m Gloomhaven Grand Festival crowdfunding campaign had been delayed by the crisis.

Elden Ring and Monster Hunter World board game maker Steamforged Games also revealed it had been affected, telling backers of its Epic Encounters: Local Legends Kickstarter that shipping of the game had been set back by about two weeks.

Primal: The Awakening from Reggie Games

Reggie Games, which raised more than $2m for co-operative deck crafting boss-battler board game Primal: The Awakening, has had an even more drastic impact on shipping out its games, which are already well over the initial expected deliver date of March 2022.

It said in a Kickstarter update to backers that it had “made the difficult decision” to prioritise its US and Canada deliveries, while pushing back its UK and EU shipping until after the Chinese New Year holiday finishes on February 24.

Tory Gardner, freight manager at UK-based board game crowdfunding fulfillment service GamesQuest, told BoardGameWire the worsening situation had been a “shock to the system”.

She said, “Before going into how difficult this has been for us, it must be said how terrible this entire situation is as a whole. We hope they can come to a resolution soon.

“We started seeing knock on affects in early December. At that time, it appeared as though the main issue would be longer timelines. For example, prior to this, my China to UK shipments were sailing on average around four weeks. As the situation developed, it quickly extended to at least five, with a full possibility of it ending up closer to six weeks.

“Mutterings about pricing changes started happening mid to late December. As the year came to an end, it became apparent that we were in for a rude awakening. By the time we came back from the festive break, the entire process had shifted.

“As you noted, prices absolutely shot up, and became completely unrecognisable to the previous prices quoted at the end of 2023. In addition, quote validity timelines had also reduced from a month to a week, and eventually extending to a two-week period.

“Collecting quotes, confirming bookings, and finding sailings within the price validity period has felt like an impossible task.”

She added, “Overall, processes have been taking longer and costing significantly more. With this aside, I do hold out hope that the year will improve.”

Paul Bryant, director of UK board and card game distributor Spiral Galaxy Games, said, “Along with disruption to schedules and increased journey times we would be – and are already – seeing increases in costs that wouldn’t have been incurred had the conflict in the Middle East not expanded.

“We are not anticipating that the resolution of the conflict will be swift and there’s a very real sense that it could expand, and therefore disruption should be expected throughout 2024.

“Given the drought situation affecting the Panama Canal which is currently operating on a reduced basis there is no real alternative supply route at present unless Arctic shipping routes with all the issues they would bring are open and utilised.

“The effects on our trade will be delays and increased costs and this will become increasingly apparent throughout the supply chain.”

Mark Azzam,  the founder and owner of United Arab Emirates-based retailer Back to Games and director at Middle East-focused distributor Boardgame Space Games Distribution, told BoardGameWire, “The Red Sea issue is a major problem for all our sea freight shipments from Europe, and it has been this way for over a month now.

“We have some shipments that are stuck in the Red Sea before crossing Yemen, others stuck in our suppliers’ warehouses in the EU and two shipments that have gone around South Africa, which has added about three weeks to our delivery time.”

Several North America-based board game publishers and distributors contacted by BoardGameWire said they were yet to see significant impacts in shipping products from China to the US west coast – but the supply chain problems are mounting according to Justin Bergeron from ARC Global Logistics, a US-based freight forwarder.

He told BoardGameWire, “There is still a lot of uncertainty out there with just how long the Red Sea conflict will last and just how it will affect the ocean shipping market. From most news and analysts I have heard from, this is not going away anytime soon. I think Maersk released a statement the other day to their customers letting them know this is likely to continue deep into Q2 and Q3 at the very least, meaning sailings from Asia to EU will continue to be routed south of Africa’s Cape of Good Hope until then.”

He continued, “The low water levels in Panama Canal are a contributing factor to all that is happening in the ocean market, in addition to what’s happening in the Red Sea. It’s all a tangled web, where if you pull on one end of service, it will have at least some effect across all the ocean service.

A container ship navigates the Panama Canal

“The Panama Canal has struggled to get ships through for months now due to low water levels. Panama is the gateway for the majority of cargo to go from Asia to the North American east coast. For a while there, when it got real bad in Panama, the carriers were considering westbound routings from Asia to the North American east coast. There likely were some voyages with this routing, but once the Red Sea conflict came into play, this idea and routing was squashed, as the voyages would be much too long.

Bergeron added, “With Panama choked out and the Suez Canal passage choked out, the carriers’ “arteries” have become blocked and limited to what they can do. This, coupled with Chinese New Year demand, directly correlates to excess delays and higher prices.

“While the Red Sea primarily hampers European trade with Asia, and the Panama Canal issues hampers American trade with Asia, the effects spillover and strain the supply chains and logistics on grander levels as mentioned.

“Where do we go from here and into the future? Its very tough to say. I don’t think anything drastic will happen in either direction. Historically the Spring is a quieter time of the year for ocean shipping with lower demands and thus rates typically fall in March and April, sometimes even into May – although there are exceptions, like during the post COVID opening surge.

“Chinese New Year is later this year though, and by the time they all get back to work and into full swing, I don’t think we would see any significant rate drops until mid to end March at best. Again, tough to predict these markets. One geo-political event can change things pretty significantly.”

6 Comments

  1. You forgot to mention that the reason for the yemeni attacks is as a form of protest for the western support of the genocide commited against Palestinian people. Yes, we might wait for a couple of weeks for board games, but the humanitarian crisis is something we should be caring more about.

    • Thanks for commenting! There’s literally no limit to how long this article could be if it delves into every aspect of the reasons and background of the Israeli genocide (which I totally agree, is a genocide). This is a board game industry news website, so naturally the articles are centred on happenings and influences directly related to the board game industry. But always happy to receive comments and insights expanding on wider issues related to the news we cover.

  2. Quick! Someone make a game about trying to ship your games from China to the Western World while being attacked by pirates and having to face angry backers if you fail.

    It’s the only language gamers understand!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *