You may have heard that tabletop gaming is making a comeback. The term refers to a wide variety of games, but it’s specifically used these days to differentiate them from video games. Under the term “tabletop” falls board games, card games, role-playing games, and others.
Board games include standard classics like chess and checkers. Role-playing games include Dungeons & Dragons. Card games include Magic the Gathering. But lately, manufacturers are creating fusions of these: card deck games that provide a dungeon adventure game, board games for a quick trip through time. Indie developers are releasing board games that provide all the parts and pieces for a historical or fantasy adventure.
Tabletop games are popular at conventions, where sponsors run weekend tournaments. You’ll also find a number of Tabletop groups and tournaments in your local area, by connecting with local comic book shops, book stories, or libraries.
What’s Behind the Return of Tabletop Gaming?
In 2016, the popularity of tabletop gaming surged as much as 20 to 35 percent.
And game distributor Esdevium says that there is more crossover appeal in the tabletop gaming market than ever. Only five years ago, fantasy war games were the most popular. But historical themed additions like Ticket to Ride and science fiction scenarios like Pandemic have given tabletop gaming a broader appeal.
The question is why — in an era of beautifully designed, multi-player online games that allow players to virtually defy the laws of physics — are simpler tabletop games surging in popularity. Women, is the answer, and couples as well, looking for low-key and relaxing entertainment. And, as “geek culture” gains mainstream acceptance, the mainstream affects geek culture. The growth of “cooperative games,” like Pandemic, mean players can team up to save the day, rather than compete against each other in a bloody war of attrition.
Cooperative Gaming and Its Effect on Tabletop Game Popularity
It may be tempting to write off the trend in cooperative gaming as the result of the “participation trophy” Millennial generation, but the more practical viewpoint is that people like to gather together for recreation, to socialize, to enjoy food and companionship. Cooperative gaming provides a full evening of entertainment for everyone who participates. Players aren’t discarded throughout the game.
The trend started with The Settlers of Catan. The 1995 game has grown in popularity because of its cooperative play that gives each player a chance to redeem themselves until the last die is rolled. The game is played as a team, rather like D&D is played as a cooperative party or band of adventurers. No players are eliminated during the game.
And while multi-player online games allow players to meet and compete in a virtual space, they’re very poor venues for showing off one’s spinach dip recipe. As the video-gaming generation gets older and grows out of clubbing, as well as gains family members that must be included, they find face-to-face connections with friends and family more appealing. Tabletop gaming fills that need.
Board Game Packaging and RPGs
Tabletop gaming has also increased in popularity because of the surge of role-playing games in board game format. Packaged role-playing board games have everything a party needs to get started. Players don’t have to acquire a library of guide books or boxes of dice. The board, rules, pieces, and die are included with the package. This packaging technique has increased the popularity of tabletop gaming, and made it more accessible than ever.
Online Resources for Tabletop Gaming
So, you want to dive into tabletop gaming and don’t know where to start. Perhaps you want to get some friends together and are looking for reviews and resources on the best games for newbies. Or perhaps you’re already a tabletop devotee and want to keep up with the latest expansions.
Ironically enough, it’s online culture that has done the best job of inspiring the newly re-found popularity of tabletop gaming. Here are some of the best online resources to tap:
The Geek & Sundry website hosts actor and geekdom ambassador Wil Wheaton and a roundup of celebrity guests to play board games.
The Tabletop Gaming website, hosted by Warner Group Publications, is the go-to for tabletop gaming news in the United Kingdom. They provide news and reviews for board games, “miniatures” (role-play with miniatures), and “historical” strategy games.
Tabletop Gaming News
Tabletop Gaming News has a slight larger sphere of coverage, including tabletop games converted to digital play. Even better, it also hosts a vast network of blogs that cover individual games as well as all aspects of tabletop gaming. Subjects such as miniature painting and model building for games are covered.
Tabletop Tribe is also a well-kept blog that announces new games, provides reviews, and provides gaming recs for players new and old.
Best Tabletop Games for Beginners
If your last experience of board gaming was a resentful round of Monopoly with your megalomaniac of a little sister that one time the power went out, you may want to start with a few fundamental games.
Card Deck Games
Card games are both inexpensive and usually easy to play. They’re also the perfect “gateway drug” to more involved tabletop games. Put away the controller, bring out the spinach dip, and get your friends hooked on card games first.
Exploding Kittens is the perfect starter card game, it takes only two minutes to learn and 15 minutes to play. What could be easier than that? If you’re into kittens, explosions, and the occasional goat, this is the game for you!
Players draw cards, taking turns until someone draws an exploding kitten card. That player is now dead, and out of the game. That is, unless they have a “defuse” card. They can defuse their exploding kitten with belly rubs, a catnip sandwich, or the ever-elusive laser pointer.
Sheriff of Nottingham
Sheriff of Nottingham is for up to five players and takes about an hour to play. Players get to take a role as the evil Sheriff of Nottingham and rule with an iron fist as merchants use their wiles to gain access to your thriving market. If you’re into mercantile bluff and bribery, this game is for you!
Coup – The Dystopian Universe
In Coup, the future is dark, with a for-profit class of multinational CEOs who rule. Their cruel grip has reduced the remaining population into despair and poverty. But the Resistance has arisen, sowing discord in the new court, bringing the new elite to the edge of ruin. As a member of this “new royalty,” you must manipulate others to survive, working your way to ultimate power.
In Avalon, an Arthurian tabletop card game, the sources of good and evil fight it out over the future of Britain. King Arthur brings the promise of a peaceful, prosperous future, but Mordred has infiltrated with his minions. They work in secret, known only to Merlin. But Merlin must also stay hidden, and speaks only in riddles. Protect Merlin’s identity and out the traitors to win the game.
Grab some epic adventure without all that mucking about with graph paper and painted figures. This card game is a compact dungeon module for one or two players that plays in about 45 minutes. Add extra sets for more players. One Deck Dungeon focuses on battle tactics against increasingly difficult monsters. Easy to play for beginners, and it won’t eat up your entire weekend.
Hanabi is a clever game that won the Spiele des Jahres Game of the Year. It only takes 20 or 30 minutes to play and can accommodate two to five players. The premise is simply delightful: Teams work to create a dazzling fireworks display. However, it’s dark and players can’t see what they’re doing. Each player has to hold her cards so that only the other players can see them. Then they must cooperate to win the game.
In Ultimate Werewolf, it’s werewolves versus the villagers. Each night, the werewolves claim another victim from the village. But some of them have special powers. Up to 75 players can attempt to out the werewolves using their secret powers. That is, until only werewolves or villagers remain alive.
Board games are all-in-one packages that have everything you need to play. Sometimes more complicated than card games, with pieces, dice, and tally sheets, they’re also easier to introduce to new tabletop gamers than multistage RPG games. They have the same charm as RPGs, with the ability for players to choose characters, for flexibility in play, and for a new adventure every time. But many earlier RPG games require amassing large numbers of dungeon dice, metal figures, and other accessories. Board game boxes have everything you need.
This very popular board game is a cross-country adventure where players navigate the railroads to see the most North American cities in just seven days. For two to five players, the game takes about an hour to play. Best of all, expansion packs for Ticket to Ride let players race through Europe and Asia, as well as the United Kingdom and the Nordic countries.
This ingenious little game lets two to five players vie against the trials and tribulations of history as they work to develop the French city of Carcassonne. They deploy their “followers”: knights, monks, farmers, and thieves, who further the growth of the Medieval city.
Legends of Andor is a classic fantasy board game that was one of the early favorites in the recent surge of tabletop game popularity. This cooperative-play game needs two to four players. The heroes band together to save the land of Andor and the castle of old King Brandur from the advancing enemy.
For fans of the Viking sagas, Champions of Midgard is adventure board game for two to four players that lets them pit their wits against the Nordic monsters of old. Players fill the role of Viking clan chiefs who must work together to protect a harbor town from trolls and dwarves. The winner earns glory, the favor of Odin, and the tile of “Jarl.” The losers, presumably, retire to Valhalla.
This best-selling tabletop game originally released in 1987 is based on the horror fiction of H.P. Lovecraft. Arkham Horror accommodates up to eight players and takes two to four hours to play. Players can sign up to play as one of 16 different characters as they investigate the horrors beginning to close in on the town of Arkham, Massachusetts. The players must team up to defeat the diabolical servants of the Ancient Ones, like Cthulhu.
In Mysterium, players team up as psychic investigators in order to solve a horrible murder in Warwick Manor. One player serves as the ghost, who tries to lead them to the culprit. The team is met by vision clues, but players must figure out the weapon, the location of the murder, and the killer in their midst.
Fans of the cult classic sci-fi TV show can cruise the ‘verse in their own Firefly-class ship. Just like in the show, player captains must get jobs — any job — in order to keep moving in a dangerous ‘verse. Dodge the Alliance, avoid Reavers, and best double-dealing dodgy clients, as you make your way through the black with your plucky crew. The best part is, there are a several expansion packs for replay value.
Mice and Mystics is a delightfully creative and beautifully realized game that’s sure to become a favorite. This cooperative game teams players who have been turned into mice because of their loyalty to the king. The mice must navigate an increasingly dangerous castle to save the kingdom. Players can choose to play as the fencer, Prince Collin, or mouse-smith Nez Bellows, or any other of a number of mouse characters as they dodge Brodie the castle house cat and other dungeon monsters like rats and spiders.
With creative and fun adventures like these, it’s no wonder tabletop gaming is back big. If role-playing games come off as too complicated or lengthy for new players, board games and card deck games are a great alternative. They’re also a good way to get your non-gamer friends into gaming mode before you introduce them to something more time-consuming.
Whatever your favorite genre — science fiction, fantasy, fairy tales, Steampunk, or horror — there’s sure to be a board game or card deck game for you and your friends. With the number of expansion packs and new editions released by designers on a regular basis, there’s plenty of future adventure that awaits you and your party.
Featured Image by Noupload via Pixabay.