If you happen to be one of those people who believe that tabletop and video gaming somehow exclude each other, I’m here to try and convince you otherwise.
First off, if you ask almost any indie game developer, most will tell you that if you are looking to break into the video games industry as a designer one of the best places to start is with tabletop games. Board games, card games, miniatures, whatever your personal preference, sitting down and plotting out mechanics that create a fun, balanced, and repayable experience for 2-6+ players will give you a wealth of practical experience in designing a digital equivalent.
Now, maybe you are not interested in the professional side of video games. Perhaps, you’ve already come to the realization that video games are simply here to enjoy playing. Well, what do tabletop games have to offer you?
Have you ever been looking through that backlog of video games waiting to be played and simply wonder when you will have the time to open them up and dig in? How often have you found yourself buying a newly released game that either cuts in line, or sits at the end of that backlog?
The point is, video games are generally a huge time investment. Unless you are exclusively playing smaller scale indie games, each of those backlogged titles is going to eat up about 20 hours, which may only scratch the surface if the game features a multiplayer leveling system or new game plus modes.
Consider the fact then that most tabletop games can be learned and played in an hour or less. Yes of course this generalization has exceptions, (I’m looking at you Arkham Horror) but you can get through roughly 20 different tabletop games in the time it takes to “finish” one standard video game. This matters for gamers dealing with full time jobs, school responsibilities, or families. Time, after all, is our most precious commodity.
Next, I want you to think back to the last time you played a video game with other people, and remember the experience vividly because of the people you were playing with. For me it was during World of Warcraft:Burning Crusade, when 2vs2 arena matches were a big thing. Going into battle teamed up with my healing druid buddy while throwing DOTS around on my affliction warlock were some of the most fun experiences I’ve had in gaming ever.
Even single player games were made better by enjoying them with my friends. While I’ve truly enjoyed most of the God of War games for the experiences themselves, my most vivid memories of playing them was during a particular masochistic phase where I volunteered to help complete the first three games on their hardest difficulty for a friend. He seemed particularly tickled after every gruesome death, especially when it was my fifth, sixth, or seventeenth attempt at a particular section. I’m willing to bet that most of your favorite nostalgic video game moments had less to do with the game itself, and more to do with the people who were a part of that gaming experience, think about it.
That feeling is exactly what tabletop games are built around. While the games themselves can be fun and interesting what truly makes the experience of a tabletop game is the people you are playing with. I’ve seen lasting friendships born out of strangers simply sitting next to each other and playing a tabletop game. That is the true power of games and it is something that I wish video games were able to capitalize on more frequently. Party games like Johann Sebastian Joust or Tower Fall Ascension stand as prime examples of how successful and fun video games can be when they promote face-to-face social interaction.
All of these experiences whether video games or tabletop games are great, and should be embraced more frequently, which is exactly why my argument here is not to urge gamers to put down their controllers all together. Maybe though, instead of buying that new release you won’t play for another 6 months, pick up your phone, call over some pals, break out the snack foods, and crack open a game.