The Golden Age of Tabletop Gaming
My childhood memories are filled with countless hours spent sitting in the glow of an old tube TV, with the sharp corners of an NES controller digging into my palms. However, I grew up in a transitional period between analog and digital gaming, so board games also played a big part in my formative gaming years. I have always loved the feeling of sitting around a table with friends or family playing games. But, like most adults, I find the popular classics like Monopoly or Battleship to be shallow and overly simplistic. They may be good for a family game night, but I’ve always turned to video games for serious gameplay.
A couple of years ago, I was pleased to learn that the last decade has been something of a golden age for tabletop gaming. Every year, more and more high quality board and card games are released, and game designers are finally taking the medium seriously. Gameplay tends to be more complex, but the rules are streamlined and easier to learn. The art direction and component quality has also greatly improved, especially with plastic miniatures.
Thematic content has become far more interesting as well. In the past, licensed games were simple cash-ins or reskins of other games (just how many versions of Monopoly are there!?), much like the often deplorable movie tie-in video games. Now, some of the best board games available have a familiar and interesting theme from your favorite movies, video games, or comics.
The War of the Ring is one of many games set in The Lord of the Rings universe, and is considered by many to be the best war strategy game ever made. Legendary is a fantastic card game that lets you play as more than 30 heroes from the Marvel comics universe. Surprisingly, even many of the board games that are based on video games have ended up being great, such as Gears of War, Sid Meier’s Civilization, and Doom. There is even a Mega Man board game currently in development!
Beyond officially licensed settings, there is still a great amount of variety to be found. The ever-present fantasy and sci-fi settings are obviously well covered, but you’ll also find far more unique settings. Mice and Mystics has you controlling sword and spell wielding mice against an army of rats and insects. Takenoko tasks you with taking care of the Japanese Emperor’s panda by planting bamboo in his garden. Robinson Crusoe strands you on a deserted island, giving you different scenarios to survive through until you can escape or build a new life. There are racing games, sports games, zombie games, Japanese housemaid games (wtf!?), and much more.
One of the biggest signs of the growing popularity of tabletop games is how available they have become. Barnes and Noble is constantly expanding their game section, and now sells games that you would have never found anywhere but a hobby store a few years ago. Even Target is expanding their board game section, selling titles like Settlers of Catan, Small World, and the Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game. A few online sites have grown a huge following with prices that are often $20 or more below the MSRP value, such as Cool Stuff Inc and Miniature Market.
Despite all of this, some may wonder why you would ever opt for spending $60 on a board game instead of one of the many video games on your wishlist. While there are some great multiplayer video game experiences out there, you and your friends spend most of the time silently staring at the screen. You’re technically interacting, but in a very disconnected way. Once I got into modern tabletop gaming, I was immediately reminded of all of the time I spent as a kid sitting around a game table, talking and laughing with my friends and family. The best games lead to a genuine conversation with the other players, and you’re doing so face-to-face. It feels much more personal, and if nothing else, it is a great change of pace.
Game modifications are another benefit to board gaming. While plenty of mods are made for computer games, console gamers don’t have this luxury, and you generally have to be a skilled programmer to create one anyway. With board games, anyone with an imagination can create their own scenarios, add any kind of content, or modify rules to their heart’s desire. A huge community has been built around this kind of custom content at the website boardgamegeek.com, and some of the best community modifications even make their way into official rulebook revisions or game expansions from the game’s publisher.
I had been a diehard video gamer for many years, but once I discovered the modern world of tabletop gaming, a whole new dimension was opened up to me. In case you are interested in seeing if it’s a good fit for you, I would like to leave a few suggestions for where to start:
$35 at Miniature Market
If you want a simpler game to test the waters, I would suggest Small World, which is like a fantasy themed version of Risk with a whimsical art style and sense of humor. Each player chooses a race and a trait, and the combinations can get quite interesting: Flying Orcs, Berserk Ghouls, Swamp Wizards, etc.
$72 at Miniature Market
My first suggestion for the zombie lover is Zombicide, which is a cooperative game that is based more on the action-packed video game zombie settings, such as Left 4 Dead. It comes with a huge amount of extremely detailed zombie miniatures, and it can be very fun to see the huge horde expand across the playing board.
Last Night on Earth
$40 at Miniature Market
Zombie fans should also try Last Night on Earth, which is a competitive game that pits one player as the zombies against the rest of the players as the human survivors. It has a campy classic zombie movie theme, and the art is made with real pictures of actors in hilariously cheesy costumes and poses.
Descent: Second Edition
$54 at Miniature Market
If you want a dungeon crawler, I would suggest Descent: Second Edition. It has fantastic art and very detailed miniatures. Its game play is streamlined, but still complex enough to hold the interest of a hardcore gamer.
$20 on Miniature Market
If you like card games, I would suggest Smash Up. It’s a tongue-in-cheek battle game that pits armies from across different times and universes against one another. You’ll have matchups such as Aliens and Ninjas versus Robo-Dinos and Ctulhu cultists.