This week let’s talk very briefly about board gaming. I could go on for ages on this topic, and frankly I would bore everyone reading this to death, so I’ll refrain. Fair warning, this article isn’t much fun and mostly deals with trying to explain a phenomenon, so you’ve been warned. Let’s begin shall we?
First off, I want you to imagine what kinds of board games might exist today. It’s a simple exercise, but for the vast majority of people, this usually ends up with the person replying: “Well, I suppose I’m not too sure, stuff sorta’ like Monopoly or Risk maybe?” While an honest answer, it also pains me to hear this line of thinking. The truth is, board gaming has exploded in what is currently popularly known as the ‘Golden Age of Gaming’, and this so called Golden Age refers to gaming as a whole, for nearly every type of game imaginable, from video games, to the advent of life-streaming and Youtube gameplay coverage. It’s gotten crazy, and if you looked closely, physical games have been growing stronger and stronger, with ever-increasing popularity.
Exhibit A: The Golden Age of Gaming (NSFW). Yes… golden indeed.
What do I mean by this? I’m talking about Tabletop games (Miniatures stuff like Warhammer or the upcoming Dark Souls Tabletop game, and many other categories), Card games (Trading card games like Yu-Gi-Oh!, Living card games like Android: Netrunner, Party card games like Cards Against Humanity, and many other categories), and finally Board games (Spanning the widest range of possible genres imaginable: Settlers of Catan, Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game, Agricola, etc.).
That’s a whole lot of things to swallow, but allow me to elaborate. All those physical games I mentioned are usually referred to as Tabletop games in general, meaning that they are games that are usually played on a tabletop, hence the naming. These games usually fall into the categories mentioned, but are more often than not a mixed bag of pieces and mechanics that involve elements from all 3 general archetypes of Tabletop, Card, Board.
Take the world-famous Settlers of Catan for example:
Exhibit B: The Settlers of Catan. It’s manufactured entirely from recycled materials. How pro-environment for a game about exploiting nature’s resources.
This ‘board’ game comes with miniature pieces to represent buildings on the map, which is a board, and uses dice and cards in its gameplay. It’s a prime example of how the elements come together, but at its core Catan adheres strongly to the ‘Board’ game category more strongly.
While all of this may be high philosophy and most wouldn’t necessarily care, it serves as the sole reason why these physical games have survived the advent of digital games. That’s kinda’ important. It’s odd to think that these little games in a box could compete for gamer attention in a world filled with digital mediums, specifically video games. Usually, most have put this down to 2 things:
1. Tabletop gaming has advanced immensely in terms of improved game design, production values, and so on.
2. The physical medium emphasises player interaction, not through a screen, but face-to-face in real life.
From my perspective, the former is true for pretty much true for most other forms of entertainment mediums as well. I mean, the US Superbowl gets more spectacular as the years go on, while video games like Starcraft II, DotA 2, League of Legends, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Super Smash Bros. and many other games have achieved levels of viewership and player count that was previously deemed impossible. It’s insane, DotA 2’s active player base currently stands at around more than 600,000 players, hell, at the time of writing this article, there was over 900,000 people playing the game in the last 12 minutes ago.
What I’m getting at here is that all the entertainment has gotten better, especially in gaming, but with the exception of physical sports, only Tabletop gaming still relies on face-to-face interaction. You’ve heard this one before I’m sure : “In a world where digital technology has advanced so much, we lack interaction, blablabla.” But, that might be the very reason why tabletop is still around us, competing against these juggernauts, successfully.
If you, the reader are Malaysian for example, you are likely to fall into the group of people who provide the answer at the start of this article. If you trace the history back, you can see that very few non-traditional tabletop games (Chess, Backgammon, Go) have penetrated countries like Malaysia, namely developing nations. On the other hand, places like Europe and America underwent something close to a Renaissance of TableTop gaming, where these games continued to see distribution and support. Have you ever visited a board game cafe? These establishments are basically cafes in the usual sense, but they serve boardgames as well as your latte. Pick and choose from a massive collection and roll some dice with friends while enjoying some refreshments. These interesting diners were all the rage in Europe, but now the concept has spread to other places. Tabletop clubs and societies have sprung up in all sorts of places, from malls to universities.
So far so boring right? Well here’s the thing, the embargo and blockade of this cultural pastime has passed, tabletop games have penetrated many countries now, and people are starting to get excited all over again for the chance to play a game of cards with a friend, or role play as a spy behind enemy lines. This all comes back to the whole physical aspect of things; what better excuse is there to meet up and chat than playing modern varieties of tabletop games, a way to get away from the whole digital lifestyle thing.
My recommendation is that you give these games a try. I’ve noticed a trend, many people who didn’t think they would be interested, later played these games with friends on a weekly basis. Just be sure to ask someone who knows their way around these things to give you a few recommendations and pointers, you won’t regret it. If you’re in a university, chances are such a club exists, so that’s a good place to get started!
Next Week on The HotSeat:
“The most intricate & complex game ever to be made: Dwarf Fortress… or I’m dissing the Elves and chopping down all their trees.”
ArcticLyrae is a 3rd-year Monash University Sunway undergraduate with great enthusiasm for all things related to gaming in its many forms. He writes articles discussing various gaming-related discussions in his weekly blog, The HotSeat.