So many games…but how to choose?
Thanks to a variety of factors, the gaming hobby and industry has exploded over the last 15-20 years. And I speak not of the electronic variety but of the type where one sits and gathers with friends, in person around a table with food and drink intermixed, perhaps a bit of music in the background for ambiance. Yes, the traditional kind with cards, dice and boards instead of controllers and monitors. The ones where there are rules to be read and bragging rights to claim. The kind that create lasting memories not stored in a “save game” file.
Don’t get me wrong; I have been a lifelong fan of video games myself but the experience can't hold a candle to the bonding that goes on over a good board game or the stories that get told through an epic roleplaying session. So let us break down these various categories and examine the styles of games for those that want to try something new and those who just have no previous knowledge of the types that are out there.
Current hobby gaming falls into 5 basic categories: card games, board games, dice games, miniature battle games and roleplaying games. Each has its own pros and cons, level of involvement and level of investment. Personally, I am presently a fan of and participant in all but the miniature battles. Granted, I have taken the field with massive miniature armies before but shelf space and my bank account forced me to draw the line somewhere!
Card games are usually the most accessible, as they tend to be the most inexpensive, the easiest to understand/play and they tend to take up much less room than other types of games. About a quarter century ago (has it been that long?!) card games split into 2 sub-categories: collectible and non-collectible. The non-collectible versions are more like the traditional stuff many of us grew up with, being that they are self-contained and all you need comes in one box. Now these aren’t the kinds of card games that daddy used to play on poker night or the kind of bridge game that grammy would play with her gal pals. These are modernized, stylistic ones perhaps with characters, a board or even dice included. But all in all, the core of the game is based around a deck of cards with more than just colors and numbers on them. Some have a good deal of text to them while others may include maps or creatures. And these days the sky is the limit on genres and subgenres, everything from fantasy and scifi to superhero and apocalyptic themes. There’s horror, comedy, spies, historical stuff, aliens, animals and more. You name it and there is likely a card game for it. Some examples of these (published by Epic Age Media) are Suburban Wars, Roadkill Rumble and All Hallows Eve. The great thing about these is that you only have to fork over cash once and read the rules once. It's all there and you can play it until doomsday and not really have to think about it too much. Just have fun! Downside is that maybe after the 100th game you might get bored with it or you may want to look into something with a little more depth and strategy.
Which brings us to collectible card games. This newly formed juggernaut came about in the early 1990’s , thanks to a certain card game that shall remain nameless. They certainly don’t need a promotional plug from me. Anyhoo, this new type of game took the world by storm due in large part to their marketing scheme (packs of random cards) and soon everyone became an imitator, flooding the industry with collectible card games. Not all were successful or good but the concept was pretty intriguing, that being one where you could continually update and refresh your game with new cards for as long as it entertained you and as long as your wallet was full. These games had more of the strategy element to them and more importantly they had worlds, characters and storylines as well. The only negative aspect was that it became very difficult to collect an entire set of any of these games, their packaging being so random and the rare cards becoming so overpriced in value that you had to be content with a partial set.
Board games are much easier to collect. Not the Monopoly or Scrabble that you could pick up at any toy store but the adventure-style games and the kind where giant armies fight epic battles. These have evolved into 2 distinct styles as well: American and Euro-style games. American-style games tend to be more straightforward and have detailed pieces, up to several hundred in fact! Examples from Epic Age Media would be Alpha Colony, Wallet Warriors and the Rift. Euro-style games typically embrace the simplicity of generic components and often revolve around resource management as opposed to warfare and violence. The interesting thing about modern boardgames is that many now have the option of adding expansion sets, making your game bigger and more involved than ever. Unfortunately, board game prices have skyrocketed, anywhere from $50 (on the low end!) to several hundred dollars! Granted there are tons of neat little pieces to play with and the artwork is generally phenomenal but unless you have a lot of disposable income you may only be able to afford one of these games per year.
Dice games aren’t new but they have come a long way from just betting on a number and reading the pips! Also, the standard 6-sided die is now but one of many polyhedrons; 4-sided, 8-sided, 10-sided, 12-sided, 20-sided and even 100-sided dice are now common and come in every imaginable color and size. But wait, there’s more! Custom dice frequently have words or pictures on their faces, some even have icons and/or symbols as well. These dice can tell stories, be read or added together and even resolve combat situations or represent special powers/skills/abilities. As with card games, many of these types of dice games also fall into the “collectible” category, meaning you can add more dice to the game later.
Miniature battle games (that is, games that use miniatures to play out epic battles) is a monster of a hobby all unto itself. Not only does one need to buy dozens of miniatures to represent their army but quite often the miniatures require assembly and paint. This makes it one of the most expensive and time-consuming of the gaming pastimes. But the result can definitely be quite rewarding; the sight of a fully-stocked battlefield (ie. your tabletop) complete with miniature trees, buildings and terrain can be extremely impressive. These displays really bring the game to life as the 2 (or more!) armies charge each other unleashing hell and death upon their opponents! It is glorious!!!
And finally we come to the section that is most near and dear to my heart: the roleplaying game. This brilliant concept came to life back in the 1970’s when a few creative guys merged the idea of a board game and a miniatures game with an element of storytelling. Suddenly you weren’t just moving generic pawns around a board but taking on the role of living breathing characters with backgrounds, goals and motivations. A board isn’t even required as you go questing through the limitless expanses of people’s imaginations. Whole fictional worlds have been created for them to adventure in and there is no limit on how many people can play or for how long. But these tales aren’t just an exercise in round-robin storytelling as there are even special dice to randomize the outcome of your characters actions and a dungeonmaster/gamemaster to help clarify the rules of the game and to act as referee for the actions of the players and their characters. Still going strong today, it is indeed a unique experience that can be enjoyed by all ages. And you don’t even have to dress in costume to play! Great examples that I have designed are Galaxy Prime (scifi) and Powers Beyond (superhero).
So that about sums up the offerings in the types of modern tabletop gaming. Choose one, choose them all. Try something new, don’t be shy! You can find them just about anywhere these days, from toy stores and game stores to comic shops and online sites. They are everywhere…and thank goodness for that!
The Game Guru hath spoken.
HALLOWED BE THY GAME!