I’m sure most gamers go through periods like this. I know I’m not the only one, and I know it because of the sheer number of times I’ve reintroduced people to tabletop gaming who say things like “I haven’t played this since I was a kid” or “in college we used to play ‘insert random classic game here’, is this anything like it?”
I haven’t been able to play games.
TGR is running on bare bones at this current point in history. A combination of moving for work, friends not living 10 minutes up the road – plus medical, personal, and many other categories of things ending in “-al”… I just having been able to get a game to the table except the occasional rushed game of Jaipur or 51st State.
But I want to use this time constructively. When you’re in the whirlwind of new games and the constant churning out of new content, you don’t often get to reflect on why you’re even there. You talk about what you love about it all the time, but why you love it is a different question all together.
More than anything I miss my friends. I miss catching up with the various faces you’ve seen in the TGR images over the years, and some you haven’t. It’s not as though I don’t see them or chat – between social media and the occasional event or dinner we’re still very close. But there’s something different about getting together to throw dice, play cards, and engage in fictional worlds.
Tabletop gaming allows for such an intimate connection. You’re engaging in an activity together. And as odd a point as this might seem initially – you’re facing each other. I love video gaming (it’s been my saving grace as of late), but you’re almost sharing a solo activity together – doing your own thing with others around. I love a good gaming sesh, especially with coop games like Payday 2 or Divinity Original Sin. But the social element really doesn’t compare.
With tabletop gaming you’re going on a journey. Maybe you’re stranded on a mysterious island and you’re trying to survive together. Maybe you’re matching your wits against one of your friends and attempting to outplay one another, or maybe you’re just collecting cool cards and goofing around.
A universal truth about tabletop gaming, I believe – every time is quality time.
It’s a legitimately exhilarating experience to sit down across from someone you value as a strategic equal or unknown, and knowing you’re about to put everything you’ve got into victory. Every plan, counterplan, bluff, and improvisation. The feeling of accomplishment when you win, or the drive to do better if you lose.
It gives you something to think about in the moments between the gaming sessions, maybe a new idea to try out next time or a way to maximise the plan you already have. This is actually one of the reasons I’ve been so hugely into preconstructed deckbuilding games in the past (MTG, Android: Netrunner, Arkham Horror LCG, Legend of the Five Rings). The ability to look through so much more game content and discover hidden gems of strategy. But even with self-contained games like Race for the Galaxy or Alien Artefacts, there’s combinations to consider, past plays to rethink, and new things to try.
Not every gamer – and certainly not every game – should be hardcore competitive. But I’d argue every good game has some form of strategy. Whether you’re going for a larger trade total in Jaipur or making babies in Stone Age.
Continuing the conversation (#mademyselfproud) about the times between games, when you’re not able to physically be in the same location, the wonder of social media still allows me to get involved in the games I enjoy.
I’ll often message Lachlan or Josh about strategies in various games to try, my friend Madison and I discuss Legend of the Five Rings strategies and get way too excited about combinations we’re considering (waaay too excited given how bad a lot of my ideas turn out). I want to seek my friends out and talk about the games. Which in turn causes us to book our next gaming session in sooner.
Focusing on the actual game sessions, the conversations are the best bits. It’s why shows such as Wil Wheaton’s tabletop work. And when I say conversations, I mean everything from the intense strategy conversations, the silly laughs which happen over absurd situations, or even just the one or two word exchanges with your opponent in a competition when something intense or interesting happens.
A part of the conversational aspect which isn’t immediately obvious but can be super important – engagement in the community. For me it’s often conversations at Meeple Meetup or Boarding School with people about aspects of games or throwing around titles the other should try. The messages I receive from people who want to tell me about a cool new game they’re playing or asking where they can purchase certain games or wherever the conversation leads. These conversations make me feel so much more connected, so much more a part of the gaming community at large. I treasure every single notification which pops up on the various TGR social media accounts.
No matter what game it is, I roleplay it. To some degree. It can be hard to roleplay checkers – but I’ve always thought of them as soldiers. And you have a king. So I manage.
I’m not at the table for the cardboard. To me it represents something more (it’s why there’s a theme section to all my reviews). When I’m with my gaming group I’m suspending reality and putting myself in strange new worlds where different rules apply.
The best examples of this are full on roleplay games such as Dungeons and Dragons. But even in game like Arkham Horror, Robinson Crusoe, or Dead of Winter where you’re with your friends living lives far outside your everyday existence. I get to go on these wild adventures while being in the comfort of my own home, in the presence of the people I love.
The worlds in gaming foster my own imagination – non-generic fantasy or scifi with a new twist. Stories told from a unique perspective. The parts which blow my mind make me want to break them down and analyse them, and the parts which I find lackluster make me want to create something better. They show me not everything has to be the same for it to be good. Nowadays I’m seeking out those different themes, those weird and wonderful worlds.
Alright look. I know what I said above (cut me some slack, I’m going through gaming withdrawals here!). I wrote the above and actually stopped to take another pass at why I like shuffling the cards, why I like rolling the dice, or moving the miniatures. I actually do like the cardboard (metaphorically speaking. Cardboard dice would be horrid).
There’s something very tactile about picking up the pieces – like you’re reaching into the world and having a direct impact. It’s why I hate dice rolling apps. There’s a real lack of weight felt by just seeing a polyhedral dice bouncing around on your screen.
I said above about how I’m also a videogame guy (100%’d Spider Man in 3 days after its release. #mademyselfproudagain). But there is something extra you get from the card and dice play. I used to say I never understood why the Magic: The Gathering app would bother with having cards represent the characters because the cards were only used due to the lack of real life dragons we could play with. Now I see I had it backwards. It’s not that I want real dragons on my table (look if this is an option we can totally rethink this conversation), what I want is to actually feel the cards in my hand. To flick them through my fingers while making a decision. And to feel the tactile satisfaction when the card hits the table…top (*puts on cool guy sunglasses).
I think what I’m long-windedly trying to say is this: tabletop gaming is such a vibrant and wonderful part of my life. It’s a part I feel really comfortable in. It’s a crucial part of the genuine Goof experience.
And I really truly miss it.
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