It’s funny to me that board games are such a niche interest, despite the hours of enjoyment that I and others get out of them. I suppose that everyone with a niche hobby or interest feels the same way, asking why their particular brand of fun has not caught on with the great unwashed masses.
With that in mind, if I promise to listen to you explain why crochet, cross-stitch or cosplay is the greatest hobby I’ve never appreciated, can I tell you what I love about tabletop gaming? Yeah? Thanks, pal! Let’s break it down.
When I was but a lad, my friends and I played a lot of video games. We would all pile into someone’s house, take over the TV and binge our way through a few hours on either the SNES or the Mega Drive, playing games like Super Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, Super Mario Kart or Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. I’m sure this is an experience shared by most people who grew up in the 90s, all of whom spent many hours playing ‘winner stays on’ with groups of friends around a TV. Video games were a social experience that facilitated interaction and competition between friends. This was a powerful and formative experience for me.
With the advent of online gaming (and adulthood) cutting down on opportunities for this sort of social play, particularly with the added dimension of physical proximity, board games become an interesting opportunity to recover this lost treasure of youth.
When I play a board game, I do so sitting across the table from my opponents or, in the case of a cooperative game, companions. I share stories and anecdotes, both of previous games and of wider life. We throw some cards and dice around and just enjoy sharing time with like-minded individuals who just want to play with you. There’s something so pure about that, so childlike and joyous.
Given how central this social aspect is, I know that most of my memorable experiences in board gaming aren’t about great victories or fantastic strategies that I may have employed, but instead feature meaningful, fun or funny interactions with other players – other people. This is as it should be. To sloppily paraphrase the US Navy, keep it social, stupid.
Quintin Smith of Shut Up and Sit Down covered this really well with a touching video he made in the wake of his father’s death:
For a less emotive and more detailed look at the social aspects of modern board gaming, Drew Blas gave an interesting TED talk on the topic:
The Games Themselves
Aside from the social aspect of these games, we can also look at the games themselves. Fundamentally, they are fun experiences and, often, cool and/or beautiful objects in themselves. The variety of available games, both mechanically and thematically is also fantastic, and there are games which test your reactions and your bluffing, games which test your planning or your resource management, and games which test your grip on strategy and on logic. You don’t have to like all games as there really is something for everyone. Like reflex games? I don’t, but I can recommend a few to you. Deduction games? They’re more my thing and I have several in my collection as a result. Worker placement? That’s more situational for me and I have a couple of the ones I like and have avoided others.
With so many titles available – and so many good ones, at that – it can be difficult to pick out games that you’re really going to love. There is are loads of websites, podcasts and YouTube channels that give advice on this, with my favourite being Shut Up and Sit Down. In this video, Quinns gives some suggestions on where to start in the hobby:
Another fantastic channel is The Dice Tower, and I particularly love their Top 10 lists. These are usually done around a theme such as sci-fi or games with card drafting mechanisms, with recommendations of what to pick up and add to your collection to fill this particular niche. Here’s a great one which looks at essential games for every collection:
On collecting, I’ve previously put together my own three part series on starting a collection and choosing games to fill specific roles. You can click here for part 1, part 2 and part 3. I’ve also taken a look the old ‘classics’ that are often associated with the term ‘board games’ despite how truly terrible they are, and have suggested alternative games that give a similar feel, but in a much better game. The titles that received this treatment are – and clicking on these will take you to the relevant article – Monopoly, Cluedo and Snakes and Ladders.
The tabletop is a fantastic arena for social gaming with so much scope for theme and mechanical brilliance. If you’ve not had a good go at some modern board games, you need to. Find a friend with a collection and ask them – I’m sure they’d love to share their interest and sit down with you for a few games.