As I said before, I love good video games. N64 is wonderful. I could sit in my room for hours playing “Ocarina of Time” and be completely and utterly fine. But what about tabletop games?

My friend Andrew and I are in the process of starting a tabletop gamers club at the University of Arizona which will primarily focus on board, dice, and card games; Magic: The Gathering, D&D, Settlers of Catan, Fluxx, Dominion, Puerto Rico… for lack of a better term, geek games.

I have noticed that there seems to have been a resurgence of popularity in geek gaming over the past decade or two. While video gaming remains, as it has for over 30 years, big business, board gaming is booming once again. Why is this? Why choose Ticket to Ride over Call of Duty? Why pick Pandemic over BioShock? Allow me to try to break this down for you.

It used to be that D&D players would run campaigns in the back rooms of dimly-lit comic book stores (no offense if this is you), and games of Magic would be planned on the DL for an underground group of geeks. Why is it, then, that nowadays, it has suddenly become more socially acceptable to play Magic publicly in the light of day? Why has Settlers of Catan become such a worldwide phenomenon? Why is Monopoly seemingly on the way out?

I can think of a few answers to these questions.

First, what has changed since the beginnings of geek gaming? Well, Dungeons and Dragons, for example, is one of the oldest RPGs still played today. While it may still be a bit of a taboo subject to speak of, D&D players are “coming out” more now than ever. How can it be that such an unspoken game has maintained such international popularity for so long? Imagination. It’s as simple as that. It takes very little imagination to play Left 4 Dead, let’s be honest. While it may be fun to rage on a zombie hoard, it involves little thought (not to mention little blinking). In D&D, player are forced to make the game, rather than having it simply presented to them. If the only necessary supplies to play D&D are some books and a dice set, the rest of the adventure must lie within the imaginations of the players. Do you choose to face the Cyclops? Do you run away from the oncoming hoard of Half-Elves? Do you stand your ground against a high-stat fighter Dwarf? Whatever you do, it is rarely shown to you. Thus, players are forced to mentally create the scenario. This makes room for endless possibilities. As Barney always told us, if you use your imagination, anything can happen. Thanks, purple dinosaur.

When playing Super Smash Bros., while you may be “interacting” with your fellow players, it’s a completely different type of interaction, one that probably looks more like a button-mashing, Falcon-punching, smack-talking, PK-thundering, hammer fest.

Jerry Seinfeld said it best: “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” While I stand by my argument that there is a plethora of artistic merit to be found in beating the snot out of one another with beam swords, tabletop gaming is equally, if not even more artful. Let’s take, for example, pretty much the most basic, foundational geek game there is: Mayfair Games’ The Settlers of Catan. If you are unfamiliar with this game, it is sort of like Civilization or Age of Empires in board game form. (If you don’t know what any of these games are, stop reading, go eat a gallon of ice cream, and play Scrabble.) I have seen some great games of Catan in my life. The game in and of itself is quite simple: settle and inhabit a resource-rich island. The simple gameplay mixed with limitless room for strategy is awesome. Even within the simple box art of the game, the 4th Edition of the game features superb art that is not unlike Millet’s famous genre painting “The Gleaners.” (My apologies, the Art Historian in me is coming out.) The strategy of Monopoly mixed with the concept of Risk, combined with the opponent-screwing joy of Sorry makes for one heck of a game.

But perhaps the best thing about tabletop games, something that video games may never match, is community. Sorry, XBox Live. When playing a board game, one usually plays with friends or loved ones. Good conversation, laughs, Bagel Bites and Red Bull, dramatic comebacks from almost certain loss, these are what makes board games wonderful. I mean, come on, that redneck breathing loudly into the microphone on Halo is just not as enjoyable to be with as your best friends. Maybe it’s the strategy, maybe it’s the fellowship, maybe it’s the face-to-face conversation, maybe it’s the pure joy of placing the Robber on your best friend’s 8, 3-city brick space just before he would get Longest Road, maybe it’s simply the fun of unleashing the imagination and letting it run wild, but whatever it is, tabletop games, both geeky and non-geeky, can truly be magical.

Just be sure you don’t have more than 7 cards in your hand.

P.S. I am thinking of doing a post about game box art. Any thoughts on that?

Advertisements