Playing Games

Recently years have seen a huge resurgence in table-top gaming. For those unfamiliar with the term, "table-top" refers to non-video games and can include anything from board games, to card games, to role playing games, and much more. Think of it as "analog gaming". Consider that Grant Wilson, from Ghost Hunters, actually quit the show at the height of its popularity to start a table-top gaming company called Rather Dashing Games!

Some of the most interesting table-top games have come from the rich history of game design in Europe. These games - which focus largely on strategy - even have their own category in the table-top gaming world. While relatively complicated to learn, once the rules are established, the game play is generally fast and there's less "luck" involved, unlike most American-designed games which rely heavily on chance and conflict. These types of games really get the brain going.

The popularity of these "unplugged" games has resulted in some interesting opportunities. Board game shops - complete with areas where you can learn/play games - are popping up in most cities. Online, geek-hero and actor Wil Wheaton, has created a program called TableTop that films him and his friends playing (and teaching you) various games. This is an amazing way to see game-play in action and to decide if the game is something you and your friends or family would enjoy. And, at least around here, you'll usually find a shelf full of board games in the neighborhood pub.

Wil Wheaton and Friends, enjoying a Tabletop game
Perhaps the best thing about table top games is that there is, truly, something for everyone. Whether you're playing Snakes Chutes and Ladders with your three-year-old or you're obsessed with extended games of Settler of Cataan, anyone, of any age or skill level, can enjoy a table-top game. Me, personally, I like a game of strategy with a smidge of chance thrown in. :)

Somehow, in the last few years, I've become friends with a fairly large group of people who either design table-top games or are somehow involved in the industry. More than likely, I'm drawn to these people as friends because they generally have big, smart brains that work in an interesting way - rather like an engineer, they are always looking for the right construction of the idea, and they have a very impressive attention to detail. Knowing these people has made me smarter as well. Because I'm playing more games, more often, I'm often being challenged to think strategically and learn new things. That moment when you suddenly "get" the game is really exhilerating.

This past weekend, I was honored to have a night of game playing with four people who work in the gaming industry. These are people who, during game play, will comment on things like how the instructions are written or whether or not the illustrations are up to par. I love this aspect of playing with them. Plus, I got to play three new games - one of which I'm totally enamored with and will be buying this week. :)  The bad thing about playing with them is that there's no off-switch. When, at 2 in the a.m., I finally said, "If we don't end this game soon, I'm going to be too tired to drive home", I didn't see a whole lot of effort to speed up the game play. LOL. On the other hand, I made a strategic move that allowed someone to win (on purpose), somewhere around 2:15am so I was home by 2:30-ish.

Early in our gaming evening. I wasn't too tired yet.

I think that table-top gaming is really specific to each person and/or family and/or friend-group. I'm going to list a handful of games that I like but I can't guarantee that YOU'LL like them. If you're ready to start unplugging and playing analog, I'd really recommend that you find a local game store and see if you can test play some games and/or get some help from someone who really knows the games. The online show TableTop will give you an opportunity to see a few games played that might be of interest. And, the very best resource for table-top game information (in my opinion) is, where you can search for games by type, age range, etc.

Here's my not-terribly-comprehesive list of Alex's current favorite games:

Board Games:
Ticket To Ride - Build your train lines while your opponents do the same. Easy to play but requires strategy based on other players' styles. Comes in a European edition as well.

Straight-up Card Games:
Apples-to-Apples - Match the description with the best answer in your hand. Hilarity ensues. The best answer wins. There's a Junior edition for smaller kids!
Cards Against Humanity - Basically Apples-to-Apples for Adults. It's X-rated so proceed with caution.
Gloom - Silly and different. The goal is to die as unhappily as possible. Opportunities to "screw your neighbors" by making them happy.

Deck Building Games (card games with strategery):
Dominion - Once you learn the rules, this game plays fast and involves a nice amount of strategic thinking. It can become a bit of an obsession (be warned).
Penny Arcade - A great, two-player game with a tie-in to a popular geeky comic.

Card Games with Boards or Bits:
Munchkin - Super fun, silly, and ruthless. Play with like-minded people. Those with thin skins may get their feelings hurt unless they're playing with other super-nice folks. Can be played with children.
7 Wonders - This is one that I played on Saturday that I absolutely LOVE - for far too many reason to fit into this sentence.

Word Games (with boards or bits):
Fauxcabulary - Make up new words on the fly. Best word wins the round.
Word on the Street - Can be played in teams or individually. There's a junior edition as well.
Bananagrams - Kind of like a cross between Scrabble and Crosswords. Easy to transport and fun to play. Again - match your group. If you've only got one word-nerd in the mix, they're probably always going to win.

I could go on for a while... I now have two closet shelves given over to board games. Of course, that's nothing compared to my friends who, literally, have hundreds, and hundreds, of table-top games.

So, jump on the trend folks! Go analog! Interact with your friends and family! Put away the video game controllers! I promise you'll have a blast.

- Alex

P.S. - While you may have missed it this year, March 30th is International Tabletop Gaming Day. Local game shops have events and giveaways. It's a great way to get started! But don't wait until next year...

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