Admittedly, video games are pretty great. Technology has done wonderful things, with better-than-real-life visuals somehow still creating something as visually disinteresting as PUBG.
I’d be writing this rant from a cardboard box if I said video games were inherently bad- they aren’t. But while video games have enjoyed a lot of growth in the two-year nightmare where going outside had a chance of being a death sentence, the same cant’ be said for its counterpart, tabletop gaming.
In the before times, tabletop gaming was hype. I’d get up on Saturdays, drive to my friendly local game store with a metal bin full of T’au Empire soldiers and engage my friend in what was probably our 100th match of Kill Team by then.
After 2 years of having only screens to look at, you realize there’s a lot more to tabletop gaming than just moving your models and rolling 1s to get them killed. Unlike a videogame, where your only interaction is your controller/peripherals, there’s just a lot more tactile flavor to tabletop gaming.
From touching the models itself to the sculpted details of terrain to having to do all kinds of poses to justify your character having line of sight on a pesky space-clown, it’s just an exciting experience that really makes use of all your senses.
Setting it up and putting it away may be a hassle, sure, but it was worth it for a much more involved experience: rolling digital dice just doesn’t compare to watching physical ones give you the finger as your Warlock gets sucked into the warp or your Crisis suit’s guns explode.
Armies On Parade
Meanwhile, all around us, other people would be playing their own games of 40K or Age of Sigmar, with their impressive army displays, custom factions and more.
It feels like those scenes from old movies where a bunch of motor heads get together to show off their custom rides- you could kind of see whose armies belonged to whom, since each army just had this dash of flavor unique to each player.
Better yet, you’d constantly have groups of people between games sneaking peeks at each others tables, appreciating the craft of painting your own tiny plastic soldiers. Despite being a hobby primarily made of shut-ins, it was a really social experience.
I’ve always had a theory about this- people joke about gamers having no social skills simply because they don’t realize how many gaming experiences are still social in nature. Heck, just sharing an arcade cabinet with someone for a few minutes can be a social experience: All it takes is asking the person who just bodied you how their day is going, and you’ve just practiced the human art of connecting to each other.
Once you’re in a room of people who clearly share the same interests as you, socializing is no big deal. “That’s a cool army!”, you say.
“Thanks! My wife picked out the color scheme”, they reply. It doesn’t all have to be about meta talk to learn something new about other people.
The Heart of the Cards
It’s not just games like Warhammer either- one of the best feelings is going to a TCG store when it’s game night. Again, players are more than happy to show off their precious decks, telling you how everything works.
Be it the competitive regulars or the two people who just quietly bought a booster box and are learning the game for the first time, there’s no real way to describe the magic of game night other than the word festive.
Heck, the popularity of formats like Sealed Draft is more than a sign at just how social the hobby really is- it’s not about building a god-deck, sometimes it’s just about hanging out with people and making the best of what your terrible RNG pulls you.
Try One For Yourself
As the year ends, I can’t stress this enough- I want for things to be safe again. Because while many stores are practicing good SOPs to be able to allow us our gaming sessions, it still feels like there’s an elephant in the room. Some players may not be comfortable heading out, regardless, and the community is all the lesser for it as a result.
That’s not to say video games aren’t closing the gap- one of my favorite things about Warhammer 40K: Battlesector was that it felt close to the actual tabletop experience. But like I said earlier, there’s a lot of experiences that just cannot be translated into a piece of software, and for those we need our friendly local game stores.
Meanwhile, if you’ve read this and are thinking about getting into tabletop gaming, why not get something you can play at home? It helps support local game stores and if it works out, our community gets more players. What may start as a box of grey-plastic soldiers could suddenly turn into a serious addiction for miniatures painting, or even a profound love for board games.