Games and Gaming: Table-Top Adventures

This week, SciFiPulse introduces a new feature on table-top games.  Most science fiction and fantasy fans are familiar with a number of electronic games — played on consoles, tablets, PDAs, smartphones or computers — but have you discovered the variety of table-top games out there?  Here is a quick overview of what awaits, and why you might be interested.

What games are we talking about?

Primarily, we’ll cover role-playing games (RPGs), board games, miniatures games, and card games.

RPGs

The best-known role-playing game is surely Dungeons & Dragons (TSR/Wizards of the Coast), in its various editions.  But there are hundreds of role-playing games and some can look quite different from D&D.  At its core, table-top role-playing involves a group of people using a set of rules (often using dice) to arbitrate chance while creating a piece of adventure fiction together.

Some sub-types concentrate on simulating their settings as exactly as possible, while others focus on telling stories that fit in a genre like space opera, noir, or pulp; and yet others offer challenges for skills, intellect and decision-making of the players.  Almost any table-top RPG will involve all these elements in different combinations.

Board Games

Everyone knows Monopoly (Parker Brothers), but the genre covers a wide variety; two often used terms are “wargames” and “German-style.”  Wargames simulate famous battles or campaigns, whether historical (e.g. Guadalcanal, Operation Market Garden) or from fiction (Battle of the Five Armies, succession of Westeros); they usually are two-player games.  By comparison, German-style (often known as “Euro” games in the United States) generally have simple rules, shorter playing times, indirect player interaction, and abstract physical components; winning involves meeting specific conditions and often emphasizes resource management.

Miniatures Games

This is the classic eye-candy game at table-top game conventions, large armies of lovingly painted little metal miniatures battling on large tables covered in replica terrain simulating the battleground.  Typical scales includes 1:285 (typical foot infantry models are about 6mm high), 15mm, 28mm (like the well-known Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000), and 54mm.

Card Games

Perhaps the best known card game is the one that started a craze 20 years ago, Magic: The Gathering (Wizards of the Coast).  Card games come in collectible and non-collectible types; they pit two or more players against one another using mechanics like hand management, resource matching, etc.

Why should I be interested?

Even if you have the newest console or the best graphic card in the world, there is a lot of fun to be had in table-top games.  Here are a few things they do well:

  • That’s where it all started.  For example, today’s console/computer role-playing games (CRPGs) and massive multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPGS) have their origins in table-top games; the experience of a open-ended universe, having lots of choices, playing the part of an adventurer, are all aspects they were trying to re-create.
  • You’re not limited by an AI.  While some modern games are now doing a great job at handling players’ unpredictable actions and thinking outside the (x)box, there is still nothing that approaches the flexibility and responsiveness of real people playing with you or against you.   Your game experience is always one-of-a-kind, and sometimes it gets downright epic.  And no one else will ever defeat the boss, solve the puzzle, or conquer the Galaxy quite the way you just did.
  • Replay value.  For that very same reason, you can play over and over again and have a completely different experience, especially if you play with a different group of people.
  • They’re affordable.  While it’s perfectly possible to turn this hobby into a money pit, especially with collectible and expandable games, at its base it is inexpensive: you just need the game, some friends, and writing materials.  While new editions may be released, you’re never forced into an upgrade.
  • It’s a social activity.  Sure, sometimes you just wants to kill things or rack points on your own, just like you may want to watch a video by yourself; but it’s also fun to go to the movies with a group of friends — or to sit at a table and play a game together, trading jokes and creating your own sagas.
  • Feeling smart.  Whether you dominate in a competitive game, you team up with your friends to defeat the system in a cooperative game, or you solve a mystery in a role-playing game, it’s a nice feeling.
  • Living the adventure.  For your first few minutes, you may find yourself missing the high-resolution graphics; but after a short while, you find yourself swept away by the adventure.  This is especially exciting in RPGs, where there is no cap on the special effect budget, nothing to set the limit of your imagination except what you and your friends agree on.  The dialogue is not pre-written, and all the great ideas are yours.
  • Wish-fulfilment fantasy.  There’s nothing wrong with admitting it: we want entertainment, escape, and adventure.  We want to feel cool and not have to worry about the bills, the boss or traffic for a few hours.  There is no crazy idea that cannot be handled by some sort of table-top game, whether it’s to play a modern-day Roman Empire with magic thrown in for good measure, or exploring the reaches of your favourite SF authors’ universes.

What’s coming up in SF games?

I will leave you with a few names of recent or upcoming RPGs that I’m pretty excited about and which explore science fiction universes.  I will tell you more about them in upcoming posts.

  • A new edition of the Firefly RPG has been announced by Margaret Weis Productions.
  • Evil Hat Productions recently encountered monstrous success with the Kickstarter funding of their FATE Core RPG.  Several pulpy science fiction settings will be included, from Court/Ship (an alien invasion drama set at the court of Louis XV) to Timeworks (Travel back in time… for the right price.)
  • Another Kickstarter project that funded very well in 2012 was Traveller 5th Edition by Marc Miller; the books went to the printer in December.
  • Glyphpress also used Kickstarter to fund its supplement  Shock: Human Contact, released last year for their award-winning game Shock: Social Science Fiction.
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