One might assume that along with the rise in popularity of modern video game consoles and the saturation of mobile smartphones, that people wouldn’t find interest or enjoyment from gathering together to play tabletop games or board games.
The question then, is have we reached a point in time where only those of us of a certain age could still enjoy, or even remember, sitting down with family or friends to play a tabletop game?
Thankfully, the answer is a resounding no! It turns out that board games and the variety of available tabletop games, are in fact very popular today and are enjoying a resurgence!
Despite living in the world of Facebook, Netflix and iPads, Pokémon Go and other mobile games, board gaming is booming once again.
It seems that consumers are increasingly seeking out entertainment from a source that’s decidedly analog, with the hope of stepping away to unplug. Apparently, people actually want to interact with others face-to-face, and they are turning to board games.
Is this surprising? Board games are, after all, considered to be universal. They are played by young and old alike, their appeal transcends culture and language. The playing of board games is embedded into our culture, not just the games themselves but the act of playing, of interacting with family and friends. Some have even called the concept of playing games, “the original social network.”
In celebration of today being International Tabletop Day, we wanted to discuss the history of table top, board and strategy games, and look into the recent and impressive resurgence of these types of games over the last decade.
LEGENDARY GAMES OF THE 20TH CENTURY
Many of us remember the games explosion of the 20th century, which elevated some of our all-time favorites, to legendary status in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Favorites such as Monopoly, Candyland, Scrabble, Clue, Sorry, Connect 4, and so many other table top games became part of popular culture.
A lot of us likely have fond memories of tabletop war games such as Risk or Axis and Allies. Games in which players move miniature troop pieces around a map to act out battle scenarios. Or perhaps you were more fond of games of role-playing nature, like Dungeons & Dragons or Games Workshop’s popular Warhammer game series’. Games which were designed for reactive storytelling and fluid player choice, igniting a world of imagination.
But if we were to look further back, what were some of the earliest table top games humans played and enjoyed across history?
HISTORY OF GAMES
Board gaming has a long, storied history reaching back to the earliest civilizations and the ancient times of the Sumerians and Egyptians. While the exact rules of many of these early games may have been lost to time, in some cases, historians have been able to piece together gameplay. Surprisingly, many of these games can still be played today.
Obvious games like Chess, Checkers and Backgammon are on the list of long-played games.
In addition there are lesser known games like Nine Men’s Morris, (also known as Cowboy Checkers), a strategy board game dating back to the Roman Empire. Strategy board games such as Go, a traditional Chinese game, and the Game of Ur. Even older, and yet more rare games, the games of Mehen and Senet.
Mehen, is a board game from Ancient Egypt which is thought to be the earliest multi-player board game, dating back to between 2770 – 2650 BCE. The game was named for Mehen, a snake-god, and the game board was shaped like a coiled snake. Game pieces were formed in the shapes of lions and lionesses and were moved about the coiled game board. The exact rules to this game are unknown, but historians believe that up to six people were able to play Mehen.
Senet is widely considered to be the oldest board game known to man and was played in Predynastic Egypt, dating around 3100 BC. Senet boards were rectangular slabs made of wood, limestone, or ceramic earthenware and featured carved squares and symbols. The game of Senet is featured on hieroglyphs and multiple tombs in Egypt, and Senet boards were even found placed in the grave, to help the deceased pass the time throughout the afterlife. Because the game relies heavily on luck, it was thought that the winner was under the protection of the gods, leading to the game becoming known as ‘the game of passing.’
As with Mehen, historians exactly sure how the game of Senet was played, but a reconstruction of the rules have been created based on pieces of texts, meaning modern players can play a version of Senet today.
LOOKING TO PLAY SOME ‘CLASSIC’ AND MODERN GAMES?
If you are looking for some modern table top games to play in celebration of the special holiday, or classic favorites to bring you back, there are a nearly endless variety of games available to play and enjoy in 2019. There are the classic and prevalent roll and move games, cooperative games, area control and worker placement games, and Card Deck-Building games, just to name a few genres, there are so many more!
We do have a few games genres and examples listed for your consideration. Hopefully you can find something here that will pique your interest in playing a table top game in the near future!
Roll and Move Games
If you’re looking for an old classic to introduce to a younger audience or a retro favorite to play with some old friends, roll and move games are still widely available. In a roll and move game, like many of the classics we know, Monopoly, Candyland, Clue, players roll dice (or spin a wheel) to determine the number of spaces to move. Whether racing from a starting point to a finish line or moving to control resources, what is rolled plays a large role in whether players win or lose in this game type.
Worker Placement Games
Worker placement games like, Agricola and Pillars of the Earth, are a slow-paced and strategic type of board game which operates roughly like a game of musical chairs. There are only so many spaces available, and players will need to claim their spaces before someone else does. In these games, territory spaces are usually claimed on a game board by sending a dedicated worker to occupy a space and help you accomplish your objectives.
Agricola: Agricola focuses on resource management. In Agricola, players are farmers that sow, plow the fields, collect wood, build stables, buy animals, expand their farms and feed their families. Players start the game with a farming couple living in a two roomed hut. Each round, they take turns to place their family members on action spaces to get resources and improve and grow their households. At each harvest, food is grown, people are fed, and animals multiply. Players lose victory points if they have trouble feeding their family, which makes food production a major point of tension in the game. After 14 rounds players calculate their score based on the size and prosperity of the household.
Pillars of the Earth: Set in England at the beginning of the 12th century, and based on the Ken Follett novel of the same name, The Pillars of the Earth tasks players with construction of what is to be the greatest and most beautiful cathedral in England by procuring raw building materials. Builders compete against each other to contribute the most to this cathedral’s construction. Players recruit workers, buy or sell goods, and choose their path to victory.
Pandemic and Flash Point are examples of two popular modern cooperative style board games. In a cooperative board games, players work together, typically playing against the game itself, in order to achieve a goal, winning or losing as a group. These games promote cooperation over competition.
Pandemic: Pandemic is a title in which players must collaborate to fight global disease outbreaks, working together to save the world. Each player character has a unique role and skill set, and it takes every ounce of coordination to avoid an extinction-level-event from destroying the human population.
Flash Point: In Flash Point players work cooperatively to rescue people from a burning building, as part of the same firefighting team. Player turns are filled with the tension of having to fight the fire back, rescue victims or investigate points of interest. The objective in Flash Point is to pull enough victims from the flames so that the players can all win the game, the catch is, that if a certain number of people are lost to the inferno, everyone loses.
Card Deck-Building Games
In a deck-building card game, construction of a deck is usually the main focus of gameplay. Each player has their own deck, and gradually build and expand their initially-weak hands during gameplay. This is usually done from a shared pool of cards.
Dominion: In the tactical card deck building game, Dominion, players play as a monarch, or ruler of a small pleasant kingdom of rivers and evergreens. Decks contain resources, victory points, and player options. Your kingdom starts out with a small and sad collection of estates and coppers, but by the end of the game the goal is to lord over a kingdom brimming with gold, provinces, inhabitants and structures.
Clank!: Clank! is another deck building adventure game where players burgle their way through an angry dragon’s mountain lair, attempting to steal treasure. Through the use of cards and tokens players are challenged to build a better deck of abilities while balancing the threat of delving deeper to find more valuable loot, against the risk of making an escape. Each careless sound and each artifact stolen draws the attention of the dragon.
Area Control Games
Do you remember when you were a kid and you drew a line in the middle of your bedroom that your sibling was not allowed to cross? (If you don’t you missed out!) This is an apt illustration of the concept behind Area Control games. You gain control of land that is yours, and no one else can have it. Winners for these game types are usually determined by whichever player has amassed a greater total of score in the form of wealth or power or influence by the end of the game.
El Grande: El Grande is an area control/majority game in which players compete for control of regions of 15th century Spain. Each player plays as one of the Grandes (or Spanish nobles), and uses two different sets of cards to gather Caballeros. They then place those loyal Caballeros strategically throughout the regions of the board to strengthen their position. Players can take special actions on chosen cards to shift their advantage in various regions. Majorities throughout the regions are scored three times, over 9 rounds, with the player earning the most points being declared the winner.
Mission: Red Planet: Mission: Red Planet is also an area and resource control game. Mission: Red Planet focuses on planetary exploration and mining, with a steampunk inspired theme. Players play as leaders of ruthless Victorian-era mining corporations, launching separate and competing mining expeditions on Mars. The goal of the game is to occupy the red planet and harvest its priceless minerals of ore and ice. Players will need to utilize the talents of nine character cards who lead exploration and commit sabotage against the competition.
Secret Identity Games
Deception is the name of the game in secret identity games. Your goal is often to expose the identity of other player characters while keeping your true identity a secret. Sometimes there is an additional objective to complete, which usually requires a player to stay alive to complete. These types of games are usually won or lost over a process of elimination.
Crossfire: Crossfire is a game of deception and negotiation set in a dystopian future, where the war between two rival factions is about to spill into the streets. In the game of Crossfire, five to ten players secretly compete in two teams to either protect or eliminate a VIP. Players might be an Agent, tasked with defending the VIP, or an assassin trying to keep the VIP from reaching their destination. There are also bystanders near the VIP, which makes it even harder for agents and assassins to know who the real threats are. Player will need to use powers of deduction to identify the target and complete the mission.
Ultimate Werewolf: Much like Crossfire, Ultimate Werewolf is also a game of deduction between two opposing teams: this time it’s Villagers and Werewolves. In Ultimate Werewolf, players on the Villagers team attempt to figure out who is a werewolf on the other team. The game progresses over a series of in-game days and nights. Each day villagers choose a player to eliminate, who they to be a Werewolf, and each night, the werewolves eliminate a villager. The game is over when either all the Villagers or all the Werewolves are eliminated.
While it might seem a bit strange, that in a world where things are becoming increasingly more and more digital, games which are made of cardboard, plastic or wooden pieces, and cards are having a renaissance.
Many experts have credited the growth of the video games industry and the rise of mobile gaming as having had a huge impact on the proliferation of a new breed of modern, well-designed board games – largely because the presence of games normalized game-playing in all forms among a mainstream audience.
But in the end, board games, as they always have, remain a great way to get family or friends together with the offer of something different to do, and an opportunity to get everyone put their phones down and enjoy something together.
When you are playing a board game, you are able to sit in the same room as your friends, just like you remember from when you were a kid and playing board games or classic video games at a sleepover – side-by-side, face-to-face!
The only difference now, is maybe you can have a drink or two with friends while kicking back to enjoy yourself.
If you want to do it, we encourage you to give it a try! Why not go for it? There little to lose – after all, it is socially acceptable all over again. International Tabletop Day seems as good a day as any to set up the board and call the family and friends over to play a game.