Tabletop gaming – Tales of the Con

What IS National Tabletop Day, and why should you care? Why should anyone care – it’s another marketing holiday set up by people who wanted to sell something. Does Nerd Culture really prevail over Late Capitalism every year and succeed in bringing disparate people together over cardboard armies and laser-printed anime art forever etched onto plastic slates? Or is our fascination with media built to create yet another isolated social group focused more on products than ideas.

We’re nerds so by default we have to buy things to take part in our hobbies. This is really no different from anything else that involves any sort of large fan culture – but Tabletop Day can offer a day a year for a great deal of us to take part in some hobbies we can’t normally afford to participate in. There is an unfortunate gatekeeper to this culture so many of us want to represent, and that’s economics.

As Video Games become largely focus on the realm outside of physical space, they of course also largely sacrifice the feeling of playing games next to someone. Though this criticism is not as weighty as it would be if I were writing this in say, 2008, but it is still worth speaking up about. While it’s true there’s a part of the videogame world meant for couch co-op, it has largely been replaced by online interactions.

Sooner or later the rise of tabletop games had to happen. Social interaction is always valued even in the digital era, and tabletop games give us something to interact over.  The scene seems to expand exponentially every year. Especially when you put Kickstarter on top of it and the popularity culture of nerdom, getting a tabletop game launched is easier than ever, so every week it seems like there’s a new avenue for playing games face to face with people.

That popularity culture that brings us together means our interests are always keenly the same: Star Wars, H.P Lovecraft, epic fantasy, grimdark doom, and murderin’ Space Marines. Boardgames also explore areas covered by videogames too: Economic Simulators, City Building, and Travel – and expound upon it with things like subterfuge roleplaying games that pit players against each other in battles of lies.

If it fits these things – or adapts a genre favorite like Steampunk into a realm that allows us to play with it, there’s a very good chance that players at large will be interested and soon there will be the latest Steampunk Zombie H.P Lovecraft game delivered to your doorstep (if you back it on Kickstarter)

Is that the sole reason Tabletop games become popular – or do they also additionally strike up a balance between the physicality of these kinds of games as the medium vs. how abstract our possession of other things we covet has become lately? Even most comic books, long considered a brick and mortar ran industry propagated mostly by small comic shops can be largely replaced by digital subscriptions and online-only offerings (see: The Private Eye, recently released physical)

If this sounds a little bit cynical, it’s because when you talk about something organized around products purely, it helps to be. What is more interesting about National Tabletop Day is ideas that bring people together. We went to Cab Comics in Flagstaff, Arizona this last weekend to support one of our local favorites, Tom Filsinger of Filsinger games. Not because his product appeals to us (it does!) but because we like the kind of dude Tom is and how he turned his hobby and love of wrestling into something he could share with other people.

That sharing of ideas – whether it’s stories, techniques or even simply the act of moving pieces on a board and having to wait patiently while your opponent judges the tactics you’re trying to represent, is what we at TOTC think draws people the ever burgeoning tabletop world.

As expansive and confusing as that world can sometimes be, what National Tabletop Day also represents is another chance for someone who may not have the necessary time to learn a game they can play with their friends in a dark room pouring over rulebooks, to participate and feel welcome in the hobby.  These games create stories that people can tell to each other after the fact, who the hell doesn’t like keeping a record of every brutal defeat or that time everyone pulled together to accomplish a goal. It’s just, y’know, sometimes that goal is defeating an eldritch horror without going stark raving mad.

CAB Comics in Flagstaff had staff on hand for just that – they were waiting by for us to pick a game while Tom Filsinger and The Chief ran Champions of the Galaxy for the folk curious about it right next to us.
Really – it didn’t matter if The Offender and I had ended up rolling a TOTC house roleplaying table or playing Machi koro (surprise: we did both).

What mattered was that eventually, people saw what we were playing and that there were open seats, and came to join us. So we played cardboard strategies with people we didn’t know and got the chance to meet a few new faces. Was it the joy of tabletop that brought them over, or something else entirely? I don’t know – even after working the holiday like we did.

What I do know is that in the back of my head the thought has been burning a hole – which maybe it’s not really the tabletop games or the culture that brings people together, but the simple celebration of ideas that comes from any hobby that requires participants and creators both be creative.