When most people hear the word “gamer”, they usually add the prefix “video” subconsciously. But, while digital games have slowly become accepted as part of mainstream entertainment, the past decade has also seen the unexpected growth of an industry that many assumed would become redundant in the era of Playstations and iPads: tabletop board games.
The concept of sitting around a table rolling dice and moving pieces may seem archaic to the generations of us who have been raised on computer screens and tablets, but there has been a revival of the old-school. Beyond the grossly mass-marketed titles like Monopoly and Risk, a community of independent designers and publishers has been steadily producing innovative, exciting and beautiful games which offer experiences that go beyond even those of the most sophisticated gaming hardware.
Throughout mainland Europe the US, a new breed of board gaming is thriving. There are titles that allow you to build medieval settlements, re-enact pivotal battles from your favourite sci-fi series, tackle murder mysteries or manage the spread of disease, and they sell in huge numbers. Themes range from the mature to the silly and unusual concepts such as “strategic storytelling” push the conventions of the form way beyond hands of cards and dice.
This new wave of games is often described as “hardcore” or “strategy”, but at its heart these are all still board games, and the best are as suitable for a family game night as they are for a den of geeks.
The best part of this new trend is the lack of screen time. Kids of all ages are rediscovering the joys of social interaction. Instead of spending hours staring at the proverbial idiot box, these modern games exercise the grey matter; they pull families and friends away from their laptops and mobile phones and deliver nailbiting face-offs, captivating depth and, most importantly, really can fill a room with jeers and cheers.
Pandemic, for example, has its players working together as a team of medics attempting to rid the world of four deadly and highly infectious diseases. Instead of playing against each other, the players play against the diseases and race against the clock. Winning Pandemic is a meme in itself and players can change the difficulty from beginner to legendary. Make a mistake and the resulting epidemics will spill across the board in a wave of multi-coloured cubes.
Another favourite, King of Tokyo is a “take that” game, which casts its players as mutant monsters, gigantic robots and strange aliens, all of whom are bent on destroying each other and the city to become the one and only “King of Tokyo”. Each player gets a cardboard monster and gets to roll a handful of chunky dice that have a combination of numbers and symbols that represent victory points, energy, healing and attacks. Over three successive throws, they choose what to keep and what to reroll. It plays like Yahtzee with a “Godzilla versus Mothra” kind of feel.
Takenoko is the game you want to play if you are swayed by beautiful art and cutesy charm. Players take on the role of Imperial gardeners burdened with caring for a hungry panda while trying to cultivate bamboo for a Japanese emperor. On your turn, you roll the dice to check the weather and then choose two of five different actions to perform. It’s a great family game that’s easy to play.
A good place to start is TableTop, a YouTube web series hosted by Wil Wheaton, of Star Trek fame, that invites well-known celebrities to play new and upcoming games. It has been described like “Celebrity Poker meets Dinner for Five.” Not only is it fun to watch, but it also serves as a way for people to see whether or not they would enjoy playing a game. Notable guests have included Karen Gillan (Dr. Who, Guardians of the Galaxy), Seth Green (Austin Powers, Robot Chicken), Grant Imahara (Mythbusters) and even Alan Tudyk (Firefly, Frozen).
So, what does your family do on a cold wet weekend? Break out that old game of Monopoly and fight over who has to play with the iron token?
Why not come to Wellycon, New Zealand’s biggest friendliest board gaming convention? Every year on Queen’s Birthday weekend (this year it’s 4-5 June), Wellycon brings together gamers from around Wellington and New Zealand; last year alone over 400 people played games during the two-day event. You don’t need to own any games to attend and this year there will even be a special family session on the Sunday, between 10am and 2pm, which is a great opportunity for families to see what modern board gaming is all about. Not only will you learn a new game or two, but there are spot prizes, tournaments, the chance to play test upcoming games, meet game designers and more.
No matter what your experience with board games in the past, there are so many more that there really is something out there for everyone. It’s just a matter of bringing the family together, giving them a try and leaving the computer screens behind.
For more information, check out the Facebook page or the Wellycon website. Doors open at 10am – admission for adults is $20 for one day or $35 for both days; children 13 and under are $10 for one day and $15 for two. Additionally, if you buy two adult tickets for the same day, then any children 13 and under enter FREE on that day. Also, when you book your tickets, make sure to use the code KIWIFAM for an additional discount!
You also have a chance to win a family pass to Wellycon – enter now on this link.