I’m going to start this tabletop blog post with a story about a video game. Bear with me, I promise it’s relevant. Some years ago, before I had discovered the expansive world of tabletop, I was a pretty avid PC gamer. I loved playing a variety of titles, but one of my favorites was the Mass Effect series. For anyone who is unfamiliar, Mass Effect is a “space opera” series of games where the player takes on the role of Commander Shepherd. Shepherd is a hero who leads a team of the best and brightest aliens in the galaxy against a galactic threat known as the Reapers. The Mass Effect games were full of thrills and adventures, but to me, the franchise reached its zenith with the ending of the second installment.
It was the end of a long day. I had just gotten home and some much needed relaxation was certainly in order. My wife and kids were visiting family...perfect. I kicked off my shoes, grabbed some snacks, and fired up Mass Effect 2. After finishing a few missions, it was finally time to launch my assault against the Reaper base. What ensued was one of the best PC gaming moments I have ever experienced. My team made its approach, the mood was tense, the environment was breathtaking, and the entire assault was set to an incredible musical score. I fought and fought. Some of my companions didn’t survive, and their deaths were emotional moments. Finally, as the last shot sounded, the Reaper threat was neutralized and the ending cinematics started to play.
It was a stand-and-cheer occasion and that's exactly what I did. I stood, pumped my fists, cheered, clapped, and might have even jumped around a little.
Nobody to share the moment with.
My family wasn’t there and they wouldn’t have cared anyway. I didn’t have friends who played Mass Effect. It was such a great experience, certainly there was someone to share it with.
All these years later, I still remember this gaming moment with fondness. And yet, it doesn’t hold a candle to the many other experiences I have regularly while gathered around the table playing board games with family and friends. The reason? Because I get to share my tabletop experiences with other people..
A Christmas Miracle
Let me share another memory with you. This one is more recent, but still some few years ago. Christmas was approaching and it was time to start thinking about how to stuff stockings for my four children. Never one to let a good holiday sale go to waste, I found an excellent deal on a few board games at Amazon. One of those games was Ticket to Ride.
On Christmas day, after the wrapping paper was cleaned up and the sugar buzz from stocking candy had worn off, we set up the game and started to play. The galaxy was not at stake, there were no emotional ties (until someone took the route between Houston and New Orleans...curse them), and no epic music score played in the background, unless you consider Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer epic, in that case, my apologies.
I couldn’t tell you who won or lost that game, but I can tell you that we had a blast playing it. It was the origin of some of our family's inside jokes. It was the moment that my wife and I realized how “musical” our kids get when they are waiting for other people to take a turn. It was the beginning of a debate we still haven’t settled about the difference between “lavender” and “pink.” And, it gave us some valuable insight into the different ways we all tackle the same problem. It was an experience that took on much more meaning because it was shared. It certainly didn’t have the flash and thrill of a blockbuster video game, but it was so much more enjoyable.
Sharing is Caring
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not here to give some overwrought lecture. Not every game that hits the table needs to be turned into a “kumbaya” moment. There are plenty of games out there that have awesome solo modes, and sometimes, even with other people at the table, you just want to enjoy a game for what it is. I’m making my way through a game by Awaken Realms called Etherfields. I’ve been playing it solo, and I think it's brilliant.
My hope is that, as tabletop gamers, we recognize what this hobby has to offer, and don’t squander opportunities when they present themselves. We sometimes become so distracted by all the shiny pieces in front of us or other things that are happening in our lives and on our phones, that we forget to consider the players we’re gathered with. Players who, maybe, like me all those years ago, are seeking for someone to share the experience with.
I don’t think I’m the only one who has had a great game ruined because the other people at the table were having a bad day, or had bad manners, or were distracted, or were too focused on being competitive. Conversely, I don’t think I’m the only one who has had a very mediocre game feel epic and exciting because the people at the table were just so fun to be around.
There is no “I” in Tabletop
My involvement with Meeple Nation has only come about recently. It has been a pleasure to get to know these guys and their families. Not too long ago I hosted them at my house for a game night. We had a great time playing Journey's in Middle Earth. Seriously, if you've never had the chance to play a game with these guys that requires them to read dialogue, add it to your bucket list. I didn’t know they were such talented voice actors. It was hilarious.
Later in the evening, my wife joined us to play Trails of Tucana, a slick little flip-and-write game. When that was done, we just sat back and talked until well past two o’clock in the morning. The games were great, and we had a fantastic time, but the best parts of that night were the conversations we had and the friendships that developed as we sat around the table solving the world’s problems.
If you’re reading this, then odds are you have a strong affection for board games and other tabletop experiences. That’s our shared passion. It’s the thing we love, the thing we want to talk about, and the thing that brings us together. It’s an incredible hobby full of adventure and art and puzzles and humor that frequently causes us to go wide eyed and exclaim, “wow, that is amazing!”
While we’re enjoying all the cardboard and plastic on the table, let’s not forget how important the people are gathered around it.