Never has a thing so common as the enduring popularity of tabletop games been such a constant surprise to people. Regularly, the general press hits us with stories about the comeback of board games or a strange game shop that just opened where – GASP! – not a single video system is sold.
And yet, every day, billions of people around the world sit down to this still relevant form of engagement. Members of the Chess club face off every Saturday at the local diner. Groups of friends gather for Mahjong and Dominoes in the park when the weather is nice. In the big hall at the comic convention, strangers play pick-up games of the latest strategy titles. And yes, children still challenge their parents to one more game of Stratego before bed.
What is it about these games that keep us coming back? First and foremost, of course, is the social element. There is no substitute for the personal interaction of sitting together around the table playing Bridge with friends after dinner or competing face-to-face in a Magic: The Gathering tournament. There’s the intellectual challenge, as with the subtle strategies of Go or the word lists of Scrabble. There’s the tradition of the family game of Monopoly, played every year at holiday gatherings. There are the stories, like that time we defeated the evil necromancer in Dungeons & Dragons.
Artistry too is a part of tabletop gaming. From the hand-carved pieces of a Backgammon set, to the little wooden people in Carcassonne we affectionately call “meeples,” to the highly detailed, expertly painted plastic figures of Warhammer, there’s the tactile element. The visual style of Azul, a recent game about Moorish tiles, is striking. And the invention of new mechanisms, such as worker-placement and deck-building, keeps the design of tabletop games advancing.
Finally, there’s the fun! What can match the excitement of an ideal dice roll or perfect bluff in a game of Poker?
As we look to unplug, spend less time online, and engage in person, let us remember that we never actually forgot about tabletop games. We use them to educate. We use them to compete. We use them to connect. Board games, card games, dice games, collectibles, miniatures, roleplaying, and war games all remain an essential part of everyday culture.
David A. Miller is Executive Editor at Purple Pawn.
Explore classic toys and games that captured our attention and never let go.