Board Games’ Golden Age

This Guardian article, Board games’ golden age: sociable, brilliant and driven by the internet, has been going around the social media circles, saying in part:

Many industry figures point to the internet as a key factor in the growth of tabletop gaming. The rise of smartphones and tablets has given players an inexpensive way to try digital versions of board games, and many go on to buy physical copies as well.

I’d say that beyond the board game app field, unfettered access to information alone has had a huge effect on the number of people participating in tabletop games. Almost every discovery moment I experienced personally in finding out about tabletop games came from the internet; and in turn, those discoveries drove me on to find out about a new game, or a new school of thought or way of playing a particular game.

And it’s not just me. I’ve watched enough online discussion about games in the last — yikes! — ten years — to see the patterns in topics. There are always people discovering a game for the first time, taking their first steps into the hobby. Concentrated repositories of information like and the Index, in concert with efforts like Tabletop, which reach technologically-sophisticated datavores, make what used to be a hobby with a low profile and high social barriers, far more accessible.

Now a newcomer doesn’t need to be inducted into the hobby by someone who’s got a copy of Illuminati or the Dungeons & Dragons box set, and introduced to the weird little store hidden in a strip mall or the attached garage of someone’s home. If they hear of something interesting, they can click a link or do a web search, and get a landslide of information to get them excited about this cool new thing.

Post script: and that’s not to say the hobby is yet accessible enough. There are still barriers to entry, especially social and economic. I hope that, with time and the changing of attitudes, those continue to be eroded and overcome.

[Link via Carnage.]

Read RPGs in Public Week, February 27th through March 5th

Read an RPG Book in Public WeekToday kicks off another week observing The Escapist‘s Read an RPG Book in Public Week. As W. J. Walton explains:

The point is to make the roleplaying hobby more visible, to get it “out of the basement” and into public areas where more people can see it. This will make others more aware of the hobby – some may ask you what your book is about, giving you the opportunity to explain the hobby to them. A few of those may be interested enough to try it themselves. Former gamers may see what you’re reading and think about the great times they used to have with roleplaying, and possibly even try it again.

I’m uptight about revealing my hobby to the world at large, but not as much as I was last year, when I barely let The Unexplained peek over the table at Muddy Waters. Since then, I’ve learned several people in my office role-play; one was even trying to track down an extra player the other week. I’m still not crazy about it, but I’m going to make a more solid effort to do so this year.

No idea what to read, though. I have so much unread stuff, I can’t get on board with rereading something just because it looks cool. And so much of what I have on the unread pile is GURPS stuff, I think I’m overloading on it. Maybe now’s the time to do a thorough revisiting of Conspiracy X 2.0, since that’s what I’m using these days.

I can’t see myself snapping a self-portrait while I’m out, but maybe I can finagle an “over the book” shot of the venue.

Snakes and Lattes

Packed on a Saturday night, Snakes and Lattes, Toronto, Canada. Photo by R. Mosco.

Dominion at Snakes and Lattes, Toronto, Canada. Photo by R. Mosco.

My favoritest game ever. Snakes and Lattes, Toronto, Canada. Photo by R. Mosco.

A friend of mine recently visited Toronto, sending back these pictures you see to the right. They show Snakes and Lattes, a board game cafe on Bloor Street.

Boasting a library of 1500 plus games, Snakes and Lattes also has, unsurprisingly, drinks and food. The owner(s) recognized the key fact that people playing games like to snack. Good for them.

Others have pointed the weird dichotomy in game stores: they’re places of business, but they can also serve as community centers, in either form of shooting the breeze at the counter or spending time in a designated play area. There aren’t a lot of retail businesses around these days where this still happens. People might have used the archetypal general store in a similar way, but not so much the Gap or Waldenbooks. Which isn’t to say a game store can’t fill that role, but it’s atypical these days, particularly as social interaction moves online in the parts of the world where the internet is available.

For game stores that offer play area, it’s always been a question of how to make that space pay for itself. There’s rent on that space to be paid, but the people using it are not necessarily buying product at a rate to make the proposition feasible. I’ve heard of some stores that rent table space for a couple bucks an hour, not unlike a pool hall. Myriad Games in New Hampshire has a somewhat byzantine customer membership program that I didn’t really grok when I read the flyer. It must work, though, or they wouldn’t offer it.

So how can you have a semi-public space where people can play games that is financially feasible? Sell them food! A board game cafe not only allows people a place to play a board game, but they’re still doing a trade in coffee and food, not just to people who’ve come for Fireball Island, but all the usual passersby who want a quick bite.

There are some drawbacks to the model. A cafe isn’t going to want to host space- and time-intensive games like Twilight Imperium or Arkham Horror. Role-playing games probably wouldn’t fly too well, either. But the relatively short board games that are on the rise these days are a terrific fit for a business model where people may stay for an hour or two, then go along their way.

The one thing a business like this needs is population density. Snakes and Lattes will do just fine in Toronto because they can hawk coffee all day and night. In Vermont, with significantly fewer people, this would be a much tougher proposition.

The Real Stone Chambers of Vermont

After I posted The Stone Chamber some time back, a friend of mine who’s a real life archaeologist loaned me a copy of Vermont’s stone chambers: an inquiry into their past, by Giovanna Neudorfer. This is a scholarly work from 1980 that did practical research and field work on some of the stone chambers still existing around Vermont. It was a quick read, but also dense, given the amount of information Neudorfer collected in her study.

Unsurprisingly, her research pointed to practical, historical origins for the chambers, typically after the arrival of Europeans in the area. Used for storage, distilling and other conventional purposes, the stone chambers are part of the historical record, not artifacts from a bygone, unrecorded civilization.

In role-playing games, we make up the things we do because it’s fun to make believe, quite frankly. Role-playing is a highly escapist pastime. I think it’s a fair estimation that most participants in the hobby do so to vicariously live out the thrill of smiting foes, exploring strange worlds and otherwise getting out of their real lives for a few hours in a positive, socially-centered way.

The distinction is it’s made up and we know it. The willful invention of pseudo-history in the fact of contradictory facts — which is distinct from those topics when there is a genuine lack of knowledge about a historical event or era — is a significantly different and problematic issue.

Scouting and Dungeons & Dragons

Followed shortly by specialities in trap-finding, spellcrafting and min-maxing.

WJWalton linked to this find: an official Dungeons & Dragons activity badge from the UK Boy Scouts program. At some point in time, it seems, there was a version of the Hobbies activity badge, intended as a catch-all for those pastimes Scouts already pursued that didn’t fall under the aegis of another activity badge. As commenter darrell explains below, this TSR-sponsored version of the  Hobbies badge was awarded to all scouts, regardless of whether their hobby focused on Dungeons & Dragons.

So there’s some precedent for the Video Games badge Cub Scouts can earn. Really, there’s nothing untoward about either. Scouting’s always been about encouraging well-rounded development in all areas, outside and indoors. There are badges for studying architecture and nuclear science (!), as well as pioneering and personal fitness.

Between this and Walton’s take on a role-playing advocacy badge (scroll to the end of the article), I’m interested by the idea of having embroidered merit badge-like patches made up for general distribution.

For another perspective on role-playing and scouting, check out A Scoutmaster’s Blog, in which a Minnesota scoutmaster comments on his experiences role-playing, both as a player and a Scout and later a GM for his troop.

National Gaming Day

<div><a rel="cc:attributionURL" href=Over at The Escapist, W.J. Walton’s been pushing National Gaming Day @ Your Library, a day to play games of all kinds at your local public library. This is the second annual National Gaming Day. The ALA’s built up a very helpful collection of materials to help promote the day, like the poster to the right. Check out their press kit for more resources to help convince your local library to participate and then promote the shindig.

Here in Burlington, a friend and I are talking with the Fletcher Free Library about getting some tabletop content into their current National Gaming Day programming. Getting board games on the table will be easy. My own hope is to have at least one session of a roleplaying game, so I’m beating the bushes for someone who wants to run a quickie dungeon crawl; Pathfinder, Dungeons & DragonsSwords & Wizardry, I don’t really care. There just needs to be some RPG representation. There’s a d20 on that poster, after all.

I’d run something myself, but I don’t feel comfortable cramming on a system I don’t even know. Maybe I could kitbash a free adventure from one of the retro-clone games for something I feel okay running, like GURPS or Cinematic Unisystem. The key to a situation like this, I think, is to run something easy to grasp and run through, like a dungeon bash.

More news about National Gaming in Burlington as it comes.

One Time at D&D Camp…

Gaming Brouhaha has a post about something utterly fascinating: D&D camp. Yes, during the early 80s, a college campus hosted week long summer camp sessions that included Dungeons & Dragons in their activities. Click through to read the whole deal on that.

Meanwhile, Ars Ludi is collecting photos from each session of the camp. It’s a fine, upstanding lot of young gamers. The neat part is former campers are coming out of the woodwork to share their reminisces of their time.

The idea of a game-oriented program like this has set my mental wheels to turning. Doing a full-on sleepover camp probably wouldn’t be feasible out of the gate, but I find the idea of a day camp-style program incorporating discussion and playing of tabletop games, roleplaying and otherwise, very interesting. And now’s just the right time to be thinking about something that would happen next summer. There’s plenty of time to plan.