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Sunday, 10 June 2012

Coffee Table Gaming

Hi all,

With Privateer Press announcing their Level 7 board game, I thought I'd put up a post about the small games that are out there (inspired a post from Frontline Gamer.) Things that used to reside under the coffee table, like Risk- everyone is happy to play these games, not just wargame hobbyists. In the past, this style of game has mainly been restricted to Board Games- whether family games like Monotony (sorry, Monopoly) or the more focused games like Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne.

Part of the appeal of these games for me is that they are inclusive- friends that would lift their eyebrows and laugh at the thought of playing a game of 40K of an evening will happily spend 4 hours playing Risk. I also find that they make a nice break from Wargaming- let's face it, getting a game of 40K together is fairly labour intensive and requires a fair amount of space (at least 8'*6' for you and the board). pulling out a box and getting the pieces out is a lot more casual, and can be done coffee (beer) in hand.

However, for me, this kind of coffee table gaming is not restricted to the traditional board games- it's anything which can be played in a small space, quickly, with few rules and low-commitment. Anything which can be played on impulse- you and a friend wondering how to spend a few hours. I'll assume that everyone happening past this blog has seen a GW intro game- well, that can certainly be played on a coffee table amongst people who don't have the wargame bug (as any GW staffer will be able to testify) and won't take longer than 45 minutes.

I think that this kind of gaming is becoming more popular. It's definitely true that quality of these games has improved dramatically over the last 5 years- It's a long time since I've had a board disintegrate on me like the old MB games used to. A few quick examples of games I put into this category from experience:

  • Smallworld. A board game (no minis) which takes no longer than 30 minutes to play. The rules are easy enough to be understood by an 8 year old, but elegant enough to give a good game to hoary old vets. 
  • Ticket to Ride. Another board game, this time about building railways across America- yes, I know it doesn't sound much, but I've had great fun playing this, mainly because it has plenty of opportunity to surprise and confound the other players
  • Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Citadel- I'm not going to go into these. if you haven't played them, you should. 
  • A Game of Thrones- The Card Game. Note, not the board game. This is a multi-player card game which embodies the politicking and skulduggery of the books, and if you get 4 players with decks you can play it in the pub.
  • 7 Wonders. Pick one of the classical races, and try to build their great wonder first. This is a game which is quick because of the turn limit, but like many of the above games is good fun.
  • Formula D. Remember the days of wooden soldiers and marbles? Want to go back to them? Play this.
  • Talisman. This is an old GW classic, and one of the few games which gets better the more people are playing. 
Does anyone else miss these?

OK, that's a few examples of the more traditional games which people may or may not be aware of. However, all of us like miniatures, right? This has traditionally, for me at least, been the demarcation point- if the miniatures start to look too detailed, people think it's getting into D and D territory, and lose interest. However, there are a load of games out there which are mini based, and most people are happy to play. games like:
  • Last Night on Earth. A personal favourite- the best to describe this is as a tabletop Left for Dead. it's got board sections in the same vein as Advanced Heroquest, great little hard plastic models, a bundle of scenarios, Zombies, Chainsaws, random events and a Boomstick.
  • Axis and Allies. I'm throwing this in here instead of Risk, basically because I prefer it. It can be a little complicated, but once people get in the flow it's a good crack. however, I really wouldn't play this with youngsters.
  • Malifaux. Yes, this is easily in the Coffee Table category of games- 6 models a side, a deck of cards each and a small space to play can get you a game- and the small rulebook means that it won't be too daunting to non-wargamers. 
  • Space Hulk. 
This is genius- especially if it works.

The point really is that there is a whole world of quick, casual, low investment games out there, and I'm a firm believer that everyone should have one or two of these (or more) in a cupboard for when the opportunity is right. I started playing these kind of games a few years ago, and I haven't looked back- in fact, I know a few people who have become wargamers through it, once they realised that it's not "serious" (unless you want it to be) and that models and games are cool! Which is why I'm also going to include the following games here:
  • Hordes of the Things. This is a small wargame which can be played in an hour on a 3' * 3' space, with models you probably own. There's about 30 army lists kicking around for HotT, making it fairly easy to accommodate the models in your collection.
  • BattleLore. This is a strange one- it really is a hex-based wargame, with plenty of models, scenarios, and using flags and banners system. I hesitate to call it a board game, but that's how I've played it- either way, this is a great game. 
  • Lord of the Rings. the Strategy Battle Game. Get 1 box of good guys with a hero, 1 box of bad guys with a hero, and play. This is the one GW product where you don't have to tweak the rules and lists to get a good game out of it. there's plenty of small scale scenarios too.
  • Warmachine. This probably applies to Hordes as well- 15 point armies anyone? I've only purchased the starter set myself- which is how I know it works as a casual game amongst mates
  • Magic the Gathering. Not a miniatures game, but if you grab 4 theme decks and never add to them- just leave them in a box somewhere- you can get good games out of it without too much confusion or OTT game play. 
So there you have it- how to play games in your spare time with low-cost and low-commitment. I may well go more in-depth into a few of these in the future for 1-off posts. My last comment really is that I've only mentioned games that I have experience of in the last two years, most importantly experience of non-wargamers playing alongside wargamers and having a laugh. if nothing else, it's a good way of inter-mingling different groups of friends when you get the chance.

Comments, as always are welcome.

(Quick aside- I've got a copy of Space Hulk 3rd Ed for sale if anyone wants to send me an e-mail for more info.)

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