There’s something soothing about the rattle of polyhedrals. As immersive and rewarding as an experience can be when the game in question involves role-playing and character sheers, the tactile feeling of dice rolling around in my hand is just as good in other games. Playing things not based on the computer is a relatively uncommon experience these days, but with so many good memories and a few choice games eagerly awaiting to be played in my closet, I do want to increase the frequency at which I chuck dice.
My dad introduced me to grand strategy on the tabletop at a young age. We played a lot of old Avalon Hill games together, ranging from historical engagements to one based on Starship Troopers. The scale of our games varied, from the great naval battle of Jutland played out on the living room floor while things got rather personal during Advanced Squad Leader. We’ve tried several variations on Risk, finding the Lord of the Rings version to be, perhaps, the most appealing. We’ve also had long campaigns of War of the Ring, Fortress America, Shogun, and Axis and Allies. We’ve even found ways to play these game via email, and while it’s fun, it just doesn’t quite capture the feeling of dice in your hand.
I’ve dabbled in the world of tabletop miniatures gaming in the past. I still have all of my books for Warhammer 40,000 and WarMachine. Plastic and pewter soldiers do have more presence than cardboard ones, adding dimension to the action taking place. The downside is that even a small, basic force can be massively expensive, and assembly and painting eats up a lot of time. Part of the reason I enjoy the Dawn of War video games is the ability to field massive forces of my favorite grimdark armies without having to shell out for, glue together, and paint up an embarrassing amount of miniatures. While it’s something I could get back into, between my Magic habit, a slew of video games to play, and other tabletop games, I know better than to really delve back into that world.
The New Stuff
Settlers of Catan is a game I was introduced to some time ago, and it remains fascinating to me, bloody struggles for land replaced by trading wood for sheep with my neighbor. Resource management and diplomacy may not sound like very interesting stuff, but games that focus on interpersonal dynamics and frame competition in ways other than direct violence do tickle the intellect in interesting ways. Co-operative games, as well, break away from the usual slugfests. Arkham Horror is a particular favorite, and I have picked up Pandemic to see if the experience is similar. I mean, sure, sometimes you just want to blast your buddy, a niche that Frag and Munchkin fill nicely. But I also seek new takes on old favorites, like introducing my family to Ticket to Ride as a much faster and more friendly type of Rail Baron game. As much as I don’t get to play these games terribly often, there’s still good times to be had chucking dice around, if just for that tactile feeling and spending time with people away from glowing screens and klacking keys.