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Posted by Raine Hutchens on Jul 18, 2012

Tabletop vs Video Games: Choose Your Side

My biography page does well to describe my start in gaming, and if you haven’t read it go ahead and take a second to do so. I started playing video games way back when I was a youngster, with my mother buying me an Atari 2600. I would pop in Pitfall and fail miserably at it for hours upon hours per week. From there I moved on to NES, SNES, and eventually the PlayStation. I finally picked up an Xbox 360 some time ago, and more recently I’ve become an avid PC gamer. Any way you look at it, video games are my life.

But something else you’ll also find out from meeting me or reading that bio is that I have been a tabletop gamer for about the same time, if not longer than, I’ve been playing video games. I started playing Monopoly and Mancala as a child, and then moved on into Dungeons & Dragons quickly. I got my start in 3.5 and have worked my way through its ranks. I haven’t started 4th Edition simply because I don’t think it looks fun, though I’ve also become a big fan of Pathfinder.

Since I’ve gotten back into my tabletop roots, more recently I’ve been playing a lot of tabletop games. I go to a local game shop and provide demos of tabletop games every other week, and I’m getting into more games than I know what to do with, such as Warmachine, Firestorm Armada, Heroclix, and a few new tabletop RPGs. With Gen Con 2012 coming up, it’s kind of hard not to be excited about tabletop gaming in general.

With all of this excitement and nostalgia buzzing in my head it got me thinking. I’ve been bouncing around some pretty deep thoughts lately, and it’s started a train that has worked its way into this post. What I started noticing/picking up on were the blatant differences between tabletop gaming versus video gaming.  Over the years I’ve been walking the path between both hobbies, and they’ve each given me different experiences overall. So, what I wanted to do was get a breakdown of both types of gaming, list the differences, similarities, and ultimately choose which I like best.

Let’s start off with video games. There’s no argument that the video game industry is huge. It has become a very profitable industry, though in recent months we’ve seen a lot of studios shut down. Video games stimulate the mind and provide us with instant action. Players can come together online and play with each other, either in competitive game modes or cooperative. There’s a huge selection of games to choose from, just as there are more than a few systems to play them on. Artists can put their skills to work with producing incredible layouts, scenery, and characters for players to fall in love with. Some developers can create a game with a story that grips players for years. Take the Gears of War series for instance. Players have hung on to that storyline for years, just to see it come to a screeching, saddening end this past year.

I love video games, and that’s no lie. I just finished Shadows of the Damned finally and will be reviewing it later this week. With video games it’s much easier to follow a story and become involved with what’s happening. You can play as the characters you come to love, and it offers a new perspective in a new world.

Now let’s take a look at tabletop games. There are a very wide variety of tabletop games to choose from, whether they be card games, board games, tabletop RPGs, or miniatures games. Some of my favorite games right now are Warmachine, Pathfinder, Ascension, and Magic: The Gathering. With tabletop gaming there’s virtually no limit on what you can do. With board games you’ve got a definitive end, as you do with card games. When it comes to tabletop RPGs, however, your imagination is the limit. You could create vast worlds at your fingertips to send players through, drum up terrifying monsters, and summon beautiful maidens. Tabletop gaming makes players think outside the box and keeps their minds racing. It forces players to come up with tactics and helps keep them sharp. The tabletop industry is growing exponentially, and with the help of websites like Kickstarter we’re seeing brand new games coming out each month.

So if that’s a rundown of each industry, what are the differences? What’s the point of this post? I’ll tell you, don’t worry. I was playing a game of Dominion during our latest demo night last weekend and things started to hit me. I just met two people I didn’t know, and we were sitting down talking like friends. That’s the first thing I picked up on. Even with the incorporation of the internet and release of MMO games, video gaming just isn’t as social as tabletop is. I think back to all of the time I’ve spent playing video games in my life and I noticed one thing that has been constant: it’s been a very solitary hobby. Whenever I’ve been playing games it’s always been just me in a room with a television and game system. Now sometimes I’d have a friend over, or one of my cousins would come to help me get through Ocarina of Time, but besides that it’s been it.

In fact, this solitary gameplay is one of the reasons I’ve been thinking about quitting World of Warcraft. The game has evolved so much that it’s been whittled down to solo gameplay. In WoW’s beginning years it was a game that required skill and social activity. Guilds were implemented to bring players together so they weren’t facing challenges alone. It took a lot of work and a hard-working guild aspect to clear some of the larger dungeons and raids back in the day.

Now look at the game. It’s become a hand-holder. That’s another issue I’ll address in a bit. Since the developers rolled in Guild Perks, guilds have become nothing but tools. Players join high-level guilds just to get benefits until they no longer need them, then leave and go about their ways. There’s no sense of loyalty or brotherhood anymore. No family values. The game has become a solo grind and it’s just a whole lot of catch-up which leaves players really feeling left out. That’s the point to which I’m at right now.

With tabletop games there’s always a social aspect rolled into it. You’ll always be playing with other people, and sometimes new people that you can create friendships with. Tabletop games work the mind harder than video games in my opinion. Players always have to stay sharp and build strategies to come out on top. You won’t be going about things the same ways over and over again like with some video games, especially MMOs. Now do I hate MMOs in general? Not at all. I am merely using them as an example.

On the other hand, let’s look at the Final Fantasy series, and specifically Final Fantasy VII. That was an amazing game that drastically changed the industry. Final Fantasy VII told a story that, to this day, players still relish in. It introduced you to a character who, on the surface was strong and passionate, but underneath he didn’t know himself. Throughout the game’s storyline you were introduced to other characters that had their own personalities. Square Enix created such an impressive story that it’s something we remember long after the game has run its course. It’s this kind of hard work and dedication that puts video games on the map. When it comes to tabletop, the only way to achieve something like this is to play a tabletop RPG and work up a majestic campaign that continuously lives on session after session. Video games create characters that we can relate to, and in that we become attached. Board games and card games can somewhat have a storyline, but none will grip us as much as a story created in a video game.

Now, with all that out of the way we come to something I mentioned earlier. With the way developers are creating and changing video games nowadays, they become hand-holding experiences with little challenge. In short, they are making gamers lazy. Go ahead and pick up any adventure/RPG game out right now. I guarantee you within the first 10 minutes you’ll be lead through a tutorial that will tell you, with annoying on-screen commands, how to perform every action in the game. After that you’ll be sent on meaningless quests and the game will light a direct path on how to get there. What does this do? It basically turns the game into Simon Says. You accept the quest, follow the line it lays out for you, get your reward, wash, rinse, and repeat. There’s no depth.

In tabletop gaming, though you may be heading towards the same endgame each time, the path to get there is all your own. In games like Ascension, Little Dead Riding Hood, and Warmachine you need to develop a strategy to win. There’s no hand-holding, and the rulebooks are there to provide a basis to play by. Aside from that the path to victory is all your own. This keeps the game interesting and is one of the sole reasons why players continue to play the game over and over again.

Video games like Super Mario Brothers and Super Metroid set the bar for what current games would be like, or could be like. Somewhere developers just assumed we wanted to be walked through games, which isn’t true. Video games are making us lazy, and it’s a sad thing to see.

One thing about tabletop games versus video games that gets in the way is cost. A new tabletop game, be it a book for an RPG, card game in the box, or just a board game, at release will usually run around $45. A brand new video game is almost always $60. Tabletop games have a lot more replayability, so unless you’re picking up some online shooter you won’t be playing that video game as much. Instantly we see an upper hand here. When it comes to DLC, each side of the argument has their own, technically. With living card games, board games, and RPGs we see expansions. They can include new cards, new scenarios, and new characters. Video games receive DLC that offer more missions, side characters, and in-game items. Here they’re pretty much at the same level, though tabletop expansions usually end up costing more than the $15 you’ll pay for most of the DLC.

When it comes to miniature games, though, prices change drastically. Minis games are a lot of fun, but in order to just get started you’ll be paying upwards of hundreds of dollars, depending on the game. With Warhammer 40k players say to start out with a sizeable army you’ll need to drop $300 plus. Now with Warmachine that cost is cut considerably, though it’s still not cheap. You have to pick up your army, get the paints and supplies to paint them, and add any terrain you desire. The upside to all this, though, is that once you’ve paid you’re golden. You can take your army anywhere and play anyone. It becomes a one-time cost, unless you want to pick up boosters to add to your army. In this light, you could easily grab two or even three video games for the cost of a single miniatures army. This leaves it all up to preference, as minis games provide long-term fun at an initial high cost. Another thing, too, is that minis games have a huge following and there’s always going to be someone to play with. You’ll learn new tactics and strategies by playing, and the same goes for Heroclix. Heroclix, though, has a roughly low cost to start and play. The good thing about Heroclix, too, is that there are tons and tons of different characters to use. Wiz Kids has turned everything from comic book heroes to Lord of the Rings characters into playable clix. There’s a lot of variety there and it’s good for the money.

The last thing I want to touch on is the inclusion of dice into tabletop games. When you’re playing Call of Duty or Street Fighter, aside from internet connection speed the outcome really relies on skill. You actually have to be good at what you’re doing in order to come out a winner. With games like Dungeons & Dragons and others that include dice it’s all left up to chance. I saw a post on Reddit yesterday where a guy asked how players felt about dice in their games. It was a nice debate, and a lot of good points were raised. What it comes down to is that when you play a game with dice everything is left to chance. It doesn’t matter if you’re a veteran player who’s been playing for 15 years or not. Someone who’s only been playing for a week could come in and have better rolls, being more successful than you. With video games it doesn’t work like that. You play a game for months and then enter an online match with other people. Someone who just bought the game that day would be easy target practice for you, simply because you’ve got more skill. When you’re leaving things up to a die roll, it can become frustrating.

Still, leaving some things to chance can make a game more interesting. When you play with dice there’s no real way to cheat the system unless you blatantly lie. If you’re playing a game without them there’s an opportunity to build strategy so that you can repeat the same process that’s successful over and over again to achieve the same outcome. This can make other players bitter and regret playing. With dice rolls, you have the opportunity to critically fumble yourself, showing you’re not some overpowered dude ready to roll over everything. It’s much more leveled and balanced out.

After thinking about all this, I’ve come to a conclusion. I believe that I’m much more a fan of tabletop than I am video games. I like being challenged, having the ability to use tactics and keep my mind sharp, and it’s just more social. I like meeting new people and bonding face to face over a great game. Now am I saying that I hate video games? Of course not! My point with this post is to get out all the thoughts that have been tumbling in this noggin of mine over the past couple of weeks. Of the two types of gaming, I just tend to value tabletop much more. Each type has its strengths and weaknesses, and this is all from my observations. You may have some of your own, and I honestly hope you do. That being said, which side would you choose?

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  • http://www.geekserious.com/ geekSerious

    Personally, I prefer tabletop and the overall social experience that goes along with it. Video games don’t really compare on that front.

    BUT – even though I prefer tabletop, I participate more in video games because it’s easier to do it without any setup.