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Game On

Welcome to the golden age of tabletop gaming

By Ashley Moreno, 11:15AM, Sat. Mar. 8

Game On
Photo by Sandy Carson

Boyan Radakovich thinks board games have reached a golden age. No, not Monopoly. (Sorry!) Think more like Catan, Puerto Rico, Pandemic, and Austinite Steve Jackson’s Munchkin. (No more Outburst of puns after the jump. Promise!)

Radakovich produces Wil Wheaton’s webseries called TableTop. It’s one of a handful of shows on the geek culture channel, Geek & Sundry, which also touts Felicia Day’s popular series, The Guild. On TableTop, Wheaton and his friends sit down to play European-style, tabletop board games. Euro-style tabletop games are those played on a table with a board, dice, or cards, and they generally include a higher degree of strategy, theming, and art design than many classic American games. They often also have a mechanic that pushes the game to conclusion with each move, generally ending in 30-90 minutes.

Shows like TableTop are contributing to the growing mainstream popularity of board games. But as Radakovich discussed in his SXSW panel Friday, they’re not the only reason board games are growing in popularity. For one, crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo now allow designers to circumvent previous roadblocks in game development. Radakovich explains: “Kickstarter has basically broken a traditional model of a three-tiered distribution system that said ‘I’m a publisher. I’m going to make a game. I’m going to give it to a distributor. They’re going to sell this game and promote it to the retailer. The retailer will then find the fans and market it to them.’” Under the new model, games move directly from designers to fans. This gets more games to a larger community faster.

Tack on to the change in game distribution the increased use of tablets and other mobile devices. Tablets introduce whole new opportunities for board games. They enable single-player versions of multiplayer board games and permit multiple people to play real-time or asynchronously over the Internet. For example, check out this app version of the popular tabletop game, Ticket to Ride. “There’s going to be a lot of games that are going to be a hybrid,” says Radakovich. “Games that are designed to be board games but translate very well to video games, but only on tablet.” This makes adopting tabletop gaming easier than ever.

If you’re already an avid gamer, looking for something new to play, Radakovich has some ideas. “What I’ve been playing a lot of is Pathfinder Adventure Card Game,” says Radakovich. The game came out last year, and so far has scored high on Board Game Geek, a Dallas-based website that’s popular within the gaming community for rating, discussing, trading, and buying games. “It’s kind of a deep-strategy cooperative-play deck-building game,” says Radakovich. “What’s awesome about it is it has these expansions that come out in a regular fashion.”

For a game with a strong board mechanic, consider Tokaido. “Tokaido is a wonderful game. I’d argue a perfect game,” says Radakovich. “The replay ability is extremely high. If you’re into luck, you can have that in the game. It’s your choice. If you’d like it to be very high-strategy, you can do that.” It also has a new expansion called Crossroads that introduces a gambling mechanic.

Either Pathfinder Adventure or Tokaido would no doubt make for great picks for Table Top Day, which is quickly approaching. What’s Table Top Day? “Last year, to celebrate the first anniversary of [Wheaton’s show] TableTop coming out, we basically made up a gaming holiday called Table Top Day,” says Radakovich. “What we asked our fans to do was to go to their favorite local game store, comic shop, or wherever they play games, and just hang out and play games. Play games in public. Show that you’re proud of this. Don’t hide. And if someone asks what are you doing, say, ‘We’re having a great time, do you want to play also?’” Table Top Day is April 5. This year, the show has particularly exciting news for fans of Tokaido and 7 Wonders. (Editor’s note: TableTop spoilers follow.)

“I’m leaking it here at South by Southwest: There is a promotional traveler for Tokaido called Felicia, and it’s coming out for Table Top Day,” says Radakovich. “And not to be outdone, Wil [Wheaton] also has his own promotional card for 7 Wonders, which is a wonderful game designed by Antoine Bauza – who also designed Tokaido, by the way.” Squee!

To talk more on tabletop gaming, swing by Steven Jackson’s booth at the Gaming Expo. Jackson is an Austin-based game designer and publisher probably best known for his popular 2001 release, Munchkin. He also designed Zombie Dice. Jackson and Radakovich will host a Zombie Dice tournament today (Saturday, March 8) from 2 to 5pm at booth 231.

Golden Age of Tabletop Gaming

Friday, March 7, Palmer Events Center


Keep up with all our reports and reviews from the frontlines of South by Southwest at austinchronicle.com/sxsw.

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