Massively Overthinking: The MMORPG board games connection
MOP reader Kastaguro sent us an interesting question last month about MMORPGs, board games, and a possible playerbase shift.
“I was wondering if any of you play board games? I have noticed that all the people I know who used to play MMORPG have stopped playing them. We are all older and have been playing MMORPGs since the late ’90s, and they all give the same reason for quitting MMOs: They just don’t like the direction they are going and can’t stand the communities anymore. Instead, they have massive get-togethers with hardcore roleplaying board games, and I have to admit they are really fun. What do you guys think about this? Do you know anyone who quit MMOs for board games that can last for hours at a time?”
MOP’s Andrew proposed that we expand the question to include tabletop pen-and-paper games too, so that’s exactly what we’ll do as we tackle Kastaguro’s Massively Overthinking topic. Do you hardcore MMORPG writers and gamers also play board games or pen-and-paper games? What’s your favorite? Do you think there’s been a shift among online RPG players to more local or personal party games, and if so, is it because of changing lifestyles or something significantly wrong in the MMORPG market itself?
Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I can’t say I know people who intentionally quit MMOs to pursue tabletop games; it was just a natural occurrence. I have both a brother and ex-girlfriend who have played MMOs, met new people through them, and suddenly found themselves playing games like Settlers of Catan, Pathfinder, Magic the Gathering, and more.
Oddly enough, I came from the opposite end. I was actually the top player at my local comic shop’s Pokemon TCG league. Don’t get me wrong, it was fun helping other players with their decks and learning some of the ins and outs of the game, but I was a bit competitive and craved to be around other people who really studied the games they played. I’d previously played Magic, but that was far too expensive with all of its sets for a teenager to afford, and while it had more hardcores, they were less interested in swapping theories than in dominating others. MMOs gave me a place where I could play with other people with similar interests and playstyles. I used my table top experience to make connections online.
I discussed this a lot in our coverage of The Video Game Debate, but games are a kind of simulation. They allow you to work on certain skills in a safe environment. If the skills are worth a damn, there are conditions under which at least we gamers can transfer game skills from virtual to reality. While I’m especially feeling the pinch of large servers where I get lost in a crowd, I find I’m getting better at using the social skills I refined back in the lab (MMOs) when I go out for more local events. That’s not saying that we should “grow out” of MMOs but that moving from online to physical or local gaming seems natural and cyclic.
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I don’t know anyone who’s specifically quit MMORPGs or video games to play board games or tabletop games, but both are definitely popular within my MMO guild. In fact, we sort of have the opposite problem from our reader at work in my crew: We played tabletop together online for years following our guild formation in MMOs, but tabletop RPGs fell by the wayside for us. Why? Time, ironically. It became more and more difficult to find large blocks of time to play when everyone could join, and honestly, planning a tabletop game is expensive (to buy the proper books) and time-consuming (to plot out a really well-written game, week after week). MMOs are cheap and easy by comparison.
Personally, I got slightly more into board games when I started having easier access to new ones through Kickstarter, and I’ve backed and purchased several — smaller card games are pretty much my favorite. Plug for the Mint Tin games — I own them all! I adore their cute factor and wish I had had games like that as a kid. You know, back in the long long ago when 10-year-olds didn’t own $700 pocket gadgets to keep them 100% entertained.
That said, before I moved from coast to coast (again), I sold off a large collection of pen-and-paper game books I’d been gathering since high school, including some beloved West End Games Star Wars books and even a Farscape book (did you know they made a Farscape game? Hah!). The only ones that made the journey from California? The complete Wizards of the Coast Star Wars Saga set. If only I had a local group!
Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): Not only do I play pen-and-paper games, I’ve been doing so since well before I started playing MMOs. My wife and I both have a ton of fun with playing games, especially cooperative ones; she’s actually just starting to make the leap from playing in tabletop games to running longer RPGs herself, since she came to that side of the hobby later. Our current setup is rather messy as we’re in the process of reorganizing our space, but I get her a board game of some sort most years for either her birthday or Christmas, and I spend most of my money at PAX East hunting down new games that we haven’t heard of that might be fun to play together.
I don’t think there’s been a real large-scale shift over to tabletop games over the past few years so much as tabletop games have started to move into the panoply of things that are normal for adults to enjoy. That’s an ever-shifting landscape, and as it’s become more accepted and normal to say that you think D&D is cool, more and more people are getting involved and treating it as a normal part of our routines. It also comes with the added “legitimacy” of celebrity endorsements, so you can take refuge in the fact that Vin Diesel is relaxing with exactly the same nerdy game as you.
Tabletop games do some things much better than computer games and vice versa, and that’s part of the joy of them. They’re near and dear to my heart, but they don’t take the place of MMOs; by the same token, MMOs don’t take the place of sitting down with my wife and playing through a round of Pandemic. I can understand if people might be getting the rush of certain MMO styles just from tabletop experiences these days, but that’s just the nature of the beast and the way our free time and hobbies change over time. I don’t spend hours assembling LEGO buildings any longer, but it doesn’t mean that LEGO bricks aren’t fun any more, it just means my priority has shifted. Plus, you know, the cats knock half of them over anyway.
Matt Daniel (@Matt_DanielMVOP): Hope I’m not too late to the party. As Eliot can attest, I’m a huge fan of board games. In fact, it’s entirely possible that I have a little bit of a problem (aside from my terrible organizational skills, that is). That being said, I can’t say that I could imagine quitting MMOs in favor of board games — each scratches a different itch for me.
As far as favorites go, it’s really hard for me to narrow things down to a single decisive winner, but I definitely have a predilection for certain genres. Although I played tabletop mainstays such as Dominion and Settlers of Catan pretty early on in my gaming career, my first real tabletop love affair was with the fantasy deckbuilder Thunderstone, and I’ve been a big fan of deckbuilders ever since. Most deckbuilders, however, are heavily reliant on pure luck, so to scratch my itch for more mentally-engaging and strategic gameplay, I tend toward worker-placement games like Lords of Waterdeep (one of my all-time favorites and a favorite of everyone with whom I’ve played it, veteran and rookie gamers alike) or tactical strategy games like Terra Mystica, Eclipse, and the RPG-like Mage Knight.
Most of those games, however, can be played in digital form (via Vassal or other online client) without much substantial loss of fidelity to the tabletop experience, but my favorite games are the ones that simply have to be played face-to-face, especially those with a bluffing element like The Resistance and Shadows Over Camelot. These kinds of social-interaction-centric games, which often task you with lying to your friends while trying to figure where their allegiances lie, epitomize what makes tabletop gaming so appealing and irreplaceable to me. Honestly, I could go on like this for another few paragraphs at least, but I’ll spare you that much.
MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): I hadn’t finished unpacking, and ya’ll made my stop everything and go finish unpacking my last two boxes of games! I have played board and card games since I was old enough to hold my own cards (with this really nifty plastic circle that held them all in place). We played so much that many of my favorite memories of my grandmother involve cards. I actually lessened my board game playing in favor of MMOs all those years ago, but I continue to play. We have quite an assortment, everything from drawn-out strategy games to trivia to card games. Favorites include a collection of Trivial Pursuits, Samurai Swords, Rail Baron, Eight-Minute Empire (created by a friend’s nephew), Talisman, and Mille Bournes. I own really old versions of classic games, from Parcheesi to Sorry to Monopoly. I even have a Hometown Monopoly version made off my actual hometown! I also love word games, so there is Boggle and Scrabble. The list goes on and on. And for cards? I still proudly have my 1st place trophy for a neighborhood Phase 10 tourney! And then there’s Rook, Monopoly Deal, Skip-Bo, and all the games you play with cards like Rummy, Hearts, Screwy Louis, Euchre…
It is funny, because moving across the US the first time is actually what got me into MMOs in the first place, since I just left all my friends that I gamed with — both board and tabletop. We were able to continue the tabletop game online a bit, but just until that campaign concluded. MMOs were the way some of us continued to play together. I’ve continued to play a few pen and paper campaigns with my kids over the years, but I haven’t got to do any other sit-down playing of one with others for a long time; it is always online. Since moving this summer, we have found another family who likes board games, so we get together with them. I am also planning on building up more of a group and a board gaming night with the neighborhood or my church.
Sadly, books are mostly all still packed, so you can’t see the various pen and paper systems we have like Champions, D&D (many editions), DragonQuest, and Powers & Perils. We also have some systems just on PDF now. But, here is a look at the game cupboard; using the kitchen buffet for it so they are closer to the action! If we get anymore though (you can see them extending back to the third door), we may have to move back to the big storage cupboards. Believe it or not, I gave some away as gifts when we moved!
Tina Lauro Pollock (@purpletinabeans): I have noticed a shift away from MMOs (and hardcore, time-intensive video games in general) and toward board games in my own friendship group, but I don’t attribute it to the same things as you, Kastaguro. My house has a nice collection of board games and quite the stack of pen-and-paper systems to choose from, and my friends and I currently have two different D&D games running and also break out everything from lightweight deckbuilding games such as Dominion to much more involved board games such as Battlestar Galactica and Mansions of Madness. Considerably fewer members of my local gaming circle join me in MMOs, and the reasons given are usually based on the real-world time restrictions and motivation changes of the individual players than how they view MMO communities or development directions.
Travelling to a friend’s house gives my busy, tied down friendship group a physical separation from both their work and home commitment and a tangible block of leisure time that is understood and respected by the other parties that need and demand their time. They know from experience that they are easily roped into other tasks or commitments if they sit down to game virtually as they are seen as available when apparently idly relaxing at home and by extension free to accept additional responsibilities, so getting out to have undisturbed gaming time is important to them. Add to this that we all played pen-and-paper RPGs and board games since our mid-teens and that board games seem to be very trendy right now and it’s easy to see why my friends go for the more physical options. When we play video games together, it tends to be titles that allow for smaller chunks of time to be committed to at any one time so that the real world can call us away as often as needed without too much disruption. Funnily enough, I find that many of the titles my friends choose to play have arguably much more toxic communities than the MMOs I play!