EVERY Christmas is more or less the same. We gather around the table, eat delicious food and catch up with family members. All good... until someone suggests it’s time to play a game.
Out comes the board game you’ve played hundreds of times, and soon uncle Ben owns everything, someone starts an argument about the discovery that someone else has been discreetly ‘stealing from the bank’, the kids start crying, and most people are no longer having fun.
Thankfully, this Christmas does not have to sound like that. There’s not just Monopoly! There are many more board game-style alternatives to entertain your family over the festive period. From the most commonly known board games such as Risk to hobby gaming such as Warhammer, Cork is nowadays the Irish table-top gaming capital.
Dylan Murray, aged 21, associate of the game and comic books shop Comic Vault, explains that the term table-top game concerns much more than board games.
“RPGs (Role Playing Games), board games, card games, dice games, war games and all that stuff, they all come under a blanket called ‘table-top gaming’. They are games you play on the top of the table.”
The main hobby shops in Cork city today are Tabletop Cafe, Warhammer, Comic Vault and Other Realms. The oldest of them is Other Realms, which opened 14 years ago. It sells a lot of geeky gaming material, from board games to card games, miniatures, paint and graphic novels.
Tabletop Cafe is a coffee shop recently opened with a large selection of table-top games — more than 225 titles at the moment. The owners are lifelong gamers, it is open every day, ‘all-you-can-play’ for €4 per person.
Warhammer is a shop dedicated to probably the biggest war game nowadays which has the same name. The miniature war game simulates terrestrial battles between futuristic armies.
Meanwhile Comic Vault opened in June 2017 and thrives, selling a wide range of comics and graphic novels, a selection of table-top games and miniature painting.
“And they are not all the same, going around the board,” Dylan explains. “There are different stories to go with each.”
Each different table-top game has its own storyline, with a set of different characters, rules, goals, systems and dynamics.
A few examples of not-around-the-board games are The Settlers of Catan, an adventure- based game involving resource management; Codename, a spy-style team-play game; and Clue, a classic detective mystery-based game. All of them can be played by kids as young as eight years old and support up to six players.
Dylan has been a gamer since he was ten, and debuted in the table-top world when, influenced by his friends, he bought his first edition of The White Dwarf, a wargaming magazine that had a couple of miniatures and little paint tubes as a compliment. Ever since then, Dylan has been involved in the table-top gaming universe.
Curiously enough, in the digital era, one of the most analogue type of entertainment is experiencing skyrocketing sales growth. In 2017 board game sales in the USA grew by 28%, according to NPDG (National Purchase Diary Group). According to Euromonitor International, global sales increased from $9.3 billion in 2013 to $9.6 billion in 2016. The biggest online retailers are reporting huge growth with Amazon growing 39% from 2017 to 2018 and eBay reporting 11% growth on the same period.
But, for Dylan, online shopping does not seem to represent a threat.
“The physical store is a community thing, people come to the shop as a social place. People don’t come only to buy, they also come to chat and play with friends,” he says.
“It’s all for fun really, to play with your friends. Maybe just a little bit of escapism— and it is not just Monopoly!”
Not sure what to play? Check out the suggestions from Tabletop Cafe staff’s Aoife Clarke, the so-called new-classics...
Carcassonne: A tile placement game, the rules are so simple and the game never repeats. There are so many different probabilities because there are so many tiles. Board games are in general more introductory, anyone that has played any board game before will understand the rules.
The Settlers of Catan: This is an adventure-based game, perfect for three or four players over eight years old. All players will battle to collect resources and build settlements on the island of Catan.
The playing boards is made of 19 hexagons, which are arranged randomly at the beginning of each game, so no two games are ever the same! The goal is to collect resource cards and build structures around the island.
Ticket to Ride: For two to five players, Ticket to Ride is incredibly simple, yet allows for strategic and tactical matches. Through the game players collect cards of various types of train cars which they then use to claim railway routes in North America. The longer the routes, the more points they earn.