At a glance, it’s easy to paint the video game industry and the tabletop game industry as natural competitors. They’re both massive forms of entertainment for roughly the same demographics, they bring in a steady flow of income for publishers and designers alike, and they provide some semblance of escapism from the world around us for those who dive into either medium. There exists a stereotypical image of the basement-dwelling neckbearded man who sneers at video games while playing in an Advanced Dungeons and Dragons game, pointing at the most popular video games and saying, “Games and worlds like that wouldn’t exist without people like me.” And yeah, there’s a lot of truth to that. The whole idea of the video game RPG comes from tabletop games like D&D and GURPS. Any game that deals with a character class system, experience levels, or unlocking new abilities was influenced by tabletop. Choose-your-own adventures and multiple story endings and character decisions all come out of tabletop, and the list goes on and on. It’s not difficult to see how tabletop games of all types have influenced the video game world.
But what about the other way around? Has the video game industry actually helped grow the board game industry? Are tabletop designers taking lessons from the rise of PC and console gaming? Are there video game mechanics that are being borrowed and influencing the way we play tabletop? The answer to all those questions is, as you may have guessed, is “yes”.
For starters, in recent years, we’ve seen an explosion of board games that are based off popular video games. Many of these tabletop games have experienced tremendous success, dominating both Kickstarter campaigns and actual market sales, being propelled by positive critical reviews and love from both sides of the gaming community. Some examples include XCOM: The Board Game, The Witcher Adventure Game, Portal: The Uncooperative Cake Acquisition Game, Dark Souls, Angry Birds, Gears of War, and the list goes on and on. Having a tabletop analogue of one of your favorite video games means that you can continue to experience the same universe offline, face-to-face with friends and family. It’s easy to see why themed tabletop games such as these are as popular and successful as they are, and why they’re such a valuable target for board game publishers to acquire. The narrative storytelling aspect of many video games can be linked directly to tabletop role-playing, and now board games are starting to hammer down on story and theme as well. It’s not enough to just have killer mechanics anymore; now, board game designers need to ensure that their players feel like part of a world.
When video gaming took off, a lot of board game publishers predicted the end of their reign as top dogs in the nerd world. To their surprise, board game sales continued to go up…and up. Nowadays, board game sales are still on the rise and we are indeed experiencing the so-called Golden Age of tabletop. What’s interesting, though, is what is selling. The market for so-called casual board games is crashing, but interest in euro-style games (Catan, Carcassone, Ticket to Ride) has increased exponentially. You won’t find many publishers pumping out games that you may have grown up with as a child, like Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit, but you will find more and more of them leaning towards a deeper and richer strategic experience prevalent in so many euro games. This rise in new and arguably better board games can be attributed to the video game industry, especially online multiplayer. Now, we have access to friends and information from all over the world, showing us new and exciting games that we want to experience in our own homes.
Now, board games may be the predecessors to video games, but that doesn’t mean that video games don’t have a few things to bring to the table. As technology has advanced over the years, the lines between digital and analog games has begun to blur. For starters, Dungeons and Dragons has made a huge appearance online, with people videoconferencing in from all over the world with access to digital maps that they can manipulate and online dice rollers for all your skills and combat rolls. These online “tabletop” games take the best of both worlds and combine them into one single medium. A lot of board games now have companion apps for smartphones, which can either be required for play or serve as an aid in keeping track of relevant stats. As mobile gaming has taken off, we’ve seen a surge of smaller, pocket-sized board games that can be played on the go instead of needing to lug around a giant box of pieces. Some card and board games have begun to experiment with augmented reality, making a simple card or piece on the board turn into a three-dimensional animated model when looked at through a smartphone.
The gaming industry as a whole is constantly involving, and ultimately, the relationship between video and tabletop is symbiotic. Both sides learn from one another, make products based off one another, and generally improve the quality of what is presented to the masses. Yes, it’s important to remember that a lot of video games were heavily influenced by hardcore tabletop players, but it’s just as important to realize that our current generation of tabletop is just as heavily influenced by hardcore video gamers.
And at the end of the day, we’re all gamers.