How to Find Balance in Tabletop Narrative & Theme Design (and storytelling in general)

Everybody loves a good theme. It is literally what stops some games from being complete and utter trash to be honest, and a great theme can really elevate a board game to the next level.

What’s great about tabletop is that there are so many non-traditional themes out there that break out of the mould of stale fantasy or sci-fi (or Cthulhu, just stop please!) I’m talking dental practice board games, games where you are a stroppy teenager who just listens to metal music in there room and plays computer games all day (ok maybe that one was just me…), games where everybody is a spec of dust and you have to beat the other specs to become the most… speccy? You get the point. Also none of those are actual games but part of me kinda wishes they were. Not least to relive my nerdy isolated youth involving lots of angry music.

With the theme being key to game design though, and more and more hobbyists expecting detailed and intricately balanced theme and gameplay nowadays, it has never been more important to the success of a game or ensure that the theme and narrative design is 100% on point. And that is why I have created this list. It’s all about balance really, because we all know a game that is all mechanic or all theme is usually just boring as hell…

1. Be familiar, without being cliche

Oh hey guys I can totally relate to being a spec of dust right now! Since we’re totally playing the dust spec game that inventions earlier (and definitely doesn’t exist). You know, due to feeling small and insignificant and prone to growing mold if left in a cold, damp place for extended periods of time… nobody? Ok just me.

Familiarity is your foot in the door with your players, but it shouldn’t shape your entire game.

It’s like a tool you use to get people to go ‘ooooh right I get it, that’s what you mean,’ or ‘ahhh no way, now you’ve explained this horrendously complicated mechanic to me in narrative terms within the context of this relatable story I totally get it!’

See, easy.

The trick is to making sure you have just enough of a level of familiarity to frame complex game mechanics and nuances in a way that people can get really easily.

2. Be accessible, without being dumbed down

Now this is a 2 parter because accessibility really comes in 2 forms.

The first is the kind of accessibility that lets visually or hearing impaired people participate in your game with minimal difficulty. You should 100% build this into your game from the get go. It’s very important.

The second level of accessibility comes in the form of players learning and adapting to your game quickly. This means getting your players to a point where they feel in control, and understand how to not only play the game, but succeed at it, as quickly as possible. Preferably without detracting from the quality of the game.

So how do you do this? Well a few ways really, firstly through simplicity and clarity of copy. Really refining your rules down to a point where they are suuuuuuper clear and straightforward, and for Pete’s sake get a copywriter to proof read it (hi Pete!)

Secondly, context. Phrase things in a way that reflects the familiarity and context of your theme. Posing complex problems in the context of human decisions and emotions make them far easier to understand.

Thirdly, don’t be afraid to use visual devices like colour or iconography to help people with recognising things they are going to be doing multiple times. The human brain is trained to recognise patterns, so use that to your advantage!

3. Be intriguing, without being overly complex or abstract

‘Ooo he’s so mysterious’ a random girl said to her archetypical teenage friend. ‘Yes, but also he’s a spec of dust’ said the friend.

Specs of dust are abstract ok. Probably too abstract to understand in the context of a relationship right? Maybe the girls were specs of dust too? Maybe she has a thing for specs… of dust (not just eyewear).

You were intrigued though right? Ooo the mystery.

The point is, it’s good to be mysterious, intriguing and have some surprises in your narrative and theme, just don’t make it too abstract. Abstract is ok with familiarity and context but without being able to recognise what is happening in a way that relates to the actual game, the meaning of that intrigue and mystery is lost.

4. Be evocative, without being purple

Ah man I’m gunna so decorate every room in my new house full purple. My girlfriend will love it, I know her least favourite colour is purple but just wait until you actually seee it in person.

Not convinced.

Yeah neither am I.

I’m not talking about paint colours or interior decorating though I’m taking about the literary definition of purple. That overly long wordy and flowery explanation that should have just been explained in a few simple sentences kind of purple. Bad purple! I also have a dog called purple.

Ok I don’t, but now I’m just sad because I don’t have a dog. SIGH.

There is a right and a wrong time for purple prose. Right time: an overly dramatic description of the scene that starts the game. Wrong time: explaining how your innovative turn mechanic works (and how basically any functional game mechanic works).

5. Be inclusive, without being vague

Here at BGLA we loooooove to be inclusive.

No seriously, that wasn’t even meant to sound sarcastic, I know it did.

We DO care though, and you should to when you’re designing your game! Being inclusive should be paramount to the design of your game, after al, you do want to get as many people as possible playing right?

There are a couple of exceptions and things to balance here though. If your game is designed to fill a specific niche. Go after those people first, and then work on inclusivity. Sometimes certain types of games only appeal to certain types of players, and your core demographic may be more important than watering something down to appeal to everyone.

As with everything, it’s all about the balance.

Yours balancingly,

Chris

5 Classic 90s Cartoons that NEED Board Game Adaptations

Now, you guys are gunna go ahead and tell me that all of these already HAVE board games, but I’ll believe it when I hear it.

So then what I’m talking about here are clearly just games that I am not aware of, but probably have been made already due to the fact that most of them are already popular and successful IPs in their own right. Make sense? No, probably not.

So if you can imagine this, me, being a child at one point in my life. Most probably a while ago but I was a child at some point, and during that short stint as a mentally underdeveloped adult there were amazing and incredible cartoons on TV (much as there probably are still now, I just don’t know what they are any more as I don’t have children and/or am not an 8 year old). These included small babies talking to each other and causing mischief, an even smaller child concocting experiments in a secret lab whilst his sister proceeded to ruin everything, and an overly macho and womanising douchebag called Jonathon.

Now, as a way to possibly relive my youth for an unsustainable and incredibly brief period of time I have decided to revisit some of them, and also imagine how they could be made into something that more closely fits my new, more adult hobby, of board games (YES it’s an adult hobby, no need to laugh!)

1. Pinky & The Brain

Imagine a world where 2 pesky rodents where always on the verge of becoming the leaders of a borderline   fascist dictatorship. THIS is the world of Pinky and the Brain. Now, if you havn’t seen it, I’ll simply explain it this way. One very smart mouse plots to take over the world yet  is always inevitably foiled by his unfortunately stupid companion. Presumably Pinky just wanted to feel like he wasn’t being left out but the lesson here was that you shouldn’t be nice to dumb people just because they want to  be part of your plans for world domination. That’s a surefire way to failure my friend, much as The Brain learnt repeatedly across a 10 minute slot of our Saturday morning TV programming.

Good moral lesson there though clearly.

Basically, I just want a 2 player board game that has you team up to execute a plan to conquer the world. It would play out as scenarios, involve a Sherlock: Consulting Detective level of investigating and planning, and culminate in you either taking over the world or failing miserably.

2. Dexter’s Laboratory

A wonderful fan favourite for those lucky kids that had Cartoon Network. For the rest of us, we just had to have sleepovers at friends houses and binge on Dexters Laboratory for 8 hours before heading back to the basic terrestrial TV selection at home. Oh, what a tough life! How dare our parents deprive us of the deeply educational nature of having access to a 24 hour cartoon channel. How dare they indeed!

Dexters Lab for those of you who don’t know, involved a tiny boy who was a science genius, having everything ruined by his annoying sister. Not dissimilar to the setup for Pinky and The Brain if I’m honest.

Imagine this; a game where you all play Dexter or one of his scientist friends, concocting experiments and robots to rid the world of an evil genius boy super  villain. Except one of the players is secretly Dee Dee, and plots to ruin all of the experiments, taking sides with the boy super villain for some super important reason like ‘he was really cute’ or something equally ‘Dee Dee’. Way to gender stereotype 90s cartoons.

3. Ed, Edd n Eddy

Sticking with the Cartoon Network (or maybe Nickolodeon) shows here, Ed, Edd n Eddy sees 3 idiot friends do dumb boy stuff and get away with it for the most part. It’s one of those shows where the parents are always too tall to fit on the cameras, their heads in the clouds and their ominous yet friendly voices resounding from the heavens. Go go gadget appealing to the key demographic!

Wouldn’t it be great to have a simple card game though, everybody plays an ‘Ed’, and competes with each other to build or construct the most ridiculous prank or contraption, before inevitably getting grounded. Last person standing without being grounded wins!

4. Rugrats

See, I never watched the rugrats much but I felt obliged to add them to this list simply for their cartoon pedigree. It was a staple of any 90s kid’s cartoon diet. A look into the minds and lives of small babies who each have very distinct and unique personalities and characteristics reminiscent of a sitcom. Or maybe even a soap opera for that matter. I can hear the them song in my head as I write this (also pretty sure 90% of kids from the 90s can play it on piano).

This game though is about a group of children being left alone or getting lost in various locations, and having to work together as a team to figure out how to get back to your parents. Cue typical traitor mechanic, cue etc etc.

Either that or you just all compete as babies in the baby ring to become baby king. Seems pretty cool.

5. Powerpuff Girls

Last but by no means least we have the classic and unforgettable power puff girls. Featuring no other than the best named bad guy in all of Cartoon history (don’t quote me on that)… Mojo Jojo.

So basically, you’re telling me the story is a guy who was sad about… something, biologically engineered 3 super human and superhero children, to you know, comfort him in life and also take on the worlds most notorious criminal and super villain, a giant green monkey with a funny name.

Cool! Got it. Totally on board.

Maybe the board game for this would involve hidden movement, one person plays Mojo Jojo secretly moving around some… place, crime scene or something. He is trying to steal the secret key for something important or where there is a lot of money, and you; the Powerpuff Girls, are working together (using your powers) to find Mojo Jojo and stop him before it’s too late!

Sounds pretty good to me.

Yours cartoonishly,

Chris

5 Board Games that sound like Bad Holiday Novels (you know, the crap ones you only buy at the airport)

Picture, this. You walk into the airport at god knows what time in the morning, on your way to a lovely package holiday to somewhere sunny because who the shit would want to live in this godforsaken place for any longer than absolutely necessary. It rains, it snows, it sleets, it winds, it storms and it lightnings sometimes. Gross.

Then, for a second as you make your way through the over handsy security check, you remember… a book! I don’t have a book to read! How else will you spend the precious time roasting myself alive in the sun without a good (subjective), cliched and trashy holiday book to read. And we all know you don’t have a kindle because those are a magical and fascinating technology that you both a. don’t understand, and 2. think are weird and don’t have the same ‘feel’ as book. Not to mention the fact that they take up far less room, how dare they! I want my suitcase crammed with kilograms of literally hundreds of sheets of paper obviously! None of that magic voodoo kindle shit.

Then there is a glimpse, a flicker in the corner of the room. The light from the moon (because it’s still the night, the cheap flights leave at 3am don’t you know) sends a glimmer off an overly glossy front cover in the distance. You have no idea what the book is called because the name on the cover is so gargantuanly (definitely a word) huge, that the only way to gauge what the book is about is by guessing from the overly graphic and erotic illustration on the front. It depicts a man with hair that definitely needs a cut, caressing a (normally very respectful I assume) lady who has accidentally let her silky nightgown fall to almost far enough to warrant it being soft core pornography.

The perfect holiday romance novel. I’ll buy it!

I would too.

(Just FYI none of these novels are real. I’ve literally just made them up for fun. At least I found it fun… tells you a lot about me really. Or not, I’ve honestly no idea.)

1. Russian Railroads

The Game: A train theme game that sees players compete to be totally industrious and very strategically minded railroad owners, competing to have the best most shiniest railroad in all of Russia (I assume, clue’s in the name there.)

The Novel: A murder most foul, on a train journey so long. Who could possible figure out whodunnit?! Except for everybody reading this book about halfway through of course! By jove, he’s killed him by coal poisoning (IT’S A THING OK, didn’t check it but definitely a thing.) With a strange and almost… randomly selected bunch of characters that could almost resemble someones actual friends and family in real life (yes, I’m looking at you, the AUTHOR OF THIS FICTICIOUS BOOK.)

When did the murder happen (the book tells you), and who could have possibly committed the crime (it’s the creepy looking guy  in the corner), we won’t possibly know until we finish reading… Russian Railroads.

Totally Buying it.

2. Santorini

The Game: An excellent and amazingly well designed 2-player abstract affair, designed around the theme of the actual place Santorini, and it’s history.

The Novel: A sordid love triangle unravels in fits of passion and lust on one of the most sun-kissed isles of the southern Italian coast. Who knows exactly where this incredible and winding story of romance and erotica could take us, except for maybe… somewhere, not very interesting. The characters all suffer from a sense of wanderlust and their dialogue is stinted and forced. Think of this as more… 50 shades of beige, with a bad package holiday backdrop. The only thing getting turned on here is the  self-indulgent author and their wildly inaccurate and flailing fantasies.

Hurray for holiday books!

3. Captain Sonar

The Game: Judging from the cover of this game it looks like you play a guy called ‘Captain Sonar’ (I assume), who can somehow balance a small submarine on one hand whilst simultaneously rocking a very solid crew cut. From the description on Board Game Geek, this is  actually a 2 team co-op game which sees 2 opposing teams (obviously), taking different roles on a submarine in an attempt to fire a torpedo in the right direction first, and blow the other team up. Fun!

The Novel: Man I sure do love superheroes. Especially when they are absolutely and completely made up just for the sake of a quick cash in with the current marvel/DC/comic book movie bandwagon! Captain Sonar, I bet his power is incredible! Like he can find out how deep in the sea stuff is by bouncing his sonar voice off of it. Or find out how deep a hole is by bouncing his sonar voice off to it. Wow! What an amazing power, I wish I could do that.

In fact he was the subject of a very terrible and gruesome ‘sonar experiment’ when he was in his early twenties. He was part of a environmental wellbeing activist group who were testing out some dangerous sonar experiments to find out some stuff about things under water and guess what! He was diving at the time! Oh gosh no! What a series of dramatic and noteworthy events! This led him to develop his crazy sonar power and go on to save many fish and find lots of cool stuff under the seas and oceans of the world.

Whilst also finding his true love (gotta get the sub-plot in there).

4. Navegador

The Game: Oooo it’s a euro affair alright.  I think. At least , it’s a fairly heavy strategy affair as games go, and sees players collecting things, trading things, hiring people to do things. All in the good old fashioned name of combining your privileges with your achievements. Easy!

The Novel: Ooo, what does the name mean, it’s so mysterious I bet this will be good! Actually the opposite couldn’t be any closer to the truth, but that’s why you bought it in the first place! I mean who cares if the name itself even means anything, or if it’s just a randomly selected group of seemingly illegible vowels and consonants. Not me!

Imagine, a far off land of mystery and intrigue. A desert with hot springs and a marketplace with camels and… other stuff they have in hot climates. The plot reminds you a bit of a cartoon version of almost exactly the same story, one where he’s, shall I say, ‘one step, ahead of the hoodwinks’, and he  ‘only steals what he can’t afford.’ Which in the life of this guy is really, pretty much everything. How can we possibly be convinced to root for such an untoward and generally quite scruffy thief you ask? Well, we can’t. That sort of thing is against the law don’t you know, and the writing certainly isn’t convincing anybody.

5. In the Year of the Dragon

The Game: Players play rounds (months) in a bid to try and survive through the ‘year of the dragon.’ That’s where the name comes from at least.

The Novel: A Borderline racist war thriller based in feudal China. The person who wrote this novel wears a kimono on the reg despite not having any family ties to the far east, and loves to tell everybody about their amazing Mandarin tattoo (not the orange you idiot). It means peace and love though. Sure it does…

For some reason throughout the book everybody keeps referring to ‘the emperor,’ despite the fact that we have absolutely no idea who this emperor is, or what purpose he serves the story, except for some bland historical rhetoric. The protagonist is a particularly moody fellow with no relatable characteristics and for some reason is seemingly willing to simply throw himself headfirst into any and every unstable conflict going. The book ends with him just straight up dying. Guess it should be emotional but to be honest I’m glad the moody bugger is dead.

The end.

Yours bookingly,

Chris

The D&D Tabletop Etiquette Handbook (aka how to not be a dick)

I can 100% understand that playing D&D for the first time is an incredibly daunting and potentially intimidating experience. At least that’s the stigma that surrounds it.

Thing is though, it’s not! At least, it shouldn’t be. We’ve come to the point in society now, where it’s no longer weird to sit down at a table together and play a made up fantastical character, with a group of other people in a bid to defeat evil (or whatever befalls your path), and emerge on the other side triumphant (or dead). Totally normal you guys! Don’t say you didn’t hear it here first…

It’s kind of always been normal though. Just that those who didn’t understand it for what it is felt somewhat ‘weirded out’ by it, or proceeded to argue about how football was cooler  before placing us in a garbage can and rolling us down the nearest hill. Either that or some other totally plausible and definitely not ficticious form of stereotypical youth related mistreatment.

Despite all of those wildly cliched acts of bullying however, all of us stayed the course and emerged on the other side at a point where lo and behold, this gosh darn hobby is actually popular for some reason! Maybe because it’s moderately to quite fun. That’ll be it!

Consider this then the definitive list, of all  the do’s and don’ts of being a productive and friendly, go-getting type of D&D player that everybody will totally love. The kind where everybody talks about what cool stuff you did together  after the session, rather than the kind where everybody wishes they hadn’t invited you to this campaign.

Don’t decide someone else’s actions for them

Woah! Calm down there angry generic office dude shouting at someone who clearly just picked the wrong tie for the day. This isn’t crazy tie tuesday Barry! Go back home and change immeeeeediately! Idiot.

Worst thing ever. When you’re playing D&D and somebody railroads your idea, or your turn, or your entire ENCOUNTER just to force everybody down a route that they don’t want to go down. Barry, I know it’s just a crazy tie, but that crazy tie affects EVERYBODY ELSE IN THE ENTIRE OFFICE. Stop bringing us down with your crazy tie vibes, trying to get every one to wear the same crazy tie as you. Some of us  like wearing a plain old boring red tie, ok!?

Basically, just don’t decide someone else’s actions for them. EVEN if it’s a life or death matter (of your character, not an ACTUAL life or death matter), never force another player to do something YOU think is right.

Do Bring your own dice

Or, crazy idea, MAKE your own dice. Simply cut out the paper above and voila, your very own rubbish paper d6. Amazing! Now, only the d4s, d8s, d10s, d12s and d20s to go. Oh wait, I forgot the percentage dice. That as well. Good luck!

Experience says bringing your own dice is just good practice and good etiquette. It makes everything smoother and easier, you don’t have to keep rummaging around for somebody else’s dice and interrupting the flow of the game. And you can rest assured that YOUR dice aren’t stupid and ridiculous like some people’s. Yeah I’m looking at you BARRY.

Do know your character

Firstly, who wouldn’t buy a magical talking dog. That would be like, the best thing ever to happen in D&D ever. A talking dog! Come on, you know you want one…

Knowing your character doens’t have to be hard though. This just means you should know kind of what abilities you have, kind of your modifiers, and kind of what sort of thing your character is good at, so that if you are put on the spot a bit in any situation, you kind of know roughly what to do in said situation.

That said sometimes not having a clue leads to the funniest stories. Not everybody can be the bumbling adventurer with no clue though. Or maybe they can actually…

Don’t Meta game

Yeah yeah, I go on and on and on about this one all the time. Hey, Chris, you talk about meta gaming in like, EVERY article ever. Why not write about something different for a change you over repetitive HACK.

Well, thanks for the personal attack but no, I will not write about anything different. Not at least until the WILL OF THE WORLD HAS CHANGED AND THE UNHOLIEST OF HOLY META GAMERS HAS BEEN SMOTE FROM THIS EARTH BY THE GOOD LORD METHUSALA AND THE WRATH OF A THOUSAND AGES HAS BEEN RAINED DOWN ON THEM…

I can skip the deception check there right?

Do make game decisions based on how your character would react

IF your character would enjoy ice cream, then GO GET SOME RUDDY ICE CREAM ALREADY.

It’s merely a coincidence that I also happen to like ice cream in real life as well, ok!?

Don’t be afraid to speak in your characters voice

This is literally why I always play the dumb dwarven fighter, it limits my vocabulary in game and thus allows me to get very very very drunk and still remain ‘on brand’ as it were.

Ok, well maybe I don’t always play the dwarven fighter… BUT it sure would be a good way to be able to drink too much beer and not piss the other people off at the table. Dwarven pale ale it is then!

Don’t take it too seriously

You can kind of forget all the other points I rambled on about to be honest because as USUAL with my blog posts, the last point is really the only one that matters in the entire piece. And that’s the case AGAIN with this.

Stop worrying too much people, D&D isn’t this big scary thing that’s really hard to be a part of.

All D&D literally is, is a group of friends, sitting round, having some food and drink, and fake playing some characters out to kill a big evil monster for some reason. Have fun with it!

Yours etiquettily,

Chris

I Played D&D for the First Time in Years and it was Enlightening (in a GOOD way)

It’s been a long time (ticky ticky), shouldn’t have left you (left you)… without a dope beat to step too.

Right, sorry, bad reference to a song nobody remembers from the 90s.  What I meant to say is WHY did I stop playing D&D? I mean, apart from the lack of a regular group and the extra lack of a motivation to spend time on something that clearly wasn’t a priority side project (like this is of course, can’t you tell? It’s  so well written and always published on time…).

My problem was that I always wanted to play DM, which sure, is maybe a little outside of the norm, but someone has to do it right? Nobody else wanted to so I jumped in head first. Which by the way is the correct way to jump in. Head first. Just FYI.

Legal disclaimer: I can claim no responsibility from any ACTUAL injury sustained from jumping into anything head first. Especially things that are not water or… air? (I’m looking at you, you base jumping, skydiving nutcase)

Something miraculous happened recently though. Someone in a D&D group that I had friends in was ill. Isn’t illness great! Three cheers for illness, I bet they felt terrible! Ok that was a bit harsh. But still!

What it meant though was that I could immediately step in to heroically ruin and destroy the very fibre and essence of the character that they had spent so long lovingly levelling up, growing and shaping, in the space of only a few hours! A challenge I jumped into… well, head first obviously.

I got 99 problems but DM ain’t one

For once I was glad I wasn’t playing DM, but to be clear DM doesn’t come without its unique challenges and prerequisite knowledge of a LOT of things. I’m talking about things BEYOND just knowing the rules here. Like how to successfully engage all players socially, or how to set an early precedent for role playing even when several people may have hangovers.

Our wonderful DM for the session took us through the Vestani encampment and a furiously burning (nothing to do with that fireball that hit a tree) forest  within the classic  D&D creepfest of the Strahd campaign. All the while we simply bumbled and fumbled our way through each encounter to the next. We were intrepid, excited but very very badly organised.

Now this is where I get to my first quandary with pre-created campaigns in that a large chunk of the encounters can sometimes feel random and pointless, but then again, isn’t REAL life just full of random and pointless encounters anyway… oh  LIFE, you prankster you!

Tony & Guy

One such instance had us bump into a shaggy haired fella (whom we affectionately named ‘Tony’), only for werewolves further down the road to attack us ferociously because we didn’t pay his ridiculous ‘anti-werewolf tax.’ I was always taught as a kid not to give any money to strangers no matter how many fantasy horrors or teen goth romance  novel characters I was threatened with. Apparently that BASIC and most well known of childhood lessons just doesn’t pan out  in D&D. Who knew.

I was especially miffed when Tony himself turned out to actually be the  werewolf he was attempting to ‘protect’ us from in the first place! The cheek. I’m chalking that one up to miscommunication on behalf of Tony. Dress up a bit nicer next time Tony and get some professionalism to your social interactions. THEN I might be encouraged to give you a few gold pieces, even if just for being a polite and dapper gent.

He’s Worth It

My character at least was fabulous. The infamous High Elf ‘L’oreal’, with hair like gold wavey… waving stuff, waving about in the wind. Ooo, so wavey, how do you get those waves L’oreal?

It’s just natural babe, I’m worth it.

Genuinely ok if you choose to stop reading there, I deserve it for that low hanging fruit of a joke.

My one fatal character flaw was that I at some point had caused the downfall of my tribe, which although being fairly nondescript, is also a pretty godawful thing to have done as a lawful neutral elf with amazing hair. Most people don’t even come halfway close to causing the downfall of even much smaller things, like for instance, the life and health of their pet dog ‘Biff,’ let alone the whole god freaking damn tribe. Fuck me L’oreal.

Our party was also composed of 3 other interesting characters, including but not limited to a Dwarf who just wanted to sell people his DPA (Dwarven pale ale FYI; which I proceeded to sneak out of his tent during an extended nap in order to drum up some business, but just ended up getting drunk with the locals and starting a tribal dance party through the camp. Standard).

The Imagination Frustration

The Imagination frustration is my name for one of the most common of problems when it comes to D&D campaigns: the encounters can get SAMEY.

Same dungeon, same monsters, same set up, same objects in the room, etc etc.

Fortunately that wasn’t the case for my brief time playing L’oreal.

Now in my opinion one of the areas where D&D always works well is in small and interesting encounters with monsters and bosses that are WAY out of your pay grade. I mean like; we need the Avengers to sort this out because we are just running around like idiots who like to play with magic and then very quickly die, whilst simultaneously the evil boss guy flies away, cackling maniacally having suffered basically zero damage.

And that’s exactly what happened, but it was great! Having tied ourselves to the subject of our boring escort quest, she proceeded to wake us up in the night, ask to go for a pee whilst we followed, only to see this bloody Count Vampire boss guy,  idly standing by a tree and  drinking her gosh darn blood. From the neck as well. I mean that’s just unhygenic for starters. Although, I imagine he carries some form of ‘vampire cleansing wipes’ around with him for these exact situations. No harm in being clean even if you are an abomination of pure evil. Priorities.

Gaming the System

As with all D&D sessions, there is a fine balance between meta, and just playing normally. This mostly only happens with those people who LOVE to min/max, and who can’t  HELP but always ask a hundred questions to try and wriggle around a situation, but it can creep into any session.

Just ask yourself; ‘What would my character do,’ the answer is usually ‘not ask about rolling a perception check for a certain aspect of a rule you just remembered that applied to some form of illustion spell.’ Unless you are playing a character who then also plays D&D within D&D, like some kind of weird D&D-meta-inception. What if the character you play is also a meta gamer.

Doesn’t bear thinking about.

The Situational Intricacies of not Dying

The only thing slightly worrying about playing somebody else’s character though, is an underlying sense of innate responsibility.

This on a surface level is about choosing the right abilities when they level up, using the right skills in battle, etc, but actually translates on a much more realistic level to: DON’T LET THEM DIE.

Initially a struggle due to my immediately getting bitten in the neck by a vampire in the first encounter and loosing 80% of my hit points… and then still a struggle in the second encounter. I got mobbed by werewolves, took almost my whole health in damaged, and then used my athletic prowess to jump up a tree and just sit still for a very prolonged period of time, kind of just bleeding all over the foliage. Picturesque.

Finding Fun in Chaos

And that’s what D&D stands for for me really. Finding fun in all of those ridiculous encounters and situations, and not feeling pressured to know EVERY bit of the rules but to just go with the game, get into character and really just be a bit of an idiot for a few hours.

Oh, and it helps to not kill your character in the process as well.

RIP L’oreal.

Kidding, he’s still alive really.

Or is he…

He is.

Yours vampirically,

Chris

5 Tips to Remember when Buying Snacks for your Tabletop Games Night

I see you there, standing in the aisle of your supermarket of choice, perusing the snacks section for something suitable, just grabbing any and everything of the shelves. Put it back! I’m here to help, and to say; not all snacks are created equal when it comes to board games and tabletop, and choose the wrong ones and you’ll be left with greasy fingerprints strewn across playing cards, smeared stains of unidentified dip on your ticket to ride board and worst of all… sticky things. Nobody likes sticky things when they weren’t meant to be sticky in the first place. Gross.

So stop staring at those random snacks on the shelf and start looking at your phone and read this article before you buy anything… promise it will either be super useful or super confusing. Maybe even both, if you’re lucky. Either way I imagine the potential to learn anything of true value is relatively small. BUT we continue anyway, and onto the actual tips! And no surprise right out of the gate we have…

1. No Grease

This refers to both the movie and the food style, both are unnacceptable on tabletop nights. Not only because your gaming group will get wildly distracted by the fabulous and wonderful teen romance and drama of an overrated film from the late 70s, but also because grease is like the food version of sand at the beach. As soon  as it gets on anything, IT STAYS THERE FOREVER AND NEVER LEAVES.

Cardboard things will start to show shiny fingerprints, rulebook pages will bend and crinkle under the oily mass, and particles of clothing will begin to stick to things where people have rubbed their fingers vigorously on their trousers (or other items of clothing that they may be wearing) to try and dispose of the erroneous grease film before touching literally any game piece. How can you clean cardboard without ruining it? You can’t, it’s borderline impossible, so avoid the grease!

I had a pun for this one actually… Grease lightning, more like grease frightening! Hah, I amaze even myself…

2. No dips or generally runny things

Look! A delicious pie! Why not eat some whilst we play this game of many intricately designed and perfectly crafted miniatures! Ice cream anyone? Cream? What, cutlery, nooo! Eat it with your hands I say, the messier the better!

What could possible go wrong?

Guess I need to keep the puns going as well, errr, sayyy… runny dessert, more like runny game… hurt! Yeah that was bad.

3. No Sugar Rush

This kid loves sugar see. AND lemons. Or is that a grapefruit? Ok, definitely a grapefruit, nobody has lemon for food, let alone even would be able to FIND a lemon that big.

Thing is with sugar though is that with the massive HIGHS come the lowwwwws. It’s the kindergarden equivalent of crack cocaine, and the come down even for adults after a high concentration of things with glucose in them, is often even mightier. Some sweet things is not a bad idea though, don’t get me wrong, sharing a bag of colourful and flavoured animal fat between good friends over a board game of an afternoon sure floats my boat. What you don’t want though is a LOT of sugar over an EXTENDED period of time. At some point people are gunna start to crash hard. And once that happens there’s no coming back…

Sugar rush, more like sugar hush! Because everyone will fall asleep when they crash? No? Alright you’re right that makes no sense. Sure hope the next one of these is better…

4. No Over Complications

Ooooo isn’t it lovely, look everybody our kind and generous host has carved a full tableau of the battle of the bastards from game of thrones into a large melon. Let’s eat it! Melon won’t get on anything I swear and it definitely won’t be precarious to eat in  any way.

Apparently the thing in that picture is a cocktail, not a random platter of tropical fruits featuring a token drink. Just skip on the overly complicated stuff I’d say, I know sometimes you want to flaunt your fancy cooking skills or amazing masterchef level presentation abilities but for the whole board games and tabletop thing, yeah simple is better. Let’s stick to things in bowls that we can use our hands to eat…

Fruit watermelon, more like fruit… all over the place and I can’t eat it properly without a knife and fork and OH GOD I dropped a piece of it on the discard pile and it’s STICKING to the cards. Now the card is peeling apart because of the naturally sugary fruit juices seeping through the pores of the cardboard OH GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE. Not really a pun that time I see…

5. Just get card protectors already…

NO, that’s not the sort of ‘food on playing cards’ search results I was going for but  I guess it will have to do for now. I mean THAT food on THOSE cards is fine but otherwise, in all other possible scenarios (with the exception of sushi go), food on cards is very very bad. THE STICKY CARD IS A GIVEAWAY, he’s got the Princess, he’s got the PRINCESS! Surefire way to ruin Love Letter that…

Instead there is a WAY EASY solution, for all of your games with limited numbers of cards (Sorry Sheriff of Nottingham, you’re out of this one), just get card sleeves! That or just don’t have food on the table when you play card games… and get everyone to wipe their gosh darn greasy fingers before they draw!

I think I’m being too harsh.

Oh well! Them’s the rules… well, tips. Not strict, but I’d advise sticking to them, very much like your cards will to each other if you don’t follow these tips.

Alright we get it, sheesh.

Yours snackily,

Chris

5 Steps to Hosting the Perfect Tabletop Games Night (ft. Simon Drowell)

So you have the games, you have the people, you have your cool little room with the Kallax shelves stacked to the sky, but there’s more to running a perfect games night than just having ‘the stuff’. You’ve got to have the intangible, something that nobody else has. That thing is the X factor, which is why (for my sins) I’ve brought along my good friend Simon Drowell to talk through some top tips for hosting the perfect games night, and getting that said ‘X-factor’. Isn’t that right Simon?

Simon: Exactly Chris, I was told when I was younger that to be the perfect host you had to only do one thing right. That thing is to not be awful. Basically, if you’ve got it you’ve got it, and if you havn’t, well you might as well quit.

Chris: Harsh but sure… I guess. We’re trying to give tips here though Simon, we can’t just tell people ‘sorry but if you don’t know then  you should give up.’

Simon: Well that’s wrong but fine.

1. Variety is the spice of life

Chris: As everyone with the aforementioned full Kallax setup knows, you have to play lots of different games to have a good games night, but choosing the games is one thing, and planning out your night is something entirely different.

Simon: Exactly, basically Chris, just don’t choose terrible games, and you’ll be absolutely fine. Next tip.

Chris: Alright, well not quite Simon, you should be organising these in a way where you don’t end up playing back to back heavy euro games. Make sure you have at least one small, short or light game to put inbetween the longer games. Then another thing I like to do is to make sure you start off with something more socially orientated, so as everyone gets fully involved in the  vocal part of tabletop, and everyone gets to a place where they are more comfortable interacting with everyone else at the table. This is  especially important if you have new people at the table.

2. Dem snackz

Simon: Just get snack food surely, done.

Chris: Well, sure I guess, just get snacks and you’ll be fine.

Simon: Exactly, just make sure you get snacks that are not extraordinary.  Extraordinarily bad that is.

Chris: Right, very confusing. I mean, you can look at it from  a slightly different angle and that is this. If you have card games to be played, or anything involving paper pieces, or things that pick up dirt, just DON’T get crisps with fancy coatings. Oh, and if you get dip, just make sure you keep it away from the game at all costs. No drippy doritos over the game please!

Simon: If you seriously know people who would eat a ‘drippy dorito’ over your copy of mechs vs. minions then you 100 percent need new friends, I’m sorry but that’s just a fact.

 3. Move along now dear

Chris: Unlike this friendly guy in a blue onesie in this comic you have to remember one key thing as a host. If your players get stuck, move it along! Getting stuck on one scenario or encounter (in D&D) that takes FOREVER can suck the fun out of the night. Getting stuck on a game where  everyone is suffereing from AP again, sucks the fun out of the night, so move it along!

Simon: Basically Chris just don’t choose a game that’s going to get people stuck, I would have thought that would be pretty obvious at this point.

Chris: Well, exactly. Not too harsh this time Simon, are you feeling alright? I agree though, which makes a change for once. New players don’t want to sit and play through Diplomacy for hours on end, and likewise eurogamers don’t want to sit there and play Cards against Humanity for hours (on a games night that is, the pub is a completely different matter).

Simon: If people get stuck then you are just a terrible host, and maybe just think about using your time more effectively on things you’re better at, like not hosting for example.

Chris: Ouch.

4. Pace yourselves

Simon: We all know the tortoise wins the race, so just stop being the hare already.

Chris: Err, yep sure. Well, not quite, what I mean by pace yourself is that you can’t just go from game to game to game forever without a break or anything. Break away from the table for a bit, go and grab a drink, cook some food, have a chat about whatever, anybody doing anything for a long time gets a bit tedious after a while so keep the evening paced!

Simon: I take it back immediately in that case. How do you expect to have the X factor if you can’t get through every single game back to back without stopping to have a ‘break’.

Chris: Well, the X factor in a games night is about the whole night, not just the games Simon. You have to get past this very aggressive tone you’re taking and just have fun instead of worrying about it being ‘the best’ night. Just have fun.

Simon: When you’re the best you don’t have time for fun, this is a competition not some  little kiddies board game group.

Chris: Right, well I’ll just go and have fun with the kiddies group then. Sounds way more fun to me…

5. Embrace the RP

Simon: Basically if you’re not actor level proficiency here, you don’t have a spot on this D&D table ok? This is the X factor of tabletop nights not the local theatre groups production of  ‘A Christmas Carol’ alright.

Chris: Glad to see I’m back to disagreeing with you then… This is exactly the opposite advice I would give for a tabletop night. The point of getting on board with role playing in a group playing tabletop is to  include everybody, NO MATTER their proficiency. In fact, when everyone feels comfortable role playing, it’s usually MORE fun the worse everyone is at it.

Simon: I don’t understand, why wouldn’t you want people to be incredible at everything.

Chris: Well, you wouldn’t Simon, but to everyone else, just remember, RP isn’t about being GOOD at RP, it’s about everyone getting together and getting  involved in the story and getting everyone engaged with the game! That’s the most fun you can have, break down the barriers and embrace RP! If you have people in the group who are  more comfortable, get them to lead by example, and don’t laugh AT the people who aren’t good, laugh with them, make them feel good about role playing, and get everyone to a point where they’re ok with making a bit of an idiot of themselves! It’ll be a better night trust me.

Simon: I need a drink…

Chris: To be honest alcohol is a great way to get the RP started, so for once you’re talking my language!

Tabletop Night X-factor = Ignore the X-factor

Simon: SO why am I even here again, if the end result is that the X-factor doesn’t even matter?

Chris: Well, just think of it as a way to prove to people reading this that making something perfect and the best thing ever, usually doesn’t lead to it ACTUALLY being the best thing ever. Your favourite TV program should prove that enough anyway Simon…

Simon: Well in that case I’m leaving.

Finally, he’s gone. That’s it though really, my advice for any tabletop or baord game night, don’t worry about it too much and follow these simple steps. Get a good variety of long/short and light/heavy games, get snacks, move people on in a nice way when they get stuck, and  embrace being silly and role playing a little bit  (if it fits the game!). That’s it really! Simple.

Oh, and take a break every now and then.

Yours anti-simonly,

Chris