Tabletop Gaming: What Is It?

Tabletop gaming is actually a pretty broad term that encompasses any number of games that are played on a surface or “tabletop.” It can include classic board games like Sorry and Monopoly or advanced RPG games like Dungeons & Dragons, or even deck building games like Magic: The Gathering.

Usually, tabletop games include the use of game pieces and accessories like cards, dice, game boards, maps, tape measures, battle markers, miniatures, markers, etc. Some tabletop games are created for groups of players to enjoy while others are designed for two players. There are even tabletop games you can play by yourself!

But with such a broad definition, how can we break down and explore what tabletop gaming really is? Easy! By breaking them down into basic categories.

Note: We are fully aware that games will exist outside of (or be comfortably defined by more than one) of these categories. That’s okay. This article is by no means intended to be the be-all, end-all definition of tabletop gaming. It’s just a beginner’s guide to help you navigate the wonderful (and sometimes confusing!) world of gaming.

1. Board Games

Board games run from simple family fun (think Monopoly, Boggle, Pictionary), to complex, strategy-based games (Alchemists, Pandemic, Settlers of Catan). Most include an actual board, but others utilize decks of cards or dice. The important part is that the game requires a surface to play on.

This is the format of tabletop gaming that most people are familiar with. Even if you haven’t played in a long time, you likely played at least one board game as a child. It’s an almost unavoidable right of passage in our society. And if you’ve played one board game, you have at least a basic grasp of game theory and a sense of what most other board games may entail.

While all board games are designed to create different experiences and evoke different emotions, they are all designed in a logical way that allows you to progress through a series of actions based on rules – all in an effort to “win.”

How To Play Board Games

There are no general rules for playing a board game because the actual rules and gameplay and objectives vary widely from game to game. But, generally speaking, there will be setup required. This may mean simply unfolding the board and handing out player tokens, or it may take 30 minutes of shuffling, tile placement, miniature arranging, etc.

Once setup is complete, there will almost always be turns that players (or teams of players) must take until the objective of the game is reached. Once the goal is reached – congratulate yourself! You just played a board game!

2. Role-Playing Games

Role-Playing Games (also known as RPGs) are slightly less ubiquitous in the human experience. While every child played Hungry Hungry Hippos or Life at some point or another, not everyone (sadly) played Pathfinders or Dungeons & Dragons growing up.

The Setting

RPGs are usually set in imaginary or altered worlds – fantasy, sci-fi, etc. – and they require the players to interact with that world by using their imaginations.

The Characters

You can play as yourself, but, usually, RPGs require you to create a character based on a set of qualifications and customizations provided by the game. You then imagine yourself as this character and interact with the imaginary world and characters in it created by other players (PCs or Player Characters) or that already exist in the narrative of the world (NPCs or Non-Player Characters).

Like a Video Game

If you’ve ever played a video game, like Assassin’s Creed or Skyrim or Grand Theft Auto (GTA), you should be able to grasp the concept of RPGs. It’s exactly like playing a character in a video game. You’re navigating a unique, fictional world and you can do that with other players or with characters that already exist in the game.

The biggest difference is that you have to use your imagination to “see” the world around you in an RPG.

The Tools

This will vary from game to game, but generally, you’ll need the following to play a tabletop RPG:

  • Game Dice – the standard set is 7 polyhedral dice, but some games may require specialty dice.
  • A Player’s Handbook – this contains all the rules and information you need to play.
  • A Character Sheet – this lists your character’s stats like Hit Points (HP), Stamina, and Skills.
  • Paper and Pen – To take notes. Most RPGs extend for at least three or four sessions – some can run for years. You may need to refer to your notes if you forget what happened last time you played.
  • Imagination – let your creativity fly! Anything is possible in an RPG!

3. Miniatures and Miniature Wargaming

Miniature games are typically composed of a 3D battleground that conforms to a specific story or a fictional/embellished setting. These are heavily strategy-focused games that utilize real warring tactics and skills. You’re essentially the general of your army and they succeed or fail based on your decisions.

The best known miniature warring games are Warhammer 40k and Bolt Action.

Required Tools

  • Miniatures – soldiers, catapults, horses, etc. that represent your armed forces and/or supplies/resources.
  • Cards and dice – depending on what game you’re playing, cards may represent different actions, resources, or scenarios, and dice will help you determine the success of those actions or represent statistical likelihoods of success.
  • Tape measures – to measure how far you can move and if you’re “in-range” for an attack. Usually, these model battlefields are built to scale and every inch = x feet or miles.

How to Play Miniature Wargames

Different games have different rules, but, generally, you will play on a 3D representation of a battlefield that has been scaled to represent real-world conditions. Your miniatures will move across the battlefield in realistic patterns and attacks based on your strategies. Dice will be rolled to help you determine the success of your actions. You will take turns with the opposing player(s) and whoever has the most resources left/captures the city/completes the other objective first wins!

Those are the most basic rundowns of the most basic categories of tabletop gaming. If you have questions about tabletop gaming, or you want to talk to someone about how to get started in one (or all!) of these games, come down to Game Goblins and talk to one of our highly-qualified nerds!

We LIVE to talk game theory, and we have so many events and groups you can join to learn how to play and meet other game enthusiasts.

You can also contact Game Goblins online! Send us your questions and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.