Monday, 20 January 2014

International Tabletop Day

So I've mentioned Tabletop on here before.

Last year on March 30th the first International Tabletop Day was held and in the UK it was all a bit of a rush.  This was no fault of the team behind Tabletop, more a victim of it's success than anything else.

For 2014 they've managed it much better and have given roughly 10 weeks notice of the event which should give flgs', clubs and other groups time to organise their events.  In 2014 the event is on Saturday 5th April.

So why is this important?

As I mentioned in more recent posts the media coverage of the hobby is patchy at best.  What Tabletop Day gives the hobby is an opportunity to celebrate across the formats with the community at large and do it in a way that gets quality media coverage thanks to the celebrity aspect of Tabletop.

So what?  I've heard a number of people (mostly on Twitter) say that this is nothing more than another excuse for the same groups of people to get together and play the same games they always play.  Whilst I sort of understand that, stress the sort of, if that's the limit of their understanding of what the event can be about then I think they're missing the point.

This is a celebration of the hobby and one which has greater potential than D&D Game Day, Magic Celebration or indeed Free RPG Day.  Each of these are great celebrations of the games and formats they represent but they're limited to those games and a single format so do not have as great a potential to grow the community as Tabletop Day does.

So what makes it so different?

It's a celebration of the hobby as a whole.  Sure, the show largely focusses on board and card games but a big part of reasoning behind that is that the games being played have to work in a TV format.  Wil's touched on this on one of his Not The Flog postings where he highlights his reasons for not choosing specific tabletop games and indeed formats.

The event itself though is not limited in the same way that the show is.  Any tabletop game can and should be played to celebrate the hobby in this way.  Whether that be board and card games, roleplaying games, collectable card games or even war games.  Each format should be equally represented.

What I will say though is that Tabletop Day should be seen as an opportunity to try something different, something you wouldn't normally play or indeed something you haven't played for a very long time.

Me?  I'll be helping run an event to celebrate Tabletop Day at my games club.  What we''ll be doing is still to be confirmed but at the very least it will be board and card games.  I wouldn't be surprised though if it ends up being much more than that.

What about you?  Do you plan on taking part?

Saturday, 4 January 2014


In my post on why D&D Next is important I talked about the strength that the brand of D&D brings to the RPG format of the hobby, indeed perhaps to the hobby as a whole.  Evolving that thinking a bit further the question of Media Coverage comes to mind and indeed I decided to do some investigation into the sort of coverage exists specifically for D&D’s 40th Anniversary.

So the first hit I get is a recent post on NY Mag about the 40th Anniversary of D&D and it managed to please me at first but the more I reflected on the article the more it annoyed me.

Taking the positives first –

This kind of mainstream media coverage is good for the hobby as a whole as it helps to engage an audience on a subject matter / hobby that they may be oblivious to.
When done well it can also demonstrate that the hobby is not quite as niche as it is believed to be.
The use of popular culture personalities helps to break down barriers around the acceptability of the hobby, particularly one that’s had its problems with public image in the past.  In this case they cite Stephen Colbert, Jon Favreau and Junot Díaz (not someone I recognise but still he’s won the Pulitzer Prize for The Brief Wonderous Life Of Oscar Wao which has D&D references so maybe I need to try harder!) as D&D players or at least people who have connections to D&D.
The stats used may be wrong (I’ll come to that) but the reference to 30 million D&D players worldwide is hard to ignore as a powerful (if incorrect) representation of the size of the hobby.

All in all, from a surface view at least, it’s a fairly positive story about D&D and the 40th Anniversary of the game.

And now for the negative…

Whilst there is no definitive date for the first release of Dungeons & Dragons, the popular wisdom (not just what Wikipedia says) is that D&D was released in January 1974.  Indeed Jon Peterson carries out some solid investigation into the actual release date on his blog Playing At The World and ultimately concludes that January 26th 1974 is probably as accurate as we can get and considering that we can’t ask the late Gary Gygax or the late Dave Arneson to confirm this I think this is as good as we can get.

The D&D player base is nowhere near 30 million players.  I’d even doubt that 30 million people have at some point in their lives played D&D but that at least sounds plausible.  Even taking the RPG player base as a whole I’d be surprised if the player base was anywhere near that; indeed I’m going to take a guess at the population being somewhere in the region of 3-4 million players worldwide.  That’s roleplaying as a whole not D&D.  I have no stats to support that however and I could be completely wide of the mark but considering that the RPG product market (ignoring PDFs for the moment) has shrunk considerably over the past 5+ years I can’t see how the player base could be sustained at anything more than 3-4 million.  Granted there will be players out there who are still playing using products bought years if not decades ago but even with that I think the population has shrunk.
There’s a fork to this that I might pick up in another post about what constitutes being part of the “gaming community” and what doesn't but let’s park that one just now…

The overall tone of the article comes across as a little patronising.  Why do I say this?  Well it doesn’t come across as someone celebrating the 40th Anniversary of D&D, more as an article where someone is poking fun at the game. Ok so I might be over reacting to this (wouldn’t be the first time) and I suppose my real gripe is the lack of actual research that’s gone into it…
When you compare it to the BBC article written for the 30th Anniversary of D&D you can see that the BBC at very least were able to cite people they’d spoken to about D&D indeed in that very same article the number of people who played D&D in the USA every month in 2004 was estimated by Wizards Of The Coast at around 3 million.  I think it’s safe to say that those numbers have gone down rather than up since then even if you expand the use of D&D here to include other games in the “D&D Family”.

The reflection…

There are other elements to the article that I think leave a lot to be desired but then again at least its media coverage, right?  Poor press is better than no press, right?  I’m no so sure.

Compare it to this article published on the same day in the Longview, Texas News Journal.
Not only is this a pretty decent insight into playing RPGs it’s also written with no agenda in mind.  I mean it’s just “there” as a piece on playing RPGs with friends around a table to “reclaim interactive play”.  That’s a pretty cool way of putting it.

So what gives with media coverage of the hobby then?  I’m going to bang my more people play Magic: The Gathering than play World Of Warcraft MMO drum again here and ask the question of why is there not more coverage of this sort of thing in the media?

Oh wait there has been…  Yep that’s Rachel Riley of Countdown and Strictly Come Dancing fame talking to people about Magic: The Gathering.  Pretty positive coverage all in all I think it's fair to say.
Ah but wait.  That’s a promotional video for a company who host events all over the place including in the UK, so not strictly speaking media coverage.
So what coverage was there in the media of this UK event?  Hmmm none that I can find…  There was a Press Release to promote it back in October but unless my Google Fu is weak I can’t seem to find any reference to it anywhere in the Press.

So I ask again, why is the hobby not getting more media coverage?  I’m not talking about webshows like Tabletop or indeed exposure within shows like The Big Bang Theory.  I’m talking about press coverage and newsworthy coverage.

Is there a gap here on behalf of the 4 party system?  Publisher, Distributor, Retailer and Consumer?  Are these parties not promoting their own interests enough?

Or is it simply that the mainstream media isn’t interested?

<Pre-publication Update!>
So the Guardian in the UK have published a very good and positive media story about the 40th Birthday of D&D.  My point about the wider hobby exposure in the media still stands but it's good to see the Guardian at least doing their bit.
</Pre-publication Update!>

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Battletech: Alpha Strike

Way way back at the beginning of this blog I posted about Battletech.

As I said back then I tried playing the full (well Introductory Set) rules and it didn’t quite work for me.  That aside the universe and the idea of playing with giant robot mechs (I’m a boy after all!) has stayed with me since then.

What I didn’t want to do though was just try again without really getting the chance to play a full game and properly which led to the box sitting unloved on my shelf.
That is until recently.

I heard about Alpha Strike through one of the many blogs I peruse.  Unfortunately I cannot recall which blog it was (apologies mystery blogger) but it immediately caught my eye.  What’s that you say?  A rules-lite version of Battletech that can be played in under 2 hours?  Really???
Apparently so.

Having picked the rulebook up as part of my Christmas haul I’ve now read the Introductory Rules for the game and it is very much a distilled version of the core game, simplifying everything.  This makes me think that it could live up to its reputation of being a quick game but also a very deadly game when it comes to combat (which of course helps with the quick game part).

The Battletech Forums have gone a bit crazy (in a good way) for Alpha Strike and some very kind individual has posted a link to the stat cards for all the mechs that came in the 25th Anniversary Introductory box set which is most useful.

So what does this all mean then?  Well it means that I plan on playing Alpha Strike at the games club and knowing that there are a number of people with the introductory box set I know that there will be a few players that I can entice into playing.

What else does it mean?

Hmmm it means I probably want to remind myself of how badly I’d painted those minis… and will probably be tempted to re-paint them…

Hmmmm maybe there is a downside to this?! ;-)