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Why Playing Tabletop Games Is as Important as Reading

Geek WeekI thought that title on a bookstore blog might raise a few eyebrows, and I'll admit I wrote it just to be sensationalistic. Of course, you have to be able to read to play most tabletop games, so there is a hierarchy involved, but the point I hope to make is that playing tabletop games, especially as a family, can be as rewarding as reading to your kids. If you already consider yourself a gamer, I'll probably be preaching to the choir here, but if not, please read on; I'm here to evangelize you toward a new way of life.

First, a refresher: I'm Ken Denmead. I run a blog called GeekDad (and am the publisher of GeekMom). I also wrote three books filled with projects for parents and kids to build together, and with two boys of my own, I'm very invested in the realm of figuring out how to have rewarding family experiences.

Powell's asked me to do a return-stint as guest blogger this week, as we lead up to the first-ever International TableTop Day (ITD) on March 30, a newly created unholiday intended to celebrate and get the word out about the amazing range and depth of tabletop games that exist these days. ITD is the brainchild of Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day, both popular actors and online personalities. Felicia also runs a YouTube channel called Geek & Sundry, where Wil hosts a show all about tabletop games (indeed, watching the show is a great primer for learning about gaming). The holiday is an expression of both of their passions for gaming.

Probably the best place to start for those of you who are reading fans, but not necessarily tabletop gaming fans, is to give you a sense of why ITD is important. For many, many people, if you ask them if they like tabletop games, a common response will be, "Oh, sure, we play Monopoly once in a while and have a good time, but we usually don't finish." Such statements will send a shudder through the passionate gamer and drive them to fumble all over themselves to show you the light.

You see, most people's experience with tabletop gaming begins with Candy Land and ends with Monopoly (and boredom or frustration). A large part of the reason is that both of these games depend much more on luck than strategy for a player to succeed, and if you cannot build and execute a strategy, you're far less likely to become invested in a game. Why do you think poker (in all its various forms) or bridge or Risk or chess are games people actually become passionate about? Because the player's understanding of the game and ability to execute a strategy based on the conditions are so much more important to the outcome. Rather than two bad dice rolls landing you on Park Place and Boardwalk in succession, you can put some real thought into playing these games.Rather than two bad dice rolls landing you on Park Place and Boardwalk in succession, you can put some real thought into playing these games.

The goal of ITD is to show people there's a great big world of amazing tabletop games out there waiting to be discovered; games whose depth and potential for fun make Monopoly look like Snakes and Ladders.

Settlers of Catan is a good example of a modern tabletop game so good, it's broken through into popular culture and is even being reinterpreted with existing entertainment franchises (Star Trek Catan is a wonderful adaptation). But for family play, cooperative games like Castle Panic can transform a game night. When everyone is working together to fight off the monsters attacking your castle, and failure or success depends upon the family unit acting effectively as a team, then you've taken a huge step up in positive shared experiences. Casual games like Zombie Dice, Fluxx, or Tsuro can be played and enjoyed quickly, so younger players don't have to be expected to sit still for an hour-long session.

The bottom line is that the best family time happens when there are enjoyable shared experiences, and tabletop games can provide for some wonderful shared experiences. This week I'll be talking more about the games I love and even a couple I designed (while I empower you to build your own). But most important, I hope I'll light a fire under you to go check out the games here at Powell's or at your own local game store and explore the world of tabletop fun that's waiting for you.

[Editor's note: Powell's Books at Cedar Hills Crossing is an official host of International TableTop Day. Join us on March 30 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. for a full day of gaming, new game demos, giveaways, and other surprises.]

More from Ken Denmead on PowellsBooks.Blog:

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Ken Denmead is the editor of GeekDad, a blog on Wired magazine's website. A professional civil engineer, he lives near San Francisco with his wife and their two sons, who are both geeks in training. He is the author of three books, including Geek Dad: Awesomely Geeky Projects and Activities for Dads and Kids to Share.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Geek Dad: Awesomely Geeky Projects... Used Trade Paper $8.50
  2. Tsuro Gifts Miscellaneous $29.99

  3. Zombie Dice 2: Double Feature Gifts Miscellaneous $7.95
  4. Castle Panic Board Game
    Gifts Miscellaneous $35.00
  5. Settlers of Catan (4th Edition)
    Gifts Miscellaneous $42.00

Ken Denmead is the author of Geek Dad: Awesomely Geeky Projects and Activities for Dads and Kids to Share

One Response to "Why Playing Tabletop Games Is as Important as Reading"

    Mona April 9th, 2013 at 11:05 am

    I love board games, cards, etc. It is a must in our family...Scrabble night! My top eleven are Scrabble, Upwords, concentration, macala, boggle, Phase 10, othello, chinese checkers, Flux, rummikub, and Milles Borne, and pictionary I have dozens of games but these are our favorites. It is great that well-known people are encouraging people to play board games. Heaven knows we have enough violent video games, that are corrupting and desensitizing the minds of all who play them. Going back to the simple life is safer and friendlier

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