Level Up

Do You TableTop? (Plus, Our ‘Simpsons' iPod Winner!)

First and foremost, I want to CONGRATULATE Andrea Ulrigg on winning the iPod Touch pre-loaded with EA Mobile’s free iOS title The Simpsons: Tapped Out and $25 iTunes Gift Card in honor of Zooey’s reprisal as Mary Spuckler in The Simpsons last Sunday!  Hope you all got to watch it – Zooey was awesome.  And download Tapped Out if you get the chance – really fun game!  Check your Facebook, Andrea, for a personal message from me

A lot of you were new readers to my column last week due to the iPod Touch giveaway, so I wanted to reintroduce myself to you!  I’m a Gamer. You’re probably a Gamer too… have you ever played Scrabble?  Chutes and Ladders?  Candy Land?  Risk? I’m going to assume the answer is a resounding YES.

This week, Level UP is bringing it back to the basics with TableTop Gaming.  TableTop can be super simple or extremely complex.  Actually, some of the easiest TableTop games on the market, such as Pictionary, can be wildly confusing after a few holiday beverages with relatives.  I recall my Uncle Bob foregoing pen and paper entirely and deciding to just charade “Britney Spears” after a few beers by hurling what looked to be a javalin and yelling, “Hey Bloke, it looks like rain!” … okay, maybe you had to be there, but our family has never laughed so hard as a full unit in our lives.  TableTop Gaming brings friends and families together with memories that last a lifetime.

One of my closest friends in Los Angeles is a director by the name of Bruce Monach.  His family is a BIG TableTop family and he constantly hosts game nights at his house.  The games Bruce plays are inspired by rich fantasy, role playing, strategy and creativity… a little more outside the ordinary TableTop box most of my readers may be used to.  I think it’s important to share some of the more unique games out there with you!

I interviewed Bruce to give beginners, intermediate and advanced players some options and ideas while shopping for TableTop games this upcoming holiday season!

What was your first real tabletop game?

My first real tabletop game was Dinosaurs of the Lost World.  Each player is a team of researchers and adventurers exploring a Lost World full of Dinosaurs.   It’s recommended for children 8 and up, but my Dad was playing it with my brother and me before we could read.

Most people have heard of Scrabble and Risk, do you have any recommendations for casual gamers just looking for something fun to play?

Apples to Apples is a pretty classic word association party game.  But Munchkin is a simple and fast card game inspired by role-playing games that I think a lot of people could pick up quickly and have a good time. Each player is an adventurer exploring a dungeon, trying to find the best treasure and most power, but it’s all very silly and light hearted.

Are there any games you would suggest to more experienced players who want to play with casual gamers?

The first is Last Night on Earth, which is a zombie game about a rag tag group of survivors trying to escape, find the cure or defend a manor.  I would recommend the most experienced player run the zombies, ready to adjust balance on the fly, so that casual players can just have fun collecting items and killing zombies. If the game plays out right, it has a great tone, give and take between zombies and players, and it has a cinematic feel.

The other game is Betrayal at House on the Hill.  The players all work together to explore a haunted mansion that is different every time you play… until you discover that one of you is a traitor or you find a monster!  There are a lot of different possible outcomes. I like it because there’s a lot of tone, goofiness and it doesn’t really matter who wins to have fun.

Once you’ve played a few games like this, what should “intermediate” players try?

Once you feel comfortable with more complex games, I would recommend Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game. Just like the series, the players are characters from the show, with special abilities, trying to get the convoy of ships to Kobol. But some of you… might be cylons. It requires a good knowledge of managing cards and numbers, with the added social dynamic of figuring out who in your group is a traitor.

A card game that I play a lot of is 7 Wonders. Each player is trying to develop a civilization through resources, trade, wonders and the military. The hands of cards are passed between the players, so you have to think about your own strategy.  I’ve seen a lot of less experienced players win the game, while the more experienced players try to destroy each other’s strategies.

What is one of your personal favorite tabletop games?

A game that I am always willing to play is Innovation. It’s another card game that is more complex than 7 Wonders.  Players collect and play cards that represent a variety of technologies, each with a unique ability. As the game goes on, the players obtain more powerful technologies trying to meet objectives or destroy each other.

You mentioned role-playing games earlier. How would you recommend new players get into them?  I’ve heard a lot of great things about D&D Melt at Meltdown Comics run by Satine Phoenix in Los Angeles. 

Yeah.  A lot of local gaming and hobby stores have gaming groups that play board and role-playing games. You can ask at the store or call ahead. I found a lot of gamers in LA on Meetup.com, and I still play with the people I met on the site. I’ve found that many people are willing to teach new players as long as they ask.

What do players expect from advanced level gamers?

Advanced gamers are expected to know the rules, their characters abilities and what their actions will be in advance. If each player knows what they will do before it’s their turn, then the game moves much smoother and faster. Many games have tournaments, and is expected that people will play quickly and within time constraints. Slow playing can get a player disqualified.

You’re working on a secret new gaming system inspired by your web series, Pen & Paper & Laser Guns!  Here’s a promo for “PPLG” for those of you that haven’t seen it.  I believe you’re working on shooting the first season now?

Yes, we’re currently in pre-production for the first season – wrapping up casting.  While creating Pen & Paper & Laser Guns, I was deciding what game system the characters in the show would play.  None perfectly fit, and I eventually decided that the characters would play an original system. Later, I was talking to my brother (Producer, Keith Monach) about the changes being made from 4th to 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, when we started listing how we would change the game, and the issues we had with the rules.

But once we’d brainstormed enough ideas, we realized that we were completely changing the way the entire game would function. So now we’re creating a new system from scratch. The #1 concept comes from my experiences playing D&D and Vampire the Masquerade.  In both games, there is a balance in character creation between how well your character functions in and out of combat. I’ve found that players want to feel like their actions matter in both arenas. So all character creation choices in our system will be separated by combat use and out of combat uses.

You’re awesome, Bruce!  Thanks so much for telling our readers some more about TableTop Gaming!

Thanks for letting me talk about them!

So there you are, dear HelloGiggles readers!  I’d love to hear what YOUR favorite TableTop Games are, and what memories you have from playing them.


Featured Image: The Walking Eye

Additional Images: Munckin, Board Game Geek, Board Game Geek, Board Game Geek, Board Game Geek, Board Game Geek,  Board Game Geek, and Pen & Paper & Laser Guns