After ‘TableTop': The Next Steps for New Hobby Gamers

TableTop logo by Adam Levermore

Back in April, Wil Wheaton and the Geek & Sundry YouTube channel debuted TableTop, a show where celebrities gather to play board and card games. The concept sounded interesting, described by Wheaton as “Celebrity Poker meets Dinner for Five, where we got interesting people we know together for tabletop games,” but one big question remained: would people actually tune in?

Nearly three months later, evidence is mounting that TableTop is a huge success. The first episode, featuring the game Small World, has racked up an impressive 628,000+ views. Some members of the gaming media have also begun digging into sales data to gauge the show’s impact. The Starlit Citadel blog has dubbed this “The Wheaton Effect” after demonstrating that TableTop is actually boosting the popularity of the games it features.

Games such as Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Munchkin are staples of the hobby gaming industry, so if someone is purchasing these titles, this is likely their first time purchasing a modern board game. Since TableTop is meant to draw in new gamers, it’s definitely having that desired effect.

So where do they go from here? The internet is full of recommendation lists, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed. These new gamers already have a few games they love; they just bought them! Instead of rushing to explore every corner of the hobby gaming marketplace, it may be worthwhile to take things slow and explore the expansions, sequels, and accessories for the games featured on TableTop.

For each of those first few TableTop games, we’ll run through the second purchase that should be made (following the base game). We’ll also look at what the most recent purchase-worthy release has been so that potential buyers can see where the game is headed.

Small World – Recommended Second Purchase: Be Not Afraid expansion.

There are several small expansions for Small World that add new races and powers, but Be Not Afraid packs the biggest bang for your buck. While there are five new races and five new powers, priced equally to the other Small World expansions, Be Not Afraid packs one important item: a storage tray that fits all three of the expansions. It’s a matter of personal preference which expansion has the best races and powers, but  Be Not Afraid is the best starting point.

New Hotness: Small World Realms

Talk about replay value. Small World Realms takes a game that is played on the same map over and over again, and lets you throw your board away. Instead, you’ll now have 48 geomorphic terrain tiles that can be fit together to create a Small World board of any size and shape. It may sound like a very open ended challenge, but there are also 12 scenarios included in the box. Each guides players to create a unique map and play with a set of modified rules.

This box contains nothing but replay value. When your new gaming group begins to tire on Small World but doesn’t feel like moving on and learning a brand new game yet, make the call and pick up Small World Realms.

Munchkin – Recommended Second Purchase: Super Munchkin

Most of the appeal for Munchkin lies in its humor, so why not play to the strong suit? While there are nearly twenty different flavors of Munchkin and seven direct expansions to the original, I’ve found that Super Munchkin is packed with humor that can reach a wider audience which still remaining pretty damn geeky. Everyone get’s a Batman joke, some just appreciate it more than others.

New Hotness: The Guild Booster Pack

Steve Jackson Games has been on a tear of Munchkin releases, providing gamers with new sets, expansions, and even accessories such as Munchkin Dice, level counters, and kill-o-meters. When push comes to shove, though, the best new Munchkin product for TableTop fans is definitely the Munchkin: The Guild booster pack.

In a relatively recent development (~2 years ago), Steve Jackson games began printing small 15 card sets packaged in foil boosters. This allows players to spice up their Munchkin game without breaking the bank or overwhelming the deck. Plus, if someone has been turned onto hobby gaming via TableTop, there’s a good chance they are already a fan of Felicia Day’s The Guild.

The Settlers of Catan – Recommended Second Purchase: Seafarers of Catan

Of the three big-box Catan expansions, the first purchase for new players should be Seafarers. By breaking the island of Catan up into several smaller islands and adding shipping routes to the mix, Seafarers allows for a lot of flexibility in map setup and new scenarios. It manages to do this all without adding much complexity to the base Catan game, making it win out over the other Catan expansions.

New Hotness: Catan Junior

Mayfair Games has hit a bullseye in creating a version of Catan fit for children. Catan Junior manages to retain the true feel of Catan while making only a few rules concessions for the sake of younger players. Trading is now performed with the bank rather than other players, and as such, Catan Junior is able to ditch the cards, instead representing resources with molded plastic pieces. There’s also no longer any bell curve to the die roll odds, as only one D6 is used. What Catan Junior does add is a 2-player map, providing a great way to introduce new gamers to Catan in a 1-on-1 setting with simpler rules.

Ticket to Ride – Recommended Second Purchase: USA 1910

Of all the recommendations in this post, USA 1910 is the strongest. Once you play enough Ticket to Ride, you’ll realize that the game develops a bit of imbalance; optimal play dictates that 6-train connections should be favored. You’ll also get to the point where you’ve memorized all of the destination city pairings, and can predict opponent’s moves to the point that it ruins the game.

USA 1910 shakes this up in two ways: adding a 15 point bonus to the player who completes the most routes, and adding a large selection of new city pairings. The expansion comes with three alternate rules sets, allowing players to choose how they would like to incorporate the new cards. My personal favorite is the “mega” game mode, but give them all a shot and see what works best for your group.

New Hotness: Map packs

After releasing several new standalone versions of Ticket to Ride, publisher Days of Wonder has changed strategy and is now releasing less expensive map packs that require players to own common pieces from any one of the existing standalone boxes. So far, two pap packs have been released: Asia and India/Switzerland. Both are good pickups, as Asia adds a team mode while Switzerland provides an experience optimized for low player counts. Both have interesting twists on the game’s standard rules and end-of-game scoring, but you can’t go wrong with either. Pick one and run with it.

 

There are plenty of other games featured on TableTop, and each of them have their own natural follow-ups. Zombie Dice and Castle Panic have expansions, and Tsuro just had a sequel funded via Kickstarter. TableTop has a long list of episodes yet to run, so we’ll come back and revisit this topic once we see what games they choose to feature. In the meantime, check out today’s new episode where Wheaton and his guests will play the card game Gloom.