As the national convention of all things pop culture comes to town, the gamers are gearing up to battle their peers in the Table Gaming section at Wizard World Comic Con taking place at the Convention Center on February 7 - 9. Playing a game with friends around a table has been around since the beginning of time until the advent of third-generation video game systems in the 1980s which swayed players to become increasingly hermetic as they sat in front of screens and interacted only through messages or microphones. Far too often, players become violent and insulting, making for a hostile virtual playing field. So, gamers of all kinds are heading back to the table as face-to-face gaming is making a comeback for the sake of real interaction and a friendlier atmosphere, and the Greater New Orleans area has many inviting places to play games of all sorts and levels of intensity.
As testament to the growing gaming movement, journalist Quintin Smith of the board gaming news site Sitdownandshutup.com claimed during a lecture that "for the last ten years, board game sales have been going up every single year from between ten and twenty percent. We are in a Golden Age right now; people are realizing there are better board games out there, and they're buying more of these amazing games. In board game terms, it's the Sex Pistols in 1977." He went on to explain that the rise in better quality games came about because high-quality European board and card games were adopted by American game-makers who added more intriguing story lines; new games are a mix of aesthetically-pleasing and easily-accessible European design and dense, adult-oriented American storytelling. Some of these games can be as short as ten minutes or hours long. "I think a big reason board games are coming back is the couch-co-op that we all remember. We are hard-coded to sit down with our friends and enjoy each other's company, and board games let us do that," continues Smith. Board and card games can also be expanded in ways that video games can't, like holding auctions for players or objects, players being able to make the game unique to them, even remixing classic American board games with the Boardgame Remix Kit. The board game Risk: Legacy includes sealed card decks for certain unlikely scenarios only. "Board games are endemic throughout human history. They are ancient; board games, card games, table games have been around as long as the human race has," states Smith.
Shops around the city allow players to engage each other through a wide variety of games. Serious tabletop games and historical wargames involve miniature game pieces, sometimes intricately hand-painted, moving strategically around an open battlefield according to a book of rules. Newer board games like The Settlers of Catan are more versatile than classic roll-and-move games. Collectible card games are played with cards with different powers and abilities and range from battle games like Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon or new style fill-in-the-blank games like the trendy, snarky game Cards Against Humanity.
In the Riverbend neighborhood, a brand new British-born tabletop wargaming store specializing in the game Warhammer opened in September 2013. Games Workshop at 622 South Carrolton Avenue sells very detailed miniatures and paint supplies. They also hold gaming classes so that interested gamers can learn the rules. Galactic Goods in Kenner has group gaming on Friday nights. +1 Gaming at 4201 Veterans Avenue opened in 2011, and also has a schedule of events each week that can draw dozens of players, and you can see the entire schedule on their site Plus1gaming.com.
Go 4 Games located at 701 David Drive opened their doors in 2010 and has a steady clientele of players hungry to achieve another win. "In our store, there is a great mix of games enjoyed, but I have to say miniature wargames are the vice of choice. Our customers enjoy the space free of charge. We feel that if we can provide them with a clean, well lit, safe, and inviting place, the sales will come on their own," says owner Mac Nirandorn. Players can play whatever they like at any time, but more serious players enjoy joining the scheduled gaming; the games are listed on their website Go4gamesnola.com.
"We like to plan out games to make coming to the game shop sort of like an event, much like going out to the movies, or preparing for a live sports game. Although our customers aren't locked in to just what we have on tap, we make sure there is some free space for people to do their own thing, or room to just hang out with friends," explains Nirandorn. Mac Nirandorn has seen the renewed interest in face-to-face gaming, and it's far more than nerds who indulge in it. "With the advent of shows like Tabletop hosted by Will Wheaton, the Big Bang Theory, and numerous comic book-inspired movies, geek is quickly becoming chic. The inherent value of actually spending time with one another as opposed to through a computer screen just can't be denied. There is something to be said about that feeling you get when you play that crucial move to end the game and watch your opponent's shoulders deflate in defeat, or the laughs that comes from the other players as they watch you vacillate between which action to take next. That feeling can't be recreated any other way, other than in person. In our shop, we have a mixed bag of patrons; some are professionals, military, law enforcement, service industry, students, clergy, and even a few minor government officials," states Nirandorn.
The classic arcade of yesteryear is increasingly hard to find. Though players do face a screen, they are still among their fellow players, and battles for the top score often ensue between them. Barcadia at 601 Tchoupitoulas Street has taken in many beloved classic video game machines and revived the arcade in an adult setting. "We've been able to put a different style of bar in a very prominent part of the city, so we're able to pull a lot of different crowds from a lot of different places. It's become a common ground of banter, friendship, and good times," explains manager Miles Tully, Jr. Barcadia not only boasts lots of vintage gaming machines, and larger-than-life games like Connect Four and Jenga, they have excellent food served from lunch to late night, big screens, and an extensive beer menu that has become a challenge itself. "Nick Huff is our Executive Chef, and he's gone from a burger-centric menu to everything from salads, sandwiches, wraps. Our appetizer section is amazing and perfect for late night grub with friends. And there's over 100 craft beers in house. We have a Beer Wall; if you buy one beer, you can ask for a Loyalty Card, and once you order fifty beers, you get your name and a quote with the date on the Wall," explains Tully.
Still, the draw for customers remains the dozens of games that range from pinball and some of the earliest arcade games to video game tournaments. "Our demographic is from young to old, and the games that get flocked to depend on what games you remember playing as a child. We had a Mario Kart tournament on N64 for one month on Mondays, and we did a John Madden tournament on the big screen, too. Right now we're doing trivia," says Tully.
Casual board gamers looking for the classics can find a plethora at the decades old Neutral Ground Coffee House on 5110 Daneel Street which has hundreds of board games, along with books, stacked on their shelves and tables for anyone to take down and play. Siberia on St. Claude Avenue hosts Sword and Backpack game night every other Wednesday.
Nerd or not, gaming is great for anyone of any age. It's more than a pastime; games are mentally-stimulating and spur creativity. And there's nothing like a good game to get to know people better. As Quintin Smith says, "I have seen my friend not talk to anyone for days, I've seen my friend almost punch a man clean out for basic incompetence, and I've fallen in love with someone because they remembered to toggle a screensaver. And that won't mean anything to you until you go out and play Space Alert."