Top of the Table

The world of Tabletop games has seemingly gained traction in recent years. With games cafes popping up all over and business booming, is this a sign people are taking on an age old pastime to gain physical connection in the digital world?

By Matthew Yon | Instagram @matt_likes_painting

In 2016, worldwide video game sales hit a new high of $91 billion dollars. The Oculus Rift VR (Virtual Reality) headset brought augmented reality in to the homes of ordinary gamers. And a man called Steve Raine decided to open The Dice Cup, a board game café in Nottingham.

Many might think that Raine was committing commercial suicide. Given the staggering popularity of the video games industry, and the relentless technological advances offering ever-increasingly immersive experiences, why on earth would anyone want to go to a board game café? But Raine knew better.

Amy Wosley and Michael Freeman, on shift at Dice Cup.

For him, the answer to The Dice Cup’s success is surprisingly simple. “Board games are a good way for people to interact”, Raine explains.

“I like to think that we’re also quite inclusive.” he tells me. The diversity of the Dice Cup community is extremely important to him and his team, who make it a priority to make everyone feel welcome. “We get people who, through various means, struggle socially. Whether they’re transgender, LGBT or just have anxiety. We even get some care workers bringing the people they support in.”

Speaking to his customers, they are quick to agree.  “I tend to play at home because it’s easier, but have played in cafés before as it’s quite nice to do with mates.” says Ella, an 18 year old Cafe worker in Hurworth. She often chooses monopoly precisely because “you can include as many people as you like”.

“Every year it gets better and better”

Steve Raine

People are becoming more and more interested in connecting with people through tabletop games. “I got into playing Magic: The Gathering because my ex played it near obsessively.” says 18 year old Alicea Mundy, “He taught me to play, and then when my friends moved onto playing the game, it became a thing between us all to play when we saw each other. Even after we broke up me and my friends would play, and some new friends I have at college play the game even now.”

It’s clear that people are rekindling a love for hobbying. But why is this? You can start with how connected the fanbase is, managing to bring together people who paint or customize miniatures, people who just play the tabletop games, people who simply read all about the rich history and lore connected to all these franchises.

Those who love their art may be familiar with how big miniature painting is on social media, especially places such as Instagram. Accounts from full on painting teams to simple miniature enthusiasts hold their own “mini-community” on the site. My personal experience trawling through photographs containing countless hours worth of hard work and incredible feats has been met with nothing but good vibes and positive energy. Big time professionals support the fresh starters and vice versa.

33 year old Quality Assurance Manager Rob Merker from Heathrow talks about how he got into the painting scene. “I’ve always been a very hands on type of person” he says. “I was encouraged to use Instagram by Friends and Family to showcase some of my work and it snowballed from there.”

Rob joined Instagram under the username @catorrabbit_scalemodel_studio on January 10th of 2018, and has since gathered a following of nearly 4,000 people. He started out on the hobbying scene, but that soon expanded from him creating miniatures to playing tabletop games.

“I naturally fell into Warhammer first due to how accessible it is. I had no desire to play at first but after meeting some of the local community it just seemed like a logical step.” This has now led onto a massive obsession with Arcadia Quest.

Rob’s experience with the Instagram community gives him the drive to continue his hobbying.

“The thing that really captured me was the community and if it wasn’t for the people I’m lucky to know and meet I wouldn’t still be doing this”, he adds. “So far there hasn’t been a situation where a technique or how to was asked and refused. I’ve had people ask me for advice and I’m always excited to help and slightly taken back by it.”

I think this is a pretty good way to express how open these hobbies are. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, all are welcome in these communities. Its clear to me to be another major draw, the idea of meeting new people who will welcome everyone into the fold, and treating them with respect.

Of course, growing communities means growing financial success. In some cases, tabletop games are even outperforming video games. In an interview with Polygon, popular crowdfunding site Kickstarter reported tabletop games dominated in 2018, having a 20 percent increase in successful projects. The site reached an all time high, with $165 million raised in total for tabletop projects, beating out video games by a long shot, which only raised $15.8 million on successful Kickstarters.

Tabletop companies are quickly realising the potential of digital media products alongside their classic games. Large brands such as the internationally acclaimed franchise Warhammer are even beginning to branch out to other medias such as internet shows, video games, books and even popfunk figures. This means that video game players often enter the fanbase, like Will Dawson, 22 year old engineering student from Nottingham.

“I naturally fell into Warhammer first due to how accessible it is”

Rob Merker

“[Warhammer video game] Dawn Of War got me into Warhammer just because of the whole lore and universe that is presented before you in the game”, he tells me. “So I thought, if the pc game was fun then surely the tabletop should be just as good if not better or expanded.”

It’s quite common now for people to be more drawn towards the tabletop through digital means, and the success of such efforts rolls over to other popular franchises. The former mentioned Magic: The Gathering has several video game adaptations for example. Even casual family games like Monopoly and UNO have big video game titles attached to them. It’s clear that a fair amount of people, especially those in their mid teens, seem to get invested in the tabletop after being exposed through digital titles. This is a great thing, helping different worlds of media and entertainment bond together.

Another common trend for the tabletop community is the opening of gaming cafes. You go, eat, drink and pick from a selection of games they have or even bring in your own. It’s a great way to both try new things and even meet new people.

Which brings us back to The Dice Cup. They offer a large array of board games to choose from, regular tournaments for collectors card games such as Magic: The Gathering or Yu-Gi-Oh!, a shop stocked with some of the biggest board games you can get, and even a friendly dog who goes by the name of Merlin. To top it all off all refreshments sold are vegan, meaning everyone can enjoy what they have for sale.

Knowing all this it’s easy to see why some people make visiting The Dice Cup a regular event.

“We do board games, card games, social things as well, we’ve got a weekly set of events which range from lots of different of the CCG’s, collectable card games, like Magic: The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh [and] Key Forge”, Steve tells us. “We have a weekly speed quiz on Sundays and we have some very big magic evenings regularly.”

Board game Thursdays at the Dice Cup, Nottingham.

Steve tells us how his business has improved over the years due to the increase in interest of tabletop games. “We’re supported by a lot of local people and so if there’s enough local backing we can do slightly larger events. As long as you put the prizes in people will come from afar effectively to try and win those.”

“Every year it gets better and better”, he continues, “there are still times where we’re full and we’re struggling to seat people and we try not to turn people away, so we try to get some of the casuals to like shift along a bit.” Adding that the vast majority of his customers return regularly, estimating 90% of them are regulars.

He then touches on perhaps the most interesting aspect of the tabletop phenomenon. “I think board games lend themselves to that type of personal interaction and people who struggle socially”, reflects Mr Raine. “Anyone on the Autism spectrum wants to immerse themselves in a world or a game where there are set rules and rituals, so a lot of people you know find this a safe space to come.”

This thriving market shows no sign of slowing down, with more and more people getting involved every year. There’s a bright and beautiful future ahead for tabletop players of all descriptions.


Magazine and website celebrating Nottingham's stories.

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