Best Affordable Tabletop Games – Board Games, RPGs, Cards & Party Games
Games have been around much longer than gaming systems. Decades and even centuries before computers ever came on the scene, people spent their evenings sitting around a table with their friends and family members, playing games of all kinds – from cards, to checkers, to charades. And even in this modern, high-tech world, these old-fashioned games are as much fun as ever.
If the only way you’ve ever played a game is sitting in front of a screen, then you’re missing out on a whole world of possibilities. Tabletop gaming offers a huge variety of choices, including board games, card games, and role-playing games (RPGs) – some of which don’t require any equipment beyond a pencil and a sheet of paper. There are small-scale board games you can play with just two people, and big party games you can play with all the friends you can fit into a room.
With so many types to choose from, tabletop gaming offers something for everyone.
Even in an age of sophisticated computer games, board games are undergoing a renaissance. Not long ago, the only board games for sale in big-box stores were classics like Scrabble, Risk, Monopoly, and Clue. Today, the game aisles in those same stores are bulging with an ever-growing assortment of games, including new imports from Germany and Japan. Even chain bookstores now devote a significant chunk of their floor space to games.
These new games aren’t necessarily cheap. Many of the newer German-style games, which focus on high-quality craftsmanship with wooden pieces, cost $50 or more – about the same price as a console video game. But spending this much on a board game can be a better value because, unlike a video game that you’ll likely play through once to the end and then put aside, a good board game can provide unlimited hours of play.
At the other end of the spectrum, there’s Cheapass Games. Along with its full-priced games, this publisher offers inexpensive “white box” games that are deliberately made with low production values, using cheap cardboard and leaving out extras many people already have, such as pawns and dice. It even has a page of completely free games on its website, where you can download rules and printable boards and cards for more than 30 different games.
Here are several games that contributors to BoardGameGeek.com recommend as good choices for new players:
A standard pack of playing cards costs less than $5, and you can use it to play hundreds of different games. Pagat.com provides the rules for hundreds of card games, which you can sort by name, number of players, region of the world where they’re played, or general type, such as trick-taking games or draw-and-discard games. The site has one large section dedicated solely to poker, which covers the standard ranking of poker hands, the betting process, history, strategy, and rules for hundreds of different variations of the game.
Currently, the five most popular games at Pagat.com are:
In addition to the games played with the standard card deck, there are numerous games played with specialized decks, such as Uno and Love Letter by Funagain Games and Fluxx by Looney Labs. Because they require only cards to play, these games tend to be cheaper than commercial board games – usually $15 or less.
Part of the fun of computer gaming is being able to jump into the life of another person who lives in a world different from yours – a soldier, a superhero, or a sorcerer. However, even the most sophisticated games are limited in this respect. You can steer the character’s actions, but only in ways the game commands allow, and you can’t really affect the character’s personality and beliefs.
With live role-playing games (RPGs), these limits don’t exist. In an RPG, you can dive completely into your persona, experiencing adventures through the character’s eyes. And you have a group of other players at the table who are all working with you to meet the challenges of the story, whether that’s fighting monsters, solving mysteries, or plotting a revolution. So playing an RPG with your friends is far more of a bonding experience than playing a board game in which you’re all working against each other.
The best-known RPG is Dungeons & Dragons, or D&D, a sword-and-sorcery fantasy adventure. However, there are countless RPG systems and settings, from cyberpunk, to film noir, to the Wild West. What all the systems have in common is improvisation – using your imagination to decide how your character will deal with the challenges of the game world. Most systems also use dice to introduce an element of chance, so you never know ahead of time whether a strategy will succeed or fail, which helps keep the game exciting and suspenseful.
If you’ve never played an RPG and would like to give it a try, ask friends who play if you can join them for a game session. Even if you don’t know of any people who play this kind of game, try asking around anyway – you might discover that a classmate, a coworker, or a relative is involved with a gaming group.
If you don’t know anyone at all who plays, then visit your local game store to see whether it ever hosts RPG events for newcomers. You can also find groups in search of new players online, through Meetup or specialized sites such as RPG Game Find, Find Gamers, or NearbyGamers.
If you can’t find an existing group to play with, you can round up three or four interested friends, choose a game, and dive in. All you need to get started playing an RPG is a copy of the essential rules and a set of dice. For most games, these basic components will set you back anywhere from $15 to $40. In many cases, you can find a free, simplified version of the rules online that you can use to try out the game before deciding whether to buy the full version.
One problem with many commercial board games is that they can only handle a limited number of players. For entertaining a big group of people – say, eight or more – a better option is party games. These are boisterous, silly games, often played in teams – and many of them are completely free.
Popular party games include:
Tabletop gaming is a completely different experience from computer gaming. When you play a computer game, you’re sitting in a room by yourself, pitting your skills against the computer or against other players sitting by themselves in other rooms far away. By contrast, tabletop gaming is a social experience – something you do with a group of friends together in the same room. The fun of the game comes at least as much from the people you play with as from the game itself.
Tabletop games make a great activity for all kinds of social occasions. You can make them the entertainment for a holiday party, a family reunion, an office retreat, or any kind of casual get-together. And the best part is, no matter how many times you’ve played a particular game before, each time is a whole new experience.
What are your favorite tabletop games for different groups and occasions?
Amy Livingston is a freelance writer who can actually answer yes to the question, “And from that you make a living?” She has written about personal finance and shopping strategies for a variety of publications, including ConsumerSearch.com, ShopSmart.com, and the Dollar Stretcher newsletter. She also maintains a personal blog, Ecofrugal Living, on ways to save money and live green at the same time.
Best Affordable Tabletop Games – Board Games, RPGs, Cards & Party Games
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