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Best Tabletop Gaming Accessories

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Best Tabletop Gaming Accessories

The right gaming accessory can change the entire experience of the game itself - whether that's organizing the components of your favorite game, protecting character sheets and cards, or even just enhancing the ambience of your gaming table. Our APN Team rounded up some of their favorites to share with you this week!

Jayme B.

Ultimate Guard Digital Life Pad

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Not every game has perfect player aids; and I learned early on that creating my own can foster a much better play experience for the other folks at the table. (Nobody needs to sit and watch me rifle through a manual when I forget my turn options or the sequence of play.) The new digital life pads from Ultimate Guard provide a clean, eco-friendly, digital solution to my desire to take notes or create cheat sheets for myself, all while leaving my cellphone OFF the table and therefore eliminating distractions. They come in 5” or 9” sizes, have a stylus that is comfortable to hold and write with, and are affordable enough that I think I might pick up a few extras just to have them on-hand for guests at game night!

Ryan

Playmat of Choice

I still remember the first time I used a playmat. I was new to the World of Warcraft TCG, and had picked up a starter product that included several booster packs, a deck-box, and a playmat (the Scourgewar Epic Collection, for you old-timers out there). At first, gathering around the kitchen table, my friends and I thought, “cool art I guess, but gosh what a silly product, why would people spend money a giant mouse pad?”. Then I actually used it: wow, what a difference! The soft nature of a playmat makes picking up and manipulating cards during play so much easier and more natural. Ever try to pick up a card laying flat on your table, and end up just opting to slide it off the end to avoid constantly picking at the edges of the card? Never again once you use a playmat! Now I never head to my FLGS for TCG nights without a playmat in the car, and 9-times-out-of-10 will even opt for buying optional playmats for my board games when they’re available. And that cool art I mentioned before? That’s just a bonus. 😊

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Matte Sleeves

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This will come across as perhaps the most mundane of items to call “life changing”, but not unlike my take on playmats above, I wasn’t always a believer. As I explored the trading card game scene more many years ago I came to understand that card sleeves were so much more than what most see as a way to “protect your investment” (though they do that too). For me, I quickly realized what a difference sleeves made when shuffling a deck of cards, be it in TCG matches where it’s a constant element of the experience, or even in board games that are card-heavy (especially deck-building games!). From there, there were what felt like an overwhelming number of options: What do I buy? What brand? What size? What finish? Art, or non-art? All of these questions have answers (and some of them more important than you may realize!), but generally speaking I found that matte finish sleeves were the ones for me. Not only do they look super sleek on the table, they feel great and shuffle smoothly as well. I find myself often going back and forth between Dragon Shield’s matte line, or Ultra PRO’s Eclipse line. Can’t go wrong with either!

Jayme C.

Ultra PRO: Dungeons and Dragons Character Folio

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Recently I’ve jumped into playing Dungeons & Dragons for the first time, and I am super pleased with these character folios. Being able to organize my character sheet and spell cards all in one place at my fingertips is perfect. As well as having the ability to write on the sheet protectors and easily adjusting my stats makes learning the game a smoother experience. Having extra storage never hurts either for all the supplementary notes I keep accumulating.

 

 

 

Dragon Shield: Playmat – Limited Edition

Out of all the fantasy creatures, dragons are my absolute favorite. Arcane Tinmen knocks it out of the park with their limited edition playmats. The playmats have stitched, rounded edges and absolutely beautiful artwork. They come with a collectible coin, in either gold, silver, or bronze. With gold being the most rare and bronze the most common. A fun addition is that you can use the coin with the notches on the case to track your life total, and the coin itself is a very comfortable weight. With the huge range of colors available you can bet I have a nice hoard of these playmats! 

Justin

Board Games Sleeves by Arcane Tinmen

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I am the crazy gamer that sleeves everything. The idea of a card game getting all bent up, chipped on the edges, and coated in snack dust is enough to give me nightmares. I used Dragon Shield sleeves for years (also awesome and made by Arcane Tinmen) but they were just a little too rigid for my liking. So I tried out the Board Game Sleeves and instantly fell in love. They are durable, non-glare and shuffle smooth all while being pliable and stackable how I want. They also come in every board game card size you can imagine. Definitely the best sleeves to get IMHO.

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Adventuring for Dummies: Princes of the Apocalypse, The Temple of Elemental Evil, The Curse of Strahd, and Castle Ravenloft

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Adventuring for Dummies: Princes of the Apocalypse, The Temple of Elemental Evil, The Curse of Strahd, and Castle Ravenloft

This week we're looking at products that make great introductions to the gameplay and settings of Dungeons & Dragons. Today, we'll be looking at two more games for the adventure and campaign building co-operative board game adventure system series from Wizards of the Coast. 

The Temple of Elemental Evil, from WizKids, is compatible with Wrath of Ashardalon, Legend of Drizzt, Tomb of Annihilation, and Castle Ravenloft. If you're looking for a traditional fantasy campaign where the big bad isn't an evil dragon, we recommend The Temple of Elemental Evil as a primer for the Princes of the Apocalypse campaign and a quick overview of the Sword Coast's locations, denizens, and culture!

Check out this great "Let's Play" from Wizards of the Coast and dive right into the second adventure!

This is the title that started the D&D board game series from Wizards of the Coast. If you're thinking of embarking on a gothic horror themed adventure in Barovia via the Curse of Strahd campaign, then this Castle Ravenloft a perfect opportunity to explore Strahd's infamous castle and play as several classic class archetypes. 

For a quick breakdown of this classic, watch this review from GamerNode!

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Adventuring for Dummies: D&D 5e Starter Set, Tomb of Annihilation Board Game, and Wrath of Ashardalon

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Adventuring for Dummies: D&D 5e Starter Set, Tomb of Annihilation Board Game, and Wrath of Ashardalon

This week we're looking at products that make it easier to jump into D&D or the worlds of the various published campaigns so you don't bite off more than you are prepared to chew. Here are some more great tools to introduce you to campaign settings and Faerun at large!

Even if you've moved past board games and want to jump into a role playing adventure, being handed a Player's Handbook or the Dungeon Master's Guide with 200+ pages of info per book can be a hard pill to swallow. Why not start out with a 5 pre-generated characters, a 64 page adventure module (Lost Mine of Phandelver), and a 32 page rulebook focused on levels 1-5? This box gives you everything you need to get playing quickly while keeping you from getting overwhelmed so you can focus on falling in love with Dungeons & Dragons. Before you know it, you'll be jumping into a published campaign or creating your own adventures!

Learn more about the D&D Starter Set from Dice, Camera, Action! star, ProJared!

Not sure Tomb of Annihilation's tropical island full of volcanoes, overgrown jungles, dinosaurs, and pirates is right for you next adventure? Take a tour of the setting with the Tomb of Annihilation Board Game from WizKids and face the classic Dungeons & Dragons arch lich villain, Acererak! Unlike the other games in the D&D Board Game in the series, this game adds the Bard class and outdoor tiles to the mix.

Learn more about the Tomb of Annihilation Board Game from Board Game Geek!

Are you considering running Rise of Tiamat or Hoard of the Dragon Queen from Tyranny of Dragons with your gaming group? Fan the flames with Wrath of Ashardalon by Wizards of the Coast! This game offers one session stories or campaign style play with classic D&D archetypal characters and no need for a Dungeon Master. This game will introduce you to classic dragon related story elements, behavior, and minions who typically serve/protect the terrifying wyrms that you're sure to meet when you play a Tyranny of Dragons campaign. 

Learn more about game play from Watch It Played!

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Adventuring for Dummies: Dragonfire, Betrayal at Baldur's Gate, Rock, Paper, Wizard

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Adventuring for Dummies: Dragonfire, Betrayal at Baldur's Gate, Rock, Paper, Wizard

Let's kick off Dungeons & Dragons: Let's Roll Week One- Adventuring for Dummies!

Many of the D&D board games are great primers or companions for the Player's Handbook.

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Dragonfire is basically the closest thing you can get to playing Dungeons & Dragons without role play. Everyone gets very basic versions of characters based on the classic RPG archetypes with relevant statistics - you can familiarize yourself with the feelings of playing lot of classic characters and using their abilities without the pressure of building a character from the ground up and looking at a million numbers on a character sheet. 

No need for a Dungeon Master! Adventure Cards lay out the stories in a series of scenes with individual set ups and guide you through each scenario. 

Each turn has 7 phases which is a great prep for rounds of combat in traditional Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition where each player can take a series of three actions during their turn.  When you're done with Dragonfire, 3 actions in combat will seem like a piece of cake!

In Dragonfire, certain Different damage types prepare you for the strengths of the classes you can choose to play in D&D and certain encounters in Dragonfire require certain damage types to defeat. This can be a key factor for those struggling to choose between a few classes. 

Learn more about the rules from Becca Scott and "How It's Played."

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One of the key experiences of Dungeons & Dragons is revealing dungeons, caverns, and keeps bit by bit as you explore - never knowing what might come around the bend! Betrayal at Baldur's Gate by Avalon Hill mimics this experience very well as players slowly reveal the city and its sewer system turn by turn. 

The game also provides a lot of classic character classes that feature abilities directly out of the Player's Handbook for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. Playing this game will give new players a good entry way to a much loved Dungeons & Dragons location and with less phases and more surprises than Dragonfire, but unlike Dragonfire, it confines you to exploring one city. The two games are very different and if you're someone who loves the Betrayal games, you're sure to adore this installment and get to know more about D&D at the time time. For more details on game play, read our feature on Betrayal at Baldur's Gate

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I can't tell you how many times I've introduced a new player to D&D, they got excited about playing a magic class, and then their excitement was equalled by their confusion and utter terror when it came to actually choosing and employing spells in combat. 

That's where RockPaper, Wizard from WizKids comes in! This game, on its own, is a fun, hand signal driven romp that employs various spells from the D&D universe so you can mess with your friends in a board game setting. You'll see spell classics like Color Spray, Chain Lightning, Anti Magic Shield and more. While you'll almost never see a bunch of wizards flinging spells across the table in 5th Edition combat, this is a great way to get to know the kinds of options you might have available to you, so when you roll that Wizard, Sorcerer, Warlock, or Bard, you have a basic idea of the kinds of effects these spells might have. 

Check out this review from The Dice Tower to learn more about how the game is played. 

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14 Best Board Game Expansions

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14 Best Board Game Expansions

Game expansions can change everything! There's nothing better than being ravenous for a game and discovering that yet more tantalizing treats await you- rife with new variations, strategies, and lore! We've gathered the APN team's favorite board games with expansions here for you to feast upon. 

Josh's Picks

Century: Eastern Wonders

Josh: It should be stated upfront this is not REALLY an expansion- it’s a standalone game. However, I want to list it here because it also connects with Century: Spice Road, giving you essentially a third game called From Sand to Sea. This adds a lot of play value to games that already highly re-playable.

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Dragonfire: Adventures

Dragonfire in general has settings and themes (Dungeons & Dragons) along with mechanics I like (cooperative and deck building), so the Dragonfire adventure expansion chapters just add to that. There’s a couple out already, but I’m looking forward to Ravaging Sword Coast this year just because I’m a fan of Baldur’s Gate.

 

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Jayme B.'s Pick

Legends of Andor

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love a good co-op game! There is something deeply satisfying about beating a campaign united as a team – especially when the game AI proves to be a formidable adversary. I was originally intrigued by the Legends of Andor series because of the stunning artwork, but quickly discovered (after several losses) that the trying gameplay motivated me to want to play more in order to hone my skillset, as well as develop new strategies with each group of people I played with. 

The expansions released so far have added new campaigns, items, and even characters to not only further the main storyline, but to drive replay-ability by changing up the original experience. I am particularly excited for Dark Heroes, which is releasing this fall. It introduces brand

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Justin's Picks

Hostage Negotiator: Crime Wave

I love, love, love me some solo board games and Hostage Negotiator is one of my favorites. Crime Wave expands on the already awesome base game with more Abductors, Terror cards, Pivotal Moment cards, and Conversations. It also has enough room in the box to fit the original game plus future Abductor Packs as they become available!

Smash Up: Cease and Desist

Smash Up is an amazingly fun, incredibly easy to teach card game that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It was really hard choosing just one expansion, but Cease & Desist really stands out for me. Satirizing four of the most famous pop culture franchises in the world with hilarious cards makes the game even more enjoyable. Plus, even my friends that aren’t deep into geek culture instantly recognize what’s being made fun of in this set!

 

 

Caelin's Picks

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Betrayal at House on the Hill: Widow’s Walk

Why do I love Betrayal at House on the Hill: Widow’s Walk? Two words: more stories. I’m a sucker for horror and I love a good story, so that’s why Betrayal at House on the Hill is still one of my favorite games. The Widow’s Walk expansion adds 50 new haunts to add to the story, as well as 20 new room tiles, 30 new cards, and 78 new tokens. For someone like me that went at Betrayal wanting to know the outcome of every story, this has keep the horror going strong.

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Tokaido: Crossroads

Okay, I really like Tokaido even thought it’s totally not horror. The first expansion I played for it was Tokaido: Crossroads (Tokaido: Matsuri is good, too) and it added a lot to the game. Tokaido is a beautiful, fun, and relaxingboard games I’ve ever played; the goal of Tokaido is to travel across Japan, and the one who wins is the one who has the nicest time. While competitive, it’s a very soothing win that doesn’t leave you feeling defeated (or dead) if you loose. Crossroads adds new strategies to each stop along the way, and therefore more ways to win by having the nicest time. With that strategy, how can you lose?

 

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Bobby's Picks

Clank! The Mummy’s Curse

This one’s pretty simple for me - One of the best deck-building games for me, just added one of my favorite settings. Renegade took Clank! and dropped it in a fantasy Egyptian setting, complete with a new map, cards, a DOUBLE-SIDED board, and a wandering mummy! This isn’t just a pasted-on theme, either. The new maps provide very different challenges, so your old stand-by strategies won’t be good enough for The Mummy’s Curse. As far as deck-building games go, Clank! was made for me. This expansion pushes the entire experience farther up my list.

Scythe: The Rise of Fenris

The Scythe base game might be the perfect game for me: As an artist/designer, the artwork hooked me before the game was even released. As an agriculturalist, I acknowledge the struggle of the inhabitants of the world. As a fan of ‘weird war’ or ‘alternate history,’ the world-setting of the game makes me feel right at home. And it’s just my style of board game. But there was one element that kept it from being ‘complete’ for me: Story.

The Rise of Fenris is the final chapter in Scythe’s story, and as an expansion, it harvests a bounty of goods to add to your table:

This expansion has several mechanisms that you can add to your game, but you don’t have to add them all. YOU build the game of Scythe how you want it, each and every time. Akin to other ‘Legacy’ games (originally conceived by Rob Daviau, Risk Legacy, Pandemic Legacy, et. Al.) The Rise of Fenris offers unlockable secrets and spoilers, in a campaign-type setting. Rumor has it that one of the scenarios in Fenris has everyone playing cooperatively. For me, Scythe just added another favorite mechanic to its gearbox. Scythe always let me play solo, but now I can play solo in an ongoing campaign. In real life, it means I’m going to spend a lot more time playing Scythe.

Jayme C.'s Picks

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Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle – Deck Building Game and The Monster Box of Monsters Expansion

Cooperative gameplay with deck building that adds in the magical setting of Hogwarts from the Harry Potteruniverse? Perfect! This is a favorite of mine as well as being able to loop in others who are fans of the Boy-Who-Lived. The Monster Box of Monsters keeps the adventure going by adding new creatures, encounters, villains, and now you can play as Luna Lovegood! Grab your wizard robes and get ready!

Happy Salmon: Blue Fish

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If you didn’t know, Happy Salmon has an expansion! Happy Salmon: Blue Fish allows you to up the fun from the original 3-6 players to 7-12 players total! I’ve always had a blast with Happy Salmon and now being able to get a larger group all around just adds to the excitement! I regularly fish this out to get a group of friends quickly breaking the ice and laughing within minutes!

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Ryan's Picks

Roll Player: Monsters & Minions

Every time I taught the original Roll Player game to a new person, they inevitably asked some variation of this question: “So once we’re done rolling these characters, what do we do with them?” Designer Keith Matejka must have anticipated this when designing the game, because the Monsters & Minions expansion tackles that very concern. The expansion adds to each play one of several “big bad” monsters that the players must each face individually at the end of game with their finished characters, as well as a menagerie of minions to slay along the way. A must own for Roll Player fans!

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Great Western Trail: Rails to the North

While it isn’t quite out yet (soon!!), I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a nod to Rails to the NorthGreat Western Trail is such an absolutely STELLAR game that combines so many elements and mechanisms incredibly well to create a wonderful puzzle of strategy and counter-play with other players. This first expansion to the game sets out to add a variety of new destinations to where players will ship their cattle, including Chicago, Detroit, and NY among others, as well as new challenges to face along the road, new tiles & buildings, and more. I don’t think there’s a single other game expansion I’ve been looking forward to more in all of 2018.

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Anne's Pick

Thornwatch: The Dark of the Wood

The world-spanning forest of the Eyrewood holds so many mysteries that they would not fit into one box! While the base game of Thornwatch gives you the chance to play the summoned archetypal heroes who protect the denizens of the wood when they are in greatest need, The Dark of the Wood expansion brings new lore to bare, allowing you to explore darker adventures that deal with the tainted magic that encroaches on verdant glades of the original game. You get 5 new heroes with powerful skills and curses to match, new storyboards and campaigns, 2 new Judges, new terrain cards, and new rewards for completed quests. I’m a huge fan of the original comics by Penny Arcade and this expansion is a must own when it comes to exploring new stories and aspects of this world. Odds are, if you can’t find me, I’m deep in the Eyrewood! Join me when the game and its expansion launch in stores July 31st!

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It's Just a Game: Bring Your Best You to the Table

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It's Just a Game: Bring Your Best You to the Table

Last December, I read an article published by NBC titled "Why Board Games Bring Out the Worst in Us." Frankly, the title disturbed me, and being a sucker for clickbait, I pressed on and gave it a read.

The author, Nicole Spector, spoke to post-doctoral scholars at UCLA, psychological performance coaches at The Aligned Performance Insititute, and clinical psychologists who all provided research analysis that pointed to the reasons that players can become aggressively competitive when playing board games. Ms. Spector herself identifies as a particularly competitive gamer and wanted to know why that might be.

As I read through the article, I discovered that this enterprise was a self diagnosis dressed as public advice and I balked at several of the findings - not because the scientists and behavioral psychologists were wrong (I don't pretend to know better than they do with their years of study), but because a diagnosis is not an excuse for bad behavior, it's an opportunity to look for ways to improve it. 

In her exploration, Ms. Spector addressed the inability of the human brain to separate simulated experiences from real experiences. 

The human brain never evolved a mechanism to separate a game from reality,” says Don Vaughn, a postdoctoral scholar at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA. “If a lion was chasing one of our ancestors on the savanna, it was real, every time. There were no movies, plays or simulations. Modern neuroscience has revealed that just thinking about imagined situations activates the same brain regions as the actual experience.
— - Don Vaughn, Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, UCLA

Many actors spend their lives struggling to tap into that feeling - to create a substantial emotional simulation so that they can perform an authentic response to a situation. Some people actually want to experience that type of thing at the game table through an RPG or even chase it by spending entire weekends at a LARP event. In these situations, it's not uncommon to cry over the loss of your favorite NPC or to face down a prince in a heated political argument with raised voices on both sides of the table. The key to healthy play is that everyone is consenting to the experience and is supporting each other's comfort with emotional vulnerability.

A friendly game of  Dungeons & Dragons  by Wizards of the Coast.

A friendly game of Dungeons & Dragons by Wizards of the Coast.

Board games tend to be a different side to that coin. They provide a context and a confined set of rules and behaviors to operate within. Personally, if I'm seeing someone cry, scream, or become withdrawn at a roleplaying table, I'll always check in with the player afterwards to make sure everything is ok, but I'm not surprised by it. This is consensual adult make believe. I've seen best friends fight like bloodthirsty barbarians in character and grab a beer at the pub afterwards.

If I see that elevated behavior at a board game event, I assume that something completely inappropriate has happened at that table. These are not emotional exercises or simulations. These games are built on strategy, turns, and operations. Some, like the soon to be released Thornwatch by Loneshark Games stride that evasive line with light roleplay. Overall, if I'm loosing at a game like Odin's Ravens or Sheriff of Nottingham, I might go as far as an internal Oh well... How disappointing! - I'm not going to a flip a table.

Folks, we're supposed to be laughing at our misfortune, not actually cursing the Old Gods. Disclaimer: I don't want to tell someone how to play or experience a game the right way, but in this case I don't want to normalize the suppression of emotions outside of the table being an excuse to exorcise them at the table. Finding balance is incredibly important and our friends at Greatway Games had a fantastic discussion about that.  

Another assumption in the article is that all board games are, by nature competitive.

By their nature, board games bring out our competitive spirit because they divide us. Whether it’s a family, couples hanging out on a Saturday night or just kids having fun, board games usually are an ‘every man for himself’ scenario, or separate us into teams.
— Dr. Alok Trivedi, psychological performance coach and founder of The Aligned Performance Institute.
Betrayal at Baldur's Gate  by Avalon Hill Games and Wizards of the Coast

Betrayal at Baldur's Gate by Avalon Hill Games and Wizards of the Coast

Yes, there are several competitive games on the market, but there are also co-operative games - even games that feature both styles of play within the same session. However, there's also the experience of introducing a game to players step by step which exercises the use of friendly communication skills and sportsmanly competition. Though you're competitors, you might help the other player through their first few turns and explain strategies to them until they're comfortable to make their own unaided decisions.

There is such a rainbow of experiences in board games and there's something for everyone, but being a sore loser does not make you the victim of some cursed psychological plot! In those cases, I really think players need to look within themselves and figure out how to participate in a healthy way. If you can't, that's your responsibility to address it. Please do it not make it the table's problem.

Playing  Thornwatch  by Loneshark Games with my friends.

Playing Thornwatch by Loneshark Games with my friends.

Lastly, Ms. Spector addresses the competitive drive that kicks into high gear when board games spawn archetypal role reversal. 

One of the more fascinating social qualities of board games is their ability to shift family dynamics. If your big brother is always getting his way, it may be extra satisfying to dominate in a board game, just as it may be particularly humiliating for said big brother to lose to you.
— Nicole Spector, NBC News

Board games have the ability to transport us and transform us, whether that's to the fantasy Candy Land or to the Spice Islands of Century: Eastern Wonders. From Ms. Spector's point of view, the dark equalizing transportation circle of a board game provides a chance to smash down those who deserve it away from the table now that the playing field is equal. This is what I call, non-consensual table therapy.

When you look for these opportunities to address old grudges for yourself at a board game event, you are creating an experience internally that has nothing to do with the awareness or consent of the other players and it's completely inappropriate. For my part, this equalizing transformation is one of the things I look forward to most of all - not because I want to smash the patriarchy, but because I want to bring people together for a shared experience. Board games provide a socially acceptable opportunity for us to step away from politics, prejudice, age, and every other factor that has been weaponized to separate people. Gaming is an opportunity to communicate with your friends. Don't be afraid to stop the game for a minute and deal with a problem. Take a deep breath. If someone is getting aggressive stop and talk about it. The more you avoid it, the worse it gets. If you can't communicate with your fellow players in a healthy way, odds are you probably shouldn't be playing with them. There are deeper issues at work that need to be addressed. 

Nicole Spector ends her article by recommending several balms for competitive board game spirit including:

  • Playing games with less strategy so as not to have to tax "brain power."
  • Drink Responsibly
  • Resolve not to react to others' aggression. 

NBC News BETTER touts that their articles are "obsessed with finding easier, healthier and smarter ways to live." While Nicole Spector ended her article with these "tips," I would say that there's one glaring health-mindful omission here. Avoiding complicated/strategic competitive games is not the problem. The problem is inside you! It's just a game, but your internal life lives beyond the table and you need to give it attention and care.

If you find yourself exorcizing your personal demons during board games, seek help. I don't mean that in a dismissive way. I mean it with all the love and support in the world. Table therapy is unacceptable and it ruins the game for everyone else.

This, above all, is a social event. When your own internal emotional life regularly causes disruption at social functions, honor that and seek the appropriate means to address it. There is a stigma around mental health and therapy is such a powerful tool if you're brave enough to embrace it. It's your responsibility to your fellow players to play safely and be a good sport. Depression, anxiety, and personal hangups can absolutely make that more challenging. The big rule of thumb is, if you're not in a healthy place to play, then don't subject the table to your issues. Be kind to yourself and to your fellow players and you'll find that this hobby has so much more to offer than the thrill of victory.

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