If You Can't Beat 'Em...

Posted by Chris Hobday on

AKA: The Joys of Following the Herd.

Everyone has a favourite game. One that they obsess over, impulsively collect, endlessly build lists for, write fanfiction for or create their own characters and campaigns. That one game that they travel up and down the country to play, eagerly surfing the net for tournament announcements, maybe even travelling abroad to throw down dice. Anything to get that singular fix.

Jurassic Park Screen

Have they announced the next tournament dates yet? Stay on it, people!

Sometimes we don’t quite understand why other players, obsessed with other systems, don’t switch to our favourite. We try to impress upon them how much better our favourite game is, and why they should sell all their current minis and buy a load of new ones. Or invest in a starter set or new rulebook or a new deck of cards. Usually, they respond in the same way we would, were we in their shoes: they smile and say “no thanks.”

Warhammer 40k

The new edition is ace. You only need a few models and you're good to go!

The end result is usually that we end up splitting into factions. Much like units in a tabletop wargame, members of the community cleave to particular causes. It could be 40k, Guild Ball, Blood Bowl, X-Wing, or D&D. It could be Magic: The Gathering or Yu-Gi-Oh. Sometimes there are sub-factions. 40k players might dissolve into smaller groups who focus on Kill Team, or Necromunda. Those keen on mass warfare might suddenly find themselves struggling to find an opponent because everyone else is exploring the skirmish-level aspect of the game, so they seek an opponent further afield.


He's not looking for a target... he's looking for someone to play with.

Most of us dabble in other games, of course. But because we only dip our toe in, we don’t get good. So our experiences with other systems can often be a little grim; we show up and get turned over because we don’t fully understand the system, or know the opponent’s army and its capabilities as well as our own. We don’t get the meta, or we haven’t kept up with FAQs. So we end up going back to our favourite game because we rock at that, and can play with confidence.

But we’re missing out on some of the most positive aspects of tabletop gaming. Let me start with an example. A few years ago, I had a couple of games of Malifaux. I loved the models and the diceless system, and decided to get some Guild. I then signed up for a tournament. Now, I got thoroughly battered. I had one really fun game against Neverborn but every other bout was brutal. Here’s the thing, though: I played several new opponents. People who I would come to know as friends. Had I stuck to my favourite game, that wouldn’t have happened. Not just that, I also got to look under the hood of a distinct system. Malifaux might not see play anymore in my neck of the woods, but I will always speak highly of the ingenuity of its card-based system.


I'll always have a soft spot for Malifaux's ingenuity.

So having a crack at another game opens us up to new gameplay ideas and gives us the opportunity to make new friends in our local community. But it can also challenge our preconceived ideas about what makes a good game.

I tend to like quite deep and crunchy rules sets. But when my daughter was about 18 months old, she stopped sleeping pretty much completely. This lasted for a while and I started to get burned out. Demanding rules sets were just beyond me; I’d make silly mistakes and struggle to enjoy the games. Around that time I was invited to give Frostgrave a try. I looked at the rules and felt that they were pretty rudimentary, reminding me of a Fighting Fantasy gamebook on the tabletop. However, I loved the flavour and the setting, so I decided to give it a go. It couldn’t hurt, right? But I didn’t expect to fall in love with the game because I didn’t think there was enough ‘game’ to fall in love with.

Citadel of Chaos

Admit it. You struggled to finish this. 

Ninety minutes and a great deal of belly-laughing later, I was enraptured by Frostgrave. My foolish snobbery about the rules had been completely obliterated. Not only was it atmospheric, engrossing and exciting (combat was absolutely terrifying) it was also a lot of fun. In the course of a game most of my warband seemed to develop their own personalities. Lantern Jack Brilliwig, the sneaky thief, did nothing but grab treasure and run (this became his ‘thing’). Jagoranthas, the Grand Tyrant of Vromsigor (the soul of a thousand year-old King summoned into the confines of a child’s toy) would seek out the toughest enemy for a duel, constantly forgetting that he was only 2 feet tall. Kawa-Tiki, a possessed tribal statue, rampaged across the table, uttering nought but his own name like a psychotic Groot.

Chris Warband Frostgrave(L-R) Some Barbarian dude with a worm-hide belt, Jagoranthas the Grand Tyrant of Vromsigor, Kawa-Tiki and Lantern Jack Brilliwig. Timeless characters.

The thing I learned was that the narrative side of the game could breathe because the players weren’t constantly crunching numbers or thinking about rules. We were thinking about the story that was being told.

When I went back to my favourite game, I felt refreshed and had a renewed focus. I also felt a lot less pressure. I didn’t mind losing so much, because I’d discovered something that I should have known all along: having fun is the key part of playing a game. It took simple rules and crazy characters to remind me of this.


It's always fun until somebody gets eviscerated by a Spyrer.

So these days I embrace trying new games. Not only because the experience teaches me more about the fundamentals of games design and function but also because I get to play new people. I go back to my favourite game eventually but a holiday is always nice. Stepping away from d20s to roll D6s instead, or building a deck instead of an army, or flying spaceships instead of commanding sci-fi skirmishers is a breath of fresh air.

I like dice games. But I draw the line somewhere. Like RIGHT HERE.

At the moment, a few of us at the local club are taking a seasonal approach to games. Every couple of months, one of us chooses a game and we all play it (within reason!). First up was Guild Ball, which I’ve dabbled in, and have - thanks to our new approach - finally started to understand. Next up is Necromunda. It’s actually really nice to go with the flow like this, broadening the scope of potential opponents and indulging in new painting and modelling projects. The best part is, there’s no struggle to find opponents because we’ve got a merry band of players all moving as one. Like majestic birds, a shoal of shimmering fish… or Borg.


"Would you like to play a game? I can play solitaire and minesweeper."

Want to know the funny thing? My first instinct was that when it was my turn, I’d be forcing everyone to play my favourite game. But actually, I’m going to choose something different. Something I wouldn’t have played otherwise. Because doing the thing you love the most all the time is fine, but doing something new? Well, that’s an adventure. And who doesn’t enjoy going on an adventure with their mates?


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