Army of friends
Sacramento’s tabletop gamers don’t just compete, they build community
Space stations and silos dot an intricate, rocky grassland. A battalion of giant mechanical spider tanks line one side opposite an army of battle-ready orcs. The armies here have three hours to compete in a game of tactics and wit.
The scene at Great Escape Games isn’t a real-life blood battle, though, it’s the Twin-Linked Tournament for the tabletop game Warhammer 40,000 and it’s part of a growing trend. Whether it’s a Great Escape Games tournament, or a locally produced game that celebrates landmarks of the city, the Sacramento tabletop gaming community is vibrant and competitive—and so are its stakes: friendships and prizes, including the chance to participate in an international battle.
Mark Broughton, an inventory manager at Great Escape Games, organized the 58-player Twin-Linked Tournament. Tabletop games are unique, he says, because they require players to be physically present creating an atmosphere that’s necessarily communal.
The appeal of tabletop gaming applies to people of all ages, including competitive gamers who want to prove strategy on a global level, and families and friends spending time together. Tabletop gaming lets people socialize face-to-face, a form of interaction that is increasingly distant in a world where video gaming and social media dominate.
“That sense of camaraderie and belonging is what keeps businesses like this thriving,” Broughton said. “Otherwise, everybody could just play games online.”
The phrase “tabletop games” isn’t synonymous with board games. Rather, it’s a general genre definition, with board games considered a subset. For example, it includes games such as Dungeons and Dragons, which is played on a tabletop but doesn’t require the use of a game board.
Some of the games are intricate and complex. While Warhammer 40,000 may seem daunting to some—players use tape measures, 20-sided die and a textbook-sized rule book—others say they just take time to learn.
Chris Mobley, who works by day as a mail carrier, thinks the army game isn’t difficult to pick up even if there are seemingly endless rules to learn, particularly, how different character classes interact on the battlefield.
While you can’t know everything in the game, Mobley says there’s a strong international community of people who become deeply invested by attending events like Twin Linked.
“I never knew anybody that played Warhammer before, and now I know quite a few people,” he said.
The crew at Great Escape created the tournament; its prizes are limited to store credit and bragging rights, but competitions like it exist at stores around the world.
For three days in July for example, Mythic Championship IV, a tournament for the card game Magic: The Gathering, (MTG), will take place in Barcelona. The competition boasts a half-million dollar prize pool.
Great Escape will host a Mythic Championship Qualifier on June 1, during which players compete for an invitation and round trip plane ticket to compete at a global level at the Mythic Championship IV in Barcelona.
Inari O’Meara brought the Mythic Championship Qualifier to Great Escape after helming the MTG community at Great Escape for more than 10 years. He wants to build a supportive space for the Sacramento tabletop gaming scene, and the qualifier is a way to help that scene grow.
“From people being introduced to the game to the competitive players wanting to grind out getting to those championships, I want to be able to offer events for the whole slew of ’em,” he said.
The tabletop gaming community isn’t limited to tournament players who want to compete for big money. One reason for the growing popularity of such games are independent groups such as Time2Tabletop, which streams tabletop gaming on Twitch.tv, an online live video streaming site.
The group was founded in 2016 to organize events like the upcoming Pull Up a Chair Expo on June 29 at Yolo Brewing Co, which aims to connect developers and gamers for a day of workshops, classes and gaming.
Time2Tabletop founder Vincent “Scooter” Hamilton holds a high regard for the value of tabletop gaming and says that interacting face-to-face over a tabletop game can change the world.
“My passion to get into tabletop games came from the idea that we as people could resolve our differences by pulling up a chair and getting to know one another,” Hamilton said.
The Pull Up A Chair Expo will feature nine guests, including the owner of the game publishing company TableStar Games and Peter Hansell, the developer of the upcoming Sacramento-centric route building game, Bike Route Sacramento.
Hansell worked on Bike Route Sacramento for a year and a half, the 20th game he has developed with TableStar Games. In it, as many as four players use pawns to create paths between Sacramento landmarks such as the Crocker Art Museum, Vic’s Ice Cream and the Tower Bridge.
There probably won’t be any Bike Route Sacramento tournaments at Great Escape Games, but the game made for Sacramento families may inspire an appreciation for tabletop gaming and lead to the growth of the community in the long run.
“A lot of guys and gals, like myself, grew up in an era when the core board games were Monopoly and Clue and a few others. Now there’s such a huge plethora,” Broughton said. “There’s a game out there for everybody.”