What with the increasing popularity of Tabletop RPGs and board games, we’ve seen a huge uptick in the number of people who are willing and excited to sit down and partake in a hobby which many of us love dearly. Honestly, it feels like the tabletop community as a whole has been waiting a long time for this sort of thing: massive player influx! Now we can finally have a chance to play Captain Sonar as it was meant to be played!
At the moment, D&D is, due to its marketing and lineage, the most popular tabletop RPG. There’s no two ways about it. Like with most trends, it has been slowly growing as a presence in the cultural subconscious. Then with the groundwork laid, Critical Role and Stranger Things propel it further into the open, and the interest grows every day.
So where is this all going? What do we do when we reach the hypothetical end-point where everyone on Earth owns (on average) 1.7 copies of Betrayal at House on the Hill, and Coup card decks are sold alongside Uno and playing cards.
Well, I tend to turn to other trends that undergo gradual upticks in popularity. Just like in fashion and fandoms, there is a gradual uptick, followed by broader popularity (usually once big names get involved), and an eventual… decline? That’s where it is harder to predict. Tabletop games are a human tradition going back much father than the life cycle of Ugg Boots or Homestuck.
However, there is no denying that this uptick can’t go on forever. The market will become saturated (just how many massive fantasy miniature board games are we expected to own, anyway?), people will follow other trends, or the games themselves may not stand the test of time.
Can anyone really hope that 300 years from now the rules of Scythe or Planet Steam will be so well-known that anyone can pick it up and play it, even if somehow “Scythe-Boards” were carved into every table top?
Somehow, I doubt it.
Honestly, the games which are most likely to stand the test of time and weather the current deluge of new board games every year are the simple ones who got in early, such as Love Letter, Coup, Uno, Clue, and the like. They can be quickly learned, have some degree of strategy, and are simple enough to replicate the pieces, perhaps even from memory. RPGs may have a harder time lasting due to edition changes, but you can bet that the ones with the largest marketing budget will last the easiest, if not the most successfully. Sorry, but it looks like it will be a while longer that we’re stuck with D&D as the face of the hobby (though I truly hope we’re not… let’s try having Honey Heist be the face!)
So what will likely happen once the tabletop community reaches the hypothetical “point of decline?”
Well, as someone with no credentials on the topic other than an interest in tabletop games and long-term trends, here is my theory:
Once the market becomes too saturated, (i.e. when the number of $130+ deluxe Kickstarter games reaches a point I will call “Completely Ridiculous (CR)”) people will begin to grow tired of the hobby. The endless parade of similar Train games, Catan-style games, d20 class-based fantasy RPGs, and massive board games with names like: Epoch, Heroes of Durnhill, and Truculence, will eventually become too much, like what is already happening on Steam with its collection of indie games.
And then, odds are there will be fewer games made as large companies move on to move profitable projects, like VR Harmonicas or LED stickers. The droves of fans we are seeing now will become slightly less, but will likely not diminish. The thing about games as trends is that they tend to be replayed and remembered fondly, creating life-long fans. Tabletop games are less likely to have fans who just hop on because they are popular, and then just as quickly hop off.
This is not to gate-keep; to say that some people who remain with the hobby are the “true” tabletop fans, and that the others were just “posers” is unhelpful and incorrect. And who knows? Tabletop gaming could turn into a hobby like buying new game consoles whenever they come out, where only a select few with the money to support the financial commitment can truly survive. Are tabletop games like the VR wild west? Unlikely, but more unlikely things have happened.
Until then, don’t break the bank. I’d suggest sticking with the smaller, easier-to-teach games like Love Letter. They share a lot in common with ancient board and card games, and are most importantly easy to set up and play.
By all means, play the massive games too. Planet Steam and its ilk are great, and deserve attention. Just exercise discretion.
RPGs may have a different path, but I have a feeling that the path of least resistance (i.e. the ones with the greatest Flow) will last longer. Maybe even D&D will some day falter under the weight of its own supplemental books.