Roll For Insight: Grubby Gamers vs Pristine Players?

February 8, 2019 by cassn

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Last week on Indie Thursday, I sparked the flint of controversy when I foolishly suggested that it was acceptable to bend the corners of playing cards to peek underneath. Such an utterance should have resulted in me being relegated to the pit of despair, stuck deciphering the rulebook for first edition Myth for the rest of my days.

Roll For Insight: Grubby Gamers vs Pristine Players?

Luckily our wonderful OnTableTop community has taken pity on my messy soul, and forgave me for my gaming misdemeanours. However, it opens up an interesting question within our community: should our tabletops remain untarnished, or is wear and tear fair game?

Drawing A Line

It’s an incredibly interesting question to consider. One could argue, obviously, that games are meant to be played, however, hobbyists invest a substantial amount of time and money into a collection which is then cherished as much as any car. And while a car is meant to be driven, it doesn’t mean you take damage to it in your stride. Personally, I don’t believe that tabletop gaming should be treated with any less seriousness.


As renaissances go, the tabletop industry has certainly hit its stride during the current golden era of gaming. Furthermore, like any good renaissance, this one provides artistry which borders on the sublime. While sculptors are utilizing new technology like 3D printing to make their concept art come alive in incredibly detailed scale models, artists like Ryan Laukat, Catharine Hamilton, Marie Cardouat, and Fernanda Suarez have contributed to the creation of a board game market which is, put simply, utterly stunning to behold.

However, it’s not simply down to great art - gamers are frequently crying out for quality components which blend durability, mechanic, and aesthetic to create games which we’re proud to play, and honoured to own. My own personal gaming collection of Dixit, Euphoria, and Planetarium (among others) are chosen because their mechanics are interesting, their components quality, and their artwork beautiful. And when this trifecta of design meets in a game, I can actually feel my soul lift in joy. And yes I am, perhaps, an extreme example of the gamer community, but I do genuinely believe that games are a form of art and art should, of course, be preserved. However, there is an addendum to be added. Games are not just art - they are tactile art, and therein lies the problem.

The Whole Package

A game on a shelf may look beautiful. The rulebook may include interesting rules and fantastic thematics, the cards could be adorned with fantastic artwork and the components could be made of solid gold but, until it’s played, the full artistry is merely conceptual and lacking in substance. For me, my games are at their most glorious - their most real - when Poppy miraculously gains a substantial lead out of nowhere and Gary is threatening to set fire to the game if it doesn’t start giving him the cards he needs (a lot of my games nights end up resembling Jan Steen paintings).


However, with tactility comes the potential for damage, and I will admit here to a profound sense of loss when a card gets torn or a component goes awry. But I grieve and I move on, and sometimes the damage lives to tell the funniest of tales. Every new player who joins our group to play Jungle Speed hears the recounted stories of the battles which came before them, the broken ribs I inflicted on my (deserving) ex during a particularly intense ‘extreme’ version, and the saga of how I am, for all intents and purposes, a danger to all males. And all this, just because the cards have a little blood on them! Alright, so maybe it’s more than a little. From three different men...I’m going to change the subject.

Loved To Destruction

Ahem, my point is that a  really good game is rarely going to be pristine. I may talk about the beauty of Planetarium or the cute panda of Takenoko and, make no mistake, I really do love these games. However, my favourite game is the tatty, old, worn bag sitting on my shelf, one nuclear disaster away from combining Ryan’s DNA and mechanics to create the Jungle Speed Superhero Coleraine needs, but doesn’t deserve.

When I was a kid, there was a glass chess set which sat in our living room, and no one was allowed to touch it. I can still remember, even now, being so sad about that. My mum would come home and tell me off for touching it and I would, of course, deny everything - even when presented with my own grubby fingerprints covering the pawn pieces. I still went back and did it again though, every time, because I loved gaming, and it called out to be played.

glass chess

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised it is possible to keep my hobby neat and tidy and remain an avid gamer. Despite my preaching from this soapbox, I still carefully pack away each board game at the end of the night and give an internal, satisfied sigh over how organised and beautiful they are. And if you are the type of hobbyist who thrives on that comforting feeling of organisational order and pristine perfection, then no sloppy, chaotic OTT temptress is going to bring you over to the dark side. Nor should I. Live your own life and game your own way. However, I will say this, not one of my favourite hobby moments have involved me caring about whether the game gets damaged or not. Life is not lived in suspension - eventually, you have to move the queen.

After all, we’re all a little rough around the edges, but that’s how you know we’re fun!

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