This was a year of division in many places in our society. Scrolling through a social media feed, you can’t help but see the arguing and flaming that divides so many. Still, in the midst of this divisiveness, we at LTN found a few tabletop games that we wanted to highlight as standing against the tide. Whether playing with another person to 99 other people, these games have helped our writers build community around the table.
My life has always been filled with people who love birds. My grandmother had several Audubon books and pairs of binoculars on hand to watch the birds on her feeder. In grad school, I helped a friend set up nest boxes so she could measure egg size and color. Yet another friend works at a nature center, where she trains owls and hawks and other wildlife that are all too injured to return to the wild and takes them to school and other educational programs. So it’s little wonder that I would be drawn to Wingspan, a beautiful and mostly, scientifically accurate game based on different bird species (I say mostly because my understanding is that clutch sizes were adapted). On top of fun and overall beautiful gameplay, Wingspan helps me connect with these friends over their love for birds and nature.
All too often, my gaming group’s attention moves away from the people around the table and on to the game in front of us. Socializing just gets in the way when you’re all fiercely competitive. Every time I bring PARKS to the table, however, a new sort of gaming environment emerges. People admire the art. They reminisce about their own National Park trips and share travel tips. They play with the resource tokens between turns.
Shortly before His death, Jesus told his disciples: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). That kind of lasting, sacrificial friendship can and often does begin through gaming. However, it needs more than table talk to nurture it long-term. There’s something about bringing the natural world to the gaming table that seems to spark imagination and thoughtful conversation and creates the space needed to foster connections that lead to true friendship beyond the table.
Thematically similar to Pandemic, Build a Cure is a co-op game where you and your fellow players are scientists hiding in a bunker after a nuclear test failure, waiting for extraction. Unfortunately, the bunker also stores samples of deadly diseases… and the storage system has failed. Your team is infected with various diseases and have to generate chemical compounds to cure everyone before your transportation arrives. You’re all in this together: if one of you isn’t cured, you’re all doomed. The mechanics of the game invite collaboration and discussion: Which disease will you prioritize? Which ones can wait for now? Do you use the oranges to help someone for one round, or save them in case someone gets scurvy to cure it completely? In the end, your survival comes down to a little bit of luck… and how well you can come together as a team.
Word games are an easy bridge between hobby gamers and the rest of the world, but often these games are associated with as much harm as good due to fierce competition and hurt feelings. But Letter Jam is a cooperative word game that bypasses that potential by asking players to spell words as a team. Each player has a jumbled word of their own that they need to solve. Without looking at their own letters, they take turns spelling words for the group to help everyone guess their letters and successfully unscramble their words. Letter Jam is deceptively simple, but a delightful challenge that asks players to make decisions for the good of the entire table.
Technically, Welcome to was released by Blue Cocker Games at the end of 2018, but 2019 was when it went from being the new kid on the block to the neighborhood welcome wagon. There are many wonderful things I could say about this game, but beyond all that, this was a standout relationship builder in 2019 because of the player count. With a player count from 1–100 players, there’s no need to make anyone feel like the odd one out. Just welcome a new player, pull up another chair, and tear off another sheet from the gamepad. There’s always room at the table when you’re playing Welcome to, and I think that’s something that would really make Jesus smile.
— Erin Warmbier