Tabletop gaming is about as low-tech as you can get: Board games comprised of cards, dice and plastic. Despite that, the fast-growing hobby has a home right in the center of the SXSW Gaming Expo, with Austin-based Emerald Tavern Games & Cafe and Catan Studios bringing the best in board games to the film, music and technology world.
The Tabletop Experience within the expo show floor features a giant-sized edition of the classic German board game “Settlers of Catan,” as well as a collection of games for badge-holders to learn and play. For Emerald Tavern employee Keith Hodges, the exhibit is a chance to show people that there’s more to tabletop than the classics.
“A lot of people have a preconceived notion of tabletop gaming. They think of ‘Monopoly,’ ‘Risk’ and games from their youth,” said Hodges in an interview at SXSW Gaming. “This is a great opportunity to get more people interested in the hobby and what it can showcase.”
Tabletop gaming has become a hobby of the nerd elite the past few years, with the likes of YouTube channel Geek & Sundry amassing over 1.5 million subscribers to their platform, all while showcasing their love for boardgames and role-playing adventures such as “Dungeons & Dragons.”
Emily Conway, the marketing and events manager for Emerald Tavern doesn’t consider the popularity of tabletop gaming with the tech industry’s best to be a coincidence. “We're the hobby of everyone who attends SXSW professionally. We've gotten people from the music and tech world interested in the experience,” said Conway.
The goal, according to Conway, is to inundate curious badge-holders with a connection between the videogames they’re at the conference to see and tabletop games that potentially raise their curiosity. Beloved videogame franchises such as “Portal” and “DOOM” have brought players into the tabletop realm; players who perhaps never considered tabletop gaming to be an interest before.
In those instances, the goal is accessibility and and lowering the barrier of entry in regards to game knowledge. “One of the things SXSW and the Tabletop Experience does well is walking people through the hobby,” said Conway. “It works both ways: We're seeing people who come in for competitive videogames, then see our experience and it expands their definition of gaming.”
For Conway and Emerald Tavern, the SXSW Tabletop Experience is attempting the same thing they aim for with their cafe: Helping potential players figure out what they like to play. “Our staff is wonderful about finding out why someone liked a game. A lot of the work we do is translating for new players and helping them understand why they like the games they try.”
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