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By Redge Tolentino

Despite the country’s preference for sports and the growing popularity of e-games, the Philippine tabletop gaming community
has continued to grow over the past half decade. There is a special allure that draws people to set schedules and brave the worsening Manila traffic for face-to-face interactions, whether for boardgames, trading card games (TCG), role-playing games (RPG), or miniatures gaming. Weekend (dungeon) warriors, armchair generals, and Friday night magic enthusiasts still congregate to share a mutual escape from the humdrum and/or horror of reality.

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A broad market

There was a time Filipinos played boardgames only because there was no electricity. And the choices, played by candlelight, were usually Monopoly, Snakes and Ladders, Games of the Generals, Scrabble, Chinese checkers, or chess. Fast forward to today and the boardgaming community has grown, its popularity buoyed by shows such as The Big Bang Theory and Game of Thrones, the visibility of celebrities coming out as “geeks,” and the increasing availability of titles from stores both physical and online.
Today, boardgames aren’t just for the bored. And since 2014, this trend led to the boom of boardgame cafés, such as Ludo in Quezon City. Carlos Sandico, one of Ludo’s founders, was shocked by the crowd’s response. “(Ludo) was self-sustaining in less than three months!” he beams. “But (over the years), the market corrected. People bought their own games, played at home… and the people who play sometimes don’t order much and stay quite awhile.”
While this led to a great shuttering of cafes, boardgaming still survives.
Freddie Tan, one of the most respected names in the local tabletop scene, credits boardgames as having the greatest appeal to casual players. They “cast the widest net, since one can simply pick them up and play,” offering a unique experience right out of the box.

These experiences allow anyone to contest being the best (or worst) railroad baron (Ticket to Ride), a dexterous woodchopper (Tok Tok Woodman), or the craftiest at brinkmanship during the Cold War (Twilight Struggle).

“If we could just make a game that had true mass-market appeal,” muses Freddie, “it could lead to a revolution in gaming. A change in our culture.” To this end, his company, Ludus Distributors, has published local games based on the TV shows Bagani and Darna, as well as a Bible-based sharing game called Quotes and Verses.

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There have been stranger things

From the days of the first edition of Dungeons and Dragons to the today with its sixth edition, the basic framework of role-playing games has remained the same. There are party members (players) that go through a campaign facilitated by a “game master” (GM), and they are bound to rules from sourcebooks. This has recently been made more popular by the Netflix show Stranger Things—people get to be themselves-as-someone-else with pen, paper, dice, and their imagination. The recent innovation to this form of shared storytelling is primarily through technology.

Multiple RPG groups have sprung up across the country. Among these are Adventurers Anonymous Manila and the Greasy Snitches. Paul Gabat, who is part of the latter, shares that social media has made finding campaigns so much easier. Cross-party dungeon crawls are also more newbie-friendly thanks to shared rule sets, allowing anyone with new or existing characters to join campaigns quicker than an archmage can cantrip.

Scale is also another innovation, as the technology and sourcebooks have evolved to host massive, 100+ player games, one of which was hosted by Paul’s Snitches at the recent Manila Pop Culture Convention (MANIPOPCON) held at Solaire in 2019.

There has never been a better time to roll the dice when it comes to local RPGs.

 

The luck of the draw

Trading card games Magic: The Gathering, Yu-gi-oh, and Pokémon remain staple favorites in the country. Despite their recent, even-more-portable electronic versions, players still remain loyal to the “paper” format—cracking packs, brewing decks, and participating in local events for a chance at prizes and prestige. This enthusiasm is buoyed by a vibrant secondary market, with gaming shops popping up all across the metro.

Of these, the most popular is Neutral Grounds, which is the country’s official distributor for Magic: The Gathering. Weekly and monthly casual games and tournaments are held here, providing safe spaces for the country’s mages to sling their spells. Of note is the country’s premiere Magic event, the Gold Rush, which happens every November and sees players from all over the world come to compete in the Philippines’ largest yearly tournament.

 

Small but terrible

If you have walked past a hobby shop and seen figurines of mecha or monsters, watched players roll dice, measure out a length with tape, then push figures across a table that looks like a World War II montage, then you already know what miniature gaming is like.

Miniature gaming is similar to boardgaming, but with a far more detailed ruleset. Titles such as Warhammer Fantasy, Warhammer 40k, and Warmachine feature factions that a player can, for lack of a better term, “swear fealty to.” Players then purchase that specific faction’s source books and army units, which sometimes need assembly and painting, before fielding them across the table to an opposing general’s army.

“The hobby is still the same,” says Ian Ronneil Navarro of Pinoy Wargamer. “It still has a high barrier of entry, which is cost, time to paint the minis, time to learn the rules.” He shares though that the time and money required for such an involved hobby result in a small but very passionate community.

In particular the painting aspect of this hobby has resulted in a breed of freelance painters catering to the busiest armchair generals. Karlo Manalo of Moon Punch Painting reveals that the industry is diverse, with more people assigning him figures from various, smaller titles, even boardgames. “Smaller skirmish games from DC and Marvel are also making lines that aren’t in the Heroclix universe,” he says.

 

Gaming is personal

Ron Villaver, an advocate at Variable Play, a local group focused on building the local tabletop community, excitedly shares his dream: “(At least) one table in every home and one boardgame on every table.”

Being on the frontlines of the scene by facilitating “game nights” in QC, Makati, and Alabang, he has seen how boardgaming can drastically help people come out of their shells, express themselves better, and develop more as a person. “You see these shy people who are relatively sheltered and they become talkative and outgoing and more themselves—even for a while.”

Denmarc Manalo, a pastor, agrees. “I use simple games to help kids engage with others,” he says. “It’s remarkable how the simple pictures become stories when people use their imagination.”

Perhaps these are the reasons tabletop gaming is experiencing a kind of resurgence, even in this period of increasingly remote communication. Maybe the ability to sit around a campfire to share stories and learn things to make sense of this world is something humans have evolved into. And in an era of misinformation and fake news, perhaps tabletop gaming offers the best kind of sharing… the personal kind.



Source: Manila Bulletin

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