With the resurgence of board games in the past 5 years, a new form of skirmish game has gained prominence: the casual game.
It used to be the success of a tabletop war game was determined by its competitive scene. Everything needed to have an airtight, 300-page ruleset that took hours to learn and years to master. Hundreds of dollars had to be spent on miniatures so you could spend an entire day at the friendly local game shop playing a game, maybe 2. Now, there are a slew of games geared towards low entry cost, easily digested rules, and little to no commitment on behalf of the playgroup. These are tabletop games that are easy to break out on game night with a group of people who are more inclined to play board games. Games that encourage you to grab a beer, roll some dice, and say, “That was awesome!”
These games have flexible rule sets that allow for on the fly homebrew decisions between players. Winning and losing take a back seat when it comes to wanting to see the epic chaos they create.
Ragnarok: Heavy Metal Combat in the Viking Age
Apocalyptic Norse mythology, this game is geared more towards prolonged campaign play but is easy to introduce to any group in a one-off. Crank the music loud and dig out the drinking horns, this game is super easy to teach on the fly. As long as 1 player is familiar with the rules, a group can pick it up in seconds. Designed for 2-4 players, this is better for a smaller gaming group, or one whose members float in and out weekly. Campaigns can run for as long as you want, so if the group enjoys it, you can get a month of gaming out of it.
No set miniatures, you bring what you have. One veteran player with a collection of miniatures can supply everything 4 players will need for the game. Ragnarok is a game that encourages homebrew rulings when it comes to terrain design and campaign rules, so this is a great game for an experienced gaming group that is looking for a break from their usual competitive scene.
Marvel Crisis: Protocol
Of the examples, Marvel: Crisis Protocol is the most competitive. It has a growing tournament scene, but there is a more important demographic that it appeals to: new gamers.
With the success of the MCU, Crisis Protocol is filled with familiar faces to attract curious gamers. Drawing visual inspiration from a mix of MCU and the comics, MCP is capitalizing on the fact that Marvel has become a household name. Another game that really only requires 1 player’s investment, others are able to draft from their roster of heroes to create their team of heroes and villains.
Having the miniatures painted on your shelf will attract attention and that curiosity is easily satiated by a simple, learn as you go ruleset. The game is designed to be big, cinematic, and feel like you dropped a comic book open on the table and the pages came to life.
The other part of the demographic appeal: the kids. Kids are seeing their parents miniatures, recognizing them, and wanting to play. The rules can be stripped back as simply as you want them to allow kids of nearly any age to enjoy them. A whole new generation of gamers is coming who will be saying MCP got them started.
The current champion of the casual game. The easiest entry, a gateway drug to the hobby side of miniatures, and a wide demographic appeal, Gaslands is going to a tough king to topple.
Most people have hot wheels from when they were kids, and if not, you can get a car for a dollar in most places. That’s all you need to get started. If you want to invest more, you can get custom dice and templates for less than $20.
Mad Max-style death races, zombie carnage, or twisted metal arena combat, there is a scenario for every gamer. Its a super simple ruleset that can be taught as you play and simplified to whatever level you prefer. Want to just use templates and race to the finish? You’re good to go. Want to add the guns in for maximum carnage? Watch the explosions roll out.
The ruleset allows for quick decisions on homebrew rules. In the first game with new players, one wanted to shoot at another vehicle between a gas pump. We decided he had to roll to hit, and on a 6, he misses and hits the gas pump. He rolled a 6. His car and 2 others blew up as a result of the explosion. That was all they could talk about after the game.
Fast-paced excitement drives these types of games. They are designed to be as accessible as board games, but with a personal investment that makes victories sweeter and defeats still enjoyable. I welcome this new era of casual games. It brings more people into the hobby and allows veteran players a chance to jump between games without reinvesting their entire hobby budget.
Roll dice. Drink beer. Have fun. Repeat.