- Games, Toys, and Hobbies
Wil Wheaton's TableTop Features Fun, Popular Board Games
Learn the Best Board Games for Adults
TableTop is a web series celebrating the best in board games. Host Wil Wheaton and friends get together and play outstanding games for adults. Each episode welcomes guest players and highlights a different title.
TableTop is a wonderful resource for casual gamers, whether you're wanting something new, trying to understand a game you bought, or looking for strategy tips for a current favorite. TableTop focuses on top caliber and award winning board, card, and dice games, and sometimes highlights European titles that may not be well known in the U.S. (The classic Settlers of Catan, pictured, was played in episode two.)
This article contains a summary of Season 1 and videos of my favorite episodes, including discussion of the games, variations, and expansions.
Note: most of the selections take more than thirty minutes to play, so episodes are edited -- you won't see every turn played. But TableTop does a good job of summarizing and presenting the highlights so you get the feel of each game. And host Wil Wheaton lays out the basic rules at the beginning of each episode for viewers who aren't familiar with the gameplay.
Watch Celebrities Play Fun Board Games
If you're like me, you have fond memories of playing board games as a child. I played things like Monopoly, Scrabble, and Life -- typical kid favorites. As an adult, I still love gaming, but I had no idea there was such a broad world beyond the choices we had as kids! TableTop aims to get people back into gaming by introducing them to the best board games for adults. Every other week, Wil Wheaton sits three guests around a table for a half-hour of fun that will make you want to host a game night yourself. New episodes are released every other Thursday, with twenty episodes in the first season.
Guests vary considerably and have included actors from TV and web series (including Eureka, Heroes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Leverage, and The Guild), geek bloggers, YouTube personalities, and even Wil's wife Ann Wheaton. You never know who's going to show up on TableTop.
Watch some episodes and be sure to vote for the best board game!
"I want to inspire people to try hobby games, and I want to remove the stigma associated with gaming and gamers."— Wil Wheaton
Small World (Best New Game, 2010)
Episode 1, Small World, welcomes guests Grant Imahara of Mythbusters, Sean Plott of Day9TV, and geek blogger Jenna Busch to play fantasy board game Small World.
Small World -- where fantasy meets Risk -- is fun but challenging, given that races and attributes each have their own advantages and combine in new ways every time you play. But I believe that also keeps the game fresh and adds to its replay value, which is important. The availability of multiple expansions also makes it unlikely that you'll get bored with Small World. (I like to play with several expansions that add new races and new skills to the available pool.) But be prepared to invest some time learning; clearly, this isn't a board game you can master in one sitting. Even after watching the episode, I didn't feel like I had a good handle on the game -- although I've never played Risk, and I think that experience definitely would have helped my understanding. It's definitely worth the investment, though -- I've been playing Small World on a regular basis for a couple of years now and I still enjoy it.
Small World was named Best New Game of 2010 by GAMES magazine.
If you enjoyed watching the celebrities duke it out, maybe you'd like to give it a try. If you already know and love Small World, definitely consider an expansion pack or the sequel game, Small World Underground. (Expansions are used with the original board and add new races, powers, events, and terrains.)
Ticket to Ride (Best Board Game, 2004)
Ann Wheaton (wife of Wil), Colin Ferguson (actor, Eureka), and Amy Dallen (comic book seller) join Wil to play 2004's German board game of the year, Ticket to Ride.
This episode starts slow but picks up as the game progresses. It's definitely worth watching until the end -- although I won't spoil the best moment by revealing it. I'll just say that I was drinking something at the time and nearly did a spit take all over my computer screen.
Both Wil Wheaton and Colin Ferguson said Ticket to Ride is extremely easy to learn -- so easy that Wil was able to convince his wife (a non-gamer) to play. Basically, players are dealt route cards and collect colored cards that allow them to claim legs on a route. Points are awarded for legs claimed, routes completed, and length of routes, and the player with the most points wins.
However, Ticket to Ride can be frustrating if you draw long or difficult routes. One of my friends was ready to give away his copy because he could never complete his routes. So this game isn't necessarily for everyone -- be sure you have the patience to get through the stages of play when you're doing more card collecting than anything.
Ticket to Ride has won several awards, including the Origins Award for Best Board Game of 2004 and the 2005 International Gamers Award (for Ticket to Ride: Europe).
Ticket to Ride comes in alternate versions for Europe and the Nordic Countries. There are also substantial "map" expansions that can be used with the original or the European version. These expansions each provide a double-sided board with two new maps and include additional variations for play (such as a cooperative rules in the Asia expansion). I find the expansions essential to keep from becoming bored with the game. I have several map expansions and also a couple of USA expansions, and I rotate using them to keep things fresh.
Munchkin (Best Traditional Card Game, 2001)
Felicia Day and Sandeep Parikh of The Guild join game designer Steve Jackson and host Wil Wheaton in playing Munchkin.
Munchkin is a parody of traditional fantasy RPGs (role playing games). The adorable cartoon cards allow you to don armor and weapons, become another race (thus acquiring extra powers or skills), and fight monsters of varying strengths. You can also collect treasures and use them in battle -- or cash them in to further your progress towards Level 10 and victory. You can help or hinder your opponents by giving them cards to make them stronger or adding to the power of the monsters they fight.
So far, this is my favorite game played on TableTop. I love the humor of the cards, and gameplay is complex enough to be challenging, but not so difficult that it requires a lot of time to learn. The fact that there are so many inexpensive expansions is also very appealing to me.
Munchkin was winner of the 2001 Origins Award for Best Traditional Card Game.
There are dozens of Munchkin products, with variations for pirates, zombies, Cthulu and more. Just go over to Amazon and browse -- the Munchkin variations are practically endless.
This is the version played on the show -- Munchkin Deluxe. The regular version is cards only, without the board. (Expansions are compatible with either version.)
If you enjoyed watching the celebrities play Munchkin, maybe you'd like to play it yourself! Munchkin is available from Amazon.com.
Guest players Felicia Day (actor, writer, and producer, The Guild), Mike Morhaime (CEO and President, Blizzard Entertainment), and Bill Prady (Executive Producer, The Big Bang Theory) take on Wil in Elder Sign.
Elder Sign is another cooperative board game where players work together to defeat a common enemy: an Elder God from the mythology created by author H. P. Lovecraft. The world of the game is rich, detailed and fascinating, and the game is challenging even for experienced players since you're always battling a new combination of locations and Mythos cards. The downside is that Elder Sign can't be learned in five minutes; you'll need to invest some time to understand how cards, characters and dice function and how to take advantage of the tools and skills available to each player. However, I think the learning curve is worth the time.
I cannot stress enough how helpful this episode is when you're trying to learn the game. There are a lot of rules and mechanics to remember and understand, and if you're playing solo (like I do), it's even more of a challenge not to forget something basic like advancing the clock after each turn. Even though I had watched this episode twice and read the rules, I still made lots of mistakes on my first try -- but then I sat down and re-watched a few minutes of the show and immediately spotted several things I was doing wrong.
This board game is a great choice for fantasy fans, and since it has plenty of location, Mythos, and character cards, the game is always a bit different, giving it lots of replay value. (There is a temptation to use the same characters over and over, but I recommend you rotate and try different ones. You might discover that you really like a character that you thought wasn't that useful!) And Elder Sign can be played solo, which is an added bonus.
NOTE: Fantasy Flight recently released an expansion to Elder Sign!
Pandemic (Best New Family Game, 2009)
This episode features guests Morgan Webb (host, X-Play), Ed Brubaker (comic book writer, Captain America), and Robert Gifford (owner, Geek Chic) playing Pandemic.
Pandemic is challenging and somewhat complex, but also a lot of fun. Players work together to stop the spread of four diseases before they reach epic proportions. If too many outbreaks occur or any one disease spreads too far, the players lose.
GAMES Magazine named Pandemic Best New Family Game of 2009. I think the cooperative style of play makes it a good choice for families, although I'd save it for older kids, given the subject matter. There are also options that let you adjust the difficulty level -- for instance, you can choose how many Epidemic cards to put in the deck. The expansion pack can be added to the original for more variety and (you guessed it) more of a challenge; it adds a new disease and new events and twists along with additional roles players can choose.
If you enjoyed this episode, consider getting your own copy of Pandemic. I bought a copy after seeing the show and it's now one of my favorites.
Alex Albrecht (co-host, Diggnation), Chloe Dykstra (host, Just Cos), and Jordan Mechner (game designer, Prince of Persia) join Wil for the space-themed version of Fluxx.
The card game Fluxx was developed by two NASA scientists. It's called Fluxx because the rules change throughout the game in response to the cards played. Rule cards change or add rules; action cards can eliminate rules; and goal cards change the requirements to win. This also makes it very easy to learn, because there are virtually no hard and fast rules: the rules are dictated by the cards in play at any given moment. This game is great for players who can think on their feet and adapt to changing conditions, and it looks incredibly fun to play. I love the craziness of Fluxx, and the pop culture references in this version hit on some of my favorite fandoms, which was unexpected and delightful.
Fluxx is another game that has multiple versions. The one played in this episode is Star Fluxx, but there are plenty of variations: Zombie Fluxx, Martian Fluxx, Monty Python Fluxx and Oz Fluxx, to name a few. One of my friends owns several versions and says her teen boys love it.
TableTop Episodes, Guests and Games
Here's a summary of Season One episodes, guest stars and games.
1: Small World
A fantasy board game for 2 - 5 adults. Time to play: approximately 45 - 60 minutes.
Guests: Grant Imahara (co-host, Mythbusters), Sean Plott (host, Day9TV), and Jenna Busch (blogger)
2: Settlers of Catan
A fantasy board game for 3 - 4 adults. Expansion packs increase player limit to 6.
Guests: Jane Espenson (writer and producer, Once Upon a Time), James Kyson (actor, Heroes), and Neil Grayston (actor, Eureka)
3: Zombie Dice, Get Bit, Tsuro
Zombie Dice: a dice game for 3 - 8 players. Time to play: approximately 10 - 20 minutes.
Get Bit: a card game for 3 - 6 players. Time to play: approximately 10 - 20 minutes.
Tsuro: a board game for 2 - 8 players. Time to play: approximately 15 - 20 minutes.
Guests: Ryan Higa (YouTube celebrity), Freddie Wong (YouTube celebrity), and Rod Roddenberry (CEO of Roddenberry Entertainment)
4: Ticket to Ride
A railroad-themed board game for 2 - 5 players. Estimated time to play: 30 - 60 minutes.
Guests: Ann Wheaton (wife of host Wil Wheaton), Colin Ferguson (actor, Eureka), and Amy Dallen (comic book seller)
A humorous card game for 2 - 6 adults. Time to play: approximately 1 hour.
Guests: Felicia Day (actor, writer, and producer, The Guild), Sandeep Parikh (actor, The Guild), and Steve Jackson (game designer)
6: Castle Panic
A fantasy board game for 1 - 6 players. Time to play: approximately 1 hour.
Guests: Yuri Lowenthal (voice actor, Prince of Persia), Tara Platt (actor, Shelf Life) and Andre the Black Nerd (YouTube comedian).
A macabre card game for 2 - 4 adults. Expansions add 1 player each. Estimated time to play: 1 hour.
Guests: Amber Benson (actor, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Michele Boyd (actor, The Guild), and Meghan Camarena (YouTube vlogger Strawburry17)
A role playing game for 3 - 5 adults. Estimated time to play: 2 - 3 hours.
Guests: Alison Haislip (actor, Battleground), Bonnie Burton (author, The Star Wars Craft Book), and John Rogers (creator of Leverage)
Part two of Fiasco.
10: Say Anything
A party game for 3 - 8 adults. Estimated time to play: 30 minutes.
Guests: Josh A. Cagan (screenwriter, Undergrads), Matt Mira (co-host, The Nerdist Podcast), and Jonah Ray (co-host, The Nerdist Podcast)
11: Elder Sign
A fantasy board game for 1 - 8 adults. Estimated time to play: officially, 1-2 hours, but in my experience, 2 - 3 hours is more realistic.
Guests: Felicia Day (actor, writer, and producer, The Guild), Mike Morhaime (CEO and President, Blizzard Entertainment), and Bill Prady (co-creator and Executive Producer, The Big Bang Theory)
A board game for 3 - 6 players. Estimated time to play: 30 minutes.
Guests: Leo Chu (Executive Producer, Supah Ninjas), Casey McKinnon (Executive Producer, A Comicbook Orange), and Beth Riesgraf (actor, Leverage)
13: Wits & Wagers
A trivia game for 3 - 10 players. Estimated time to play: 20 minutes.
Guests: Veronica Belmont (video host, Tekzilla), Phil LaMarr (voice actor, Futurama), and Jimmy Wong (YouTube celebrity)
A board game for 2 - 5 players. Time to play: approximately 1 hour.
Guests: Morgan Webb (host, X-Play), Ed Brubaker (comic book writer, Captain America), and Robert Gifford (owner, Geek Chic)
15: Last Night on Earth
A zombie themed board game for 2 - 6 adults. Estimated time to play: 60 - 90 minutes.
Guests: Felicia Day (actor, writer, and producer, The Guild), Riki Lindhome (actor, Garfunkel and Oates), and Kate Micucci (actor, Garfunkel and Oates)
16: Star Fluxx
A card game for 2 - 6 players. Time to play: approximately 30 minutes.
Guests: Alex Albrecht (co-host, Diggnation), Chloe Dykstra (host, Just Cos), and Jordan Mechner (game designer, Prince of Persia)
A board game for 2-6 players. Estimated play time: 45-60 minutes.
Guests: Ashley Johnson (actor, The Killing), Shane Nickerson (Executive Producer, Ridiculousness), and Dodger Leigh (host, Press Heart to Continue)
18: Chez Geek
A card game for 2 - 5 players. Time to play: roughly 1 hour.
Guests: Paul Sabourin (musician, Paul and Storm), Storm DiCostanzo (musician, Paul and Storm), and Andrew Hackard (Steve Jackson Games)
19: Dragon Age
A fantasy role playing game (RPG).
Guests: Chris Hardwick (comedian), Kevin Sussman (actor, The Big Bang Theory), and Sam Witwer (actor, Being Human)
20: Dragon Age
Part two of Dragon Age.
Vote: Best Board Game
Pandemic is still my favorite from season one. What's yours?
What do you consider the best board game from season one?
About Wil Wheaton
Fans will know Wil Wheaton either from Star Trek: The Next Generation or from Felicia Day's The Guild, if not both. People may also recognize him from his guest spots on The Big Bang Theory or his recurring role as Chaos on TNT's Leverage.
On TableTop, Wheaton isn't playing a character but is simply himself, acting as host and sharing his love of board games with viewers.
A big THANK YOU to Geek & Sundry for mentioning this article in their community update for November 8, 2012!
© 2012 C A Chancellor