Gaming Tables

Back at last!  The move went relatively smoothly, and we’ve been spending every weekend since with various projects and unpacking.  All the essentials are unpacked, and now my thoughts are turning to the gaming space.  I installed shelves in a closet to store board games, and hung my miniature display cases on the wall of the family rom in easy reach of the… wait a minute, there’s no game table here!

Over the years I’ve played games on many different surfaces.  Dining and kitchen tables dominate, but I’ve seen my fair share of unusual gaming tables too.  I spent a summer playing a game in a friend’s basement on an old forgotten pool table.  I’ve played sitting on couches around a coffee table.  I’ve played at conference room tables in offices, folding tables at conventions, and on a $15k Geek Chic Sultan.  With this wide range of experience, you can bet I have some pretty strong opinions when it comes to equipping my own house with an appropriate play surface.

One of the first pieces of furniture we ever bought new (rather than inheriting from family or friends), was a dining room table.  It’s a beast of a thing: 60″ long rounded rectangle with two built-in 12″ leaves that fold up and collapse into the table itself.  This made the table top super heavy, and I always feel bad when we make movers move the thing.  We bought it for our last apartment from Bob’s Discount Furniture, and I still recall Bob personally calling Jenn to tell her when it was going to be delivered (a job for robots these days I imagine).

That table came with us to our first house in Maynard, and was the home of a three year long campaign when we lived just a 5 minute walk from the offices of 38 Studios.  When we moved out to Medway the new dining room was enormous, and the sellers had a beautiful antique dining set they were looking to sell.  We snatched it up and the old dining table was moved to the game room upstairs to become the official gaming table.  Many more game were had on the thing there, while the dining room table was used strictly for meals.  Now in the new house the dining room is much smaller and couldn’t hold that antique set, so like our predecessors we unloaded it before the move.  The old table, now a bit battle scarred from years of use and several moves, is once again in place in the dining room and being used regularly.  That said, we have an enormous family room up stairs ready and waiting for a gaming table, so for the first time in my life I find myself in the unique position of having a dedicated gaming space with no pre-existing furniture to fill it.  I’ve been waiting for this day!

No really, I’ve been thinking about this a long time.  I remember back at our first house, which was much smaller than either house since, imagining what it would be like to have a dedicated game room.  The first question to pop to mind was what kind of table I’d want to have.  At one point I even sketched elaborate plans for a very unique surface.  The shape I thought would be best was a half circle, allowing the DM to sit along the straight edge giving him a very large space to spread out his materials.  The players would sit around the curved edge, thus ensuring there was no “good seat” close to the DM, as they’d all be equidistant.  The surface itself was two layers about 6-8″ apart, forming a shelf below the table top for each player.  The top surface would be either entirely glass, or at least have a glass rim of about 12″, such that players could leave papers or open books on the shelf below and still see down at it to read as necessary.  It was a nice fantasy, but the table is actually completely ludicrous.  To fit a decent number of people in a semi-circle requires a huge radius.  The two layers are complex to build, and I can’t even imagine how you’d get a curved piece of glass to fit.  And who wants to roll dice on a glass surface?

That custom Geek Chic Sultan table I played on cemented my opinion against fancy custom tables.  Don’t get me wrong, that thing was gorgeous, in addition to being custom built explicitly for gaming.  That said, it was totally incorrect for my style of game.  I imagine they’re great for games that require heavy miniature use, and it’s really nice to have lots of extra storage and the ability to just slap a lid over the minis between sessions.  I don’t use much minis in my games these days, so all that’s kind of lost on me.  What I did notice is that when you sit with your legs under the table the top is practically at your chin.  OK, more like nipple height, but still, there’s a lot of bulky table between you and the other players.  The other option is to get a tall stool, but then you lose easy access to all the fancy cubby holes and desk surfaces.  And all that bulky material between you and the other players, well, it just feels like a big barrier and not at all conducive to such a social activity.

So, here are my requirements now for a gaming table:

  1. Must comfortably seat 6-12 people.  OK, it can feel a bit crowded at 12 that’s fine, as long as it’s still possible.
  2. Must be reasonably priced.  Dining tables are not cheap, and chairs are surprisingly expensive.  That said, I’m not going to drop thousands of dollars on this thing.  I seem to recall that Bob’s table cost us about $800, including chairs, and that feels like close to the high end of reasonable to me.
  3. It should look appropriate both to its purpose and environment.  Personally, I like a hefty chunky trestle table, something kind of medieval looking that could hold up to years of gaming.  That said, it shouldn’t look out of place in its environment.  A huge fancy piece of ancient looking woodwork may not quite fit right in my carpeted, white walled, family room.
  4. Chairs should either not look terrible or not be included.  I’d rather solve the chair problem separately than be stuck with horrible looking or uncomfortable chairs.
  5. Not too much work.  I’m willing to explore the idea of refinishing some old second hand thing, but I don’t want a project that’s going to take months of work.  I’d rather spend a few more dollars than hours swearing in the garage about my terrible carpentry skills.
  6. Transportable.  That means either someone’s got to deliver it, or it needs to break down in some way such that I can actually transport it myself, and I do not own a truck or van.  I do have a roof rack I can tie things to, but I’m not comfortable with overly large things up there for very long journeys.

OK, looks like this is going to be part 1 of a multi-part tale.  Rest assured the problem is close to solved at this point, but I think it’s worth exploring all the details of my hunt and this post is already overly long.  So next up, part 2: the hunt for the great gaming table.


7 thoughts on “Gaming Tables

  1. The idea gaming table is a disc of polished white marble covered by a dry-erase whiteboard surface. The players sit in extravagantly comfy chairs surrounding it. An iris in the center opens to reveal an ascending DM’s chair shrouded in fog. When completely elevated the DM’s chair is supported by a clear crystal pillar into which holograms may be projected. The DM slowly rotates, giving each player exactly 1 minute (this rate can be altered) before the DM’s focus shifts to the next player. Arguments against the back of the chair are inconsequential so you’d better hurry and make your point.

    There are places for snacks and drinks and books, but there are no power or data ports and the whole thing sits in a room protected by a Faraday cage.

  2. OMG, I totally had Mr. Mouth as a kid. The racket that thing made! And totally not at all a pac-man rip off. On the other hand, we also had the officially licensed pac-man board game, which wasn’t nearly as exciting, especially after you lost half the marbles in the couch.

  3. Geez, I never considered the resemblance to Pac-Man. But didn’t Mr. Mouth (1976) predate Pac-Man (1980)?

    Side note: Did you ever figure out how to flip stuff in the corner of the mouth when it was 90 degrees from you? I could get in my tokens at 3 times the rate of any opponents with that trick.

  4. Fascinating, I had no idea Mr. Mouth’s origin was so early. We had him in the mid-80’s, around the same time as the great pac-man licensing blitz (see the pac-man board game, pac-man cartoon, etc.) so I always associated the two. I also kind of figured his more recent incarnation as a frog was due to some kind of licensing issue, but perhaps I read too much into that change.

    I definitely recall that the sought after trick was to be able to flip stuff into him up to 90 degrees on either side. Whether I ever perfected that technique though I don’t recall. I want to think my elder brother perhaps knew how to do it, or perhaps a neighborhood friend.

    Wait a second, isn’t this blog supposed to be about some other game from my childhood?

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