Will Video Games Kill Tabletop Gaming?

Tabletop Gaming; Stronger than Ever or On the Verge of Obscurity?

I’m a fan of all types of gaming: board games; tabletop RPGs; card games; and video games. They each fit into a specific niche and I enjoy them for different reasons. But when a game like Total War: Warhammer comes out, I have to wonder – will video games like this eventually overwhelm tabletop gaming? If the experience of a game like Warhammer can be digitized, why bother with the table top version?

I am not saying that the gameplay in Total War: Warhammer is the same as table top Warhammer, but it fits the same style of play – turn based strategic combat. The primary difference between a turn-based video game, and one involving a table and dice is that the calculations are automatic, and the miniatures and interactions with other players are virtual. Can interactive videogames fulfill the same goals, and if so, do they do the job better?

To compare the two mediums, we need to break down what makes Warhammer and other table top gaming fun. It isn’t the math or the dice, no matter what your weird friend might say. I’ve always felt that a good table top experience has the game or game master (GM) making sure the player sees as little of that as possible. It’s usually too much to ask of a group of friends to read an extensive rule book before coming over to play a game. Beyond that, rolling dice, doing calculations or measuring inches of movement slows down gameplay. These things all break immersion because they show how artificial the experience is. This is where video games shine. By doing all of the computing in the background, most of the rules and RNG happen without the player’s knowledge. This has the consequence of both speeding up gameplay and making the barrier to entry much smaller for new players. In the competition between mediums, this is where video games clearly come out on top.

Tabletop Gaming Top Screen

The multiplayer aspect of these two mediums is harder to compare than other features. I do prefer the interactions with friends at a table over communicating via a mic. Trying to maintain a conversation with multiple people over mic always ends up jumbled and disorderly; and that is assuming there are no connection issues. Being able to see a person allows for much more dynamic interactions, both adversarial and in teamwork. But there is another side to this; getting a large group of people together in person is a much taller order than online. Matching up schedules for a board game night or RPG session can be prohibitive and playing together online offers fewer restrictions. As technology gets better and VOIP communication more consistent, I can see video games catching up with other party or group gaming.


“Do I love my table top time? Hell yeah, but as an adult, sometimes easier is better. Video games might not be as satisfying, but at least I’m still playing a game.”

Where table top gaming excels is in scope. The games have no real end and are as deep and varied as you want them to be. Warhammer is so appealing because you can create and customize the exact fantasy army you want. You literally build and paint each unit yourself – no video game can provide that amount of customization. Beyond that, with house ruling you can create games within games or change aspects to suit the player base. Set structures allow video games to be more consistent, but leave fewer choices available to the player. Table top gaming, in its varying forms gives players the most agency and no technological advancements are going to change that.

It really comes down to agency, and in particular, how much you feel in control of your forces. When I play Total War: Warhammer, I don’t feel like I’m marching my army against the opposing team, it’s just one I’m controlling. It’s a subtle difference but the time, energy, and love it takes to hand craft an army of miniatures, a deck of cards or a character sheet makes you much more attached to them. When I lose a game of Magic: The Gathering, I wonder if it was a strategic mistake or if I have to revise my deck. This could lead to hours of contemplation and, as bad as it sounds, that’s half the fun for me. When I lose an army in Total War, I usually just sigh and generate a new one to throw at the problem. The barrier to remaking an army is low and I have no attachment to individual ones – they are not really mine. Hell, you could even just reload the last save and pretend you never lost at all.

Tabletop Gaming Magic the Gathering

These things should not be seen as positives or negatives, just differences. Video games cannot simulate the more complex table top experiences simply because they have limited options and set rules. This does mean that the highs and lows in strategic video games won’t be as extreme but it does make them more consistent. Most days, that is a more promising prospect. In the last two weeks I have not played any table top gaming, but I have played 15 hours of Total War. Sometimes, it all comes down to accessibility. Do I love my table top time? Hell yeah, but as an adult, sometimes easier is better. It might not be as satisfying, but at least I’m still playing a game.