TABLE BATTLE (by Tom Russell)

I often say that my job consists of playing board games all day. That's not a hundred percent true - my job also consists of answering questions on the internet, writing rulesets, laying out counters, designing covers, counting out little wooden bits and putting them into bags, and, oh yeah, designing games - but I think it gets across rather aptly that I have very little to be upset about in the grand scheme of things, and that I still can't quite believe that this is what I get to do for a living. It sometimes feels like I've gotten away with something.

Because my job - at least the somewhat inaccurate single-line description of my job that I fall back on - consists of playing board games all day, it will stand to reason that I need something on which to play said games. Our dining room table is my first choice, as it's located approximately twelve feet from where I'm sitting right now. It is the largest table we have in the house, which means that it can just about accommodate a "full-size" twenty-two by thirty-four inch map. We don't often use it for dining - we eat in the living room - so I can even leave a game set-up for a little while, at least until it attracts the cat's attention.

But, even if we don't eat at it, it is our dining room table. We come home with groceries and the stuff that doesn't go in the fridge goes on the table. We buy new kitchen stuff at a garage sale, and, well, we need to put it somewhere until we can find a place for it, so it goes on the table. On rare occasions we get a new board game, and if there's room, it goes on the table. Sometimes the cat food is half-price up to thirty cans, and so we get thirty cans, and, well…

Gradually and almost imperceptibly, the usable space of the table shrinks. The time comes to play a game and I realize that the only way I'm going to get to spend a half-hour setting it up, each counter in its hex, just-so, is if I spend a half-hour clearing space off the table. It's much quicker to use our other table.

That table is a very short rectangular coffee table. It's only a foot off the ground, three-and-a-half feet long, and less than two feet wide. It cannot fit a full twenty-two by thirty-four, though it can accommodate a seventeen by twenty-two. Meaning of course that I'm not going to be playing a "full map" game on it. But, hey, most of the games we publish are seventeen by twenty-two anyway, so it'll do, and so I take the table out to the front porch and start pushing those panzers. Provided, of course, that the summer sun isn't boiling me alive too rapidly, or that the autumn wind isn't getting too ambitious with my counters and cards. Winter, of course, that's right out.

The other problem with this table though is that, inevitably, it gets stuff put on top of it. Some of that is there by design; it's the table that houses our printer, with which we produce our prototype components. The printer's heavy, but I can manage it, and it's not too much work to unplug it, pick it up, and set it on the floor. But just like our dining room table, sometimes things get placed there temporarily, and I turn around and realize that it's going to take me twenty minutes to find a place for everything.

Sometimes this will propel me to action. I'll spend a good chunk of my afternoon clearing off everything, finding homes for our new arrivals, usually exhausting myself in the process. And sometimes? Sometimes I just don't have the get-up-and-go to do that. And on those days, I don't play board games all day. Honestly, one of the reasons why Table Battles turned out the way it did is because I designed it so that I could play it on my TV tray when both tables were full and I didn't feel like doing anything about it.

Sometimes several days go by without me even pushing a single counter, or ever consulting a single Combat Results Table. That doesn't leave me feeling particularly productive. And, because we do have a kinda-shrinking-but-not-really pile of submissions to play and evaluate, it also leaves me feeling more than a little guilty. But when that table in the dining room is clear? When I can just get up in the morning, set up a game, and get to work? Oh man, that's a great feeling!

The ideal solution of course would be to have a game room, with a dedicated gaming table - not necessarily one of those ultra-fancy deluxe things with the felt surface and built-in cup holders, but a table that's just there to play games on. Or, given our profession, a space that's set aside for the work. But, we live in a small, cramped house that we bought years before either of us had seen a meeple or knew what a combat factor was. We don't have an extra room that we even could set aside for games. That's doubly true once we started getting massive shipments of little wooden cubes, blocks, sticks, discs, and pawns from our bits manufacturer in Germany, boxes stacked on top of boxes, reaching precariously toward the ceiling.

And so, we make do with what we have, and we improvise. I know from the outside that the life of a full-time board game designer, or of any creative person, must seem awfully glamorous. There's a thrill to the creative act, and there is such freedom in being untethered from the concerns and constraints of a "normal" job. It's not a soul-crushing job, but a soul-enriching life, and it is such a tremendous gift. Sometimes it's all that and more, and sometimes it's about stepping around the boxes of wood bits in the back, finding somewhere to stack our copies of the games we've published, and clearing off the table in the dining room.


  • Delicious well written articles, Tom.
    How can I get the address of that bits manufacturer in Germany? Double thanks


  • How strange, the original double post has vanished!


  • Sorry about the double post!!
    Sorry about the double post!!


  • Which cat is worse at disrupting a game “resting” on your table?
    You wrote “cat’s attention”, not “cats’ attention”.


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