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Two gamers in the process of setting up a Warhammer table

D&D, Warhammer, and Subbuteo return as tabletop gaming is back

In a world ruled by Xbox, PlayStation and Switch, an ancient sleeping platform stirs from slumber, a games console that once ruled the planet as undisputed king, the tabletop.

The last few months have seen headlines of record sales in the latest round of the Sony versus Microsoft arms race, but flying under the radar the table gaming sector has seen several years of growth, leading to record sales for some games that were once household names and have since spent an age dead but dreaming.

Warhammer

The pandemic should have been a tough time for Games Workshop, the Nottinghamshire based company who make Warhammer 40,000.

Games are played with physical hand-painted models on 3D maps that the players have to build precisely with measuring tapes before starting.

Yet, just like one of their Space Marine characters, they have defied gravity with bounding jumps in revenue.

In the six months up to 28 November 2021 Games Workshop revenue was £191.5m, compared to £186.8m in the same period in 2020 and £148.4m in 2019 and from a low of £55.3m in 2015. 

Diego Figaredo, 32, and Manuel Garrido, 35, have both been playing Warhammer since 2016 and 2017 respectively.

They met in Darksphere, a games shop in Shepherd’s Bush and still regularly meet there to play. 

They explained how they had grown up loving Warhammer, collecting the models when they could, but never having the money to play properly.

However, they now have fully paid employment and can afford the cash and the time to build these miniature fantasy armies, painting them then spending an evening with a friend and a large table waging war.

Dungeons & Dragons

Another game from the 1980s on the rise, traditionally associated with nerds around a table, is Dungeons & Dragons (D&D).

This, the grandfather of tabletop roleplaying games, has seen a seven year streak of increasing sales, including a 33% jump in 2020.

Toymakers ‘Wizards Of The Coast‘ did not release a breakdown of sales revenue for D&D, Magic The Gathering or their digital gaming platforms, however their overall revenue saw a 24% increase to $816m.

The rise of D&D dates back to before the pandemic to the launch of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition in 2014, which saw a complete overhaul of the rules and system, making the game more story driven instead of focusing on statistics and game mechanics.

The rise also coincides with the development of D&D YouTube channels, Twitch streams and so-called actual play podcasts such as Critical Role and Dungeons & Daddies, often starring professional actors, comedians and celebrities.

The Big Bang Theory may also have played a part, bringing public attention to many aspects of nerd culture including several episodes based around games of D&D.

Even if the upward trajectory began before lockdown, a 33% increase in sales for a tabletop Role Playing Game, in a year when you couldn’t meet up to play around a table, is extraordinary.

Matt Greenhough began playing D&D with friends for the first time on Zoom in August 2020 and explained how it happened.

DUNGEON MASTER: SWL talks to Matt Greenhough about how he got into D&D over Zoom

Subbuteo

Even Subbuteo, a tabletop game that predates the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, is back. 

In 1946, 47 years before FIFA International Soccer was released on Sega Mega Drive, The Boy’s Own Magazine featured a football game invented by Peter Adolph with wire goals and cardboard players.

Now lockdown appears to have kicked off a revival.

Vice chairman of the English Subbuteo Association, Alan Lee said: “Three years ago there was nothing, maybe a couple of clubs across the whole country, maybe 20 active players.

“Now we have about 12 official clubs, and national tournaments have about 150 people showing up.”

FLICK TO PLAY: Subbuteo YouTuber Stewart Grant explains the basics of the game

Stewart Grant is a pawnbroker and a well known Subbuteo YouTuber called Subbuteo Collector.

He said: “I always wanted a stadium up in the loft, like the ones you could get in catalogues when you were a kid.

“When I moved in with my wife, we had a massive loft and I didn’t have kids and I had some disposable income and thought, lets go for it.

“It all just started from there.”

In fact, the idea that as a child, someone wanted to play these games or collect these toys but couldn’t afford it on pocket money has been a running theme throughout the interviews for this article.  

Now these children are grown up with jobs and disposable income and, for many during lockdown, time to kill.

So this resurgence of tabletop gaming may be nothing other than a generation of millennials finally having the spare cash and time to spend on the hobbies they could never afford before.

All we know is, once the Great Old One awakens there is no turning back.

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