By Mazid Akaak
For as long as civilisation has existed, human ingenuity has brought about innovative and creative ways for people to have fun. Long before the inventions of Monopoly or The Game of Life, cultures from across the world and across ages, have been found to have different manner of board games.
The history of tabletop games is long and rich, and the presence of board games is a seemingly shared characteristics of most of the oldest civilisations. Ancient Egypt had games such as Semet, Mehen and Nine Men’s Morris, with the prior two estimated to date back to 3100 BC. Mesopotamia had a board game known as The Royal Game of Ur thought to be from about 2500 BC. Tabletop games, and references to them, have been discovered in Mesoamerica, Scandinavia, China, the British Isles, the Middle East, Russia and the list goes on and on. One of the oldest discovered board games has even been found in Oman, dating back around 4000 years.
Even today, despite the rapid development and availability of modern technology, the popularity of tabletop games persists. Now, there are many different types of tabletop games. Aside from the classic board game and the hyper-commercial ones such as Monopoly or Uno, there are genres like miniature games, card games and role-playing games.
Miniature games, particularly miniature wargames, are a popular genre centrally themed around the idea of players commanding forces of miniatures, most commonly in open combat against one another. A big draw to miniature games is the collecting, assembly and painting of miniatures, which to many, is a hobby in itself.
Card games are quite self-explanatory. They are games typically consist of nothing more than a deck of cards, and a set of rules, though they may at times require other components, such as dice. They are very portable and convenient, and despite their simple nature, card games can be highly challenging, strategic and competitive.
Role playing games are, in their simplest form, games which require nothing more than paper, pencils, dice and a strong imagination. In these games, the players typically play as a band of adventurers questing through a story shaped by the decisions they make. One player of the group will take the role of Game Master. A Game Master is the story teller. They control non-playable characters, describe things to the players and guide players through the game. The original and most popular role playing game is Dungeons and Dragons.
In recent years, Oman has developed a bit of a tabletop community of its own, one of which started to properly get off the ground in 2016.
The community, called Tabletop Games Oman was founded by Abdul-haseeb al Yaqoubi, who had picked up an interest in the card game, Magic: The Gathering, while he was in the UK for university.
“One of the things that kept me going was the community. Everyone was like-minded, and it was a way for me to make friends’’, he shared.
When he returned to Oman, he discovered that there was no such community.
“My father told me, ‘If it’s all about the community, then why don’t you start your own here?’”
Given this inspiration, he did just that. Initially, the community started with only three people. With perseverance, however, it slowly grew, gaining new members, generating interest in tabletop games, and having new subgroups for different types of games such as card games, role-playing games, miniature games and board games.
Ali Derweesh, a member of the miniature wargaming sub community, shared that when he first actively got into the hobby 12 years ago, “locally, a tabletop gaming scene was non-existent’’, and that, as a result, “games were few and far between.”
Despite this, he maintained a great interest in the hobby.
“I was still able to enjoy the artistic side of the hobby. What’s more, I felt a part of the online community, showing off my painted models, getting art advice and discussing new tactics and releases. It wasn’t the same as enjoying the hobby with others in person, but I still felt connected and engaged’’, he said.
Something which appeals to Ali about miniature games is the hobby element. He enjoys to collect, paint and modify miniatures.
“The hobby is very multi-faceted, so there are a lot of different elements to enjoy. I like the creative and artistic aspects of not only painting your models but also modifying them to be unique, the puzzles presented in gameplay, even the engaging narrative that evolves on the table as armies clash and heroes battle. Most importantly, in this day and age, this is an escape from the screens that consume so much of our lives, it’s something to do with my hands, rather than a keyboard and mouse, and a highly entertaining social activity that’s great for connecting with like-minded individuals and making new friends.”
“In the last few years, the hobby has been picked up by more Omanis, creating a much more stable player base and finally allowing it to really start to grow and spread in this region’’, he added.
Although it is gradually growing and gaining acceptance, the tabletop community still faces certain challenges.
“The biggest misconception is that people think we are gambling, because we play games that have dice and cards. Thankfully, we are slowly changing this idea, and the way that people think about games.” This misconception has been quite the challenge to the community, as they have had difficulty in finding a public space to meet and play games. “The problem is that we could not use a venue for more than a week or two before getting kicked out, because people didn’t understand.” Eventually, the community reached out to Suika Art Café, who welcomed them, and offered a place for players to meet and play games. Today, Tabletop Games Oman has around 50 members and is still growing.
“This community will stay here for the rest of our lives, if not on to our children’s lives. We have people from all around the world and when they go back home, they connect our community with the communities where they come from, and in this regard, it is becoming a sort of network around the world.”