The Year of Tabletop Gaming 2021

The witch Tasha with her magic spellbook open.

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The Year of Tabletop Gaming 2021

December 31, 2021

By: Tyler Chancey

 
 

As the year comes to a close, it is a time for introspection. It is an opportunity to take stock of what has happened; the embarrassing and the triumphant alike. And when it comes to the tabletop gaming industry and its diverse community, peaks and valleys were expected.  Looking back, it was a year of good intentions, miscommunications, new creative energy, generosity, and the return of several beloved ideas and franchises, as well as great board game experiences for players around the world. Here's our rundown of the biggest moments and movements from the year of tabletop gaming 2021.

The artwork for Kickstarter project Tournament Fishing
The innocuous Kickstarter Project that kicked over a hornet's nest.

Criticism, Critique, and Communication

While board games are wondrous things that can mean a lot to players, the ones who make them are still human. This was felt when certain personalities like Citadels creator Bruno Faidutti got into some hot water regarding his stance on alcohol and wine culture, or a contributor to Dungeons and Dragons Candlekeep Mysteries sourcebook wanted their name removed since so much of their personal work was changed or altered. On a more serious note, there were the sexual assault allegations that came out from Broken Token, Reiner Knizia's lawsuit with publisher Grail Games, and the attempt at crowdfunding a lawsuit by TSR that lead to them getting sued.

Arguably the most notable case of someone sticking their foot in their mouth then proceeding to choke on the heel came from The Gaming Goat. Deciding to double down on artwork of a frog lead to its CEO falling out of favor with multiple business partners and organizations, finally ending with him being banned from GenCon.

But there have been cases of honest mistakes and genuine growth as well. The creators of Tiny Epic Dungeons received criticism regarding their box art regarding their female characters. Gamelyn actually took this criticism to heart and amended it. Then there was the cancellation of Prison Architect: The Board Game, something that was done by the developers themselves since they recognized the inherently problematic context of playing such an experience in a social tabletop environment.

 
 
The Power Rangers, Rita Repulsa, and Lord Zedd in a group shot
The poster child for the new Essence20 RPG system. Image Credit: Renegade Game Studios

Adaptation and Returning Legacies

Despite the rising cost of freight shipping affecting trade across the globe, a lot of developers and publishers only continued to thrive this year. Wizards of the Coast pushed for more crossovers with their various intellectual properties as well as guest appearances from other franchises. Magic: The Gathering's Universes Beyond introduced characters and ideas from Lord of the Rings, and Warhammer 40k. Dungeons and Dragons got its own Magic set, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, and Magic's own Strixhaven Academy became the focus of a brand new DnD adventure book.

Even WOTC's parent company, Hasbro, began leveraging their considerable franchises into the tabletop space. This is the year they announced a total of three different tabletop RPGs based on Power Rangers, GI Joe, and Transformers. Furthermore, they declared that all three would share a brand new fundamental RPG system and be compatible with one another, keeping in line with their inherently toyetic origins.

This trend continued with tabletop RPG or board game adaptations announced for several beloved properties. These included RPG adaptations of Tomb Raider, Dark Souls, Cowboy Bebop, and Avatar: The Last Airbender. In addition, major board game adaptations came into production based on licenses like Resident Evil 1, The Witcher, Cuphead, Monster Hunter, Skyrim, The Binding of Isaac, Kingdom Come, Total War Rome, Jurassic World and The Warriors.

A black and white image of a Japanese gangster
It is an odd name, but the idea of Picaresque Roman is fascinating. Image Credit: LionWing Publishing

2021 also heralded the return of older beloved systems as well as a new platform for exotic talent. The Japanese TTRPG, Picaresque Roman, officially got localized for overseas players thanks to a wildly successful Kickstarter. Another great crowdfunding success happened with a TTRPG adaptation of the indie webcomic about LGBTQ+ sentai-themed superheroes, Queerz, going into production. Even liberal US magazine Jacobin threw their hat into the ring with Class War, a board game packed with social commentary, getting crowdfunded.

As for the old guard, the beloved fantasy RPG board game, HeroQuest, got a new lease on life with a brand new release. After some tumult, including delays, the most comprehensive tabletop RPG adaptation of JRR Tolkien's world of Middle Earth, The One Ring, has returned. Brand new Dragonlance novels are on the way after being caught in legal limbo. Ultimate Railroads is finally coming back to print. In addition, the original creator of Magic: The Gathering, Richard Garfield, has returned to tabletop development, leading a creative team on a new project, Mindbug. But by far the most surprising reveal this year was the return of the West End Games D6 system which would fuel a TTRPG adaptation of the dieselpunk comic book world of Carbon Grey.

Art of adventurers from the RPG Pathfinder
Imagine how much easier it will be to set up a group now. Image Credit: Paizo Publishing

Growth and The Future

On the business and community support side of the year, we've seen the tabletop industry continue to respond, adapt, and grow. In response to the wild success of D&D Beyond as well as the growth of online groups in light of COVID-19, several other publishers began to invest in online platforms of their own. Paradox Interactive's World of Darkness franchise have officially partnered with Demiplane to help bring their horror RPG world to a wider audience: called World of Darkness Nexus. Paizo Publishing made a similar deal as well with Demiplane, helping to make their worlds of both Pathfinder and Starfinder less daunting to online groups.

 
 

This rising popularity of tabletop games has lead to a rising interest in it as a spectator sport as well. This year saw the announcement of the very first World Series of Board Gaming Championship. Much like the World Series Poker tournaments, this competition will be set in Las Vegas and will include massive cash prizes for the winners.

In fact, Paizo made gaming history this year through another form of growth and forward thinking. Specifically, the United Paizo Workers Union, the very first gaming worker's union, was formally recognized by the publisher and steps have been taken to discuss terms for the future. In an industry that has been reluctant in accepting the aid and responsibility of a worker's union, this is a major step.

Alternate art of the Magic card, Mother of Runes.
All for a good cause. Image Credit: Wizards of the Coast

But the industry did also remember to reach out and help make the world a better place. Asmodee's Play Pink miniatures for Ticket to Ride helped raise over $184k to help fight breast cancer. Wizards of the Coast's Black is Magic Secret Lair, used to help promote the creative voice and importance of black culture, helped raise over $900k for the organization Black Girls CODE.

In much broader terms, Asmodee Publishing have continued to grow and expand their own studios and resources. In addition to acquiring developers like Plan B Games, the studio invested in the virtual tabletop platform, Board Game Arena. But one of the more surprising partnerships they announced was between Radar Films. This partnership was made to start production on feature film adaptations of the publisher's various tabletop games. The first of these being a film adaptation of The Werewolves of Miller's Hollow, with the screenwriter of Netflix's Lupin attached.

 

But this was just a part of a much bigger partnership between Asmodee and Embracer Group, the company behind videogame studios like Gearbox Entertainment and THQ Nordic. Given how ubiquitous Asmodee Publishing is in the board game industry, this partnership not only adds to their resources but the wealth of intellectual property to which they have access.


As easy as it would have been to focus on the scandals and heartbreak that peppered this part of the industry throughout 2021, there is plenty to be excited for. This year helped set the stage for great things, not just for players, but the talented and creative people who make these experiences. Here's to 2022 and all of the great stories, challenges, and triumphs that await from all of us at TechRaptor.

a candid selfie of the staff writer, husky build, blond hair, caucasian.
Staff Writer

Born in 1990, Tyler Chancey's earliest memories were of an NES controller in his hands, and with it a passion that continued into his adulthood. He's written for multiple sites, has podcasted, and has continued to shape and encourage new talent to greater heights.

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