Computer Games vs Tabletop Games: Learning Curve

Why is it easier to get someone to try a computer game than a tabletop game? And by tabletop games we're including them all, board games on up to RPGs. Ignore the fact that you need a group of people (in the same place, at the same time) to play a tabletop game, and ignore the fact that tabletop games require social energy.

Computer games enforce their own rules, so participants can try the game without expending energy to learn or enforce the rules. You might play a computer game badly because you haven't figured out the best strategies, but it's impossible for you to actually break the rules and not play the game right. Unless it's a bug (or subject to odd MMORPG social rules) anything you can do in a computer game is technically legal.

In tabletop games, rules are accidentally broken all the time. You play a few rounds before someone notices that you've been doing the movement rules wrong, and that's after you all sat down and read the rules two or three times before starting. And because there is no omniscient arbiter (the computer), tabletop games grind to a halt when people disagree about what the rules mean.

Even after years of experience with a game, tabletop gamers have to watch and think to make sure no one is unintentionally breaking the rules, and that takes effort.

    Ben Robbins | November 27th, 2006 | | hide comments
  1. #4 Simon says:

    Console games & PC games have a huge “visual” advantage over retro pen & paper. Cut scenes between story points, large “sand box” areas to walk around. Character gen is simple because its all given to you in a “visual” format appearance is a choice of 10 style combos, hair skin tones, race & profession also fits in here with check boxes ect. You can bluff you way way through & just hop right in and play.

    Pen & paper RPG Games no mater complexity involve some understanding of the rules on the players part some writing and a lot of thinking about what they intended to actually do in the context of the story. Most people just couldn’t be bothered with all that precised work.
    When in fact they are missing out. Its a lot cheaper & more social able.

  2. #3 Adam says:

    Ultimately rules exist as a medium to support the game, in the end, so what if you did movement rules wrong? Often time such mishaps can unfortunately break atmosphere, hurting the experience due to retcons, but going on the fly is what tabletop games hold over computer games, it doesn’t break when you break the rules, there aren’t any. That’s the real charm.

    The learning curve is much reliant on the willingness, eagerness and flexibility of the players on the whole.

  3. #2 1d30 says:


    Not every tabletop game involves players vs other players. That was what I thought as first blush.

    But really, your point makes sense if you say that the players and the referee are in competition. I don’t referee that way, and I actually try very hard to NOT plan based on what I know of the PCs. I plan based on what that particular creature knows of them.

    But if the referee uses his knowledge of the PCs and players’ tactics to influence the tactics and preparations of the enemy he controls, then there is that human-intelligence adaptation.

    I suspect the learning curve of a video game is mitigated by a good tutorial and user interface, and these are common. But that people assume a tabletop game in a book will have a poor user interface and tutorial (especially since that tutorial is delivered by a human rather than a machine presenting a polished, perfect package). And even if the book has an excellent interface (layout, typeface, etc) it’s still more difficult to learn from the book than from a video game. Video games are like movies or books-on-tape when it comes to ease of use.

  4. #1 Svafa says:

    I think another aspect of the learning curve between the two has to do with the opposition.

    As a general rule, tabletop games pit the player against other players while computer games pit the player against the environment. This isn’t always true and there are some notable exceptions, but in general I think we can agree that it is.

    Even in large, multiplayer video games, like MMOs and even some FPS games, a lot of the competition is against the computer itself (the environment) and not the other players directly. This tends to make the learning curve easier as the opposition is consistent and thus predictable. It might be difficult at first, but a few times through and you start to understand the AI and how the game works.

    In most tabletop games this isn’t the case. As the competition is directly against other players, they are able to adapt and change strategies from play to play – something even the best computer AI is barely able to mimic. The learning curve for games like this is much more difficult due to the adaptive ability of the opposition.

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