The Civilized Guide to Tabletop Gaming: Rules Every Gamer Must Live By
Written by Teri Litorco and published by Adams Media, 2016
Does the gaming community need its own Miss Manners? While I’m not sure – I think there’s a reasonable argument to be made that manners are manners, and a generic guide is therefore sufficient – I suspect most gamers have run into someone who they were convinced would benefit from a lesson. So at a minimum, it seems a reasonable goal to strive for – leaving the real question of how good The Civilized Guide to Tabletop Gaming is at doing the job.
The book is divided into eleven chapters, focused on subjects such as friendly local game stores, gamer social skills, hosting a game night, attending conventions, and proselytizing games. Most chapters are brief; while not really set up as a reference guide, the book could certainly be used that way.
But while the chapters are reasonably clear, the organization of each chapter is – sometimes a little haphazard. The chapter on friendly local game stores, for example, covers such reasonable topics as finding the right store, types of games, and buying from your store. But it also includes a section on understanding game mechanisms (annoyingly, at least to me, referred to as mechanics), both too brief – covering a fairly random subset of common game mechanisms – and oddly placed. I can understand having a chapter focused on the variety of games; inserting such sections into this chapter felt an odd choice.
The chapter on learning and teaching games is well done, overall. The only thing missing, in my opinion, is discussion of tuning one’s teaching techniques to the group. I play in a group that is happy to sit down and learn a game live from the rules – fortunate for me, as it’s my favorite way to learn a game. But for many this is a lousy way to learn a game. The method suggested in the chapter of slowly stepping up the rules is a fine one for many groups – but I’ve met some folks who would hate learning of a rule a turn or two in.
The chapters on gaming groups are quite good – though with a bit of a lean towards the author’s preference towards miniature games. The chapter on hosting suggests a particular approach towards food and gaming – when I find that different hosts apply wildly different standards, from anything-goes to having food and games in completely separate rooms. The same chapter also advocates for a fairly strict sleeving-and-bagging strategy, which while right for many is an anathema for others.
The advice given for conventions is all very good – at least for the types of conventions advocated. There’s not really much attention given to the type of smaller conventions I prefer, but most of the advice still applies. And the suggestions for helping introduce others to gaming are quite reasonable – if sometimes narrowly focused, again showing some of the inclinations of the author.
Overall, The Civilized Guide to Tabletop Gaming does what it sets out to do – with, for me, one exception. At various points – but most prevalently in the chapter on social skills – the author resorts to foul language. Which, in a manners book, just didn’t work for me. It took away from the message of being socially cognizant – while such language is not inappropriate in all gaming situations, in many it is. And, worse, it really wasn’t necessary – the same point could have been made just as easily with different words. In fact, the author even made the point of explaining such an alternate word. Now, I’ll readily admit to being old-fashioned in this regard, so perhaps this won’t be an issue for most.
Overall, I would tend towards recommending a general book on manners in preference to this in most cases. But I can picture it having a place for someone who would not otherwise be willing to consider reading such a book, for whom the tie to gaming – and the gaming-specific information – would be a draw.