When I first started playing around with Tabletop Simulator, I had the bizarre and jarring experience of remembering the Ouya. Now, before you run screaming with your head in your hands, let me be clear: in this specific instance that’s actually a compliment. While the Ouya was (continues to be, actually) a very flawed console, it had one notable strength, around which a sort of stealth launch campaign was conducted. You see, while the Ouya was sorely lacking in its own exclusives, it was a fantastic platform for emulating every console game you fondly remember from your youth.
Tabletop Simulator is less a game than a platform. While the base package is fairly sparse, with a handful of popular board games, cards, and miniatures, the real draw of Tabletop Simulator is the incredible universe of content players have (re)created in the Steam workshop.
I admit I was surprised, skimming through page after page of exquisitely modeled copyrighted games, that Tabletop Simulator is allowed to exist. The depth here is staggering: Warhammer 40K, Warmachine, the X-Wing miniatures game, Risk (in a variety of flavors), Axis and Allies, Magic the Gathering, even other video card games like Hearthstone, all available for a click and a quick download.
Obviously, this is a legal grey area at best. But if you’re looking for a library of board, RPG, and card games to quickly and easily simulate on your PC, Tabletop Simulator has them in spectacular variety. And for the most part it all looks lovely, especially the developer created content and the top rated workshop games. Miniatures are sculpted in intense detail and can even animate when they’re handled, so the dragons and ogres from the vanilla content come to life in your virtual hands when you pick them up and move them around your table. And the sounds, from the shuffling rustle of a deck to the clatter of dice on a wooden tabletop, make for a tactile and satisfying experience.
Unfortunately, the mechanical side of Tabletop Simulator can be a little stiff. Drawing cards from a deck, guiding the camera around the table, grabbing and moving game pieces all feel a little sluggish and even onerous at times. You want it to be crisp and responsive, fluid in the way that playing around with board game pieces is in real life is, but instead you sometimes feel like you’re fighting the game to get pieces exactly where you want them.
That’s a fairly minor complaint though, and one that’s easily forgotten when you consider all the things that Tabletop Simulator can do that real board games can’t. You can save your game at any time and return to the exact state where you left your board, and instantly store and recall game pieces from your toy chest. And if you’re feeling saucy, you can flip the table at any time and send all your precious pieces crashing to the ground, without no worry of alarming the neighbors or smashing up your furniture.
While I first thought of the Ouya, a better analog for Tabletop Simulator is LittleBigPlanet, where the vanilla product was forgettable but the rich diversity of user-created content kept the game fresh and fun. Assuming the quasi-legal nature of some of the material doesn’t turn you away, Tabletop Simulator is a fantastic toolbox and an easy recommend.
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