FAU sees rise in tabletop gaming despite video games’ popularity

During a time of video games and virtual reality, some students are stepping back to play Dungeons and Dragons.


Pen and Paper Life President Phil Matadeen, 25, ponders his next move while playing Magic. Alexander Rodriguez | Photo Editor

Thomas Chiles, Features Editor

If you peek into Room 210 of the College of Business on Thursday evenings, you may see a group of students sitting around a large sheet of grid paper littered with multi-sided dice.

But at that moment, they don’t consider themselves students.

They are soulcasters, warriors, and gunslingers, momentarily absorbed in the fantasy world of Dungeons and Dragons. They are also members of one of the newest clubs at FAU.

Pen and Paper Life is a club for students who meet once a week to play Dungeons and Dragons (DnD) along with other tabletop games. They recently held their third official meeting of the semester.

Tabletop gaming has grown into a billion dollar industry and millennials are one of the biggest driving forces behind the continually growing market. So why are they buying board games more than ever?

Multi-sided dice on top of gridded paper used for Dungeons and Dragons. Alexander Rodriguez | Photo Editor

The Themes

Visited by some Pen and Paper Life members, Docking Bay 94 Comics and Games in Coconut Creek is one of the closest spots to FAU for those interested in tabletop games.

“Probably about 50 percent of the customer base are college students,” Logan Brezenoff said, a Docking Bay 94 employee. “We actually have a lot of people who go to FAU and Palm Beach State who buy board games, buy Magic cards, and have started groups there.”

Brezenoff, 31, has worked at Docking Bay 94 for six years now, and was able to offer one explanation as to why college-aged consumers might be attracted to these games.

“Theme is a huge part of it,” Brezenoff said. “So you got stuff like Conan the Barbarian, The Expanse, Firefly, all these favorite TV shows that people love. And then they see board game versions and they want to do that.”

A large number of tabletop games are based around franchises that consumers are already familiar with, meaning that buyers feel invested in the game before they even know how to play.

When “Stranger Things” premiered on Netflix in summer of 2016, scenes of the main characters playing Dungeons and Dragons inspired many fans of the show to follow suit.

“After that we had probably a 200 percent increase in DnD sales,” Brezenoff said. [“Stranger Things”] was a huge endorsement to DnD.”

Inside, Docking Bay 94 is filled with neat rows of tables for gamers to spread boards and cards across. The walls are lined with shelves of plastic-sheathed comic books. In the back left corner stands a case with a glass display, stacked with various tabletop and card games that are available to play for free.

“On Saturday, when we got somebody that wants to get into it but don’t really know how, we teach them,” Brezenoff said. “Then they bring it to their friends, or bring their friends here, and it grows off that. Here at this store we are very community and neighborhood friendly.”

If you’re interested in getting into Dungeons and Dragons, don’t worry about a steep entry price. The DnD starter kit runs just $19.99.

“You can buy just that and have everything you need for a campaign,” Brezenoff said. “Players then build off of that by buying these grid sheets that they lay out and make their own dungeons. They use figures to represent bosses and characters.”

Celeste Reardon, 23, usually operates as the Dungeon Master during the Pen and Paper Life meetings. Alexander Rodriguez | Photo Editor

In a DnD group, the game is controlled by one all-powerful person, the Dungeon Master (DM). The DM is responsible for creating the fantasy world and weaving the narrative that players attempt to guide their created characters through.

“The Dungeon Master literally makes his own dungeon,” Brezenoff explained. “Where the hallways are, the corridors, the rooms, the bosses. He chooses what level everybody starts at, how they level up, and there’s instructions on how to do that in every starter kit.”

When the DM does create a character to control, it is usually an evil boss or overlord whose main purpose is to combat the players.

“DnD in general is a big imagination game,” Brezenoff said. “You’re saying stuff like ‘A goblin popped out from behind a treasure chest and attacked you for two damage’. And that’s part of the game that [the DM] wrote in themselves.”

The Freedom

At the Pen and Paper Life’s official meeting on campus, a DnD campaign with four players and a DM was underway.

Vice President of the club Celeste Reardon, 23, is a psychology graduate student and serves as the Dungeon Master at the club meetings.

“Usually I’m the one running the world and setting up the bad guys,” Reardon said. “My enjoyment mainly comes from being able to build a custom world and have these guys to help me populate it and allow me to encounter new situations I may not expect.”

Planning a DnD campaign can be time-consuming, which is why the club takes a week long break in between sessions. Sessions can be saved and returned to each week, meaning one campaign could last for months, or potentially even years.

The more the DM is able to plan out the world, the better the experience is for the players.

“Tabletop takes a lot of time especially when you’re DM’ing because I have to make sure I know everything that these guys can do,” Reardon said. “I have to try and predict their actions, which I have gotten quite good at.”

Almost everyone who plays DnD can agree that one of the most appealing factors of the game is its freedom.

“In DnD the core tenant is freedom,” Reardon explained. “It is a poor DM that will restrict their players and railroad them and say, ‘You have to take these actions.’”

A stack of Magic: The Gathering cards. Alexander Rodriguez | Photo Editor

Club President Phil Matadeen, 25, already has a psychology degree but is currently pursuing a second bachelor’s in biochemistry. DnD’s “core tenant” of freedom is what attracted him to the game as well.

“You know in video games you eventually hit that barrier where you can’t move past where they haven’t animated? There’s none of that,” Matadeen said. “You can do anything in DnD.”

Junior mechanical engineering major Bryan Bautista, 20, is a player in the current DnD campaign led by Reardon.

“When I play my characters, it’s the sense that I’m not me anymore. I am the character being played,” Bautista said. “And that’s the big thing that I like about these types of games. The ability to just go on ahead and NOT be yourself.”

(From left to right) Jacob Adams, 20, Hossep Yenikomshian, 21, and Jordan Riggs, 20, play Magic: The Gathering outside The Burrow Bar and Grill on FAU’s Boca campus. Thomas Chiles | Features Editor

The Social Aspect

Most students walk right past the few tables in the Student Union that line the wall outside The Burrow Bar and Grill on campus, but to some it’s known as “The Magic Corner”.

You will most likely find students there playing the popular tabletop card game “Magic: The Gathering.” It’s also a spot where members of Pen and Paper Life hang out when the weekly meeting is not in session.

“It’s a designated place where we all play Magic or DnD, we just meet here and play when we have free time,” physics junior Grant Morris, 18, said.

Morris has been playing Magic since about 2014, but you don’t have to be as experienced to be accepted at “The Magic Corner.”

Sophomore mechanical engineering major Jacob Adams, 20, hasn’t been playing Magic for very long at all. He doesn’t even own a deck yet. But one thing that attracted him to “The Magic Corner” was the face-to-face interaction that playing a game like Magic demands.

“There’s the social aspect of it,” Adams said. “I don’t play Magic that much but I came here and all of them were just very nice. These guys usually have a couple decks and they are nice enough to lend one out.”

In short, playing tabletop games gives students the opportunity to make friends and discover a sense of freedom that video games may not be able to offer.

Adams said, “Sometimes you’ve been in your house forever and you just want to get out and come to a good, wholesome community.”

Thomas Chiles is the features editor of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @thomas_iv.