From tabletop to online gaming, fans love the experiences each has to offer


Warhammer fuelled Azlan’s love for fantasy and science fiction, even though it remained somewhat out of reach for a long while. — MOHAMAD AZLAN

In a time where screens often steal the spotlight, there’s a tribe of gamers who appreciate the charm of navigating two very different universes: digital and analogue.

These are the folks who find just as much joy swapping their console controllers for board games as they do battling virtual foes.

It’s a delightful dance between the pixelated and the tangible, where the camaraderie is as important as the gameplay.

In this fascinating dual-gaming landscape, versatile gamers are able to reap a bundle of benefits. The transition offers them a diverse gaming experience, where one moment they might be commanding armies in epic digital battles and the next, strategising over a tabletop world map.

It’s a journey that hones their tactical and strategic thinking, much like how chess masters refine their moves, but with the added allure of fantasy worlds and intergalactic conflict.

On the cards

Mohamad Azlan, a proud family caretaker of his parents and a full-time dad from Petaling Jaya, embarked on his gaming journey at an early age. Growing up in a traditional Asian family, Azlan’s gaming adventures began in Ottawa, Canada, where his diplomat father was based for four years.

“Coming from a traditional Asian family, however, I had limited access to gaming,” says the 37-year-old. “My parents were never lavish. They came from humble beginnings, and things were always kept strict and tight at home. Still, fortunately, I had a chance to experience the fun of gaming to a certain extent throughout my early life when we lived in Canada.”

His gaming odyssey commenced with popular board games like Monopoly, Sorry and Battlefield. However, it was the enchanting world of PC gaming, particularly Diablo, that truly captured his heart in the 1990s.

Diablo’s gameplay, the virtual and social interaction, lore, artwork and everything about its fantasy setting really sucked me in,” Azlan says.

“It was my first action role-playing game experience, and I got totally hooked during my primary school days. To be honest, Diablo was one of the best gaming experiences I ever had in my life.”

Azlan acknowledges that tabletop games can be intimidating for some due to the need to master rules and mechanics, but he values the experience they offer. — MOHAMAD AZLANAzlan acknowledges that tabletop games can be intimidating for some due to the need to master rules and mechanics, but he values the experience they offer. — MOHAMAD AZLAN

Meanwhile, Azlan’s early tabletop experiences, such as Warhammer and Magic The Gathering, fuelled his love for fantasy and science fiction, even though they remained somewhat out of reach for a long while.

Magic The Gathering was becoming very popular when I was growing up. But, like Warhammer, I wasn’t able to afford to have them as a hobby. Nonetheless, these games that were out of reach had a lasting impact on me,” he says.

As a teenager, Azlan found solace and community at the Wolf Game Shop (initially called Pendal Haven) in Amcorp Mall, Petaling Jaya, where he experienced his first Dungeons & Dragons campaign.

“The Wolf Game Shop became a sanctuary for me, where I would meet a lot of other gamers. Although I rarely played games consistently, I liked hanging out there.

“Somehow, (shopowner Francis) Wolf was able to create a cool culture amongst gamers who were very enthusiastic about the games and had mutual respect for each other regardless of age, background, or gender.

“It was one of the first hobby shops to have female customers, too, which was considered rare back then!” he says.

Board games provided the opportunity for offline enjoyment, a welcome break from screens, and a chance to bond with friends face-to-face.

“Tabletop gaming tends to bring people together as compared to PC gaming or online gaming, where social engagement is limited within the game. Unless, of course, you play within your own social circle, in which case you may be able to socialise a little more,” he says.

Azlan acknowledges that tabletop games can be intimidating for some due to the need to master rules and mechanics, but he values the experience they offer.

“With PC or console gaming, the graphics and systems are much more intuitive, so it’s easy for people to pick up.

“You have both visual and audio cues to guide you, and this makes understanding a lot easier. But both are fun in their own ways. Due to my short attention span, I tend to get intimidated by formulas or wall-of-text rules unless I’m really psyched about a game.

“I ended up dropping Magic The Gathering, for instance, because I started getting left behind because there were so many deck-building tactics. It was too overwhelming for me.

“I’m not a very competitive person. I enjoy the experience more than trying to win,” Azlan says, adding that he has found immense joy in playing Settlers Of Catan, a multiplayer board game known for its simple rules and exciting trade and barter mechanics.

These days, the father of five faces the challenge of finding time to play games, as he is more focused on caring for his family and his young children.

However, he still nurtures his passion for gaming, recently realising a dream of owning a Warhammer 40K Chaos Undivided army. He’s in the process of assembling and painting the massive 3K+ point army, embracing the artistic and therapeutic aspects of this hobby.

Azlan is a firm believer in supporting the games he loves, both digitally and physically. He appreciates in-game cosmetics, bonus paid content and physical merchandise, making thoughtful purchases.

He shares, “I always make sure there’s some value behind it, be it sentimentality or resale value. For example, when Diablo 3 came out, I bought the limited edition. Or when StarCraft 2 came out, I always went for the most content.”

The battle between heaven and hell continues in Diablo 4, the latest chapter in the series with the chief villain Lilith. Hidden within is a gigantic action role-playing game. — Photos: Blizzard/dpaThe battle between heaven and hell continues in Diablo 4, the latest chapter in the series with the chief villain Lilith. Hidden within is a gigantic action role-playing game. — Photos: Blizzard/dpa

Which is Azlan’s preference when it comes to gaming?

“I like both, but I stopped online gaming a few years ago. I guess I got burned out. I find most games nowadays rather lacklustre in providing truly new and immersive experiences.

“Back in the day, I would spend anywhere between four and six hours of online gaming, depending on my schedule. But now I barely touch the PC to play games.

“However, tabletop gaming is something I have grown very interested in, I think because it has piqued my imagination and creativity. I find it more appealing as I grow older.

“Having said that, I am still assembling my army and learning the rules and game updates.

“There are plenty of hobby shops around nowadays, so it’s easy to drop by and have a few games now that Warhammer 40K is surging in popularity,” he says.

Blurring boundaries

Fortysomething Ahmad Farith Ismail, an area manager for a manufacturing company, began his gaming journey playing Monopoly and Scrabble with his parents at age seven.

For Ahmad, it is very satisfying to be able to showcase his miniatures during games. — Ahmad Farith IsmailFor Ahmad, it is very satisfying to be able to showcase his miniatures during games. — Ahmad Farith Ismail

His early introduction to video games came with the original Nintendo Entertainment System a couple of years later.

While in high school, Ahmad was introduced to trading and collectible card games and tabletop wargaming, but it wasn’t until he started working at the age of 22 that he truly delved into both realms. Life happened, and everything was put on hold until now.

“After a long hiatus from gaming for about 10 years, I have only recently restarted playing trading card games and board games whenever I can,” Ahmad explains.

“Tabletop wargaming is a little harder, as you usually need to spend at least two to four hours per game, and that’s hard due to family commitments.

“I am, however, still collecting miniatures and painting them in the event that I do find the time to play someday!”

Ahmad’s more recent fascination with tabletop wargaming, particularly Bolt Action by Warlord Games, is driven by the unique skills it demands.

He emphasises the importance of tactical thinking, strategic planning and resource management, skills that may not be as prominently featured in video games.

“When you play tabletop wargames, as a player and commander of your army, all the decisions are yours to make,” Ahmad notes.

“Do you make the tactical move to flank your opponents, or do you have an overlying strategy for the game?

“What’s more is that each time you play, the layout of the table can be different, each dice roll can end up with different results, and therefore each game is a unique experience. No two games play the same,” he says.

In addition to the strategic aspects, Ahmad highlights the social dimension of tabletop wargaming.

Players often have the freedom to interpret and apply the rules, and finding like-minded individuals who prioritise fun over strict adherence to the rules is crucial. He believes that wargaming is ultimately about having a good time.

Ahmad (standing) feels finding like-minded individuals who prioritise fun over strict adherence to the rules is crucial. — Wolf Game Shop FBAhmad (standing) feels finding like-minded individuals who prioritise fun over strict adherence to the rules is crucial. — Wolf Game Shop FB

Ahmad finds an interesting connection between video games and tabletop wargaming, particularly in the real-time strategy (RTS) and turn-based strategy (TBS) genres.

Games like Company Of Heroes, Dawn Of War, and the Total War series share commonalities with the tabletop games that inspired them.

When it comes to collecting miniatures, Ahmad says it is challenging for three reasons: “There is the monetary aspect... models are not cheap! Then there is time. You have to commit to painting. And finally, space. You have to find somewhere to keep the miniatures in between games!”

However, if you find a way, Ahmad reckons that it is very satisfying to be able to showcase your miniatures during games.

“Compared to digital in-game items, you can physically appreciate your miniatures, and you are not at the mercy of the gambling gods and their loot boxes.

“If it boils down to online or tabletop gaming, I would pick tabletop gaming even if online is more friendly when it comes to timing, as you can set up a quick game anywhere as long as you have an Internet connection.

“Setting up a tabletop gaming appointment with friends is much harder because of family and other commitments; having to physically be somewhere at an appointed time can be quite challenging. Nonetheless, it’s great fun when it happens,” he adds.

From Karateka to Marvel Snap

Peter Tan’s journey into the world of gaming began as a preschooler when his dad gifted him an old computer loaded with MS-DOS and games like Karateka.

Peter’s journey into the world of gaming began as a preschooler when his dad gifted him an old computer loaded with games like Karateka. — PETER TANPeter’s journey into the world of gaming began as a preschooler when his dad gifted him an old computer loaded with games like Karateka. — PETER TAN

“I was only about five years old at that time,” the 38-year-old IT manager from Klang, Selangor, fondly recalls.

Tan’s foray into tabletop gaming came later, during his secondary school days, when Magic The Gathering became the “cool” thing to do with friends. Now happily married with two daughters, Tan has embraced a diverse range of gaming platforms throughout his adventurous gaming journey.

“I never shied away from any type of game. If I had the opportunity and time, I would try it out for sure,” Tan says.

From fast-paced action games like Street Fighter and Tekken to sports games like Fifa and NBA and even slower tactical strategies such as Warcraft and X-Com, Tan has explored the vast landscape of gaming.

While he appreciates the accessibility of digital gaming, particularly for its convenience at home, Tan acknowledges that it can’t replace the unique charm of a tabletop gaming session with friends.

“Tabletop gaming is slower-paced, and us gamers can bond, catch up, and talk about anything at all.

“Plus, the feeling of holding cards or miniatures in your hands is so different from just looking at virtual pieces on a screen,” he says.

According to Tan, tabletop gaming is more laid-back and it's where gamers get to bond, catch up, and chat about anything at all. — PETER TANAccording to Tan, tabletop gaming is more laid-back and it's where gamers get to bond, catch up, and chat about anything at all. — PETER TAN

For Tan, painting miniatures is a hobby in itself, with the joy of seeing “plastic soldiers come to life”.

He firmly believes that collecting physical items surpasses the digital experience, citing the tactile factor and the ability to physically display his merch.

However, the challenge lies in managing space, especially with kids at home.

Due to the logistical challenges of arranging time for tabletop gaming, given the young children at home and the distance from his gaming buddies, Tan finds solace in online gaming during his leisure time and emphasises the importance of quick-filler games for those moments when time is limited.

“Good filler games are just essential for any gamer!” he exclaims.

When asked to choose between online and tabletop gaming, Tan diplomatically states that there’s no “clear winner” for him.

Both bring different kinds of joy, and he hopes to continue enjoying them for as long as he can.

Enthusiasts like Ahmad, Azlan and Tan offer a unique perspective on the gaming world, seamlessly transitioning between the virtual and tangible realms, even with all the challenges of parenthood and their daily lives.

As the world of gaming continues to expand, blurring the lines between screens and tabletops, these gamers remain at the forefront of innovation, proving that there’s a place for both pixels and pieces.

Whether it’s the mastery of tactical warfare on a tabletop or the allure of epic online adventures, their joy of gaming knows no bounds.

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