Buying a Board Game Table

 
by Stephen Venters
Board Game Table

Thinking about buying a board game table? Of course you are! A custom board game table is awesome! This style of table is ideal for gamers who want a custom gaming surface, but also need a dining table. My wife and I were backers of one of the first gaming table KickStarters back in 2016 and thoroughly enjoy having it.

In the last few years there has been a huge market increase for board game tables and similar furniture products. There are so many options now that it's hard to navigate if you don't know much about them. Hopefully, this article helps shed some light on what to look for as well as what to avoid and how much a gaming table will cost you.

Why Buy Gaming Table?

A lot of people who want a gaming table will also want to use it as a dining table when it's not being used for gaming. This is a great option when you only have space for one table, like we did in our small, NYC apartment. It's also great for when you want to leave your game set up for long periods of time. The dual functionality of the table is achieved by having some sort of removable topper (discussed below).

Our table is The Duchess by BoardGameTables.com and we KickStarted it in 2016 for $800. The campaign was a total fiasco and it took them a full 2 YEARS before we received ours (this was before COVID made 2 years seem reasonable), but the table is solid and we like it. They have since refined their product and now sell it as The Jasper for about the same price.

But there are lot of other options out there now. So, let's talk about what you'll need to know to make the right decision for you.

Buying Furniture

Table Size

First, remember that you are buying a piece of furniture, a large piece of furniture at that, so all of the furniture buying advice goes here. As with buying any piece furniture, you must always consider your budget, the size of the space where the table will go, your tastes in furniture styles, and the quality of the construction. Of course, these aspects are interdependent. For reference, the least expensive table on the market is about $900 and the most expensive one is well over $6,000.

Of course, you want a large surface area for gaming, but the table itself must fit in the space you have available. In general, you're going to want 36-inches (91cm) on each side of the table to allow for people to sit and walk around it at the same time. This will help you determine how big of a table you can fit in your space. This includes any other furniture surrounding the table. In this example, a 72-inch long table needs 12-feet of room space to allow for people to comfortably get around it while others are sitting in the chairs.

Another consideration is the materials used. A light weight, inexpensive wood isn't going to hold up very long in a high-traffic area of your house such as a breakfast nook. People bumping into the table will weaken its joints if the table isn't constructed well. This also applies to the finish. Plates and forks will scratch up a soft, but beautiful finish. A less-than bulletproof varnish will allow spilled liquids to seep into the wood and will wear off over time after multiple cleanings with 409.

Further, if you don't have you're own already, you'll also need chairs which aren't included in cost of the table. New dining chairs can cost anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to a couple of thousand dollars apiece. Again, you'll need to consider your budget, style preferences, and quality. While some table makers sell matching chairs, most do not.

A Gaming Table vs. A Dining Table

Understanding the difference between a typical dining table and a convertible gaming table is important when considering a board game table with a top. The standard table height is between 29-inches (73.5cm) and 30-inches (76cm) from the ground to table top surface. Informal dining tables, such as a breakfast table, are closer to 29-inches while formal dining tables are closer to 30-inches. Likely, you are used to eating off a surface 29-inches from the floor using chairs with a seat height appropriate to that.

However, because a board game table must account for the recessed gaming surface, support aprons, and a removable top, it is going to have a surface height higher than normal. Usually, their dining surfaces are going to be 31-inches (79cm) to 32-inches (81cm) off the floor. This means that your eating surface is going to feel a little higher than you expect, especially if you are using chairs that fit a 29-inches dining surface.

None of this is a deal breaker for buying a table, but it's important to know. Our table's surface is 31" off the floor and we hardly notice it because we bought chairs with seat heights of 18-inches (47.5cm) to account for it.

The Topper

Table Size

The main reason people buy a board gaming table is that it's convertible between a gaming table and a dining table by simply putting a top over the gaming area. There are a couple of things to consider when buying a topper table because not having a good, functional topper defeats the purpose of a board game table.

First and foremost, can you get the top on and off? Our table came with a 2-part top which each side being about 6-feet (183cm) by 2-feet (61cm) and weighing about 45 pounds (20kg). I'm a 6-foot guy and I can barely get them off by myself. They now make 3-part tops (or more) that will be lighter and easier to do by yourself.

Another major point to consider is: does the top have some sort of feature to stop liquids from seeping through the seams onto the game surface below? A spilled glass of red wine dripping through the top will ruin anything on the game surface below it: cardboard parts, cards, or the neoprene mat. Our topper has an ingenious trough that catches any spilled liquids, but it also collects crumbs and must be cleaned out regularly.

Also, what keeps the tops in place? Are there catches? Or is it friction (meaning they can slide around)? Ideally, you want something that keeps them firmly in place because if you bump your table with your hip, you don't want your tops sliding around.

Finally, is the wood a solid hardwood? You are going to bump your tops on stuff as you take them on and off and put them away. If they are made of a softer wood such as pine or similar, then then those bumps are going result in unsightly dings.

Other Common Features

Aside from the top, there are other features you should consider and decide if they are worth your money.

  • Gaming Surface - Some tables only offer matching wood, which is perfectly fine. Others offer a glued fabric similar to what you'd see on a poker table. Personally, I prefer a neoprene mat surface. It's slight give makes picking up cards off it very easy. Also, it has a bit more friction than finished wood, so game components don't slide around. If your table doesn't come with a neoprene mat, don't fret, you can buy an aftermarket one at places such as Big Viking Mats. There are also some tables that come with a white-board type of surface that can be drawn on and wiped off.
  • Cup Holders
  • Cup Holders - Nobody wants to watch an elbow knock a drink onto the gaming surface! Thus, many table companies offer cup holders as an option. Some slide in and out, some rotate around, some are removable, some are wine glass compatible. We splurged and bought the cup holders with our table. After trying them for a bit, we found we hated them and permanently removed them. Why? First, they stick out from the table making them hip-magnates as people shuffled around the table. Bumping them either caused the drink to slosh and spill or would nearly break the holder right off the table. Second, when using the table for dining (80% of it's usage), the holders were pointless and in the way. Now we just keep our drinks on the armrest rail and be careful. Or, we slide barstools beside the table and use them for drinks and plates. You may feel you want to the coolness factor of cup holders, but personally, I think they are borderline unusable and a waste of money.
  • Drawers / Cabinets - Some of the fancier tables offer dice drawers or component cabinets for players to store things in. Think of these like a jacuzzi tub in the master bath. When shopping for a house and you see a jacuzzi tub in the master bath you're immediate thought is, "That is so cool! I'll use it all the time!" But in reality, you will use it once a year at most. Unless you are planning on keeping games set up long-term (such as Gloomhaven), most of the time you want your components out on the playing surface. If money isn't an issue for you, by all means, upgrade to drawers and cabinets. Otherwise, have a clear vision of how you'd use them before spending the extra money on them.
  • LED Lights
  • Lights - Some tables now come with LED light strips built into them which gives your table a powerful look. Realize, however, that they won't illuminate your game enough to play by; you will still need a solid, overhead light source. Also, you'll likely need to run a power cord between your table and an outlet and since tables are usually meant to be in the middle of the room, there will be a tripping hazard somewhere along the way. Again, I don't find the lighting systems worth the extra cost, but I'm a function-over-form kind of guy.
  • Lift Mechanism - Wyrmwood's table The Prophecy has a hand cranked lift system that raises the recessed gaming surface to be flush with the armrest rail. It is an extraordinarily fancy and extremely cool feature but, starting at $5,000, is also very expensive.
Hand Crank

Optional Accessories

Of course, then there are accessories that aren't part of the table, per se, but are often included to get the full gaming experience. I'm not going to give an exhaustive list of possible accessories, but I'll touch on the most common ones.

  • Chairs - Unlike dining sets at your local furniture store, gaming tables do not come with chairs. So you'll need your own if you don't already have some. Some manufacturers do offer matching chairs and that's a great option. We bought chairs at a furniture store separately. When deciding on chair style, it is important to realize that chairs with arm rests will not slide in underneath your table. Thus, I recommend armless chairs unless you have plenty of space around your table. Also, as mentioned above, consider the dining surface height when choosing chairs so they don't feel too short.
  • Card Holders - These are convenient additions if you play a lot of games with cards. They are either built into the armrest or are separate objects. They have a thin grove in them that allow you to slide cards into it so they stand up. They are very useful for reducing your game's footprint on the gaming surface. However, the problem with them is they don't keep hand secret; your cards are simply leaning there for all to see. Someone sitting near you or walking behind you will have easy access to see them.
  • Dice Trays / Component Dishes - These are cups for you to hold your dice, resources or other bits. I like them because they keep your stuff sorted and in one place. They are either on the armrest rail or sometimes detachable and hang on the side. For role-players or heavy Euro gamers, these are a very useful feature. That said, inexpensive plastic dishes work really well, too.

Table Manufacturers

Given our poor experience with KickStarting a table, I would never do it again. But, luckily, you don't need to. There are plenty of manufacturers now where you can just order them. You can find a full, updated list of current table manufacturers at BoardGameGeek. Here the ones I'm personally familiar with:

  • Wyrmwood - These guys manufacture the creme de la creme of wooden gaming accessories. They also make the finest gaming tables with the coolest features. As such, they also make the most expensive gaming accessories and tables out there. Expect to pay several thousand dollars for one of their tables.
  • BoardGameTables.com - Despite their inability to Kickstart themselves efficiently, they now produce a solid line of tables at a reasonable cost.

Also, don't hesitate to ask for special customizations. While some manufacturers work off a template and won't do anything special, others do one-off tables and can accommodate minor variations.

Shipping Costs

Once you get over the sticker shock of the table itself, be prepared for high shipping costs, too. It isn't going to be like your local furniture store that will drop it off from their local warehouse and set it up for you. Your board gaming table is going to be shipped from somewhere via UPS freight or something like that. I paid $60 for shipping for mine which seems like a steal now that COVID has drastically inflated shipping costs. Expect to pay a lot for shipping on top of the cost of the table.

Further, most tables are solid wood and are shipped in several big packages. These boxes are going to be very heavy, possibly over 100 pounds (45kg). You might want to require a signature, too, so the shipper doesn't leave the box on the curb. If its damaged, then you're going to have trouble with a claim. I have an inexpensive hand-truck I used to move the boxes into our home.

Do You Actually Need a Board Game Specific Table?

I like to bring this up because considering this could save you a lot of money. Ask yourself this question: do I really need a table where I want to have a game setup on AND eat on the table at the same time? We use our gaming table as our breakfast table in our kitchen and we eat on it a lot. When we played the three Pandemic Legacy games, we left them set up for weeks on end. Thus, having the gaming table was right for us.

However, if you have a gaming "cave" where the table was only going to be used for gaming, you might not need to buy a gaming specific table with a topper. Instead, a large, second-hand dining table and a custom cut neoprene mat would fit your needs nicely and would be a lot less expensive. In fact, we got a hand-me-down dining table for free that seats 12(!). I bought two custom-cut neoprene mats for it from Big Viking Mats which allows us to have two 5-player games being played on it at once.

The point is, if you don't really need the dual-functionality of dining and playing at the same time, then finding a large, second-hand dining table (often including chairs) could save you a lot of money while giving you the gaming surface you need. Of course, it won't have the coolness factor of a gaming surface that is raised and lowered by a hand-crank, but most gaming tables don't have that either.

Buying Just a Topper

On a related point, there is a relatively new market now out there for just toppers that sit on top of a normal table. They are basically the top of a typical gaming table and come will many of the same accessories that those tables come with (mats, trays, dining covers, etc...). Some even have legs as optional accessories making them technically gaming tables themselves, but with the ability to be stored much easily when the legs are removed.

Because they aren't full tables, they cost much less than full tables making them much more affordable. Basic ones run anywhere from $400 to $800 depending on their size. They are also a great option if you already have a table that you're not looking to replace, but you still want the topper mechanism. Game Toppers LLC completed their Kickstarter in December of 2021 and made over $800,000 for their initial product line.

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