Table-Top Role Playing at Isle of Games


The front of the store.

Years ago my mom had taken me to the Isle of Games, a games store selling board and tabletop games on E Broadway Boulevard. We were there for a game night when they host specific games in the back of the store. While a bit shy, I mustered up the courage to join in and ended up learning how to play Dungeons and Dragons, a tabletop role-playing game (TTRPG) where you create your very own character and go on quest throughout a fantasy world with others. I found it really fun, the employees and other customers were friendly, and didn’t mind at all that I didn’t know how to play the game at first. They taught me the ropes and guiding me along. I had a great time and was happy to have participated in this fun event. 

Now, years later, I have returned to the Isle of Games in the hopes of finding a way to enjoy my evenings with the company of others who enjoy tabletop games. Specifically I went to “Board Games with Drew”, an event on Tuesdays where they teach you how to play multiple games from an ever changing selection of new, and old games across many genres.

I made my way through the aisles of games, which were brimming with a vast array of strategy, role-playing, trading card, puzzle, area control, war games, and many others. There were also dice, guide books, and minifigures for some of the games, as well as paint for the minifigures. The minifigures being small paintable characters used in tabletop games that provide physical, and customizable set pieces to enhance immersion in the game. Shelves upon shelves displayed these various games and accessories just waiting to be played by the gamers of Tucson like me! 

Sections of the store filled with games, and a shelf full of minifigures.

As I made my way to the back of the store I was met with a stark contrast between the shelves overflowing with games in the front with the openness of the back. While still lined with games on the walls, the back of the store, designated for playing games, was spacious and comfortably filled with wooden tables eagerly awaiting their players. There I was met with friendly greetings, and open arms by the game hosts, and the other participants. As I went to one of the tables I easily fell into lively discussion about new and upcoming games, as well as the new intricately painted “GodTear” minifigures (purchased at the store) of one of my fellow participants. From there we were offered water and soda, helped our host unpack a game I’d never seen before, and were whisked away into our new stories, and fantasies by our ardent host as we began to play. 

Mountaineering in the Urban Tucson

That night we played “Mountaineers.” In this game the board actually turned out to be a rotating 3-dimensional mountain, much to the surprise and delight of our group. Within our miniature Mt. Everest there were innumerable holes, and on the table before us were dozens of pegs, and our mountaineers. The mountaineers being small characters that slotted into the holes, and cards that gave us special abilities such as lowering the cost of movement in certain terrain. The objective was simple: climb the mountain and, in doing so, trace your path with your pegs. We also had to manage our stamina, since movement consumed our limited food supply, and obtain traveling upgrades that allowed for extra movement across certain terrains. In order to win we needed to complete various personal objectives (each with their own point count) across the mountain before running out of space. Such objectives included blocking other players paths, crossing multiple waterfalls, traversing forest terrain on each side of the mountain, and taking trails up the mountain.

Another section of the store, and the board for "Mountaineers".

As we began I Immediately made it my goal to cut off the closest player, while also struggling to cross the different forest, and plain terrains on each side of the mountain before being cut off myself, in order to complete my objectives to do so. As the other players skyrocketed towards the top, completing their objectives along the way, we quickly realized that our vast mountain had become terribly small. As we each made our desperate attempts to climb our five player leaderboard, it was quickly found that we were out of space, and out of time. In the end we counted up our points, with each player seeming to one-up the last until the winner was decided with 27 points. I may not have won, but hey, I’ll take my 23 point second place. 

Building Skill Trees for “Too Many Bones”

On another one of my visits we learned how to play “Too Many Bones” a cooperative, dice building, fantasy role-playing game. Our host expertly guided us through this somewhat complex game. He concisely elaborated on all the functions of our various highly detailed character specific mats and unique dice. He then clearly explained our character sheets, the games collectable items, and the functions of the various cards and high-grade poker chips.

From there we went on an action-packed adventure as we fended off waves of monsters featuring dozens of onerous skills and mechanics. Skills such as poison, which dealt a hefty amount of damage every round (usually to multiple players), flight which made enemies untargetable every other round, and hardy which reduced the damage an enemy could take per attack to 1, no matter what you hit them with. Through the coordinated annihilation of the monsters, and witty remarks about how all of our problems were the defender characters fault, we persevered into the final rounds. We had now built up our characters skill trees until we had become a nearly infallible team of superheroes ready to take on any threat that came our way. 

The set up, and boomer character mat for "Too Many Bones".

Throughout this adventure I played a character named Boomer whose skill set revolved around throwing grenades. So I made sure to have all my bombs in hand when we made it to the final boss Mulmesh, who could attack twice, and would retreat to regain all his health if he survived the round with less than 3 health. As we wrestled through our final fight I was intoxicated by the idea of nuking the entire board, taking out all the remaining monsters, Mulmesh, and my own teammates! But, just as I was getting ready to unleash the literally game ending calamity that was my entire arsenal, I was taken out by the agonizing blight of poison damage. In the wake of my death our entire team was nearly wiped from the board in the following rounds. Thankfully, my barely surviving teammates were able to kill Mulmesh by the skin of their teeth, and by (ironically) the blessing of poison damage.

Until Next Time

At the end we joked about the cursed blessing that was poison damage, reflected on ways we could have stayed alive, and skills we should have invested in, before realizing that the store was closing. Despite the game having run late it was well worth it, as I had learned new games unlike any I had played before, and had done so in the company of wonderful companions who, like me, enjoy a good board game. So we cleaned up, thanked each other for the marvelous evening, and bid farewell until the next game night we saw each other at, within this wondrous Isle of Games.


Andrew Romanak is an undergraduate at the University of Arizona majoring in Creative Writing who still has a lot more to learn.