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A Brief History of the Toronto Area Boardgaming Society

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 31, 2005 7:59 pm Post subject: A Brief History of the Toronto Area Boardgaming Society Reply with quote

A brief history of TABS (and a less brief history of gamers growing up in Toronto)

It's 1980 and in the silly haze that is Junior High, I met and befriended a history buff named David B. While I was heavily into RPGs at that stage, Dave had already ventured deeply into largely unknown territory for me, that of wargaming. Now I had dabbled a bit with 'pushing cardboard' with such lightweights as Star Viking and Demonlord (remember those thin-boxed pocket games that were part of the Dwarfstar line?) and even tried out SPI's classic War of the Ring once or twice, but I could hardly have been called a grognard. Meanwhile, Dave had already dived headlong first into Avalon Hill's Panzer Leader and later the granddaddy of all tactical games, Squad Leader. Around that time another classic was to emerge that would capture our hearts and minds (and our wallets) like little else: Star Fleet Battles. No one quite recalls who was responsible for getting us hooked on this ever-growing monster, but hooked we were from the first small grey rulebook, to the next three expansion kits and ultimately the Commander's Rulebook. Ah, the arguments over rules that ensued. It seemed like those were the golden days of gaming for us, with weekly jaunts downtown to hit our favourites stores such as Mr. Gameway's Ark, The Four Horsemen, Good Stuff Games (later renamed Games A Lot) and The Worldhouse. Most of us who can recall Mr. Gameway's Ark and its cavernous depths full of games will always look back on those memories fondly and still feel a small pang of sadness when that great store, the likes of which has never been seen again in this city, closed its doors forever back in 1984.

The Eighties flowed into the Nineties and though our leisure time for gaming became more erratic our interest in the hobby never waned. Dave got a job working at Games A Lot and thanks to its generous employee discount it was definitely during this period that his game collection grew rapidly and mine too to a lesser extent. I'm one of the few who remember when his collection only occupied a single shelf compared to the gaming trove within his bunker it has grown into today. Though this period is considered by the industry a Dark Age as wargaming sales and title production had plummeted compared to a decade earlier, we still found time to enjoy weekend games ranging from Fasa's Battletech to meatier titles from Victory Games, such as the Fleet Series and Ambush!. Some boardgames from the days when Games Workshop weren't all-consumed with pricey miniature games got a lot of play too such as Warrior Knights, Blood Royale, The Fury of Dracula and of course, that mindless beer-and-pretzels staple, Talisman. The mid-Nineties also saw the closing of the main game distributor in the city, a company called Andromeda. This was the game acquisition event of the decade. No one who made it to that giant going out of business sale will ever forget it, especially when one considers the missed opportunities to pick up some additional gaming gems at less than wholesale prices. I chuckle still at the memory of Dave's wife on the cell phone to him (Dave couldn't make it in person), walking up and down the isles and calling out each gaming product in turn, "Do you need this? Okay. Just one? Okay. Next we have..." Nevertheless, our time got typically taken up with other concerns and the number of regular players in our circle had dwindled considerably.

Whether we liked it or not we were getting older and like so many of the grizzled gamers who regularly bemoaned the lack of interest in our hobby by the younger generation it was starting to become apparent that die and counter gaming as we knew it was dying a slow death and that gaming too seemed to be a thing of the past. We were wrong of course. Gaming was merely transforming and finding a wider appeal in a generation that demanded more of it. In order to compete in the new gaming market you had to be smarter, games faster and slicker. The multitude of collectible games that emerged is a perfect example of that and in recent years many hours were spent working on the perfect deck or pushing around our favourite pieces of clicky-tech. Just as significant has been the emergence of the Eurogame on the hobby. One of the most telling aspects of the success of this facet of the gaming industry is the sheer number of women who now purchase and play these games whereas in the past they largely avoided the military-heavy themes of most North American-developed board games. On the wargaming side things were even more promising. Many new companies have come to the fore in development often providing a more finely tuned and thus playable version of the old titles. This has lead to a real resurgence in the hobby that some say is going through its own Renaissance as these more business savvy companies now take time to listen to its customers and only put out those titles which the industry can sustain. New games continued to appear and for a time our small semi-active gaming circle was content.

In 2001 I attended my first Origins convention down in Columbus, Ohio. The next year Dave went too and its been an annual trip for us since. One thing we discovered there was the presence of a large, well-organized wargaming community under the banner the Columbus Area Boardgaming Society (hereafter known as CABS). They had a solid core of veteran gamers who worked hard to run their club throughout the year and assist in the scheduling and running of many events at Origins. Even more impressive was the fact that here was a dedicated group of gamers who knew how to bring in a regular weekly turnout of fifty or more locals to sit down and play. Toronto's gaming scene meanwhile had by all accounts become quite low key and fairly inactive. Sure, there were the annual conventions, Pandemonium and more recently Orion, but invariably it was the same relatively small crowd of hard core wargamers who would show up at the local cons to play those games, so it was rare to get any new blood that way. From time to time, some of us in our gaming circle of friends would note the dearth of opponents and wondered aloud what we could do about it. And so, on one warm summer night in 2004 a bunch of us were having drinks in the back patio at the Allen's Pub when the discussion turned again to forming some kind of official gaming group. All of us had been to Origins, seen CABS in action and we knew that there was an opportunity here in Toronto to do something similar. It was pretty clear to us that CABS had it going on. What was it about Toronto that didn't seem to sustain the hobby? Is it possible that the gamers are out there, but like us had simply lost touch with their old buddies and figured no one played these games anymore? Could we get the word out somehow and see if there were others looking to meet and game regularly? It was worth a shot.

Well, that shot came to be a few months later on October 27, 2004 when the first website hosting the Toronto Area Boardgaming Society (TABS) was set up on Yahoo!? Groups. The main principle behind our online presence was to provide an easily accessible site whereby boardgamers in the GTA could come together and arrange their own casual gaming sessions. No membership fees, no clubhouse or dues, just a simple email exchange of ideas to facilitate the promotion of our hobby. And to our great and pleasant surprise the idea worked. Just over three months later we had organized and run over twenty events at this past February's Pandemonium XXII (to much acclaim). In less than a year we've signed up over seventy members many of whom now attend our quarterly CondoCons and now we've moved on to a new home for TABS having registered a domain suitable for its long term presence. All of us involved in the managing of TABS have high hopes again for our hobby in this great city and look forward to its future. Now if I could just get my hands on a cheap unpunched copy of Titan I'd be really happy.

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Dave B
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 27, 2005 9:10 pm Post subject: Happy Birthday to TABS!!!! We're 1 Year Old Today!!!!! Reply with quote

Well, a lot has certainly happened since we started our online presence thru Yahoo a year ago today. When we started, we had about 18 people registered and now we're over 75 with over 1000 posts in just under six weeks since tabsonline went live! Very Happy

Most importantly, there's now a great and energetic group of people connecting regularly to play all kinds of games and actively participating in a number of Conventions in order to further develop boardgaming in the GTA and Southern Ontario. No doubt, its the quality of the membership that determines a group's ongoing success and this group is chock full of excellent game players from all walks of Life.

So, Happy Birthday to TABS and thanks to everyone for their continued support of our amazing group and its website!

Pete and David
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