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Backyard Bonanza

Grilled foods and cold brews are a staple of summer, and with Memorial Day marking the official start of the season in the US, it's no surprise we’ve covered taking tabletop inspiration from both of those subjects on previous holiday weekends. You can already fill some imaginary bellies with a few Risus Burgers and down a cold one from Tapper. It'd be hard to top either of the Risus builds those inspired, so this year we’ve gone with another backyard theme: backyard games! While we’ve talked about incorporating sports into games before, and people have been converting board games into something you can play outdoors for centuries, we’ve never gone into bringing less formal outdoor games brought back to the tabletop.  So let’s jump into our collective backyard to try and find some more tabletop inspirations.

A great many backyard games seem to focus on one particular skillset, whether you're hitting a moving target, throwing, or catching, it all boils down to one classic thing: dexterity. Sure, you’ll see that as a general stat in many gaming systems, but how do we incorporate the differences of those specific challenges into a tabletop game? One popular dexterity skill game you’ll find at many cookouts is Cornhole. It may go by other names in different regions, but you’ll find this tossing game in backyards throughout the United States. In its simplest form, you have two angled boards across the yard from each other with a large hole in each. Players take turns throwing bean bags to the opposite side in an attempt to land them through the hole, on it or at least on the board, to score points. You might also play the old classic horseshoes, where you take turns throwing the shoes at a target stake attempting to strike the stake, touch it, or just land near it. (Does close only count in horseshoes?) Or you might play with the infamous Lawn Darts - known for being dangerous to children and adults alike, these larger cousins of darts were more like tiny spears. Did they really believe nobody would be injured? While the modern versions have been blunted, the point is still to throw these projectiles at a target, trying to get as close to the center as possible. Are you seeing a pattern, too? Theme it however you want for your tabletop games, but this style of yard game is pretty simple. Set up target numbers for the players to aim for, give them bonuses or penalties based on character skills or abilities, and throw the dice…or other projectile.

Another dexterous thing you might be enjoying in your backyards is some catch. Tossing balls around, throwing a frisbee (Hey! Frisbee! Far out!) or any other various items going between people. While you can form this into yet another game, such as frisbee golf or frolf, if you're converting it to the tabletop it might be best to keep things simple. You can do as suggested above and stick to your own themes, and mechanically making skill or stat checks. Setting the difficulty or ease of catch game based on a player’s roll is one approach. However, you can also go about it by averaging the results of both players involved and letting that decide if they’ve collectively succeeded in completing the task - whichever is most appropriate for the situation at hand. Either way, set a goal for the number of character “completions” in order to set the record or achieve a reward.

Occasionally, though less often than dexterity-based games, you’ll see feats of strength in the backyard. Unfortunately, the game of strength that first comes to mind is something that's been charged with racism, at least in the west: sumo suits. Luckily, game designers have started to slowly move away from this trend and into developing other types of characters or just generic large tubes/balls. However it's done, the point is to bump into your opponent to try and knock them down or out of the ring. This sounds just like a grapple or wrestling contest already covered in many tabletop games! As with our sports post, including something like this in our tabletops can bring us out of the dangers that come with regular combat and give our characters a chance to fight without the damaging, if expected, consequences that come with it. Since so many systems are already set up for physical combat, it shouldn’t be hard to imagine how to apply existing rules to this kind of contest. All you need to do to convert it is remove possibility of damage (although in real life even padded games are not entirely without risk) and have players make contested rolls/checks. The important part here to keep the descriptions exciting enough to make up for the diminished danger.

Finally, I wanted to talk about something you often have in backyards and will likely find in field days as well: races. Even if you’ve never participated in any yourself, there's a good chance you’ve seen the trope of a sack race or three-legged race pop up in media. While speed is a concept already included in many tabletop games, it can vary from character to character, based on any number of factors. For something like a sack race, it might be best to see it as a hampering effect and give everyone an equal chance, letting them roll to see who takes the lead in each "leg" of the race. With something like a three-legged race, you might use something popularized by D&D 5th Ed.  and have each player in a team of two roll, then take the lowest score. It would also be appropriate to give a bonus if the players roll the same score - meaning they're in perfect step together.

Even if you don’t want to venture into real life backyard this summer, you can still get into one through your tabletops. Remember, as with anything else, it's your theming and descriptions that takes cold dice rolls and number crunches and turns them into something exciting and interesting. Finally, even though it's only hinted above, make sure every character has the option to participate - even if they aren’t proficient in this particular backyard game of skill and/or chance. Player creativity should lead the way, and if they can make things more entertaining, challenging or just more fun for the table, you shouldn’t hesitate to let them try it. Until next week folks, enjoy your backyards and your tables. Get out there and break some dice (but no limbs, please). - A

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