What Exactly Are Print and Play Games?

You could argue that there are two sides to the modern games community. The first is the original tabletop role-playing games approach which sees socially gathered players sitting around together playing via physical components. The second is the more contemporary online, video game world, which generally sees people play in isolation against a vast, virtual community of players. 

You could also make a fair argument that neither options end up being particularly cheap. The former often requires a certain outlay in rule books, miniatures and other materials, and requires a level of financial commitment if you want to keep up with recent releases, scenarios and rules additions. Particularly if you play one of the better-established game systems such as D&D or Runequest. The latter might see you make a more modest investment in software (assuming you already have the console to play it on) but again often expands via monthly subscriptions to the larger, online world.

If you have limited finances, it might seem a bit daunting but there is a neat solution with one foot in each camp. Print and Play gaming. P&P (the gaming world does like its alliterative acronyms) does what it says on the tin. Generally speaking, these are games where the resources - the board, the counters and other materials - can be downloaded and printed off and the rules are either read online or if preferred, also printed off. This might limit the games largely to the simpler end of the market but what you lose in complexity, you gain in cost savings.

Such games often sit somewhere between the more traditional boardgames world and the more ornate RPG world but they also represent just a cheaper initial first step and once you have all the basic materials to play, you can easily upgrade paper dice for more robust ones, buy or create more elegant tokens, cubes, counters, meeples or even introduce figurines to give things a more 3D look. The point is that you can start with all the free (well, just the cost of the printer ink) materials you need to play the game and upgrade as your budget allows.

Print and play games, something for everyone

P&P games range from simple card games such as the cool and kooky Cat's Warfare to more elaborate war games, Battalions of the Empire being a neat take on the abstract Napoleonic strategy game Campaign. You can find solitaire games and new projects that are coming on the market all the time, such as Kingdom Bots which is currently gathering Kickstarter support.

But of course, P&P isn't entirely separate from the regular RPG world and just as the lines blur when you start upgrading your P&P set up with bought-in resources and gaming materials, so existing games often use P&P approaches to expand their world. Catan, one of the most popular and successful strategy boardgames of the modern era, famously offers P&P options, such as the two-player scenario, so that you can add diversity to your gaming options at no extra cost. The "go-to" site for those looking for variants and add-ons, expansion packs and scenarios is boardgamegeek.com, a sort of Facebook for affordable gaming with more downloads and free materials than you can shake a wizards wand at.

P&P isn't just a one-way street

It may have started as a place to acquire free gaming systems but it is an approach which lends itself to localised gaming sessions. If you are devising your own game within your gaming group, making the relevant materials available to your players via an online download and print resource ensures that not only is everything that they need to acquire, free but that it is all consistent with the look and feel of the game.

Then there is the benefit of reskinning existing games. Reskinning is the reimagining of the look of an established game, providing a new setting, and a new vibe achieved through new artwork or figurines. In the same way that games such as Monopoly reworked their classic game so that their setting moved from urban property-owning to accommodate everything from Star Wars to Super Mario To Stranger Things, so amateur designers can be found offering new skins for familiar games. Imagine Battleline, the Ancient Warfare games set in deep space or the futuristic Nexus Ops in the Stone Age. The options are endless.

P&P also offers plenty of cost savings for those already ensconced in established game systems. You may need to buy the official rule books for a gaming system, but there is an amazing savings to be had by ignoring official floor plans, dungeon furniture and features, card holders for strategy games, character sheets, expansion pack cards and counters, all of which and much more besides can be found free and downloadable out there for the minimal effort of a quick search.

Skies the limit with print and play

P&P is less a resource, and more an attitude and approach. It can be used to create a game from the ground up, either one freely available or of your own design. It can be used to share unofficial add-ons such as new scenarios, card expansion sets and floor plans. It can be used to give familiar games a new look. It offers financial savings and unlimited gaming options. It is anything but the cheap fix it is actually the bright new future, especially for those of you who want to get away from official releases and canonical expansion. If you prefer the unique, the bespoke, the revolutionary, the underground and tailoring your games to your own tastes, then P&P should already be pinging on your radar.

Written by: Dave Franklin