15 Ways to Upgrade your Tabletop Games

International Tabletop Day (April 30) is just around the corner—and what better way to celebrate a love of games than by giving your favorites a little upgrade? Toss the cardboard tiles and plastic tokens and add a little extra realism to your game night with these 15 options.

1. PANDEMIC

Epicycle Designs via Etsy

In Pandemic, players race across the world, attempting to cure different diseases that are represented by little colored cubes. Many players opt to enhance the realism of those dire situations by purchasing real petri dishes to contain the unused cubes. You can also buy pieces that resemble the game's characters (for example: scientist, researcher, medic), or make your research stations a bit more substantial.

2. SPLENDOR

Splendor turns players into gem merchants—so why not make the stakes seem a little higher by replacing the fake gem tokens with more realistic glass or plastic jewels? Another option: follow this fan's lead and add gold coins.

3. TICKET TO RIDE

You'll have no problem claiming routes with the trains that come with Ticket to Ride, but these wooden alternatives (with coordinating meeples) make for an even smoother ride. And perhaps they’re substantial enough to prevent players from pulling an Anne Wheaton.

4. LOVE LETTER

WRIGHTideas via Etsy

You have to win a certain number of rounds to be the overall victor in the game Love Letter, so the winner of each round receives a little red square to help keep track of victories. However, with a name like Love Letter, there’s no shortage of interesting alternatives to the squares. You can opt to purchase glass heart tokens, pieces that resemble blobs of sealing wax, or tiny polymer clay roses.

5. HIVE

Mix chess and entomology and you've got Hive, a game where each type of piece moves differently to help you claim the other player's queen bee. For a delicious upgrade, press the original tiles into silicon to create molds for the pieces. Then, pour chocolate into the molds to make an edible version.

6. CARCASSONNE

A modern-day classic, Carcassonne is a tile-laying game that encourages players to build roads, cities, and fields. These 3D-printed tiles might be a little harder to pack into a box than the flat tiles that come with the game, but they're helpful when it comes to visualizing your empire.

7. AGRICOLA

To compete, Agricola players have to plow fields, collect wood, buy animals, and feed their families, among other things. Players can really immerse themselves in those tasks by swapping the included colored disks for these tiny shapes that actually resemble the items.

8. LORDS OF WATERDEEP

Epicycle Designs via Etsy

Set in the Dungeons and Dragons universe, this popular game requires a number of meeples to be placed around the game board in order to complete quests, collect money, and take other various actions. Swap the meeples for these little polymer clay versions to make the Lords of Waterdeep characters really come to life.

9. POWER GRID

In Power Grid, the players, who represent companies, purchase power plants and other resources with the hope of suppling electricity to cities. You can customize your version by trading the standard components for buildings that are more specific to the game. Or, if you’re really into Power Grid, you can add some sizzle by wiring your board to light up.

10. FORBIDDEN ISLAND

DaftConcepts via Etsy

Made by the creator of Pandemic, Forbidden Island requires players to work together in order to find treasures on an island before it sinks. The tiles representing different parts of the island have to be arranged in a specific manner each time—so why not keep them tidy with a wooden frame?

11. BANG! THE DICE GAME

Bang! The Dice Game pits player against player in an Old West setting—but your enemy depends on what character you are. Players lose life points when they get "shot" by arrows and bullets, represented by little cardboard tokens. Up the ante with these more realistic depictions.

12. CASTLE PANIC

PiecesofGame via Etsy

In Castle Panic, players have to protect the castle in the center of the board from attacks from monsters like orcs, trolls, and goblins. This 3D-printed castle is perhaps a little more inspiring to defend than the cardboard pieces that come with the game.

13. PATCHWORK

Somewhat similar to Tetris, Patchwork comes with little cardboard buttons that players use to buy patches and help complete their quilts. Real buttons are relatively inexpensive, however, so many Patchwork enthusiasts have upgraded their game with the real things.

14. SETTLERS OF CATAN

VanGamble via Etsy

Settlers of Catan, a game where players build settlements, cities, and roads, is a mainstay in many households. It's easy to make your copy stand out, though—a number of Etsy shops sell Catan upgrades, from game frames to wooden hex tiles.

15. KING OF TOKYO

King of Tokyo is Yahtzee's more destructive cousin, a dice game where monsters try to defeat each other and rule the capital city. The cardboard characters included with the game gets the job done, but these versions—polymer clay, of course—feel like they could wreak some real havoc.

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Jeremy Freeman, TruTV
A New Game Show Helps Contestants Pay Off Their Student Loans
Jeremy Freeman, TruTV
Jeremy Freeman, TruTV

Most game shows offer flashy prizes—a trip to Maui, a million dollars, or a brand new car—but TruTV’s latest venture is giving away something much more practical: the opportunity to get out of student loan debt. Set to premiere July 10 on TruTV, Paid Off is designed to help contestants with college degrees win hard cash to put towards their loan payments, MarketWatch reports.

The show gives college graduates with student loan debt "the chance to test the depth of their degrees in a fun, fast-paced trivia game show,” according to TruTV’s description. In each episode, three contestants compete in rounds of trivia, with one contestant eliminated each round.

One Family Feud-style segment asks contestants to guess the most popular answer to college-related poll questions like “What’s the best job you can have while in college?” (Answer: Server.) Other segments test contestants' general trivia knowledge. In one, for example, a contestant is given 20 seconds to guess whether certain characters are from Goodfellas or the children’s show Thomas & Friends. Some segments also give them the chance to answer questions related to their college major.

Game show host Michael Torpey behind a podium
TruTV

Based on the number of questions they answer correctly, the last contestant standing can win enough money to pay off the entirety of their student debt. (However, like most game shows, all prizes are taxable, so they won't take home the full amount they win.)

Paid Off was created by actor Michael Torpey, who is best known for his portrayal of the sadistic corrections officer Thomas Humphrey in the Netflix series Orange is the New Black. Torpey, who also hosts the show, says the cause is personal to him.

“My wife and I struggled with student debt and could only pay it off because—true story—I booked an underpants commercial,” Torpey says in the show’s pilot episode. “But what about the other 45 million Americans with student loans? Sadly, there just aren’t that many underpants commercials. That is why I made this game show.”

The show is likely to draw some criticism for its seemingly flippant handling of a serious issue that affects roughly one in four Americans. But according to Torpey, that’s all part of the plan. The host told MarketWatch that the show is designed “to be so stupid that the people in power look at it and say, ‘That guy is making us look like a bunch of dum dums, we’ve got to do something about this.’”

Paid Off will premiere on Tuesday, July 10 at 10 p.m. Eastern time (9 p.m. Central time).

[h/t MarketWatch]

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Kena Betancur, AFP/Getty Images
Want to Live as Long as an Olympian? Become a Chess Grandmaster
Kena Betancur, AFP/Getty Images
Kena Betancur, AFP/Getty Images

It’s well known that physical fitness can help prolong your life, so it’s not surprising that elite athletes, like Olympians, tend to have longer lifespans than your average couch potato. But it seems that “mind sports” can help keep you alive longer, too. According to BPS Research Digest, a recent study suggests that international chess grandmasters have lifespans comparable to Olympic athletes.

The study, published in PLOS ONE, examined the survival rates of 1208 mostly male chess grandmasters and 15,157 Olympic medalists from 28 countries, and analyzed their life expectancy at 30 years and 60 years after they attained their grandmaster titles. They found that both grandmasters and Olympic medalists exhibited significant lifespan advantages over the general population. In fact, there was no statistical difference between the relative survival rates of chess champions and athletic champions.

There are several variables that the study couldn’t take into account that may be linked to chess players’ long lifespans, though. Grandmasters often employ nutritionists and physical trainers to keep them at their best, according to the researchers, and exercise regularly. Economic and social status can also influence lifespans, and becoming a world-champion chess player likely results in a boost in both areas.

Some research has shown that keeping your mind sharp can help you in old age. Certain kinds of brain training might lower the risk of developing dementia, and one study found that board game players in particular have slightly lower rates of dementia.

If keeping the mind sharp with chess really does extend lifespans, the same effect might apply as well to elite players of other “mind sports,” like Go, poker, or competitive video games. We’ll need more research to find out.

[h/t BPS Research Digest]

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