Officially available on Steam Early Release and elsewhere as of May 15th, Tabletop Playground seemed to come out of nowhere. Made by Modularity Games (“the creators of ModDB, IndieDB & mod.io”) and Plasticity Studios, it was announced to some fanfare back in February 2020 after looking for creators in December 2019 and being in active discussion for the last half of 2019…

As a full disclosure, I was not part of the beta, I did not receive free key, and I paid for it myself.

At first blush, Tabletop Playground aims to take on Tabletop Simulator, Tabletopia, and other ways to virtually play a game.  The program itself is a sandbox for creators to build games in, then play them with other people. The way things are created are different, and there are some options present in Tabletop Simulator not present in Tabletop Playground, or vice versa.

This review is a snapshot of time of an Early Release title just days after it’s release, and I’d read this under the assumption that anything mentioned here may vary from the current version.

Did we really need another tabletop sandbox?

A little while ago, I covered five programs or services that aimed to help people play (and playtest) tabletop games online. There are others out there, and literally hundreds of websites to play board games online… so did we really need another one? That was sort of on my mind here, hoping to find some elements that stood out from the rest of the pack.

If you’re coming from Tabletop Simulator, many (but not all) of the keyboard shortcuts are similar. One of the highlights (as seen above) is a three-level series of tutorials that walk you through how to play a game on Tabletop Playground, along with the many things available. Each of these takes about 5-10 minutes to walk through, and everything on the table can be manipulated. The card holders take up some space on the table, but can hide or reveal cards as the creator would like.

Another part of the tutorial – the infinite random container sounds pretty cool.

Go ahead, make a table – eight traditional models are built in. I didn’t get a screenshot of it, but meeples are built-in to the program.

This review will focus more on the creation process than the playing process, so let’s just jump right in and make some cards…

Oh, boy… Lot going on here… Give it a name in the upper left corner, choose a size (unless I missed something, you can’t scale a card on the table with + or -), then begin choosing other details along the left side. Add textures to the card’s front(s) and back(s) in the upper right corner. The program can split a single file into many cards like Tabletop Simulator — but Tabletop Playground goes one step further by offering a preview of each card in question in the Image Index..

Four options for the backs of cards.

In any case, I’ve imported an image and spawned some of them on the table…

Oh, dear. Definitely not the quality I uploaded. That text is barely readable… Hit ‘Escape’, click ‘Settings’…

Ahh, OK. The program started everything off at Low, probably because it detected my computer wasn’t up to snuff for anything graphics-heavy. Each of the five graphics options has four settings, and may need some trial and error to find a good balance of performance and quality on your computer…

 That’s better… though I wish I didn’t need to fine-tune this thing like a video game…

Next up, some dice. You’ll need a 3D model here, though, and that’s something I don’t have the first clue on how to create.

One other point of difference: dropping stuff off the table means it just stays there on the floor (stuff that falls off the table in Tabletop Simulator re-spawns on the table).

OK, so I’m not going to go through the entire process of setting up a game in Tabletop Playground just to write a blog post. If you’ve done it, though, there are plenty of backgrounds to your game.

Here’s where you’ll select a ‘package’ (e.g. your game) that’s already assembled. The package can have any number of components, naturally.

Once you have it ready, or if you just want to browse some games, use the browse option…

After logging into mod.io, confirming your e-mail, and agreeing to their terms and conditions, you’ll be able to browse user-made games in the built-in Steam browser. (You can also start from https://tabletopplayground.mod.io outside the program, if you prefer.) Either way, you’ll need the program to play.

Somehow I doubt this Rayman version of Uno is authorized or licensed. The same type of unauthorized, fan-made versions of games found on other tabletop sandboxes are found here as well.

A couple of elements made me feel like this system was made for video game designers to branch out into tabletop game designers, or to be played by people used to video games. Talking about textures instead of graphics, and offering a wide variety of graphical options. Some of the marketing material talks about how it uses Unreal Engine 4 — a technology I’m certain I’ve come across but have very first-hand experience with.

Why you should get Tabletop Playground

If you have a powerful computer, the graphics will shine. There are already a fair number of mods/games available, and that will only increase with time. Specific mentions of wargaming and ‘niche games’ make it sound like they may be focusing more on the hard-core gamers, or games with a ton of pieces.

If you’re going to get into the scripting aspects of these programs, Tabletop Playground uses the more common Javascript vs. Tabletop Simulator’s Lua. Both will require technical expertise to implement, of course, but Javascript is something that most web developers will have experience in.

Since it’s still in Early Release, I have to believe the developers will be carefully paying attention to feedback and continue development. I can see it pivoting to a

Why you should pass

It doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself from Tabletop Simulator, which has had several years to build a reputation and become the best-in-class. This is going to be one of those comparisons, fair or not, partially since most people will just get one.

If you’re looking to playtest and build your games into a virtual setting, asking your playtesters to buy multiple programs or learn multiple systems is a big ask…

Personally?

I’m glad I checked it out, but I’ll be sticking with Tabletop Simulator. It still has plenty of quirks, but also has plenty of help out there. It’s for that same reason that, while I’ll play games on Tabletopia, Roll20, or other places, I’ll probably only make them on a single platform moving forward.

Over to you

Have you tried Tabletop Playground? Comments are open.