Producing Fun is a podcast about making tabletop games from a product perspective.
David Weiss is the managing editor of Canadian boardgame review site the Daily Worker Placement as well as the creator of scripted tabletop game podcast the Game Changers; a 26 part history of tabletop games. In this episode we get under the skin of key issues in games and how they’re marketed: the evolution of game genres, why people use certain language to describe games, the emergence of “AAA” boardgame titles and tips for getting media coverage for your game.
Listen on podcasting platforms: https://anchor.fm/naylorgames
Listen on Youtube:
The Daily Worker Placement: www.dailyworkerplacement.com
The Game Changers: https://dwp.buzzsprout.com
I'm James. And this is producing fun, a podcast about making games from a product perspective.
Welcome to Producing fun. My guest this week is David Weiss, podcaster and managing editor of Canadian board game sites, the daily worker placement. I've thought for a while now that people don't take game reviewers seriously enough as a knowledge resource in the industry. Given the vast explosion in the number of people reviewing games in recent years, it's easy to be a bit cynical. From the publishing side of things. Almost everyone seems to be getting into game reviews. Now, everyone has a YouTube channel, everyone's an influencer. And the promise of free games, even if you don't have a massive reach, looks like a great deal for a hobbyist who would have purchased many of these products anyway. But I think that's the wrong way to look at it. publishers need to be smart about who they send their precious preproduction copies of their game to, of course they do, they really can't afford to do otherwise. But if you fall for the cynical line, you miss two important things. First, that this explosion of enthusiasm is actually great. The fact that people want to get their hands on these things is because they love them, regardless of scale, or reviewers have the potential to become some of your fiercest advocates. And they exist because whole world is waking up to how great games have become, and the extent of their power to build in an easygoing way, real human connection in a world dominated by glowing screens, and digital isolation. Second, amongst this large group of individuals who not only love games, but really really know their stuff, people who've seen and experienced so many titles, that they really have a sense of the artistic and commercial landscape of games, and even where they might be going, like no one else. It's for exactly this reason that I wanted David on the show. Davids site, the daily worker placement is actually one of the better known review sites publishing primarily text content. But more importantly than this, he's a walking talking Encyclopaedia of game knowledge. His podcast series, the game changes a 26 part history of modern tabletop games, is for my money, the best podcast in board games, bar none. A self confessed labour of love. It demonstrates the kind of deep and wide knowledge base very few possess, that knowledge is something game makers should be very interested in. As you might expect, this conversation went in all sorts of directions, from the evolution of game genres, to games of storytelling machines, from changing tastes and complexity over time, to the emergence of what David calls the triple A board game title, as well as practical tips for publishers looking to get media coverage. By nature, this is a more wide ranging and at times theoretical conversation and many others that I have. But if topics like how games actually work to create fun, or the two way relationship between game design and marketing interests you, I think you'll really, really enjoy this episode. We joined just as I've asked David to tell me a little bit more about the daily worker placements audience.
Well, from the beginning, Sean Jackman, who is the sort of editor emeritus and founder of the site always wants it to be more than just about board games. It's supposed to be about board game culture. So that's quite different than focus. I mean, many, many content creators are really about reviewing the latest games that have come out. And there are some that aren't. I'm in a couple of Facebook content creator groups, and whenever anyone posts Oh, I've got a game a Kickstarter coming up. Would anyone like to write about it? There's always three dozen sites lined up. Oh, yes, we'd be interested, we'd be interested. And honestly, that's not as certainly for me, or for Shawn, or Nicole, Nicole Hoyt, who was sort of the third of the triumvirate, originally who's also stepped back. But for different reasons. We were interested in writing about new games, but more about the meta of it all about board game culture, about issues around representation, diversity, or doing deep dives into particular designers or particular currents in board, game history, all kinds of things. So what I would say is our audience is not just board gamers, it is board gamers who want to know more about the background of the hobby, and maybe some of the issues that are facing the hobby.
Interesting. How does that change kind of what you're looking to create for it? How do you pick the those kind of articles then?
Well, I mean, there's no question that we still cover new releases. I mean, we've worked hard to build relationships with different publishers with Panda Saurus with Robins burger with yourself and other people. Plug magnet, hashtag magnet.
Any opportunity? Thank you, I was gonna have to well working in that subtly, somehow later, so it's perfect. So and
I would also deny, like many content creators, one of the reasons I wanted to do this was, Hey, maybe I can get some free games? There's Yeah, question. Yeah, I think that there is a, there's a track there. And I think it's been I think it's being discussed both among content creators and others. So we write about what interests us. I mean, certainly for me, when I started to contribute on a more regular basis, I didn't necessarily want to write about the latest games coming out, I would want to write you know, there's sort of a feature that I do called you really should play. And because the conveyor belt of new games has been going faster and faster, so that, you know, gamers are like, in that old episode of I Love Lucy, where they're sitting there with the chocolates trying to stuff the chocolate packets, and they ended up just eating them and eating them so fast, the cult of the new games get left behind. And also there are classic games out there that I love to highlight. So that's one thing that I've talked about, or particular genres, like, I've always loved civilization building games. So I think my whole two part series on if there's a game with a sift theme, I have generally my ears perk up, you know, the time travel games, which I haven't written about, but that's another one that I will probably do. Or another one that I'd like to do is maybe film noir. Anyway, there are genres. I mean, as an art form, board games, there have these genres, there's the train game, it's not even about mechanic, it's not party games, necessarily. Like I say, train games span everything from Ticket to Ride to, you know, the 18 XX genre. There's a whole subculture around, though, so I'm interested in that. And then you come get around issues around representation, colonialism, you know, issues around, how shall I say that behaviour at conventions are appropriate and inappropriate? So those are things that, you know, people have written about tricky themes, you know, what's the fine line between using a theme to give a gaming flavour, and just doing five minutes worth of research on Google and appropriating, which has been done? You know, but people have a lot less patience for that today? And I think that's a bit myself. Yeah. So that's how we look for articles is what interests you? What do you want to write about?
So so on that, then because one of the questions I want to ask you is sort of what motivated the creation of the sites then? Would it? Would it be fair to say that actually the sort of interest in those broader kind of board game culture questions that, did you feel they were maybe not being answered in the broader media? Is that kind of part of the motivation? You know, along with the classic one of like, Oh, I'd like some free games to play, which I mean, clearly would be? Yeah,
I definitely think so. I think there was the, you know, shaun, you know, for for the first couple of years, because then we were complacent around since late 2014. I started contributing regularly in around 2016, I think I had done a few little articles before sprinkled in, but before that, it was Shawn and and various people that he had on board. And I know for a fact that that was their intention was to Yes, write about new games coming out, write about the conventions, covering the conventions, and so on, but also talking about the broader trends in the hobby.
Yeah, that makes tremendous sense. It's, you get to cover those kind of broader questions, social political issues. Yes. And things like genre as well. And that that after says, that's an interesting question to me, because one of the ways that in the kind of board game design side of things, things get very clinically divided up sometimes I think it's between theme and mechanic. So as if these firstly, these things will be distinct, and that you either choose to describe a game in one way or in another. And yet the interesting about, for example, to train games is that within the context of train games, as you say, there's a huge variety from Ticket to Ride 18. XX, but actually, there is some still some kind of group similarity to them. There's something about like, the whole notion of route planning, like is often nearly always is like, is almost always in a train game. Right? In some sense. You can make a train thing game like Russian Railroads that doesn't have anything like that. It really
just makes me kind of deconstructs the whole train thing in that respect. Yes.
Watching railroads does. Yeah, exactly. But broadly speaking, there's like a kind of, there's like a kind of commonality to it in the same way, I guess. A Time Travel game allows you to visit multiple periods, which is it sort of all the time travel games gonna be like that, right? Because that's, that's in the soul of what time travel is.
Right? Right. So I've been thinking a lot about this recently, and I've noticed more and more in marketing on Kickstarter on Facebook, a game will be described purely in terms of its mechanics. Oh, this is an area majority worker placement game. Yeah, yeah. And more and more, it gets on my nerves, because ultimately, I think mechanics and designing around mechanics is is very hard, but it's a craft. It's one of Easy Press. But in terms of a creative expression, a game, a game is a storytelling machine. That is my current in terms of thinking about what is the game because that's another discussion that's been going on. On board game, Twitter is defining what is a game. And there have been some very good ones. But a game is a machine that helps to tell stories that ends with someone winning or losing, right. So for now, in six minutes, there is a loser there and no winners, that's fine. So it's how you tell the story. And I think more and more designers are thinking more in terms of what experience do they want the players to have? And then they try and figure out how which mechanics would best serve that experience? Not theme, but experience. And yeah, starting maybe with Token. I don't know. Somewhere along the way, we've, there's been this whole thing towards these Dreadnought games of mechanic piled upon mechanic, maybe Great Western Trail. Some of them are great games, but honestly, are they you know, at what point? Are they like dreadknots? Where they, you know, begin to sink into the ocean?
Right? under their own weight, so to speak. Yeah,
well, it ties to that article that I wrote about what is fun, like, people have fun with games for many different reasons. Yeah. And for some people, the fun they have is in engaging with the mechanic. And those people tend not to care about the like, they're the ones who comment, oh, it's just the game, who cares, blah, blah, blah, that's fine for them. But for other people, you can't separate. And personally, I've kind of, you know, the mechanics should be good. And they should work. But they should be at the service of some. I mean, there's already plenty of games that are about mechanics, like what about doing something new with with the form because it is an art form?
Yeah, completely? Well, so that's really interesting. I mean, then we spoke a few episodes ago to Chris eget, who's the tabletop gaming magazine editor, very much, this was very much the kind of angle he was coming from. And I think it's very much the kind of angle that I come from things in Naylor games as well. And it's like a relative, it's because of bugbear of mine, to see things described in this kind of list of mechanics, weight, which, to me seems like the least imaginative way to go around it. And also, in my experience, so far, I find very few designers have the kind of truly abstract imagination that allows them to come up with interesting combinations of mechanics in isolation, like, almost no one I've met yet can do that. Like there's always an idea that goes beyond that somehow. So it seems frustrating. And yet, and this is a really curious question Polycom things that, you know, I'm really keen to discuss with you. And yet that does seem such a default way of describing it. And it makes me wonder what the commercial implications of that are.
Well, there's a musical equivalent, right? When you have a band, it's like, well, what kind of band are you? Are you know, are you indie? Are you punk rock? Are you this email? Are you EMD trap music. So I think some of it comes from a marketing perspective that people who sell games want an easy way to describe them that is going to hook people. Yeah, and many marketers in many genres are about labelling and compartmentalising, because you can quantify that. So I think that's part of where it comes from. And I also think part of it comes from people who come into the hobby, they're new, they're looking for a way to classify things because when an art form is new, it is possible to familiarise yourself pretty well with the entire form. Like if you were a jazz fan, in 1925, you can pretty well listen to every jazz record in existence if you want.
Because it's an amazing thing.
And, you know, by the 40s, and 50s. So jazz had fragmented in so many different forms, and they were very political differences between those forms. I mean, if you were a bebop fan, you were you know, not going to be listening to New Orleans jazz or in England, you know, if you were a mod, you are not a rocker, you know, or you are a Trad jazz fan, and so on. So part of it is also from the consumer standpoint, a way of finding their way into their passion and also belonging to a group. Oh, I love Euro games. I love Amera trash. I love whatever. I love replacement games. And I'm astonished at people who post and say, you know, I would never play a worker placement game or I would only play I only want to play worker placement. But that's the same musically for me like I would almost never say okay, I only want to listen to Elvis Costello or whatever. I love Elvis Costello but so by nature I am an eclectic practices. Yeah, yeah. I'm an agnostic. And I believe more as I get older when I was a child, I loved abstracts. I chess was really the first game I remember learning and then I got into jeopardy. could use chess and Chinese chess and then go, and then those someone. But the older I get, the more I want there to be some kind. And those have narratives those games do have narratives in chess, you know, the opening, and the middle game and the endgame. So there is a narrative that emerges out of the gameplay. But the older I get, the more I feel like, I think when you play a game a lot, the same game over and over, you learn its story arc, like Monopoly, for example. Gosh, but you know, monopoly, there's an early game and mid game ending. Today, I think we want a lot more hand holding in terms of what is the theme? I do anyway? I want some kind of story.
Yeah, completely? Well, I think this goes back to your kind of point about the storytelling engine, again, that games are, is that actually, you want to do that and you want you want to be a clear art to do that, I think that's one of the things I feel about so many games that I've often bounced off a little bit is that they actually lacked that art. And somehow, there's something isn't that fundamental at the journey of going from an early game where there's, you know, you're often if it's, let's just take the example of something that's a bit Euro ish, let's say you're building things up, you're struggling around a little bit of resources, you know, the mid game moves to something where you suddenly you've got money, you can buy the good stuff, you're building some kind of engine, and then a kind of end game where it suddenly all accelerates forward, and it rapidly comes together. And it's a sort of race to see who built the best engine, who made the cleverest use and the mid game of how things were doing. And it builds towards a crescendo. And if it like, doesn't have that, it seems like it's very weak. And so as you said, that the abstract thing is an interesting one, because as you said, those games have close to zero theme as we think about it normally, and yet, they will still have almost a story arc.
That kind of story arc emerges from the design mechanic, like when we talk about the pacing of a game, you know, for instance, with monopoly, one house rule that many people have, in fact, it's almost an official house rule, you have that accelerated start, where you deal out some initial properties to everyone. Oh, yeah. Right, because it's acknowledged that the early game in Monopoly, as played is unnecessary, as it were, if it were designed today, they would have gotten rid of it. So that kind of pacing, and that part of the storytelling is done at the at the level of mechanic, but then you have the story above that. And it doesn't have to be a fantasy story. I tried to think of games that that do do that. And it's hard. It's a hard needle to thread, cloud age. Kind of does that. I mean, Alexander Pfister is, I think of him is the DW Griffith of board games, because, uh, wow, okay, he is the first guy to take the euro and try and tell a campaign style game using Euro mechanics. Interesting. Also Friedman Frieza, who I think also is like a mad genius. He talked about designers who have abstract things of design. I mean, what is copycat but a conscious effort to create a Frankenstein monster of mechanics and make it work?
Interesting. I've actually I don't know that game at all.
Oh, also, if you 504, which is in some ways, his magnum opus in that sense, where it's literally a sandbox, where you choose a main mechanic, a sub mechanic, and a victory condition thing. And it's like those books with the monsters head, body and tail. Yeah. But they're all seamless. They're all seamless. But you can create 504 Different euros using, you know, this sandbox of a thing. So particularly you as a designer, I think it's an invaluable tool as a designer, frankly, because you have your choice of nine mechanics, their stock buying rebuilding area majority, oh, wow, I'm back all these different things. And you can choose any of them as your main mechanic. Any of them is your subsidiary McCain, any other of them, so it's nine times eight times seven, which is 504. But he's now with the fable system. Also begun to think about games like you know, that have an ongoing story arc, like not well find them a little bit. I'm thinking of sand. The one was sand people sand. Okay.
I don't know. Anyway, yeah. You're making me realise how comparatively unfamiliar and with his work, but that's fascinating that the thought of he said, The unusual idea? Well, the idea of kind of choose your own mechanic, I think that's something that kind of lots of people How does an idea right, but to actually implement that it's quite challenging to make that work? Well, most
of them there are groups who have played literally through all 504 and one. Yes, yes. His idea was to give this to the world and let people find the best combos. You know, he didn't claim that he knew which combos were best because each one is uniquely numbered with a three digit number. So as a as a game or game system, it's it's not great, but as a philosophic kind of sand
box. It's brilliant. One more to play from that point of view probably
Yeah, I mean, Pfister though with Tony to noi Dale even before that, the OH MY goods game with its two Oh My Goods, which is a beautiful little Euro. I call it a TARDIS thing because it's, it's a tiny game, but it's bigger on the inside. So it's it's, you know, the play space is huge. And then he's got the escape to Kenyan book and longsdale and you know trying to tell a narrative. It's not very sophisticated. It's like the early video games, which say they have branching narratives, but really right yeah, converging, you know, it's not.
Yeah, it's really converging back with a main trunk arc.
But yes, exactly. That's what Cloud gauge is. But it's still trying to ghost to tell a different kind of story. Because quite different singers. That a design mechanic design.
Yeah, makes sense. It's, it's fun. It's really interesting. The question for me, though, that thinking about how this, this idea of the dominance of mechanics plays out commercially, that seems very interesting, because 504 is a good example of a game that is a really interesting game to play as a designer, as an afficionado. In the same way that you might try something like molecular gastronomy, right, which is, like, it's this isn't what great food that you take your family out for nice to have. Because you want the experience of oh, it's the bacon flavoured ice cream. Right. Right. Interesting. It wouldn't necessarily be actually great, won't be hearty. It won't really give you the same kind of feeling of like, oh my god, that was just amazing. You like to go, That was clever. Yes. And so that's really interesting to me that and the reason why there's these mechanic terms, I find them so fascinating in the hobby game community get used a lot to describe products even commercially, or go on a Kickstarter campaign. I see people selling them that way. Isn't to me, it seems almost like the mechanics are a bit more like if you're a musical analogy to me a bit like saying this is the time signature This is in Yeah, oh, this is the key that it's in which I don't really know enough about music, but I still feel like if you're a music aficionados or a real fan, you still probably won't use those terms as your primary descriptions, right? Because genre like trains, like for example, as as an example of a genre or for example, games that are like Civ games, for example, that's a really good example of genre are like a kind of higher level collection of those ideas, right? In the same way that you know, jazz or for example, or rock who have certain keys, certain chords, or certain time signatures that are more likely to be common than others in that category. So if that's a reasonable analogy, why is it that our hobbyists like to use those more technical terms?
When you look at gaming reviews from the 1990s, before Potanin even came along? They never talked about mechanic, really, I mean, I Games magazine, and not things magazine, UK, which is a different beast entirely. But the American Games magazine, which has been around since the late 70s, and used to be my go to for game reviews, the game reviewers would generally talk I mean, it would be more about the experience of playing the game, what's happening in the game, what does it feel like where the challenges and so on, and then magic came out magic was really the first shot over the bow of something new and then Catan. And then the gradual influx of heroes at some point, and it would be interesting, try and trace this back now that I think about it, which is a great idea, and then write it back down, is when did reviews start? To focus more on the mechanics, then the story that the game was trying to tell or the experience because mechanics are not experience? You know, they're often confused with each other. But it's not.
Yeah, yeah. Okay, hopefully, I
will remember what that means. It's like waking up from a dream and ah, brilliant idea. So, I mean, I didn't emerge out of BGG. Because BGG had these you know, tagging by mechanic was a purely a function of BGGS structure that's just off the top of my head, if it's something because German gamers as they used to be called, and then your gamers tended to deconstruct the games, and they're the ones who figured out like, I don't think when, like the term work replacement, like when they're quick, I like came out. I don't think the words word replacement were anywhere in the rules. I don't think the term role selection was in Puerto Rico, or even citadels which is where it came from. So at some point, someone coined the phrase, it's right and then people said, Oh, this is a good shortcut to talk about the games. The same with the term gateway game, which is something that Eric Lang tweeted about a couple of weeks ago is the term gateway game started as an ironic really and I want to comment on games as habit forming. Yeah, yeah. Completely, then became It was positive versus a normative term. Yeah. This game got me hooked on games. Yeah. And then it became somewhere along the way, it became a normative term, as opposed to describing something, it became something that you were aiming for. Yeah, so I'm wanting to design a gateway game. And even at the time, I actually found the original Board Game Geek thread. That is the earliest mention of the term gateway game that I could find from 2007.
Oh, wow. That's quite late. Isn't it? Really? Yes. Yes.
First of all, it's quite late. It's really after the first golden age. Second of all, it's 15 years ago, practically. And people were having the same arguments then about good benefit game as a gateway game. Some people were using it in a snobby way. Some people Wow. All the things that we you know, even the term gatekeeping, which is a newer term was happening in the context of that discussion. Although they didn't call it gatekeeping. It was just snobbery. I don't want to be a snob, and so on. So the use of the mechanic to sell the game happens, or kind of organically. I mean, it's like you say it's almost it's just saying, Oh, I really like that band. They only use Gibson guitars and you know, PVS Yeah, like that. Yeah, for for gearheads. They do care about that stuff. But you have to be quite an anorak is a more appropriate term. Yes, completely. Yeah, yeah, that's really inside baseball teams in a more American term. So partly, it's a signalling device. If I'm using these terms, I'm signalling that I know a lot about games. I, you know, you could call it virtue signalling in a board game context. Like I'm signalling that I I'm pretty smart about this thing. But it started to short, useful shorthand, but then like many things, it becomes a shortcut to thinking.
Yes, yes. Now this, to me seems like the most dangerous bit of it all. Because the thing that I find, typically, and not to be unfair on my fellow publishers on this one, is that if the publisher is choosing to use a list of mechanics to design their game, that's nearly always a shorthand for me that I'm not going to be interested in their game. Like, every time I say that, I'm like, Oh, I won't like that. Because the design approach behind it will be that, as I said, the shortcutting the thinking of like, we've got to put the blocks together, we've got to make one version of 504. That's all we're doing.
Well, it's also the same as you know, if a game is described itself as wacky, you know, then I also we almost always it goes, you know, put it back on the shelf, either, you know, Analogue or Digital, it's like no, again, there has to sell itself like that on on the box is probably not a game, I'm going to like, it could be wrong. Interesting. But you know, the sad thing to me is that many fledgling designers and publishers think it's a good thing. They think that it's helping them find their audience.
Don't, don't, I think they do. And the thing that maybe also, I think, in this issue is that they might be right, to some extent, in the sense that the lack of shorthands that we can get are kind of like creativity, our heads around or conceptually around what kind of certain games are, proves to be really challenging. So for example, Naylor games, one of the things that I talk about, that I realise is an internal idea that I generally draws me to games is ambition of vision. So that's something like almost every game that does that has an ambition of vision, I know that when I play, I will enjoy it some extent, even if it's a beautiful failure. I will love it for the fact that it tried to do something that was quite ambitious. And so for NATO games, that's kind of, I guess, one of the pillars of what therefore, I always want to do with everything is that kind of role is every game we produce has to be in some way ambitious, and I think
but I think that's true of most game companies. And and I think about video game companies as well, because I think the video game industry, I'm beginning to see the equivalent of triple A games now coming out, as in board games, for instance, lost ruins of our knack to me is triple A portaloo. Interesting, in a sense, it's gorgeous. It's like chess. And it's very well designed and so on. But there's something fundamentally actually you know, it's got some neat things but okay, well, I want to go back to the thing you said before, I think maybe video gaming board game companies start with that philosophy because when you're little when you're small, you're agile, you know, you can absorb a loss and but later on, when you get bigger, and you're responsible, maybe to shareholders or to a board, then you inherently become more cautious and we've seen what's happened in the video gaming industry now as in the movie industry where you know, think of how many triple A video games are basically, you know, now we've got Resident Evil village, there's Mass Effect two is just come out all these things. There's actually a British YouTuber. Well, he's really Australian, but I think he lives in England now. His name is yatse ProShot, Zero Punctuation, and his philosophy of video games is really begun to infect My view of board games that sense of games that kind of makes you numb as opposed to games to make you feel. So there's a comfort zone in games like Gears of War and Halo, and you know, waist high cover shooty, shooty shooty games, and they sell incredibly well call of duty, but he has a soft spot for the games that are brilliant, you know, he judges quality by the ambition of the games. And so it's hard to talk about quality in games in general. But I agree with you that again, well, how do we judge quality in games? Let me ask you this. I mean, forget about BGG ratings, which we know are kind of a joke for lots of different reasons. How do we rate what makes a good game?
Wow, well, that's a big question. I but I'm gonna have a go at it. Because I think there's a really interesting one. I think, for me, it's something about a kind of totality of experience tied to a particular context, which is, it sounds like a very French philosophical way of putting it. So I'm gonna try a little bit more detail in that it's not exactly common I'm gonna be philosophical and persistent. Hand. And I think what I mean by that is, is that if I think of some really exciting games I've had recently, a one that I really enjoyed, I've got really into recently as aeons end, and that's one that I find, particularly the deeper you go into it, the the much, much, much more enjoyable, it gets, I've played now about 30 games, or something like that. Fought something like 30 Different monsters in the game. And there's something very complete about, we sit down for this experience, where we're gonna have a battle against something. And it rewards us in the kind of ways that I think kind of almost every Co Op game does the sense of common camaraderie and team that we have. But what it also does, which I think is so sophisticated, for me is that it seems to consistently deliver on a degree of uncertainty about what we should do, as well as building a kind of a narrative tension towards the end as well, so that sometimes the game does come down to a flip of a card in a really tense game will be, well, if one card if the Nemesis goes next, we're dead. But we want and the moment of now, when you turn that card is just absolutely magnetic. So there's something about a kind of narrative tension that it has, which is usually enjoyable, and a genuine, strong feeling of powerful sense of choice, and branching paths in multiple possible directions where I have found with the person I played with on a regular basis, my developer, Jaya that we don't, we're not able to Alpha gamer and come up with the optimal solution. It's a Margot's, obviously the classic challenge a lot of more simpler Co Op games have. And so I think it's a sense of like, I feel like I'm somehow even if it's not actually, I would say, it's the most amount of enriched game in the sense that often I don't think we talk in world story terms as much as we could, in other games. But however, we are emotionally transported to the experience of are we going to do are we not gonna beat this thing? For me it's like, is the emotional transport there for the kind of situation that you're in. So I think this is the totality of experience point for me, it's about really about emotional trauma, engagement and transporting in place, dare I say, so my mind goes to different place. So a light card game can also do that. But in my experience, this is where my personal understanding of what quality means to me, I am so big on being transported, I want to escape somewhere else that actually there are very few like card games that ever really satisfy me. Because they don't do that. They're so abstracted, they can't take me anywhere. And I think the ability to do that, and then the quality aspect for me is like, can you transport me emotionally? And can you do it consistently? Which is really hard? Because it's, we've all known those experiences. But I think can you consistently transport someone across is where the real quality is. And then everything about like components, everything about tightness of pace, are all things that are feeding that I think that's the closest I can get to an idea of what quality is,
are you playing legacy? Or are you playing regular AM's? Okay, because I haven't played the legacy I have played. In fact, I kick started the original when it came out originally. And I have the app, and I've played that as well. So is there a stronger narrative in the legacy?
Oh, that's an interesting question. So I think the legacy was the pinnacle of the experience for me, because I think it does that really nicely. It has this really lovely system where your character obviously is every mission, gaining a permanent upgrade. And And what's really nice about that, and where I think for me, it's been the best legacy experience I've played so far is that those upgrades are incredibly material to how your character works. So I'm like, in some situations, like pandemic, for example, where, yeah, it changes the game, and there's things you could do, it's kind of interesting, it doesn't feel like it's part of your characters personal development truly, because it completely changes your playstyle you get to a certain point like oh, well, now I can use this with this, because you're also selecting which cars go into your shop and things right, so that I found really good and what they've done recently Is that the next set of expansions that afterwards they released that was one where they came up with a kind of halfway house campaign system with a similar idea of where you get upgrades incrementally over the course of four games in a story sequence. And it doesn't quite work for me, because actually, they tried to make the story generically fit so that you can plug in any monster, it doesn't work. And that's an example of where the vision, although the vision is great. They've kind of fallen short for me, the execution is not there. It's like one right, I'd go close. but no cigar, guys, you could actually have done this a bit differently. If you'd actually given me more legacy content, I think I would have preferred that. But yeah, that that's what that bit does. For example, the key thing is, is that the evolution of character means that you really begin to get under the skin of exactly how your character operates.
Oh, absolutely. I mean, again, thank you if the video game equivalents, Fallout New Vegas, for me is one of the best video games of all time, in that even 10 years later. And as janky as it is, there are still so many ways to play it, even if you've played it, even if you've played the story through. And they're all the different endings, with, with even without taking in mods and stuff. There are just so many ways you can play again, there's a different YouTuber, many a true nerd who always find like a new twist on, you know, this time in the playthrough, I'm going to try not to kill anyone. So you impose your own constraints, and so on and so forth. But it changes the narrative as well. I mean, Fallout New Vegas has so much writing in it. And it's just a huge game, there's just so much there. But then there are also simple games that have a lot there, I actually think that no thinks is a like card game, that you can still be talking about what happened the next day, it's not the only way to describe a quality game. But I think a good game is a game where even the next time you get together with your group, or it becomes part of the lore of your group, the meta of your group was like, oh, yeah, you're going to do this to me, like you didn't to me with no thanks, or whatever. So it, you know, you've integrated into your own life story as it were. But it's also I think, would say, with Deion Sanders, you've played it now. 30 times. So you have given the effort. You know, there's so many games that come out. Now, when I look back to the old reviews from or things from that 50 60 70s 80s people played their games a heck of a lot more times. So they were able to dig deep in and find quality, where today, we wouldn't have the patience. And so the standard, the bar is a lot higher, I once did a review for a guy for sort of an abstract game. And I told him about it's not a bad I said to him, I don't like writing bad reviews, I personally feel that if someone gives me a game, and it's not good, I would rather give them personal feedback, then kind of shamed them in public. It's just not for me, I don't live to bash other people's passion as a creator myself, I just, you know, if you want to shit all over it, tell me personally, I can learn something. But to do it in public, I just I don't have that killer instinct. And I know he reviews the dunk. In this case, I said, Look, I can't write a review of this, because this game is too flawed, blah, blah, blah. And then when he goes, Well, you don't understand there's like this early game and mid game and end game. And I'm like, Yeah, but you know, you'd have to play the game a lot to actually find it that in there. These people don't have the patience to find those nuggets. I think these days, the expectation a lot more from gamers and reviewers is they're gonna, the pressure on content creators is to write a review after even playing something once.
So I think this is this is this is something I wanted to sort of bring us to this, I think it's really interesting is about what this means for the practical challenges for publishers, because I know lots of listeners will be very interesting thinking, okay, how can I apply some of this because I think also fascinate about this subject is is that it's easy for us to actually discuss in quality detail, trying to describe, you know, what it is, what good is and what the experiences were not able to just go was this book, right, we're able to say it's okay, well, we've got several different concepts there. And I think what it does is number one, I think it illustrates very nicely the bind that publishers are in to some extent, it seems in terms of how they describe their games. So maybe they should be a bit less afraid. Sometimes it's just using more genre titles, because I actually think that genres connect with people. To be honest, if someone tells me to train game, they've already got my interest to some extent, more than if they said it's a route building game, I'd go. No,
right. Right. Just like in qualitative terms, as opposed to quantitative terms. mechanics to me are quantitative, why? As a because, because you can break them down as opposed to qualitative, where you are talking about this kind of ineffable experience. I mean, obviously, if you think if Dungeons and Dragons were marketed, you know, well, first thing you do is you're going to roll some dice and create your character with three six sided dice and you're going to do this if it were marketed like that. It would never have taken off it was taking it was created. Well. The creation story of Dungeons Dragons is huge, but it's spread like wildfire, because of word of mouth. And I guess if you look at magic, if you look at Cards Against Humanity, very different examples or mafia werewolf they spread because well, they were easy to teach and essentially Dungeons and Dragons is, depending on how you look at it as a low entry mark, depending on how much work you as the DM want to do, you know, content for the time was considered incredibly complex compared to the standard of American Games, it was considered a complex game. That's how much the Overton window of complexity,
the Overton window of complexity. I love that phrase. Again, that's a really key idea to keep in mind. I think publishers think about
is that oh, I don't take credit for that. That's Eric Lang. No. And the designer Eric Lang,
I does kind of good phrase, he does quite a good phrase. Yes, he is. Yes. But
going back to your thing about publishers, I think it's increasingly hard to stand out from the crowd. There's so much pressure now to have slick Kickstarter videos. You know, there's all this pressure, just like guitar magazines, you know, like, I never bought guitar magazines. I played I was in a band, I do all these things. Occasionally, if there was an interview with Jimmy Page, or someone who I thought, I'll find out something interesting, I went by it. And it was full of all these ads for like, even now, there are ads on YouTube learning guitar at home, and all these different things. And it's like you learn by doing Yeah, and for publishers, there's all this thing about, well, you've got to have this kind of mic. And this kind of camera setup and this kind
of ring. Ring, like the ring light. Yeah,
that can be a real block, not just financially, but also psychologically. And I feel like, again, some of these begin to look more like trailers than telling me anything about the game. So yeah, for sure. I mean, again, just launched now, Keystone national parks, which is getting a lot of buzz from creators, because I think the people involved are good people, and so their friends want to behind it. But the video tells me nothing about the game. It's beautiful. It's I mean, it tells me about the game, I should take it back, it tells me what the game looks like, I feel like I don't come away. And the same is true for many video game trailers like you see these awesome, I mean, it's infamous in the video game industry that the teaser trailer is often nothing like the game itself when you actually see the gameplay footage. So for publishers, the problem is, is a lot of the audience is sucked in by the blade. So I think that, to a certain extent, high production quality is a good thing. But I think there's diminishing returns, that the increase of interest past a certain point, maybe is it worth it? Maybe you should have spent those dollars developing the game more and playtesting it more.
Yeah, that's a really interesting one. On the marketing side of that, I think it's really interesting, because I think it's again, this, it's very easy to look at it from the outside and make a mistake about what is the thing that is driving the value and say, well, oh, they're really big campaigns have really nice videos, that means we have to have a really nice video. Right? And that it's very easy to do that. And I think any kind of almost any business. So if you might, and marketing, particularly because it's very people don't really understand the logic behind why something is the way that it is. And through mistakes. They are just copying it.
Well fear really, because they feel like they have to Yeah, true, you know, and the pressure now for physical components. Oh, just in the last five years, is, from my standpoint, insane. Like it adds nothing to gameplay. I don't care if a box has spot UV on it. What do I care? You can believe that? What do I care that a box, the box has taught, you know, a neoprene mat. I mean, there's quality, which adds to the game experience fine. But you know, like, I'm the kind of person that would never spend in game currency in a video game for like extra sprays or like armour that has no gameplay. Yeah, like, I don't care about decorating my character. I want stuff that you know, but that's a whole different thing about pay to win someone. But there's a kind of pay to win thing in video game marketing, where you feel like you have to have, oh my god, there was a guy recently who had a game and he posted about on Facebook, and he had this huge mini like seriously about 16 centimetres tall, and it had zero game effect. And he saw that as an incredible plus, and people were chiming in going, bro, you're adding like $20 to the cost of your game just for that one mini? And he said yeah, but there are people who will buy it because they can paint it and all these different things. And there will be there's no question that like, you know, Sandy Peterson games and some other things, you know, companies are cashing in on this, you know, with the with the inserts and the coins, the metal coins and maybe Saif was maybe the first game to really integrate it into the original Kickstarter was the sense of Oh, wow, with the original components. This game is awesome. I don't know. Yeah, I just feel like it's a bit of a dead end. And companies that I think really succeed are companies that where the game has been tested and developed very well before they even launch it on. Yes, I would agree. Yeah. I mean, Puerto Rico and red Seyfarth spent five years testing Puerto Rico before they released it, which is unheard of today, like, it's ridiculous. It's been five years in the game again, from a cost perspective, oh, again, if you're on a company whose revenue stream demands these constant releases, there's this pressure, you know, and that's what happened in the record industry, the movie industry, we need our big Christmas release, Christmas single, whatever, like this. And that's the problem is the business
with the movie industry, they what's really interesting is that then there was this realisation that actually the best thing to do was to start making fewer films. And so they started moving towards making a small number of very big titles, they knew they could succeed. That's the negative effect of crashing out a lot of things, right, because the curse of the Marvel films in some senses that I'm in as a fan of them, I enjoyed them. They're great fun, and the way they interconnect is really cool. But it does mean it's like, well, actually, this is so bankable, that actually, we've got very little interest in funding lots of other crazy around the edges stuff.
There's no long tail. In other words, and I think, you know, think of what proportion of the major board game industry is IP driven. Yeah. tween Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter. That's why it is because publishers, like movie studios want something that people recognise yes can be an add ons end to its credit, manages to do very well, despite the fact that its world as its own lore, and is not dependent on you know, even tearing off, which is the fantasy flake kind of universe that they build all kinds of games onto. So you know, as publishers get bigger, they get more conservative, they look more and more to IP, dirt and things. And recently, the IP driven games have been amazing, like Funko. And Prospero halls games horrified, diehard pan-am like a game about pan-am, it's actually an excellent, but not always, they don't always succeed. But they're more predictable. Because companies need Predictable Revenue Streams, it's hard to know where it's all going to end. Even with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you figure at some point, it's going to reach a saturation,
I think that may already be in partly the effect, the pandemic has meant the cinema or cinema has been shut down. So that that is entirely fair to judge marvel at the moment on that, but it does seem a little bit like it always seemed to me the moment end game was over, I had this strong feeling of thinking, it kind of ended the story here, if we're honest, right? Like, wait, it's going to be an uphill battle to come up with a completely new Justice compelling 20 film mega narrative is that, well, what
they've done, what they're doing now with one division, and the Winter Soldier is they're filling in the corners, right? Like, they figure as long as those corners are well written enough, and bring in enough fans and they can sell them to Netflix and Netflix will buy them, then they can keep going right, and now Black Widow is gonna come out like I mean, it is like a vein of or you dig out the main door, and then you're forced to frack out the the bits that are harder to get to. And at some point, the load
is going to be on questions. And then board games, where are we in the lifecycle of that? So are we at the point where, where we're fracking for small bits? Or is it in reality that we are much earlier than that in that lifecycle? Because right now, if I'm honest, my view on this stuff, which again, is often unpopular when I say it's because the question is, is, well, whose games don't get named? But is my view is that I still feel like I see, personally, and I'd love to know what you think about this. Too many games that are perfectly fine, but not actually that great, because they don't have the years of development. I've gone into them.
Yes, I agree with you. I agree with you. There are lots of games out there that are perfectly fine. They're fine, but they're not great. Because of the pressure. And again, if I were a big designer, like you know, like bonfire to the stuff on felt, relatively most recent game, it's perfectly fine. But honestly, does it really break anything? Any new ground? No, it doesn't. And I feel bad. You know, he feels obviously a lot of pressure to keep producing and move a with his, you know, he goes through these periods. But where's the board game industry as a whole? I think there are two. So here are the factors that I think in short, to medium to long term, what is the end of the pandemic, there's a huge kind of a huge pent up thing of people just getting together and play all the games that they've accumulated over the last hour and a half. My pile is huge. And there'll be some triage out of that. There's huge amounts of money being spent on Kickstarter, you know, some of these games the newest Marvel United was I think now the most successful board game Kickstarter ever now more than king of Death Mountain. Wow. Yeah, I think so. I think I think they broke that record. And it's a it's a very Very good game I just recently. So there's there's that there's pent up demand. Then there's the digital side of things where, you know, at some point digital technology, which obviously flower during the pandemic, you've got all these online platforms, few people have been forced to use them. There are some advantages to them. It's not as good as playing face to face, but there are some advantages. And they will continue to get more sophisticated, and I'm waiting for an AI table. In fact, I recently got after five years waiting, essentially an AI table. I was an early adopter for this thing, it took them five years to finally deliver it. It's basically a huge iPad that I'm going to write a column about, it doesn't really deliver on it, but imagine not having to deal with the huge cubic footage of boxes and things and rules and pieces of the game. You press a button the game is set up like live in like a live and and then you would still have it's like digital music. Some people still love vinyl, they have their vinyl, even their CDs. But most of us my whole record collection is right here on my desktop with digitised basically, and that used to take a whole bookshelves. So the digitisation of board games is going to be another trend. And then also the bubble will burst whether it's some other economic factor, because there's a lot of board gaming arbitrage going on, I mean, copies of Stardew Valley, the board game going for $300 right now, because it's only available in the United States. Interesting. Yeah, there's people who, you know, are using board games as real estate essentially. So that's another trend. The commodification of board games, which I talked about in the game changes. It's not huge, but it's there. At some point, people are gonna sit back and say, I have enough games about mediaeval merchants to
CubeSat maps. There are a lot of those.
How many more do I need?
Yeah, exactly. No, I completely agree. I do think that that that's kind of that's the way that's going? Definitely. Okay. So if you were to give advice to publishers in terms of what they've tried to look into, and to get attention for their games, I guess there's two sides of it. We've talked about but the consumer side, and I think there's still some interesting questions, I'd love to come back to another time, about about how some of that stick around around how we how we pitch and explain things. But from a kind of media perspective, what should publish from your perspective be doing to try to get the attention for the titles that hopefully they're pouring all of this love and work and attention into?
Well, honestly, I feel like publishers, if they want more people to buy their games, they should be looking to get as many different types of voices as possible, who create games. The fact is that a lot of people don't see themselves in these traditional board game themes. mediaeval merchants, fiction, fantasy, zombie things, look at wingspan, you know, which didn't kick the door down. But it certainly showed that a game about birds. Oh, you know, yeah, huge numbers, because there's a lot of people out there. I mean, the whole point was Elizabeth Hargrave has said time after time, she and her group didn't care about those themes, they wanted something about what they were interested in. So I think publishers can't just sit back and wait for people to pitch, they need to build out into these under represented communities, different voices, to look for different kinds of stories, because those stories are bound to pull in people who will see themselves as gamers and it will grow, they will sell more games in the long run. I'm convinced. So that is one thing in terms of telling the story of the games, you know, in the in the details lower down, they should definitely talk about what the mechanics are. But I feel like players want to know, well, I mean, players want to know how to play the game. But I think ultimately, they want to know what kind of experience they're going to be having here. So I mean, when we look at how books are marketed, they are marketed by genres, but they you know, they talk about it a thriller, you know, yeah, yeah. Those are emotions write thriller, suspense, romance, those are emotions. So it's interesting, the language of genre in literature is emotions based. And so I think a realisation, perhaps, that I mean, we there are horror based games as as board games, but I think reading a little more into the emotional experience of playing the game will again attract a wider audience who aren't as necessarily interested in what the mechanics are.
Yeah, yeah. And the chapter that I guess is going to be that the language is often so poor, I think around games. So the article I know you reference that you wrote a little while back about what fun is, oh, the game is fun. And it's like, Well, okay, yeah, but what does that mean? Like, there's so many different when we're talking the experience, I'm playing here and then I'm just gonna try and describe it to people. I try and avoid the use of the word fun at all costs, because it's so it's become almost somehow exhausted of meaning. Because it it comes to mean any positive emotion that you have when you're playing Ah,
wait. I mean, yeah, it requires you More than a thesaurus or for Saurus. And still not sure how you pronounce that. But you need more than just adverbs and things, I think describing the interaction in broader sense. Again, it's interesting to go back and read, you know, game reviews of an earlier era before these mechanics were discussed. And that would be another thing I would advise publishers to do is go back to those gaming magazines, whether we're talking about strategy and tactics, moves magazine, the general, those, those are coming out of the workings thing, but even Games magazine, taking a look at those more in depth reviews from an era when you had you didn't have that language to sell games, you had to sell it a different way.
Yeah, I find that that element of it kind of really fascinating. It strikes me that one thing I think I expect to happen is for the kind of the role of kind of high concept to come in even more. So I think about the way that films are often pitched is that you have here's the genre expectation. Here's the subversion. So it's like it's a film about a nanny, but it's doing their job. Like, but she's a zombie. Yes, exactly. So and so so so but it's about zombies, or even even serious films. So for example, Saving Private Ryan is it's a second world war movie, but it's a kind of hyper realistic Second World War.
Kirk, it's which one was it? Was it which one was done with one shot one long edited shot? Was that done character was that?
No, no, don't get don't don't Coke is definitely not not the
team for 90.
It was yes, not. Not only is it 1917, I think my shame, I haven't seen it. I have seen it. And it's brilliant. And it's not actually one shot, but it's made to look like it's edited into one long shot. And it is again, so it's so it's the first world war in one long shots. And I think what's so interesting about that, is that when we do games to get our attention, it's like it's a it's a trend game, but right, and then it's like, oh, and that seems like quite a clear understanding. That's probably why that became saying became quite clever.
But you know, here's the thing, as long as consumers are willing to throw money at stuff as the status quo, publishers have very little incentive to change. So as in video games, again, or movies or whatever else they are driven by, except the smaller ones, are willing to let be led by ambition, but the larger ones are going to be led by the market, but what is already selling? But there are exceptions. I mean, in Fantasy Flight, they sometimes they'll have pet projects and so on that will do that. I mean, look at the median, the median came out of nowhere. Yeah, people thought that Donald X Baca Reno was a pseudonym. Like they didn't even believe he exists. Yeah, and it was real bread. And Rio Grande was a major publisher. But they they clearly thought they were willing to take a flyer on it. I think originally, they bought the base game and the first two expansions if I remember correctly,
I think they were all designed together. When they all of those, I believe the first eight, the
first arc of a back corriendo never thought it would ever have bigger legs than that. But he was ambitious in terms of thinking
about it. I mean, eight, it's so many cards, right?
Right. So if publishers are willing to set aside part of their budget for something that's more adventurous and let creators as in any, again, anything let creators get on with it without interference, then you know, you can end up with a Graceland you can end up with Craig Ferguson Late Show, which lately, I've been obsessed with these things where like, you know, they're not under scrutiny. So they have they feel that creative liberty to just go and push the boundaries of what the art form can do.
Yeah, completely, completely. And as you said, difficult, I guess if you're trying to make a living from it, and you're worried about, Oh, am I going to be able to pay the bills, not just for me, but for my staff as well, which I think is another thing, I think, because I think that's something I encounter quite a bit is that actually it strikes me quite a lot of people in public in game publishing are pretty nice folk who are quite responsible, and they want their people to be looked after. So it's like taking big bets on like, whether this suddenly bananas thing will work out on without the kind of like financing that something certain things could have is a challenge, I can understand why the incentive I think that's a very good point you pointed out makes actually a very natural fit. A lot of small publishers are quite ambitious to do things that are impressive, or trying to try to push the genre because to some extent, you're in a position where you feel very safe to do it in some ways. Because it because if it blows up, it blows up. It doesn't matter so much.
Because for many of the small publishers it's not it's not even a full time gig. They still have their day jobs. Oh, completely. Yeah. So they can you know, like you're looking at it isn't a very expensive hobby at that point. So and you've made your peace with the fact that it could all go Yeah, so yes.
Yeah. Yeah, completely. That's, that's completely well, you know, I would love another time to get into even more detail on these sort of things would be absolutely fascinating, because there's so much there that we've gone through in particularly, I think around really interesting to get into some of that going to industry commentary stuff as well, which I think is really interesting. Before we wrap up though, I'd be really keen to hear about what to expect from you because I know you do a podcasts, the game changers, which I want to say right now just the audience. anyone listens to the show should listen to it is absolutely the best thing I've ever heard on the history of games. It's, it's exceptional.
Thank you so much. I mean, it was a labour of love. But it really is. It's a It's my labour of love. And I beginning now to coalesce around this, what a season two would look like. And it is going to be around this thing of what is a game and sort of a an aesthetic philosophy of games. So in other words, what does quality mean, some of the columns I've written in the spring, this thing about what is fun, and the other one about foam, whatever. And then this various other things that I've tweeted about and it's going to come around, again, is a storytelling machine with victory conditions. And looking at a game, which is inspired by the French architect of coop was yay, who basically wrote the textbook of modern architecture and saying that a house is a machine for living. And it's interesting, oh, which was very controversial, and you know, some of the architecture that came out of it, not everyone loves, but I think thinking of a game in that way might provide a framework and also the language that you use in terms of how much ambition does the game have, and judging a game by how well it fulfils that ambition? Yeah, I think I'm going to steal that idea. Oh, so, basically. So basically, what I'm hoping to start soon, once I've organised my thoughts better, because for the history, what it was easy to figure out what the 12 episodes would be this time around. I don't know exactly what the framework will be. But I'm hoping certainly before the end of 2021, that there will begin to be a season two, I'm hoping we'd like to start doing some videos as well. I'm hoping that as the pandemic begins to lift, here in Ontario, and the gaming groups locally, and also, I mean, we have writers from across Canada and in the States. So as this all lifted, people have more stuff to write about. I'm hoping to see more, you know, writing from the daily worker placement, www dot daily worker placement.com. And the game changers byte podcast is I think, dwp.buzzsprout.com I think I sent you the link to it. Yes,
yes. I'll make sure that's in the description. There'll be
in the comments below. Yes. And by all means, if people watching this, have enjoyed it and have comments on anything that we've talked about, I will definitely love to take them into account and we can talk again soon. I would love to thank you so much.
Producing fun is produced by Naylor Games. If You enjoyed the show, follow us on Spotify, Stitcher or other major podcasting platforms. Remember, producing fun is also a product and it thrives on feedback. So please leave a review wherever possible, or simply send me your feedback directly. You can message me on Twitter at @NaylorJames or write me an email James@Naylorgames.com
Until next time.