Board Games on Vermont Public Radio

Ben is super-excited to talk into a big yellow windscreen.

Ben is super-excited to talk into a big yellow windscreen. Photo by Benjamin Higgins (@flopcardboard) / Used with permission.

Vermont Public Radio’s live noontime show, Vermont Edition, discussed the board game renaissance of the 21st century with some locals in the Vermont tabletop community: Benjamin Higgins, manager of the venerable Quarterstaff Games in Burlington, and Andrew Liptak, co-founder of Geek Mountain State. Also popping in to comment were Matt Golec and Robert Dijkman-Dulkes, designers of Penny Press and the prototypical Westmonster Kennel Club games.

My favorite part of the conversation is how everyone in the mix reaffirmed that board games — and all tabletop games — are about building relationships and community. People get together to play board games. Tabletop games need someone else to be in the room. Game stores become hubs of community- and relation-building. Robert puts in a nice pitch for Green Mountain Gamers providing venues all around the state for people to meet their neighbors and find new people with whom to enjoy excellent games. Carnage also gets a tip of the hat as Vermont’s premiere board and tabletop game event.

When tabletop games make it to something as mainstream a media outlet as public radio, I feel like we’ve reached a new peak in terms of making the hobby more visible. Web shows like Tabletop are great, but over the air terrestrial media is a new tier of reach altogether.

Gold: The DVD That Does Double Damage

The Gold DVD is now available for purchase through the official store.

Gold, tagline “the web series that does double damage,” is, depending on how you look at it, a comedy series, a cutting satire, a dramedy or even an exploration of what the world would be life if role-playing were a professional sport. It is also now out on DVD in a remastered presentation that also includes commentary tracks from the cast and crew. David Nett, executive producer of Gold, was kind enough to send me a review copy of the special edition to share with you all.

The first season of the series follows the members of the American team’s preparations for the World Goblins & Gold Role Playing Game Championship. The former leader of the Americans, Jonathan Drake, struggles to recover from an emotionally scarring incident during the semi-finals, while the team founders under the questionable training tactics of self-absorbed cad Richard Wright. Meanwhile, the rival British role-players have their own plans in motion to secure the gold in the tournament.

I followed Gold‘s starting about early 2009, a few episodes into its premiere release schedule. The series caught my attention then with its high production values, quirky premise — in essence, “what happens when role-players are exalted on the level of professional athletes?” — and best of all, straight-faced storytelling. Gold‘s a comedy, to be sure, but the laughs come from the absurdity of the situation when put in contrast with the sincerity of the characters. In that, it’s the same style of comedy you’ll find in a Ghostbusters or a This is Spinal Tap, where the characters remain earnest and believable throughout the story. That won me to Gold right away; the creators trusted their audience enough not to nod, wink and nudge their way through the season. They played the humor — and drama — straight instead of camping it up, making for a very satisfying series.

The DVD special edition of Gold is no less eye-catching than the show itself. The packaging looks every bit as professional as any DVD you might find on the shelves of your local media purveyor. And inside, there was even a couple feelies, a behind the scenes still from production and character Richard Wright’s card from the Gold Character Card Game, which is an actual factual game you can play, and no mere artifact from the universe of the series, as I first presumed.

On the disc itself, in addition to the prologue and six episodes of season one of Gold, you’ll find two sets of commentary tracks covering all seven parts of season one. The first track is with cast members, while the second is with the crew. As in any small production, the camaraderie that formed among the commentators shines through, making both tracks just as interesting and engaging as the series itself in their way. Other nifty features include a minisode, Palace of the Silver Princess, and a thank you from the cast and crew to donors, which is really touching, to see such a visible show of gratitude from creators to the people who made their DVD happen.

Combining the straight-faced absurdity of mockumentaries with the wry, self-reflexive perspective of creators who are hip deep in the role-playing hobby and love every bit of it, from critical hits to the funny little quirks and traditions of the players themselves, the first season of Gold is a solid success. It has real characters, drama and laughs. I can’t wait for the next season to begin streaming, whenever that may be.

The first season of Gold, including the teaser, trailer and prologue, is available for streaming from the series’ website, in addition to the DVD now up for sale in the official web store for $20 plus shipping, in addition to lots of other cool tidbits.

Additionally, I also happen to know that Gold‘s first season will screen in its entirety, prologue to final cliffhanger, at Carnage the 13th in Fairlee, Vermont, Saturday, November 6th at 11:30 PM. As the evening slot officially wraps up at 11:00, it’ll be a nice way to wind down from a hard day of gaming.

Cecil Adams Comments on Dungeons & Dragons

My friend Brennan passed this on to me: Cecil Adams, writer of The Straight Dope, explains What’s the deal with Dungeons & Dragons? I’m not sure if it’s new, old or in between — it’s dated 1980, but the article refers to Gary Gygax leaving TSR in the mid 80s — but it’s certainly worth reading for Cecil’s wry take on role-playing and Dungeons & Dragons in particular.

Consider this passage:

The concept seems simple enough. It’s the application that throws me. There are two main problems: (1) there are one billion rules, and (2) the game requires nonstop mathematical finagling that would constipate Einstein. The rule book is laden with such mystifying pronouncements as the following: “An ancient spell-using red dragon of huge size with 88 hits points has a BXPV of 1300, XP/HP total of 1408, SAXPB of 2800 (armor class plus special defense plus high intelligence plus saving throw bonus due to h.p./die), and an EAXPA of 2550 (major breath weapon plus spell use plus attack damage of 3-30/bite)–totalling 7758 h.p.” Here we have a game that combines the charm of a Pentagon briefing with the excitement of double-entry bookkeeping. I don’t get it.

Not being an aficionado of early editions of Dungeons & Dragons, I have more or less no idea what the hell Cecil’s quoting. BXPV? SAXPB? EAXPA? Those remind me more of HERO‘s mechanical abbreviations than anything else. Cecil’s reaction, however mocking it may be, makes me think about the general accessibility of the gaming hobby and barriers to entry to the various sub-fields, as expressed in technical jargon and self-referential slang.

Every hobby and field of interest builds up its own vocabulary that’s opaque to anyone on the outside. Baseball fans converse about RBIs and ERAs. Musicians have diminished fifths and tone color. And so gamers have XP and action phases. Most hobbies can seem to repel newcomers, if the verbal shorthand and procedure-oriented interactions accrue.

Burlington’s Game Store Suggests Ammunition for Family Game Night

Board games in Burlington got a double shot of exposure over the weekend. Saturday’s edition of the Burlington Free Press included the article “Game night to cure cabin fever,” in which the reporter tapped two of the fine folks at Quarterstaff Games, manager Jeff Durochia and Magic: the Gathering specialist Jeremy Muir, for advice on games for folks new to the hobby. For example:

“Board games are exploding right now,” said Jeff Durochia, manager of Quarterstaff Games in Burlington. Quarterstaff’s biggest seller this holiday season was Settlers of Catan: “It was our hottest selling game; we sell this game day in and day out.”

In addition to stating that board games are a relatively inexpensive and renewable source of entertainment, the article includes input from a local family therapist, Bree Greenberg, who notes games can act as a way for parents and their children to connect — which is interesting to think about, especially when you consider that forty years into the hobby of “gaming,” a definite generational progression of the game-playing population is forming. (As an aside, I want to know what happened to the people who were taken to game conventions as very young children in the 80s. How did they turn out?)

The second part of the double whammy is the article is now making the rounds of the Twitterverse. @Boardgamenews tweeted it first, and it’s been retweeted since then, including by yours truly, @heldaction.