Yesterday was another great day of production at Tabletop. I had an insanely good time playing Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre with Emily Gordon, Jonah Ray, and Veronica Belmont. We fully embraced the outrageousness of the concept, brought our ridiculous wizards to life, and got in touch with our inner 12 year-olds for maximum juvenile humor. Spoiler alert: this one is definitely a candidate for an extended cut episode.
In the afternoon, I ran Dread for Laura Bailey, Molly Lewis, and Ivan Van Norman. I was so focused on being a good host, and they were so focused on not letting the tower collapse, I forgot to take the obligatory production selfie with them. I hope that we’re able to convey the tension and terror in the final cut of the episode, because I think we all worked together to tell a really cool and compelling horror story.
Today, I’m playing Catan Junior in the morning with actual human kids, and this afternoon, I’m playing Libertalia with actual human friends.
Yesterday was a fantastic day at work on Tabletop. In the morning, I played a really fun geek trivia game called Geek Out, with Anne, and our friends Bonnie Burton and Clare Kramer. Normally, I’m not crazy about party or trivia games, but Geek Out is so wonderful and fun, it’s in regular rotation at Castle Wheaton’s Gaming Keep.
In the afternoon, I played my favorite worker placement (or displacement, if you prefer) game of the year, Five Tribes, with my friends Jenna Busch and Satine Phoenix, and Richard Garriot. Yes, that Richard Garriot, as in: the guy who basically invented the MMO, and who has been to freaking space.
Today, we’re playing Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre in the morning, and in the afternoon, I’m running a Dread scenario. I’ll post some pictures later on the Twitters and Instagrams later today, so anyone who is interested can see who is playing with us (though if you read to the end, you’ll find out who is playing this morning).
Before I run off to get ready for work, I thought I’d share my intro for Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre, because I think some of you may find it interesting, and it’s the sort of thing that I would probably write about as a blog, if it wasn’t an intro for my show:
I have a confession to make. I originally did not want to play this game on Tabletop, because I felt like it was too random, and that there wasn’t enough strategy. Producer Boyan pointed out to me that we had just finished playing a heavy strategy game, and if I was looking to continue that experience, I wasn’t going to get it from this game.
Tabletop doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be, just about heavy strategy games, he suggested, and maybe I should give this game a second chance, let it be what it is, and see if I have fun playing it on its own terms.
I thanked him for his advice and insight, reconsidered my initial impression, and decided to let this game be what it is: a hilarious, fast, relatively light game with amazing artwork, that encourages its players to fully embrace how outrageous the whole thing is. When I did that, a wonderful thing happened: I cranked up some 80s heavy metal, got into the spirit of the game, and had a fantastic time playing it. I don’t even remember who won, and I totally don’t care. The game, as they say, was the thing.
Today on Tabletop, you’ll get to see for yourself exactly what I’m talking about, as Jonah Ray, Emily Gordon, Veronica Belmont and I put on our robes and wizard hats, to reenact the Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre.
For the past several months, my producer Boyan, and I built a list of about 140 games that were potential candidates for Tabletop. We spent the last five weeks playing them to find our final list of games for season three of Tabletop.
It was a very fun process that was also very challenging and kind of exhausting. #GamerNerdProblems
Before I tell you what some of them are, I wanted to talk a bit about the selection process, because it comes up all the time.
I did a Not The Flog all about this, but the basic rules are:
I have to love the game.
It has to be in print.
It has to be teachable in roughly five minutes (there are some exceptions to this rule).
It must have a good ratio of luck to strategy.
It shouldn’t have player elimination.
It can not have simultaneous play.
It needs to have good production values.
It needs to play in under 90 minutes with four players.
I’m sure there are some others that I’m not thinking of at the moment, but those are the fundamentals.
We also put games into categories, like:
Co-operative with a defector.
And so on. If we end up with two or more games that we really like that fit into the same category, we pick the one that we think would look best on camera, or is in some way a better representation of the category for some reason.
There were games that I loved, like Daniel Solis’ Belle of the Ball, which just won’t work on our show (Belle joins Sentinels of the Multiverse, in that regard). There were games that were so infuriatingly awful, like [GAME THAT SHALL NOT BE NAMED], they made me literally angry with rage. There were games, like Escape, that were supremely fun, but feature simultaneous play, so we can’t use them. There’s Rampage — which really needs to be played at human scale at conventions using cardboard buildings and plushie Meeples — that we can’t play because it’s impossible for us to shoot. There were games that seemed promising, but just fell apart at one point or another.
So we took over 100 games that we thought looked promising, and eliminated the ones that broke one or more of those rules. I’d say that left us with about 45 games in all those categories, which we played many times. I guess we’ll call those games the finalists, because I can call them whatever I want, since this is my show. In fact, we’re going to call them Batman.
So we took the Batman games and played them intensely over a span of about five weeks, ending up with 23 games to be played in 20 episodes. They’re all really great games in their various categories, and I’m super excited to see how they play out when we film the show.
I thought it would be cool to share some of the games we’re playing before we get into production, instead of making everyone wait until the episode comes out, so anyone who is interested in them can pick up a copy before the Tabletop effect hits, and also because I like the freedom to be open like this that comes with our crowd-funded season.
So, here are a few of the games we’ll be playing this season:
In Libertalia, we’re all pirates trying to outwit each other and bluff our way to the best treasure. It’s super fast to learn and play, has massive replay value, and allows us to talk like pirates. Yar.
We describe this as “7 wonders express”. We’re all trying to have the best meal in a sushi bar, passing cards around the table and trying to keep what will help us, while we try to mess up what everyone else is trying to get. I just love this game, and it’s one of many that are simply outstanding offerings from Gamewright, a publisher that is increasingly becoming one of my favorites.
This is one of the few “gamer” games we’re going to play this season. It’s published by Days of Wonder, a company that usually publishes “lighter” games (like Ticket to Ride and Pirate’s Cove). I’m most worried about how we’re going to make this game work, because it has a ton of meeples and the art on the game, while beautiful, may feel cluttered on camera. I love it so much, though, I am determined to make it work. I even had my editor come over yesterday to play it, so he could give us ideas on how we can best film it. Not that it matters, but this was my favorite game at GenCon this year, and is so far my favorite of 2014.
Oh, I guess I should tell you a little bit about it, right? All these different colored meeples are on the board, and we pick them up and drop them off like in Mancala, as we use them to claim spaces, score points, and collect resources. It’s a little complex to learn (just because there’s a lot of information to digest), but once you climb the steep learning curve, the gameplay is very intuitive and easy to understand. Because it’s set in ancient Persia, there are Djinn that can help players, and it’s heavily thematic.
Also, while we were playing it yesterday, I got up from my crummy card table (I’m waiting for my Geek Chic table to arrive), bumped the table leg with foot (well, maybe I kicked it really hard because DEX is my dump stat), and not only did I knock all the meeples off their tiles, I spilled my iced coffee over all the djinn cards, and knocked a bowl of almonds to the floor.
It was the most epic and total destruction of a game I have ever witnessed, and I’ve been to France.
Not that it matters, but I ended up winning the game after we restarted with an entirely new setup. I’m really good at this game, so when I lose on the show like I always do, it’s going to be rough.
So there you have a few of the games we’re playing this season on Tabletop. Over the next few days or whatever, I’ll post some more of them. We go into production on Thursday the 8th, and we shoot until the 20th.
OH! And there will probably be a MAJOR AWESOME ANNOUNCEMENT ABOUT SEASON THREE in the next few days. I hope you’ll join me in getting excited about it.
The IeSF, or International e-Sports Federation, is a global organisation based in South Korea that is comprised of e-sports associations from across the world. Their stated aim is to promote e-sports as a “true sport”. The IeSF’s sixth World Championship will take place this November, in Baku, Azerbaijan.
Male Competition: Dota 2, Starcraft 2, Hearthstone, Ultra Street Fighter IV
Female Competition: Starcraft 2, Tekken Tag Tournament 2
It’s an absurd division. Seemingly it tells us that Ultra Street Fighter IV is for boys, and Tekken Tag Tournament is for girls; that women aren’t meant to play Dota 2 or Hearthstone; and that while both men and women can play Starcraft 2, they damn well better not do it together.
Of course, that’s not what the IeSF are saying. Their reasoning is far more insidious than that. In a reply to a Facebook comment asking why men and women had been divided, the IeSF responded with the following:
“The decision to divide male and female competitions was made in accordance with international sports authorities, as part of our effort to promote e-Sports as a legitimate sports.”
It’s a bizarre statement, attempting to defend a seemingly indefensible decision. E-sports can be recognised as a “legitimate sport” while still staying true to the differences that exist. Hearthstone is not a game that requires any division by gender—to do so is a completely arbitrary decision that smacks of a desperation to be taken seriously.
How busy have I been? So busy that I forgot to write a blog about TableTop Season 3, and how you can help make it happen.
tl;dr:We’re crowdfunding Tabletop’s 3rd season. We’ve raised $500,000, so we can afford to do 15 episodes. If we get to $750,000, we’ll have enough to do 20 episodes (like seasons one and two), and if we get to one million dollars, we can afford to do the RPG spin off that I’ve wanted to do for years (a season-long campaign, cut into about 20 or so 40-minute-ish episodes with the same players, characters, and GM).
(Don’t read the comments; they will make you mad. Or, if you’re me, they’ll make you sad, because a lot of people don’t understand television production, and how much shows cost, so they yell at you a lot, based on presumptions that turn out to be wrong.)
Because we’re going completely independent , we can do some things we’ve always wanted to do, like an episode that’s me, Anne, and our kids. We’re also going to do a special episode that’s just a game or two for children, played with children, because thousands of people have asked me what I recommend they play with their kids.
We’re also going to do the SUPER DIRTY and PROFOUNDLY INAPPROPRIATE “TableTop After Dark” episode, where we play Cards Against Humanity. There may be beer and a couple of dirty comedians involved. This will be the episode that likely makes the world hate me forever.
We have a bunch of perks for people who choose to contribute various amounts to our effort, but I want to be really clear that we’re making Tabletop for everyone who loves it, whether they can give us zero or infinity dollars.
I’m not entirely positive when we’ll be filming the first 10 episodes, but I know we’re going to try to get them done soon, so we can release them later this summer. A lot of that schedule is going to be determined by how busy I am with The Wil Wheaton Project.
There have been a lot of FAQs about this campaign, so we did our best to answer them in the standard way:
Why are you going Independent?
Felicia: Geek and Sundry (and Tabletop) up until now was funded by YouTube’s original channel initiative, which is not continuing to go forward anymore. We have been talking to a bunch of partners and are excited about some of our options to continue G&S as a company, but Wil (and we) were passionate about being able to keep Tabletop on schedule to release more episodes this year, and stay independent of influence to change the show for sponsor/commercial reasons. That is why we are fundraising like this.
Wil: We want to make the same TableTop that we’ve made for two seasons, and give our audience something that we’re proud of, and we wanted to do that without compromising our vision for the show. The quickest and most reliable way to make that happen was to go directly to the people who love TableTop as much as we do, and ask them to help us make our third season as awesome as our first two.
Why are you asking for so much money?
Felicia: This show is a standout for a reason: We pay professional people to make it. It’s polished and stands next to TV show quality because we wanted to make something long-lasting, and impact in a big way, like a TV show when we conceived it. To put it in perspective: The average 30 second commercial you see on TV? Costs 1-3 million dollars. EACH. The average 1/2 hour comedy? 2-3 million dollars. Shows like Game of Thrones? 7-9 million dollars. PER EPISODE.
We are doing a minimum of fifteen, 30 minute shows for a fraction of ONE TV SHOW. If you put it in that perspective, we are definitely not paying people professional rates to work on it. I do a lot of low budget web videos (to help do shows like TableTop, actually), and I think the ones that last beyond that moment of consumption are the ones that have budgets, that people tend to enjoy over and over. My goal always has been to show the established TV world that people can work outside the system and compete with their business, Tabletop is our best example of that, just like The Guild before us. We are doing this show for the minimum we can do it and keep up what we have established before us.
Wil: This is a question that I wasn’t expecting, and I feel really stupid for not explaining this more in advance. I’ve lived in the film and television industry my whole life, and I’ve been an active producer on TableTop for 40 episodes, so I know how much it costs to make an average show, and how much it costs to make our show. Let me be clear right away: we’re not getting rich off TableTop. In fact, if TableTop was my only job, I wouldn’t be able to support my family for even one year. That said, to anyone who does not live in the film and television world, i completely understand a sense of ‘sticker shock’ upon hearing that this YouTube show needs half a million dollars to produce fifteen episodes.
This week, I’m doing an episode of The Big Bang Theory, When it’s all finished and cut together, it’ll be about 22 minutes (approximately the same length as the average episode of TableTop), and it’ll cost several million dollars to produce. If you do a strict math problem, you’ll see that we do fifteen (or 20 if/when we get there) episodes of TableTop – 33 minutes, at least, that’s 660 minutes of TableTop – for less than the cost of a single 22 minute episode of network television.
We put everything we have into TableTop, because we love it, and we push our budget to its maximum limited so the show that we put out on YouTube can stand next to anything you see on Broadcast or Cable, and I’ll keep doing that as long as we can. I also want to make one thing really clear: we’re incredibly grateful – I am personally – incredibly grateful and honored by the contributions we’ve been given by the TableTop community. I know that you’re trusting us to keep doing what we’ve been doing, and I’m going to honor that trust by making the very best show we can possibly make.
Will TableTop still be free to watch? Do I have to donate to see it?
Wil: It will absolutely be free to watch. And now that we are completely independent, we aren’t limited to broadcasting on YouTube, so we’ll be able to make Tabletop available to even more people in even more ways, as we release season three.
Felicia: You do not have to donate, we appreciate it so much if you choose to do so, and understand if you don’t. It will still be free and watchable by you if we make our fundraising goal.
So there you have it. Tabletop Season Three is guaranteed at least 15 episodes, and we’re feeling pretty optimistic that we’ll get to 20. I think it’s a longer shot that we make it to the RPG show, but Tabletop fans keep surprising me, so maybe I’m more uncertain than I should be.
Thank you to everyone who has supported us, and PLAY MORE GAMES!
This is both a plug and a confession. Wil Wheaton is back on dry land, so I’ll make this quick. I’m terrible at interviews.
Almost ten years ago, at the foot of an unfinished Atlanta high-rise, I interviewed architect Turan Duda for Atlanta magazine. My assignment was for a one-page spotlight on creative people doing exciting work in the ATL — one page including a picture of the skyscraper. So it was more like one column of text.
I kept Mr. Duda trapped in that interview for an hour.
We talked about spatial design, about his history and his vision, about Atlanta in general. It was a good talk for the first 35-45 minutes, before I realized how long we’d been talking. Before I realized, I didn’t know how to end an interview. (Spoiler: It’s easy. End it like a conversation, maybe.)
Mr. Duda was very generous, obliging, and impressive to this newbie interviewer. I learned a lot that day about architecture and interviews … and almost none of it helps me when I’m interviewed myself.
Interviews with me make me nervous, whether they’re in person or in text. I’ve done a few interviews lately for my new tabletop RPG, Dark. (The Kickstarter ends today!) I talked online with the Misdirected Mark podcast and I was interviewed via email for this piece at The Escapist. I ramble and I talk too fast and I’m concerned that I’ll say something — something insipid or casual or thoughtless — that will undo or overshadow a work that I’ve spent a long time crafting.
John Updike once put it like this to Terry Gross:
Once you’ve put yourself on record in an interview, and you’re sort of thinking fast and saying the first thing that pops into your mind, basically, anything to fill up the air time or the reporter’s time, it’s a little disconcerting, when you’re younger than I, to realize that these remarks which you toss off, once they’re in print, have an equal weight with all the words that you’ve labored to polish and make come out exactly right.
Part of it, for me at least, is my Impostor Syndrome. Why should anyone be listening to what I think, right? Who the hell am I?
Here’s what helped me out: the live-lit storytelling scene. I co-produce a show in the Story Club series and we have an open-mic component to our events. It’s never been wasted. Everyone has stories to tell — I’ve known that for a long time — and I think everyone should get a chance at a mic to talk about their passions, their projects, their past, and their plans. Some of these mics are mics, some of them are blogs, some of them are Twitter, some of them are cameras — whatever.
If you get the chance to tell your stories, take the chance. And if you get a chance to interview someone, to help them tell their stories, try it out. Ask your friends friendly questions. When you meet people, politely ask about them. Let’s get more stories told, more perspectives shared, and more voices at the mic.
It’s like what Wil did this week. He invited people to speak in his absence. He shared stories he might not have been able to tell on his own. Thank you, Wil.
Speaking of which, he’ll be back any minute and I’ve got to clean up. Think he’ll notice if I use his 3D printer to replace all the beer we drank?
On one of his spoken-word records, The Boxed Life, Henry Rollins talks a bit about being funny or happy all the time. If you could be funny or happy all the time, which would you pick?
I’ve been thinking about this since 1995. I first heard Boxed Life in 1995 and I’ve been thinking about this since then. I’ve been thinking about other things, too, but still. The question, it vexes me.
“I’m funny all the time, I’m not happy all the time,” Rollins said. “So, okay, but that’s all right, because I’d rather be funny than happy … all the time.”
Historically, I’ve found it easy to answer this question … but hard to shake it. If I had to choose, I’d choose to be funny.
“There’s not a lot to learn from being unfunny,” I used to tell people when I’d talk about this. That idea is plainly bullshit — there’s plenty to learn from bombing on stage or mucking up a joke — but it’s what I would say. People who are happy all the time irk me.
In part, I believe the lessons learned from being unhappy are valuable. I have to believe that. I have to believe that the time I spend feeling miserable will pay off somehow, maybe by informing my work, maybe in insights or wisdom. I want to believe that misery isn’t a waste of my time because I only have so much time and I don’t want to think that I’ve wasted so much of it.
The trouble is, I’ve cooked the question too long. I reduced out a lot of the nuance and the flavor and I’ve sometimes forgotten that the heart of the question is in that phrase “all the time.”
I think it’s easy to breeze through happy times without learning anything. Happiness feels easy even when it’s not easy. If you’re like me, good times can feel sustainable when you’re in them.
They’re not sustainable. Nothing lasts forever. And here’s the thing about misery: it doesn’t have to make sense.
This has been a great month for me, creatively. My new tabletop RPG, Dark, is doing well at Kickstarter. The new online storytelling game I’m working on, Storium, just entered a new phase of alpha testing. I’m designing a series of new Fiasco playsets I can’t tell you about yet. Lots of fun work happening at once.
Things are, measurably, good.
Last week, I couldn’t see that. Something grim settled over me like a glum fog, blocking out the light. I wanted to do good work but I couldn’t see straight — I hated everything I wrote not because it was bad, but because I wrote it. I put off work I wanted to do because I didn’t feel like I had earned the right to work on it yet. It was a dessert-and-vegetables thing, I told myself. But that’s bullshit, too. When I’m that miserable, I fear and resent happiness. I feel like I owe it nothing, like it’s betrayed me, like I have to learn how to function forever without it because I may never be happy again.
That’s the inherent, fascinating, dangerous fallacy inherent in the funny-or-happy equation. It’s in that phrase: all the time.
Happiness is impermanent. So is misery. What’s fleeting is often beautiful.
The trap I fell into was thinking that unhappiness, misery, and depression were somehow more revealing, more authentic than happiness. As if there’s less to learn from happiness than from misery. Look around and you’ll see people tripping on this idea all around us.
(It’s an easy mistake, I think, because misery ruminates, obsesses, and stares at itself. Depression warps time, pushing us to dwell on things that still exist when we’re happy — things that we just don’t fret about so much when things are good.)
We have a lot to learn from happiness and contentment and while it is sometimes harder to pause and glean the insights when you’re busy laughing and dancing and making merry, let’s do that more. We don’t have to be happy all the time (because, seriously, ugh) but we shouldn’t mix up happy with oblivious, either. I did that for too long.
Anyway, I still don’t want to be happy all the time because I think I’m ill-suited for that. I want to learn from happiness and misery, both. And if I could be funny all the time, I could bring laughs and joy to others and that would rebound back to me. When other people laugh at my jokes? That makes me happy.
It’s Lords of Vegas, with my friends Miracle Laurie (who you probably know from Dollhouse, but you should know from her band Uke Box Heroes), and Angela and Aubrey Webber of the delightful band the Doubleclicks.
I hope you’ve all enjoyed season two as much as I did. As proud as I was of our work in season one, we learned a lot from it, and I’m extremely proud of the improvements we made (on camera and off) during season two. If we get funding for season three, it’s going to be uh-mah-zang.
As I’ve written before, different games work for different people, and someone who loves Ticket To Ride may not like King of Tokyo at all, so ask your non-gamer or tabletop-curious friends questions, and choose their gateway game carefully. All of these games have a high ratio of luck to strategy, which makes it a lot of fun for experienced and new players alike to play together.
And, as luck would have it, a lot of these games have been played on Tabletop, so you can get an assist from Your Old Pal Wil Wheaton when you introduce one of them to a new gamer. Just use the links above.
There I was, alone outside an unfamiliar hotel-room door, with nowhere to hide. It was too late to flee. I had already knocked.
My newest tabletop RPG design was in my bag, ready to make a first impression. I felt like I had worms in my guts. I thought I could feel my brain’s insidious chemicals diluting the meds I take to keep my head above the waves. I took a breath, let it out.
Settle down, you idiot, I thought to myself. Just don’t be a dick.
Someone worked the latch on the door. It swung open.
“Hey, how are you?” Wil Wheaton asked, doorknob in hand. “Come on in.”
I went inside. But I’d already made my first mistake. It went into my mood like a drop of dye clouding into clear water.