This is my intro for Dead of Winter. I thought it may spark an interesting discussion about what I call Peak Zombie:
I think I was a freshman or sophomore in high school the first time I saw Dawn of the Dead. It hit me the way certain things can only hit a child’s fragile, eggshell mind: it was gory, and disturbing, and pretty scary. It also made me wonder what I would do if I found myself in the zombie apocalypse. Would it really be living if I spent the rest of my life trapped inside a mall? At what point does surviving cease to be living? Why am I asking myself incredibly complex and difficult philosophical questions, instead of playing The Legend of Zelda?
Dawn of the Dead piqued my interest in George A. Romero’s version of the zombie apocalypse, and I devoured — sorry — Night of the Living Dead, Day of the Dead, and even Return of the Living Dead. For many years, I was a zombie fiend. In fact, every Halloween from 16 to 30, I was some version of a zombie. I wrote stories about zombies, I read stories about zombies, and if there was something with a zombie in it, it was on my wish list.
But sometime in the last few years, we hit Peak Zombie, and the truth is: I’m kind of over it. The Living Dead are rarely a metaphor for consumerism, conformity, militarization, and complacency. In much of popular culture, zombies are little more than cannon fodder and background noise in corporate entertainment that’s rushed to cash in on the public’s insatiable — some may say zombie-like — hunger for stories that pit a scrappy band of human survivors against a relentless, endless, faceless mob of interchangeable, shambling bad guys.
But every now and then, something breaks through the fortified wall of hardened, Hipster cynicism I’ve built around my survival compound, and reminds me that we keep returning to stories where zombies are threatening our very existence because even if the undead aren’t explicitly standing in for some profound and specific commentary on our modern world, they can, in fact, stand in for time, age, hunger, despair, and every existential threat we worry about when the night is darkest, and we can’t find the light.
Today on Tabletop, Dodger Leigh, Grant Imahara, and Ashley Johnson are here to explore a game that puts us right in the middle of the depths of our fears, during the worst of the zombie apocalypse. As if staying alive and pushing back the undead wasn’t hard enough, one of us may very well be working against the rest of us, to ensure that none of us make it through the DEAD OF WINTER.
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.
Today is the end of our first week of production on Tabletop’s third season. I’ll probably sleep for a thousand hours tonight, have my version of the weekend, and start the second half of production on Thursday. I’m so very, very tired, and it’s entirely worth it.
I thought I’d round up all the games we’ve played so far, as well as the guests who’ve joined me for them. Please note that this is just the order in which we shot the episodes, and will likely not be the order in which they are released.
Tokaido – Jason Wishnov, J. August Richards, Chris Kluwe
Concept – Joseph Scrimshaw, Rett and Link
Roll For It and Sushi Go! – Jason Ritter, Jennifer Hale, John Ross Bowie
Forbidden Desert – Felicia Day, Alan Tudyk, Jon Heder
Love Letter and Coup – The Fine Brothers and Felicia Day
Hare & Tortoise and Council of Verona – Jessica Merizan, David Kwong, Alison Haislip
Sheriff of Nottingham – Meredith Salenger, Ashley Clements, Derek Mio
Stone Age – Nika Harper, Jesse Cox, Jordan Maron
Today, we’re shooting a two-part episode, and I’ll post photos of the game and the guests from the set in a few hours.
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.
I’m in official pre-production mode for Tabletop Season Three, so I’ve been looking at tons of games (seriously, thank you for all the suggestions), and playing as many of them as I can with my friends, or on my iPad (Suburbia on iPad is pretty much perfect, if you were wondering).Idea that I’m putting here, so I don’t forget: include information about tablet versions of games that we play on the show, if tablet versions exist.I’m also beginning to look at indie RPGs, because we had such a great time playing Fiasco. So far, candidates include:
A Penny For My Thoughts
The Quiet Year
Carolina Death Crawl
I don’t know if we’ll be able to make any of these work (Dread has player elimination, for example), but I just love GM-less storytelling games, and I think Tabletop is the perfect place to show them off, because most of the people who come to play with us are inherently good storytellers.I’m interested to hear your thoughts on Indie RPGs that fit with this bunch, and also if you’d like to watch us play some of these. Keep in mind that we’d be able to, at most, split it into two episodes, which means we’d have to play a satisfying session in about four hours.
As before, please leave your suggestion here, so it’s easy for me to find. Also, publishers and writers: please don’t use this as an invitation to mount a campaign to get me to play your game.
At the moment, we’re looking at about 60 games. That list will be narrowed down to about 20, maybe more if we do a combo episode of a couple of mini or micro games.
A lot of FAQs popped up in that thread, so I’d like to point anyone who is interested to my episode of Not The Flog, where I talked about how we choose games for the show, why we simply can’t play certain games, and some games I freaking love, but simply won’t work for our format.
Finally, a quick note to publishers and designers: I know you’re enthusiastic about your games, and I know a lot of you would like us to play your games on our show. However, encouraging people so basically spam me with your titles isn’t helpful, and actually ensures that I won’t play your games. This is a giant bummer for everyone, because you may have a game that I’d genuinely like to play, but I’ll never even try it, because the spamming was so annoying and unhelpful.
A quick note to players: if you genuinely love a game, let me know, and let me know why. That is helpful information that us useful and welcome.
We’re officially on hiatus right now, and we don’t know if the network will order more episodes. I know that they liked us in a creative sense, but the ratings weren’t very good (ratings are generally not very good in summer, and while I don’t believe that ratings are as important as they once were, my opinion on the matter isn’t particularly important to the decision makers), but the people who did watch us really liked us. So I won’t know for a few more weeks, but until then, I’m on hiatus, which means I get to write more, play more games, and prep for season three of Tabletop, which goes into production in October.
Part of that preparation includes finding 20 games to play on the show, and as of today, I have eight (maybe nine) that are strong contenders.
What do you want us to play on the show next year? Would you tell me the game, the publisher, and why you like it?
Keep in mind the criteria for Tabletop game selection:
Plays well with 4 people.
Plays in under 90 minutes.
Can be generally explained in about 5 minutes.
Has a high ration of luck to strategy, so everyone has a chance to win the game.
Looks great, has clear graphical design and photographs well.