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.
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.
Play more games!
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.
Play more games!
Today is our third day of production on season three of Tabletop, so I thought I’d share some pictures from behind the scenes so far.
Here’s our hardworking production intern, Melissa, writing some of the 7000+ names of the backers who chose the “make Melissa and Kevin write my name on the set” perk.
This is really important: currently, 100% of voice work for streaming video on demand (Netflix, Amazon, etc., — you know, the future of our business) is budgeted at “under 1.3 million dollars” and for the next three years of this proposed contract, voice actors will be doing work that will run forever, without those actors receiving residuals for their work. Even worse, there is no minimum scale, no limit on number of character voices, no limit on session duration, and no limit on episodes per session.
The proposed contract, if ratified, will create conditions for voice actors that are essentially identical to working without a union to protect and negotiate for us. This contract is a disaster, and we must not allow it to be ratified.
Voice Over actors, today is the last day we can contact our national board at SAG and tell them to not ratify this proposed voice over contract. It’s a terrible deal for us, and while (speaking as a former board member) I believe that the national board will do the right thing if they know and understand how this will affect voice actors. But I don’t know how many members of the national board are voice actors. I looked at the current board, and I don’t recognize a single name there from our part of the industry, and that worries me.
I don’t know if they understand how much this will hurt voice actors, and if they understand that if this contract is ratified, we may as well be working without a union at all. I’m sure that, when they do understand that, they will refuse to ratify this terrible contract.
But they have to know, and they have to understand.
If you are a union voice actor, please contact the SAG national board TODAY, and tell them to vote against this proposed contract. Today, Friday, October 10th, is the deadline to contact the board before its next meeting.
Further, you may wish to make it clear that voice actors deserve to vote directly on a contract that affects us, instead of our livelihoods and working conditions being put into the hands of people who may not work behind a mic as often as we do.
From a reader, printed with permission:
Check this out… Years ago I was watching some NBA game. T-Mobile (or some carrier) had this Five Friends, or some damn thing, promotion. They were asking players to name their top five moments. So, Horry listed five of his big game winning shots, and of course, you know his nickname is Big Shot Rob. The interesting thing is he said that in one game he was 0-for-10 going into the final period and another game he was 0-for-11. So, two of his five career defining successes came when he was on the brink of total failure. Had the teams lost these crucial games, his complete 0-for meltdown would be brutally scrutinized. ESPECIALLY, if he had taken the final shot and missed. Coaches could be fired. Players traded. Obviously, this shit happens when teams lose a playoff or finals game. So, some observations... First, the coach was willing to put a player in who was DEAD FUCKING COLD that game. In the fourth quarter, at a key moment, in a huge game. That says everything about Horry’s reputation. Second, Horry himself took the shot and did not let his previous failures affect him. As someone who has played basketball for decades, I know that when you start to miss, it gets in your head. But Horry (and most professionals) play their average. They know if they miss five, they can easily make five in a row and get their 50%. Third, NOBODY remembers Horry going scoreless in those games, leading up to the final shot. I’m a lifelong Lakers fan and I didn’t know it. All they remember is he’s Big Shot Rob and that’s all that will ever stick to him. I remember one game where they showed the Lakers locker room before some big showdown with the Kings or someone. Everyone was jacked up or anxious and Horry was stretched out on a bench, asleep. Big Shot Rob.
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:
- Worker Placement.
- Area Control.
- 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:
This is a gorgeous, perfectly balanced game, where players take a journey from Kyoto to Edo, along the East Sea Road. It’s from the same designer as Takenoko and Rampage.
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.