Boardgames To GoAuthor: Mark Johnson
22 Nov 2019

Boardgames To Go

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Mark Johnson's occasional & opinionated podcast about family strategy boardgames

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    Boardgames To Go 192 - Origins Game Fair 2019

    Opener: Bukiet (Bloom)

    Closer: BGG's new look

    This isn't the first time I've attended the Origins Game Fair, one of the United States' larger national game conventions. But my previous times were once in the 1990s...and once in the 1980s! As far as we're concerned, that's a completely different era. It was before the current wave of boardgames, even before CCGs had their wave. Now in 2019 the event was dominated by our style of boardgaming, with a subset of CCGs, RPGs, and wargaming around the edges.

    Those other times I attended Origins was back when it moved around--different cities in different years. I went when it was local to me, and I only went for a day or two. Now, of course, the event has its permanent home at the Columbus, Ohio convention center. To get there I had to fly cross-country, staying with friends in a rented apartment for an extended weekend. In fact, these were friends I barely knew before Origins. I knew David already, and his other two buddies I met over Skype. It's another example of what's so great about this hobby, the good people.

    Partway through our time at Origins, these newfound friends & I gathered around my iPad to record our thoughts. The audio is good enough, I think. Like I always enjoy, we had some meta conversation about the convention itself, the venue, people, and overall experience. Then we dive into the games themselves. The funny thing is that we played a bunch of older games, not all new stuff. I swear I'm not responsible for this (not entirely)! These guys were as excited to play some older titles as the new hotness. We had some of both, as you'll hear (or see below).

    Wednesday (travel day): Red7, Wildlands, Blood Red Skies, El Grande, Imhotep, The King is Dead, Railroad Ink, The Mind, No Thanks

    Thursday: Tigris & Euphrates, Silver & Gold, Ringmaster, Museum, Exit (Catacombs of Horror), Cockroach Poker, LAMA

    Friday: War Chest, Keltis Way of the Stones, Musketeers, Piepmatz, Wingspan

    Saturday: Gnomopolis, Undaunted: Normandy, unpublished prototype, Shifty Eyed Spies


  • Posted on 23 Aug 2019

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    Boardgames To Go 191 - Spiel des Jahres Top 40

    I'll be attending Origins Game Fair this year (June 2019) in Columbus. I've been there before, but only in the 80s & 90s, so I'm sure it's substantially different now. I'll be there Thursday-Sunday, including participating on a panel of wargame podcasters/YouTubers/bloggers Sunday morning. That's listed in the program as shown below. I think it's free, and although it's about wargaming you may want to stop by anyway. The topic is the current "golden age" of the hobby, and part of what I have to say is how there are more euro-wargame crossover titles now. Some good aspects of euro design & production have made their way into wargames. I'm thinking of titles like Memoir '44, Twilight Struggle, Academy Games' 1754/1775/1812 series, A Few Acres of Snow, and so on.

    Whether you attend the panel or not, I'm happy to hand out my little BoardgamesToGo and WargamesToGo buttons to listeners. Just track me down and I should have some onhand to give away. I'll mostly be doing open gaming, I think. Drop me a note on Twitter or geekmail if you like.

    Armchair Dragoons Presents Wargaming Media: State of Play
    This panel featuring wargaming media personalities will discuss the current “Golden Age” of board wargaming and what can be done to ensure its survival.
    Location: GCCC - Apods - A210
    Date: Sunday 6/16/2019 10am (2 hours)

    Opener: Silver & Gold

    Closer: SdJ jury comments
    Dale Yu's 2009 interview with Tom Werneck at Opinionated Gamers
    Harald Schrapers and other jury members

    It's Spiel des Jahres season. That means the speculation has happened, the actual nominees & recommended titles have been announced, and now we're just waiting on the final prizewinning selection. This doesn't matter to many people--in fact many gamers don't think it's a big deal. But it's a big deal to me and here's why: I'm a hobby gamer from way, way back. Like four decades. If you think hobby gaming is niche now, you have no recollection of what an odd corner it was in back then. Stereotyped as being full of nerdy boys and grumpy old men, that was kind of true. Game shops did not smell good. Mature romances and stable careers were hard to find.

    Now, those people are still around--and they deserve their hobby, too--but I find it FAR better today that we have more diverse game groups filled with everyday people doing everyday jobs. Interesting games are on sale in bookstores, at Target, and of course online. Not everything has to have an orc in it. I don't know if the hobby IS bigger & broader, but it sure feels that way.

    True, these improvements may have come around on their own. After all, formerly geeky entertainments like Game of Thrones and Marvel comics now dominate our cultural landscape. Perhaps hobby games would've developed on their own. I don't think so, however. Or, at least, it all happened much faster (and--importantly--across a broader audience) because a group of game reviewers in Germany took artistic criticism of gaming as an artform seriously. They drove their publishers to do better, and in turn the publishers were rewarded with increased business. It was a positive cycle, and we are some of its lucky recipients.

    There are a lot of awards thought up & given out by all sorts of organizations. There have been some in America for decades. Yet they didn't have this impact. In fact, there were other awards in Germany, too. The Spiel des Jahres has worked like no others because it has been cultivated & maintained by a dedicated, revolving collection of game critics. Even if the lighter, more family-focused games aren't your favorites, you still benefit from their polishing of the games business. For someone like me, it's even better because I honestly love many of the titles that have won the Spiel des Jahres.

    I don't love ALL of them, though. Not even close. As you'll hear, I'd say I love about a third, like another third, and don't like the final third. Close to that. This episode is a ranking of all 40 of the SdJ winners, and (briefly) what I think of them.





  • Posted on 09 Jun 2019

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    Boardgames To Go 190 - Grail Games (with David Harding)

    Openers: KeyForge and Lost Cities Rivals

    Closers: "It's light but and I liked it" / Fillers fill me up; Do gaming statistics add or subtract from your enjoyment?

    Over the many years on this podcast I've interviewed plenty of gamers, and a few designers. Apparently I'd missed talking to a publisher, however. I first encountered David Harding as an online gamer-friend, whether through, Twitter, or just email. We played some games together and traded messages. Somewhere along the way he became a game designer, and then a game publisher. David designed & produced Elevenses, One Zero One, and Matcha, then broadened into publishing other designers' titles. Most notably, he has produced new editions and new games from Reiner Knizia himself. Besides the well-known Medici, David and Grail Games brought us Knizia's most substantial new game in many years, Yellow & Yangtze. In fact, Grail Game has published quite a number of amazing Knizia titles.

    Have you ever been dissatisfied in your day job and fantasized about being a game designer or publisher? David's story will resonate with you. Clearly it isn't easy, and it doesn't make you rich. In fact, you probably still need to stick with that day job. But there's a joy & pride in bringing thee games to the public, too, and you can hear that in David's voice and story.

    Towards the end, David describes the current state of the hobby in a way that will resonate with anyone who takes a longer view. Although he's super careful to allow any gamer their own way of enjoying the hobby, personally he's the sort that appreciates repeated plays and games we can all stick with. Or even just games that he likes personally.

    "Like the games you like." Good advice for all of us.


    P.S. You can tell from this podcast that David is unique, fun, and self-deprecating personality. If you want to see & hear more of his charming quirkiness, check out his Grail Games channel on YouTube.

  • Posted on 15 Apr 2019

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    Boardgames To Go 189 - Welcome to Season 15

    I pushed back an interview show I have coming next* in order to open the 15th year(!) of this podcast with a solo episode. In it, I reflect a little on the podcast and (re)tell some stories about it. Then I launch into a LONG list of games I've managed to play at three recent events: EsCon 2019, SoCal Games Day #76, and an extended weekend boardgame cruise with some buddies. In those events I played a mix of old favorites, some new-to-me superfillers like I prefer, a few longer games, and some that have some hype/hotness about them. See? Even I play those trendy titles sometimes, kickstarted or not. As you'll hear, I sometimes like them!

    Opener: Stories about the podcast

    Closer: I always say, "Thanks for listening," and today I mean that more than ever. I wouldn't keep doing the podcast if not for the positive feedback I receive from my audience. You all make it worth the labor of love.


    * Spoiler alert! It's with David Harding, the designer/publisher behind Grail Games.

  • Posted on 11 Mar 2019

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    Boardgames To Go 188 - Essen 2018 (with Chris Marling)



    Chris Marling
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    Game designer, blogger, and real-life journalist Chris Marling joins me once again to talk about Essen. As he did two years ago, he had a new game launching at Spiel, so we get to hear about that. But he's also an enthusiastic game hobbyist like the rest of us, and he also talks about the event itself from that point of view. Chris loves the game fair, and has been going for quite a number of years. From that perspective, he's able to notice some shifts & changes in the hobby that affect the world's largest boardgame event itself. We talk about those, too.

    Chris was there, in part, to help launch his new game, Witless Wizards. If you were there, perhaps you saw him, played a demo with him, or got your copy signed. He came home with a lot of new games, as always, and by now he's had a chance to play most of them. (Remember, Essen itself is more of a game buying event than one with lots of opportunities for actually playing your purchases.) Chris gathered up ten titles he wanted to talk about for one reason or another. Sometimes because they're great games, sometimes for other reasons. Besides the two games mentioned in our Openers (above), Chris discusses Underwater Cities, Trapwords, Narabi, Orbis, Fool, Discover: Lands Unknown, Crown of Emara, Showtime, Gnomopolis, and The Color Monster.

    • Downsizing a collection...mission accomplished!
    • How does journalism tackle the current game saturation situation?


  • Posted on 16 Dec 2018


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