Welcome to the inaugural episode of Six Questions With…. In this series I’ll be interviewing gamers and game industry folks to talk about gaming. We will be discussing things like what makes a good player and a great game, upcoming games, game theory, and podcasting.
My first interview is with Eric Summerer. You may know Eric from The Dice Tower, one of the premier podcasts about gaming. I came to know Eric through feedback to The Dice Tower and subsequently we have been playing games online at Yucata.de. Eric has a no loss record by the way. I have found him to be a very pleasant and interesting person who is passionate about games and gaming. So Eric, tell us about yourself.
I’m a voice actor and stay-at-home dad living in Hamden, CT. Most of the time, I do pretty dry corporate narration (investment regulation laws, Six Sigma, sexual harassment policy, etc.) from my home studio, but occasionally I get to do some higher profile work like video games and audiobooks. I now have over two dozen titles at Audible.com, and I even received an Audie nomination last year for Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End (I’m bragging, I know. I’ll stop now.). For the past several years, I’ve been pretty heavily involved with the production of The Dice Tower podcast with Tom Vasel, and with Sam Healey’s departure last summer, I got promoted to the co-host position, which has me playing lots more games, both good and bad.
1. Why do you play games?
Well, the easy answer is, “to have fun,” but I think it’s really a means to socialize with friends and family. It’s a framework for hanging out. While I certainly focus on the theme and mechanics of the game itself, if I enjoy spending time with the people I’m playing with, I’ll still be having fun, even if the game’s terrible.
2. What is your most memorable gaming moment?
I have to pick just one? Okay, here’s one from childhood that still sticks with me: Back in the day, we used to play those Monopoly games that would last way too long, and if it got too late, we’d have to pause the game overnight. Well, I had convinced myself that if only I had Boardwalk and Park Place, I would have a lock on the victory, so after everybody else was asleep, I snuck downstairs and moved the two properties to my side of the board. Yes, I admit it. I was a dirty cheating cheater. Bear with me. The point is that it didn’t matter. Park Place and Boardwalk didn’t win the game for me. I still lost the next day. To this day, I don’t know if anybody else knew that I had cheated, or if it was just karma smacking me down, but from then on, I haven’t (intentionally) broken the rules to a game.
3. What makes a great game for you?
Intriguing mechanics and interesting decisions. That’s why my number one game is Power Grid. The way the power plants become more efficient (and more expensive) during the course of the game, as well as the shifting commodities market, and the way the board develops based on the players’ actions, come together like a well-oiled machine. I’m willing to overlook an absence of theme, or a theme that doesn’t quite click, if the mechanics make me sit up and take notice.
4. Tell us about The Dice Tower. How did you get involved, etc.?
I was a fan of the show before I became a contributor. I started listening somewhere around Episode 35. I heard the last few Tom and Joe episodes, which is where Sam started sitting in as the “third man” on the podcast. In the high 70’s, episode-wise, Tom and Sam ran a contest for Ninja Galaxy, in which listeners needed to e-mail Tom in order to enter. At the end of my contest entry, I mentioned to Tom that I was a voice actor, and would be happy to contribute my production capability if they needed announcements or bumpers. Tom wrote back right away, asking if I’d be willing to do some silly commercials for the show. Fake sponsorships led to segment intros, which led to episode intros, which led to comedic sketches, which led to recurring characters, and before you know it, I was handling the bulk of the pre-production duties on the show. When Sam announced his departure from the show, I was honored that Tom asked me to step up and expand my role on the show, but I was also terrified. Sure, I was fine producing silly three-minute bits in my little padded box, but now you want me to actually say something intelligent about the games? Help! I have to say that the listeners have been extremely supportive and welcoming to the new guy, so that sense of panic has diminished quite a bit. Now if only I could get Tom to stop making fun of my Top Ten selections…
5. I know you review games on a regular basis. What is the hardest part about reviewing a game?
Putting your finger on exactly why you like or dislike a game, and articulating that in a meaningful way. It’s easy to just spit out a gut reaction (“this was a fun one” or “this didn’t do it for me”), but that’s not going to be of any use to the listener. What elements stood out, or what mechanics failed? Was it art design? Ease of teaching? A particular strategy that tested the limits of the game’s intent? No matter the length of the review, whether it be 72-seconds, or a mention in a Top Ten list, or a full review on the podcast, I try to give a concrete reason for my reaction to a game. Note that I said “try.” I certainly fail sometimes. It’s something I continue to work on.
6. Excluding Merchant of Venus, what out of print game would you like to see reprinted?
Heh. Am I that transparent? Okay, if I can’t pick MoV, I’d have to go with flowerpower. This was one of the Kosmos 2-player games that didn’t get picked up by a US publisher, and was therefore only available in German. It’s a cute little domino-style tile laying game, in which you’re trying to create beds of flowers on your side of the board, while disrupting your opponent’s side by playing tiles as weeds. It’s one of my wife’s favorite games, and one that we’d love to give as gifts, but finding copies is increasingly difficult (one copy at a recent con was priced at $75). Still holding out hope for a reprint, perhaps with a different theme that won’t be perceived as a “girl game?”
Thanks for the interview Eric. I agree with you. Intriguing mechanics are a draw for me too. I enjoyed hearing about how you approach a review. And I’ve heard that flowerpower is an excellent game. Perhaps we will see a new reprint soon.
Eric, thanks so much for your time. I really enjoy having you on The Dice Tower. I’ll see you on Yucata.de. I’m itching for a win.
Well that’s the first of many. I have several waiting for posting and several more out for answering. One constant theme in the interviews and that I want to address later in its own series is ‘How can we improve as players?’. Think about that and let me know what you think about this interview and the future topic by commenting below. And if you have suggestions of someone you would like to see interviewed tell me there also.
Until next time – Go Forth And Game.