A Conversation With…Doug and Shelley Garrett from Garrett’s Games And Geekiness

I’m joined today by Doug and Shelley Garrett of Garrett’s Games And Geekiness.  Doug and Shelley are avid gamers and prolific podcasters.  It is a pleasure to have them on Go Forth And Game.

Tomg: Tell us about Garrett’s Games and Geekiness, your very interesting and fun podcast.

Doug:  Do you want a bit of history?  If so, here’s a brief rundown:

After listening to podcasts like Mark Johnson’s Board Games To Go and GeekSpeak from Derk and Aldie of BGG, I thought it might be fun to try my hand at podcasting too.  As a Mac user, Apple had just come out with some tools like GarageBand back in late 2005 that made creating content easier, and I thought it might be fun to try.  As a teacher, I also thought I might bring what I had learned into my high school English and Journalism classes.  The first podcast went up in late January of 2006.

The show really began to work when I followed Mark’s model and did a “Wife Show” with Shelley.  I think the reason the show continues to work well is because of our interplay; rather than one voice, you have a dialogue, and unlike other boardgaming podcasts you have a woman who knows a lot and enjoys playing most of the games.

Shelley: Doug is tech savvy and he decided to get into this endeavor of podcasting.  I thought it would be just his thing, and I would just be playing games.  But, Doug asked me to be on the podcast…and foolishly I said ‘OK.’

Just kidding.  I like having a conversation with Doug on the podcast.  He knows so much about games and I enjoy hearing the explanations of the games again.  Revisiting games verbally is as fun as participating in the game initially.

Tomg: I really enjoy the show.  It is unique among the gaming podcasts.  Your podcast is like sitting in on a conversation with you.  It’s fun to visit your home each week.  I appreciate your weekly schedule too.

What makes a great game?

Doug:  I think we both would say that long games do not equal good games necessarily. I love a game that plays in under an hour, has solid, clear rules, and gets me thinking.  China and/or Web of Power is my favorite game, and we can play a game of it in under 30 minutes; but the entire time I can feel the tension and love the planning of possible options as I wait for my next turn.

Shelley:  I agree with Doug’s sentiments here.  A great game should have many paths towards victory, but be streamlined enough so that I don’t have to memorize too much.  Simple icons and player aids can make a more complicated game feel more straightforward.  I love a good think, but I don’t want to have to have a bionic memory of what others have and I don’t want to have to use a calculator to keep score.

Tomg: What makes a good player?

Shelley: I prefer to play with a person who doesn’t take the game too seriously and realizes the primary goal of playing is to have fun.  Efficiency of play and not over-analyzing each move to death are also important qualities.

Obviously, playing with someone who is not overly critical or judgmental about the plays I might make is important.

Doug: As we have talked about on the podcast, those who suffer often from Analysis Paralysis frustrate both of us.  As Shelley said, we’re here to have fun, compete a bit, but not let that competition overwhelm what should an enjoyable social occasion.

I think you also have to realize that there are times when you shouldn’t push a game on others.  We have friends who are gamers, but often the meal, the conversation, the camaraderie…those trump gaming.

Oh, and though I love teaching games to others, it IS nice when I don’t have to do it all of the time.  So if someone picks up that slack, I enjoy the experience as well.

Tomg: Tell us about your most memorable gaming moment?

Doug: I don’t know that I can pick just one.  I look back with fondness on playing Rummy with Shelley in Venice, playing a nail-biter of a game of Starship Catan as we waited for a plane to take us to England the year after 9/11 (when we weren’t sure how long we’d need to be at the airport), learning Settlers of Catan for the first time (which propelled me into this hobby/obsession), helping to plan Kublacon (a local convention) and convincing the organizers that Aldie and Derk should be special guests… all of these experiences have enhanced my life.  It’s hard to pin one down and say, “that’s the one.”

Shelley: The above-mentioned experiences would be mine as well.

Tomg: What is your current hot game and why is it hot?

Doug: Well, as our listeners know, and given that we are a weekly podcast, we are trying new games almost every week.  “Hot” therefore is a game that sticks around, still has my interest, and begs to come back to the table ASAP.  Right now that’s two games – Fresco and Egizia.  We reviewed them both within the past couple of months and I’m not done exploring them.  I want to try them with all of the possible numbers of players to see how the games change with fewer or more participants.

Fresco, which I have played more, comes with three expansions in the box and I love the way in which they are seamlessly integrated into the design.  The mixing of paints to repair the fresco of the title works thematically, as do all aspects of the game, and I appreciate that elegance.

Egizia, with its “boat placement” (a variation on worker placement), changes substantially with 2 or 4 players.  With 2 it’s a much more friendly game as you can’t be blocked out of areas.  With 4 you have to forego items you may want for things you have to have.  That tension is wonderful.

Shelley:  Again, I would have to concur with Doug.  We have very similar likes and dislikes with games.  Also, since most of our game play happens together, what is “hot” with one of us would be “hot” for both of us.  If one of us felt we loved a game and the other one was just so so, we would play the game again and look at it with new eyes.  I remember the first time we played Golden Compass and I thought there wasn’t too much there and I was surprised when Doug loved it.  After the second play, however, I understood the mechanics and I loved it too.

Tomg: Both those games are on my need to play list.  I’m glad to hear that you like them.  I remember the Golden Compass podcast.  You liked the game especially some of the mechanics as I recall.

Doug: Golden Compass is a race game, but with a couple of nice twists that always makes it a close finish – you have to plan out what movement cards you will take because after a certain point you can ONLY play cards in the colors of players who are ahead of you in the race…only playing YOUR cards if you are in front.  I like that planning bit.

Tomg: Are there any games you would like to see reprinted?

Doug: Actually, I’m happy to see so many companies out there making sure older titles are coming back into print with possible updates to make them more relevant and playable for the Euro-gamer crowd.  It’s sad that China/Web of Power is not currently available here in the US due to the demise of Uberplay, but I’m sure that something will be done about that in the near future.  Eric Summerer of Dice Tower fame has built his own copy of Merchant of Venus, but his talk certainly has pushed up interest in that game! J

Companies like Fantasy Flight, Valley and Stronghold also seem to be looking at classics and seeing what they can bring back into the market place.  I wish them all luck and success.

Shelley: I don’t know that much about games before 2001.  My gaming experiences before that were really limited to Sorry, Clue and Rummy.  I was not a gamer, so, unfortunately, I am not very knowledgeable about the far past.  However, I agree that China/Web of Power should really be in print.

When we went to Essen last year, we were searching for a game that was out of print and we found two copies of it at a used seller.  We happily purchased Himmelssturmer.  This is a game that should be in print since it works well with a large group and has really cool hot air balloons in it. He also found Heimlich & Co., which I think might be out of print, and it is a fun game.  I remember Doug’s excitement over purchasing Astron, another game with awesome bits.  If you haven’t seen a copy go to BGG and look at it.  The board actually wraps around a cylinder that you twist to change the flying path of your metal space ships.

Sometimes the hunt of finding an out of print game is a “game” in itself.  Also, I think that the gamer community has to be happy that Loopin’ Louie came back in print.  Thankfully what is one person’s garbage is another person’s treasure.

Tomg: China is a very fun game.  Astron sounds fun.  More information on Himmelssturmer would be welcome.

Doug: I made a vow to myself on my birthday that I will play China at least once a month for the next year – if it’s my favorite game; it needs to hit the table!

Himmelststurmer is also called “The Great Balloon Race” on BGG.  Part of its ‘cool’ factor is the bits, which are 2-3 inch tall plastic hot air balloons.

Tomg: What’s on the horizon for you guys, game wise?

Doug: I’m not sure how to answer that, as we just keep enjoying the games that I research and buy.  I’m lucky enough to have a wonderful life partner who accepts and willingly participates in my hobby/obsession.

I still really enjoy doing the podcast, so I also don’t see that going away anytime soon either.  Heck, it’s an excuse to sit down for at least 30 minutes each week, sit across from my wife, and have a fun conversation.  Not that we don’t talk otherwise, but it’s another fun way of hanging out together.

Shelley: I again have to agree with Doug.  We plan on continuing to play games, obviously and to discuss them with our friends.

Tomg: I really enjoy the show. It is unique among the gaming podcasts. Your podcast is like sitting in

on a conversation with you. It’s fun to visit your home each week. I appreciate your weekly schedule too.

Doug: Having a weekly schedule is a bit difficult at times, but keeping it consistent means I have a goal for each week.  Also, it means that we need to sit down nearly every week and play at least one game so we have something to say – scheduled fun, if you will.

Tomg: Lastly, where can we find you on the web?

Doug: We have a website – www.garrettsgames.com – on which every episode for the podcast is posted.  Also, we have a Guild on Boardgamegeek.com (#350) where listeners and I have conversations about the episodes.

Tomg: That was fun guys.  Thank you for being my guests on Go Forth And Game.  I look forward to the next podcast of Garrett’s Games And Geekiness.