A Conversation With The Spiel

Today I’m joined by Dave Colson and Stephen Conway, the guys from The Spiel. The Spiel is one of the premier gaming podcasts. They also run The Spiel Foundation, which we discuss in the interview.

Tom: Tell us abit about yourselves first.

Dave: Music crept into my life when I was too young to know any better. Luckily, I was too stubborn to believe all the horror stories. As a result, I am now a professional musician at a small dinner theater. Note: professional means I get paid for it, not that I am any good at it. In my spare time, I am proud to call myself an aspiring wine snob. I also love disc golf, even though my age has made Ben-Gay a required post game ritual. And, last but not least, I do dabble a bit in board gaming.

Tom: What makes a good rpg and/or board gamer?

Stephen: Not sure good is the right word here. I’d say the qualities I look and hope for in players at my table are a willingness to have fun and the ability to give one’s self permission to play. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus had it right when he said, “Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.” To me, coming to the table with this spirit of play trumps everything else. If you do this, you’re almost guaranteed to have fun and enjoy your time with others.

Dave: Although my answer should be applicable to both, I’m going to go with board gamers here since my role playing experience has been very limited. The single most important thing that every board gamer should strive for, yes even above seeking out that perfect strategy, or achieving a favorable win-to-loss ratio, or even being gracious in defeat, is to be aware of the other people at the table. All gamers are not created equal. Board games, being one of the purest forms of social interaction, demand that we connect for a time with other living, breathing life forms. No, an iPad is not living or breathing. If you can’t tell when it’s ok to let loose the “over the top trash talking” gamer or bring forth the helpful “sure you can take that move back” gamer, then you’ll soon find yourself limited to a very small number of gaming friends. This, unfortunately, will result in you missing out on the best part of gaming, which in my opinion, is to experience games with as many people as possible. After all, the same game played with twenty different people, is really twenty different games.

 

Tom: These are awesome answers. Leave it Mr. History to pull out a perfect quote from the ancient past. Sweet. What makes a great game?

Dave: This one is pretty easy. Dice! Just kidding. I think that beyond solid, well balanced mechanics, which every “good” game has to have, a “great” game must also be immersive from start to finish. And not just for the first few times you play it. The pieces have to feel good in your hand every time. The choices have to be difficult every time. The paths to victory, although well defined, have to be elusive enough to feel fresh every time. All of these things combined will give you a “great” game that always leaves you wanting more!

Stephen: A great game is one that enables folks at the table to have fun. There’s certainly no single recipe for this. I see board and card games as vehicles for social engagement and interaction. Any game that can create a sense of fun and memorable experiences at the table has succeeded on a very fundamental level.

 

Tom: What is The Spiel Foundation?

 

Stephen: The Spiel Foundation is an organization separate from The Spiel. It is 3 years old. It is a non-profit group (soon to be an official 501(c)3 charity) whose mission is to donate quality board and card games to children’s hospitals and senior citizen centers. We use our experience with and knowledge of games to select 5 specific titles and then purchase and assemble bundles of these games to donate. We have grown from 6-8 bundles in our first year to 64 bundles in year three. That’s over 300 games this year! We host an annual fundraiser, the Spiel-a-thon, to generate income for each year’s bundle purchases. We do accept donations throughout the year and are forming partnerships with game groups and conventions around the country for fundraisers. For instance, we are sending 48 game bundles to the Houston area thanks in great measure to the efforts of the fine folks at OwlCon. For more information about the group, check out thespielfoundation.com

Dave: The Spiel is a show where Stephen and I get to share our passion for board gaming with anyone willing to listen. It has never been our intent to tell people what they should or shouldn’t like, instead, we try to open up their eyes (and wallets) to the nearly limitless numbers and kinds of games out there. When you finish an episode of The Spiel, you should (1): have all the information you need to determine if a game we talked about is a game that gets your goat and (2): understand that the best part of gaming is the fun that these cardboard beauties can give us.

The Spiel Foundation is a non-profit organization we set up to make sure that good quality, fun games make it to the people who need them the most. Obviously, we can’t provide games to everybody, so we have focused our attention on children’s hospitals and senior citizen’s centers.

Each year we assemble as many five-game bundles as our funds allow and hand deliver or ship them to their new homes. It is our hope that these games will bring some enjoyment to the kids and seniors who receive them.

 

Tom: I think this is amazing. Gamers are giving people and I’m glad you all have found a way to channel that. I want to come back to this at the end. That’s an awesome logo too. Another question – What is your most memorable gaming moment?

Stephen: I grew up in a family that loved games. Some of my earliest and most fond memories are of my grandparents, aunts and uncles, and my parents laughing and playing cards until all hours of the night. In rural Indiana, where Euchre is King, it was considered a rite of passage for my grandfather to sit down and teach me the rules and take me on as his “apprentice” partner. For my Romanian grandparents on the other side of my family, their game was Pinochle. The day I was allowed to join the adults and play Pinochle, I knew I had found my new home: the game table.

Tom: This story is so familiar now. Almost everyone interviewed has a similar experience. Their gaming started as children. I’m no different. I can remember playing Uncle Wiggly when I was in first grade with my sister. And playing cards, Catch The Five specifically, with my grandmother and her friends and my cousins. I believe gaming in childhood definitely leads to a lifetime of gaming. You talked about gaming’s social interactions and that touching us on a fundamental level. This has been echoed by other guests. I believe that this is what bonds us to gaming. Gaming can teach us how to behave and interact with each other in civil and productive ways. The rules of a game control the interactions of the players. Or at least confine these interactions in a certain way. They allow us to engage with each other without having to deal with discovering ‘the rules’ of the interaction. They enable us to bypass those rules or delay them. We are able to learn them with a layer of protection, the game, so to speak. What do you think?

Stephen: On some level, all games are vehicles for social interaction. They give us freedom within well defined boundaries: the rules, the board, the actions of the other players. Games give us a chance to experiment safely with ways to interact, in other words. The price for failure is low and you can rebound for a more positive experience as quickly as your next turn. So many simple life lessons are reinforced or can begin at the game table: sharing, fairness, friendly competition, respect for one’s opponent, in addition to the more obvious academic lessons we might pick up. Probably the most important lesson we start to learn is that winning isn’t the only way to have fun with games – the process of play itself brings the real lasting joy long after the winners and losers have been forgotten.

What games are hitting your table/why?

Dave: Ok, you asked for it! In no particular order: Cribbage, Scopa, Robo Rally, Ubongo, Fits, Asteroyds, Egizia, Tichu, Assyria, Fresco, Roll Through the Ages, Tobago, Wok Star, and oh yea, I would never turn down a good game of Hide and Seek!

Scopa Cards

Stephen: I can’t pick out a specific title, but I can say more and more co-op games hit the table whether we are playing with people new to the hobby or seasoned veterans. From Pandemic to Shadows Over Camelot to Ghost Stories and newcomers like Witch of Salem and Wok Star, I have a lot of fun trying to eke out a rare win against these tough challenges.

Tom: What do you bring to the table?

Stephen: I hope I bring a sense of fun and enjoyment to the table and also a willingness to find fun in any game big or small old or new.

Dave: You mean besides dice? I hope the enjoyment I get from games is at least somewhat discernable

by the other people playing with me. If it is, then I hope what I bring to the table is contagious.

Tom: We’re playing more of those too. Forbidden Island has been hitting the table at often. And Castle Ravenloft very recently, though I have yet to play it. I’m very excited about Wok Star. It is in my top three to purchase this year. You all have been doing The Spiel for a while now. What is the coolest thing about doing the podcast?

Stephen: By far, the best part is the massive network of new friends I have met. By sharing our passion for games, we have been repaid in kind by getting to know so many great people from all walks of life and from all around the world.

Dave: Let’s start off with the un-cool part: We give away dice. Did you hear that?! We just give them away! I’m sorry, it’s my nature to grab a hold of every die I can find and pigeon-hole it away as if it were “My Precious.” So to simply give away dice willy-nilly is something I do not think I will ever get used to.

Now to the cool stuff: In our case, the coolest thing is also the most rewarding. Who would have thought that so many people would connect with what we are doing? Since day one, the emails started coming in. It didn’t matter that some gave praise and others were quick to criticize. All that mattered was that these people were passionate enough about their hobby and The Spiel’s part in it, to let us know what they thought. In my experience, people do not waste their time on something they don’t care about. That means a lot to us! We have been fortunate enough to meet many of these passionate listeners and think that it’s pretty cool that we now call them friends.

Tom: What’s on the horizon, game-wise?

Stephen: We tend to let inspiration take us where it will when planning and playing for the show. Look for an in-depth review of Tammany Hall before the end of the year. I’d also like to do an episode on “re-imagined” classic games. We try to keep a good mix of new, old, obscure and classic games on the show.

Tom: I’m hearing good things about Tammany Hall so I’m looking forward to that one. I think you do a good job of reminding us about classic games. Outside of The Vintage Gamer, The Spiel is the only show that does this regularly. Though I do believe The Dice Tower now has a reoccurring segment about this. Hearing about the unknown game and classics, particularly since I haven’t been into Euro games that long, is valuable to me. The Spiel seems to champion small press games. Can you name some gems you have discovered recently?

 

Stephen: From our most recent swing through the conventions, here are six games that really caught my eye:

 

Wok Star (Gabob Games)

 

Nile (Minion Games)

 

Innovation (Asmadi Games)

 

Founding Fathers (Jolly Roger Games)

 

Rowboat (Moosestache Games)

 

Letters from Whitechapel (Nexus Games)

 

Tom: I have Gabob on the list of companies to interview for Go Forth. I have a question set out to Asmadi right now. Jolly Roger is a good suggestion. Founding Fathers is getting some good press and JR has been around for a while. I don’t know the other three companies or games. I need to investigate.

 

Are there any links you would like to let the readers know about?

Dave & Stephen: Please visit us at http://www.thespiel.net. We’re a small quirky town full of misfits compared to the big city lights of Board Game Geek, but you’ll find a great community of Spielers there ready to roll out the welcome wagon.