RogerBW's Blog

Tabletop season 4 24 October 2017

2016, 21 episodes: Wil Wheaton and other minor celebrities play boardgames.

Starlit Citadel Reviews have closed up shop. Shut Up and Sit Down have slowed down a lot, as have All the Games You Like Are Bad. Where does a chap go for interesting game reviews these days? The Dice Tower is all very well if there's a specific game that already interests you, but there's so much of it coming out every week that it's not practicable to use it as a way of finding out about new games. Tabletop is still going, and while it's mostly talking about games that new gamers could easily pick up and play, that still has substantial overlap with games that interest me.

Even so, the smug is strong in this one. These days I'm watching in spite of Wil ("yeah buddy, that's his own hair"), in the hope that the guests will be interesting enough to make up for him. Often they are.

There are some odd production decisions: quite a few of Geek and Sundry's shows recently have done this particular trick, with someone talking quite specifically to camera A, but with a cut in mid-sentence to the same person shot at a different angle from camera B, so that he looks as if he's talking into thin air. Presumably this is to make things look a bit less static and more lively.

Because of the way the show is produced, not just with months between filming and release (it was shot over twelve days in April of 2016) but with more months of approvals between a game's submission and the episode's being filmed, nothing here is especially new; by this point we're getting on for two years later. That's not necessarily a bad thing: the target audience doesn't learn about games from anywhere else. But several of the games featured this time round have sold out their initial print runs and are getting quite hard to find, and several more vanished from shops soon after the episode was released on YouTube. (OK, technically these episodes came out a few months earlier on Geek & Sundry's paid streaming service, but I don't know anyone who subscribed; even the pirates don't seem to have bothered with it.)

Lanterns: was there some reason why the three guys were ganging up on the woman? Apparently they've done shows together before, but. And making jokes about cultural appropriation while continuing to do it doesn't exactly help matters. But the game looks good.

Champions of Midgard: a promising set of guests (any of them would be a better host than Wil), and a game I've quite enjoyed playing (a board that looks like Stone Age, gameplay a bit like Lords of Waterdeep but more interesting) though not to the extent of buying it.

Monarch: an oddly assorted lot of guests: "look at me I'm so ditzy", "go away I'm hiding behind my piercings and hair dye", "vaguely normal person" and Wil. Each of them could have been a good guest individually, but as it was they were so mismatched that they didn't really interact with each other much. This wasn't helped by Monarch not being a very interactive game, either – and not one I've heard of before or since, and my local boardgame café doesn't have a copy. It gives the impression of being much more about flavour than about crunchiness. Paid promotion?

Tiny Epic Galaxies: now this one worked quite well, with three out of four playing the game seriously; and all three of them were still in contention in the final round. This one did what I regard as the show's main job, of giving an idea of the sort of gameplay that happens, and caused me to be interested in playing the game myself.

Fury of Dracula part 1 and part 2: an unfortunate choice since it's largely vanished from sales channels since Games Workshop took their rights back from the Asmodée megacorp (though it now looks as if WizKids will be reprinting it or bringing out a new edition). Why not make this a five-player game, though? That's where it's best, and they got six people round the table for Codenames.

Harbour: seems like a very lightweight game, but the guests were fun, particularly Matt and Nika; Kyle made less of an impression.

Dragon Farkle: another very lightweight game; I suppose it might do as an introduction to the idea of games, but there doesn't seem to be much in the way of strategy here, and the very generic fantasy theme doesn't help. Zombie Dice writ large. Guests are amusing, though.

Star Realms: a game I already liked, though having a professional Magic™ player seems like an odd choice; the theme of the show has generally been "these people, who are minor celebrities i.e. 'normal' rather than serious geeks, enjoy games, it's not just those anal-retentive weirdoes who can actually spell and stuff". Though I found Melissa rather more interesting than several of this season's guests.

FATE Core: well, now I think I have a better idea of why I don't get on with FATE. All the mechanics that differentiate it from FUDGE are explicitly about stepping back from the individual character's viewpoint into an author's or director's: "it would be cool for the story if this thing happened now" rather than "what shall I do next". If that's how one of the writers of the game runs it, that's probably more or less how it's meant to be run, and that doesn't really work for me. This wasn't helped by locking it down to less than an hour to fit the format, which is barely enough for a few scenes; there's no complete story here. A good set of guests, though, particularly with Felicia Day mostly in non-ditzy mode.

Star Trek: Five Year Mission: Jesse Cox is really trying too hard. Yeah, turns out if you have two players in a cooperative game waving their genitalia at each other you can ruin it for everybody. Who knew? But more seriously, there doesn't seem to be much more in the way of tactics or decision-making here than you'd get in Roll For It. Maybe less. Why not play The Captain Is Dead instead? Or buy me a copy and I'll play it for you.

Mysterium: a game I already liked, and I thought it worked pretty well, though they forgot the bonus psychic points for getting all three questions solved before the last round. Laura Bailey did a particularly good job of being entertaining.

Steam Park: grown men making constant poop jokes for 45 minutes. Oh dear. The game doesn't really jump out at me either: what does it have to do with amusement parks, or steam? Nothing that I can see.

Misspent Youth: world creation, part 1 and part 2: Matt Fraction wears tattoos like someone who's not trying to show them off but is comfortable with them. This seems like a very heavy-handed approach to making a generic YA story with stereotyped characters, and is surprisingly standard-indie mechanistic in its setup (strict rotation of who frames each scene, etc.); having two professional writers does no harm in countering this, though it may generate unrealistic expectations. But in the end it feels like a game that generates coincidental role-playing (much like Arkham Horror and its sequels) more than what I know as a role-playing game.

Flash Point: Fire Rescue: a game I already liked a great deal, and returning guests who clearly knew the drill. Yes, they messed up the rules in various ways which are obvious to me as an experienced player; probably they do this in other games too, but this is one where fiddly details matter a lot. The catastrophic cascading failure that they experience is something I've seen in my own games – if you don't get on top of things straight away it'll get away from you – but doesn't show the game at its best. They also played very badly, wasting lots of actions, particularly Kelly Hu as the CAFS who was also getting terrible advice from the other players; in the end it doesn't seem like a good representation of how the game is played.

Codenames: a game about which I feel fairly neutral, but I know many people love it. I thought this episode worked pretty well, in spite of a mixed bag of guests; the blue team just got everything together, as sometimes happens.

Welcome To The Dungeon: a game I already liked (except for the player elimination angle), and while Hector Navarro does the needy insecure comedian thing the other guests were fairly interesting.

Eldritch Horror and part 2: a glorious mess of a game, like Fortune and Glory only even more so. In my experience it's utterly dependent on the mood of the table (which is why the set I've played with most often is the one owned by a friend who's modified it extensively including writing new scenarios). Everyone except Wil got well into the coincidental role-playing which is really crucial to enjoyment of the game; he mostly made jokes about his dice luck. Still, it worked pretty well.

OK, so there are only two games I've gone out and played as a result of this season: Lanterns and Tiny Epic Galaxies. And I feel no great urge to buy either. Maybe watching this wasn't a good use of my time after all. But it was at least enjoyable, rather more so than season 3.

No word on a season 5. There have been suggestions that Wil is unhappy with Legendary Entertainment, the new owners of Geek & Sundry, and may leave; almost anyone else would be better as far as I'm concerned, but I suspect the rest of the fan base feels differently.


  1. Posted by Dr Bob at 10:59am on 25 October 2017

    I think I have also pinned down why I don't like Fate from watching that episode, so thanks for the link. For me it is a mix of the directorial thing you mention AND the GMs who have run it for me trying to run it like they would run a railroady D&D plot. Which I guess the episode shows that the system is not designed for and just can't cope with.

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