RogerBW's Blog

Tabletop season 3 28 August 2015

2014-2015, 21 episodes: Wil Wheaton and other minor celebrities play boardgames.

I've enjoyed previous seasons of Tabletop a great deal, but something seemed to be off about this one. I understand that the production schedule was quite punishing, getting the entire season in the can in something like ten days, and I think that may be the major problem. The general attitude feels more like "desperate fun" or at least a crude performance than like a bunch of friends getting together to play games.

Or maybe I just don't like the production changes: the tarted-up title sequence (what was wrong with the old one?), or the way cutaways are now filmed against a green-screen rather than elsewhere in the "loft". Or perhaps it's just that "look how hip I am" octopus tattoo.

Tokaido: an enjoyable episode, though nobody seems to have thought much about the gameplay. Ho hum, a terribly famous sports person.

Forbidden Desert: it's not all that different from Forbidden Island, and given a limited number of production slots it's probably not a game I'd have chosen to show off. But enjoyable mostly because of Alan Tudyk.

Catan Junior: gah, kids. Next!

Hare and Tortoise, Council of Verona: simple games made more interesting by a good cast. (I've played CoV, not HaT. Didn't buy it, though.)

Stone Age: Jesse Cox was trying too hard to be funny, and the game was at the upper end of complexity for this show, but it seemed to work pretty well anyway.

Geek Out: this one just came over as dull, an uninteresting game with a cast who didn't seem to have much to add to it. (Bonnie Burton was good on Fiasco back in season 1, not so much here.)

Sheriff of Nottingham: again a not terribly interesting cast, but the game made things a bit better. (I have since had a chance to play it.)

Dead of Winter: a game I like a lot, but it had to be compressed hard to work on the show at all (it's still a relatively long episode), and that didn't do the interplay between the players any favours. This wasn't helped by Wil being the traitor, since he came over as excessively smug, something he's prone to anyway.

Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre: this is a very silly random game which is good for a one-off play. (I have. I enjoyed it. I have no plans to play it again.) Jonah Ray was occupying the "trying too hard" slot this time, but apart from him the episode was fairly decent.

Cards Against Humanity: this is probably the only way to play this game, to turn oneself back mentally to about age 9 and indulge in the random nonsense. Doesn't make it enjoyable. Pee po belly bum drawers.

Five Tribes: a game that's not really my style, and some unimpressive guests (or maybe it was late at night).

Concept: looks like a good game (if you have at last four players), but all the guests were doing the needy insecure comedian thing.

Dread: The one time I've played this it was with a really good GM. Wil's OK, I guess, but he's very focused (as in what I've seen of Titansgrave so far) on sharply-bounded encounters. Here is the situation, you deal with it, there is a hard break, and you go on to the next encounter, and the world exists as a series of knots in string rather than as a mesh of people and things. Very good guest cast, though Molly Lewis sometimes seemed a bit lost.

Libertalia: seems like a very random game, and the players didn't really get into it, or do much of anything. Karen Gillan looked as if she didn't know why her agent had sent her here.

Love Letter, Coup: two games I like a great deal, and players who didn't seem to do a great job of working out what was going on. (The Fine Brothers were also doing the needy insecure comedian thing, and Felicia Day needs other people to play off.) Also, the way cards were discarded in Coup made it a much weaker and more simplistic game than the one you get if you follow the rules.

Kingdom Builder: the famous rules screwup episode (though actually not as bad as in Coup). That's not terribly interesting in itself, but Wil's eagerness to lay all the blame on a producer, followed by his whining on Twitter about a surprisingly reasonable reddit thread didn't help matters – not to mention making it entirely clear that this show is not at all about "Wil showing off games he likes" as he claims on-camera, but rather "Wil playing games that somebody else has suggested and he has approved without really knowing much about them". Another fairly dull guest cast too.

Legendary: superhero battles basically don't interest me. And it didn't even feel at all thematic, just having standard sorts of deckbuilder cards and powers with Marvel art pasted on. Cast was OK, I guess.

Sushi Go, Roll For It: two enjoyable-looking short games, though only Roll For It has ended up on my "want to play this" list. The cast seemed interested, though none of them was able to work out basic probabilities.

Mice & Mystics: Wheaton family game night with an audience of hundreds of thousands: nice work if you can get it. The dynamics are clearly long-established, and that in turn means they don't get shown off much, which made this flatter than the usual crew of near-strangers.

For me this season had more misses than hits, well down on the enjoyability of previous seasons: sometimes it was uninteresting games, sometimes dull guest cast, and usually smarmier Wil. A fourth season has been announced, and I'll be interested to see if they can recapture the feeling of enjoyment alongside the new emphasis on more child-accessible games, but I'm not on tenterhooks waiting. Meanwhile I'm going to keep watching Starlit Citadel Reviews and the excellent Shut Up and Sit Down.

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