Play Games. Review Games. Demo Games.
Rob is a huge board game fan just like us! He also writes reviews for Zatu and demos games at Expos. As this is a path a would imagine a few players would like to take, I thought his journey would be of interest to you. So, grab a drink, settle down in your most comfy seat and find out how to take the next step in gaming!
First up could you talk a bit about your background in games?
As far as I can remember, I’ve been a gamer since I was old enough to hold a dice and not put it in my mouth... or swallow it at least. I used to look enviously at the games in catalogues and toy shop windows, desperately wanting things like Crossfire and Tin Pan Alley, but what really started me was finding old Waddington’s games like Spy Ring or Blast Off in jumble sales and playing Escape From Colditz – that was a real forerunner of modern designer games, with its asymmetric play, time limit, multiple victory paths and really complex board.
Yes, I Loved Escape from Colditz too. What first got you into the hobby as an adult?
As I got older, I got a taste for games like Talisman and Space Crusade, but also RPGs like Call of Cthulhu and Traveller... I skipped doing Dungeons and Dragons. My interest then sort of ebbed for about a decade until I was introduced to Gloom by a friend at work about eight years ago. Then I realised I’d missed about a decade of really interesting games! Another friend introduced me to Heroclix and I went to my first games convention, UKGE 2014, entering the Heroclix open tournament – I was awful, but I loved the convention vibe and just wanted more... maybe not more Heroclix (though I really like the War of Light set), but definitely more gaming!
Talking of conventions, I heard you demo games for a publisher. Tell us more about that?
When UKGE began to expand, I found myself doing more wandering than playing, and I really wanted to do more playing, so I wasn’t sure what to do about that. Anyway, someone posted an ad on the Noble Boardgamers of Huddersfield Facebook page about doing demo work for what was then Esdevium (now Asmodee) – I sent an email across thinking ‘why not? The worst thing that will happen is nothing at all.’ A short while later I got a call from them – turned out it was a phone interview, though probably the most enjoyable one I’ve had as it was all about the games! I was put on the books and UKGE 2017 was my first event as a demoer – talk about baptism of fire! After that event though, I was hooked.
The thing about being a demoer is that most of the time you will not be playing the game; instead, you’ll be hosting the game or games – you might have several games going at once with different groups of people playing. When you are host, it’s your job to make sure everyone gets the best play experience possible, regardless of whether they win or lose. You walk them through the rules, guide them through the first few rounds, suggest moves to players who are a bit unsure and then *click* - they get it, and that’s when you know they’re going to have fun. It’s a real great feeling to see that realisation on their face.
Since then, I’ve Dobbled in Waterstones, Pokemoned in Smyths, Forbidden Sky’d at Ally Pally, Eastern Wondered at MCM and had a great time doing it. I’ve also met some good, good people and made some friends along the way, which has made losing all the conventions and in-store demo sessions to the lockdown a bit of a heartache. Technology is a wonderful thing, and we’ve been finding new ways to play and meet via all those various video conference sites. Game life finds a way!
Seriously, I couldn’t recommend demoing highly enough – it’s got to the point now when I think I enjoy demoing games more than playing games!
Sounds brilliant fun! What are your top five games right now?
Right now? I suppose these times kind of determine the sort of games I can play, but here goes, in reverse order:
5. Underwater Cities: I really want to play this with other people – I got it just before the lockdown – but it has a really good (and tough) solo option. It’s worker placement, Jim, but not as we know it. You are trying to build an underwater city (naturally) and to do this you play cards to use actions on the board. If the colours match, you get to use or keep the card too. Tableau building, worker placement and all the kelp you can eat (please, no more kelp).
4. Tiny Towns: Another one with a really good solo version and a city to build. Here, you get a bit of a Tetris vibe – put down resources on your 4 x 4 board in the right order and pattern to construct buildings like cottages, farms and taverns… gosh, I miss pubs. When you can’t place any more resources, the game ends and you tot up your score. It looks nice, it’s easy to learn and has cute little animals that you can choose to ignore.
3. Shards of Infinity: I love deck builders, and this is my go-to for a quick PvP which has the potential to escalate really quickly. It’s a bit like Star Realms, but can be played with more than two, has nicer components and possesses a neat little mechanic called mastery that allows you to boost your cards’ abilities to the point where you can one-shot your opponents.
2. Taverns of Tiefenthal: I love Quacks, but the youngest has taken a real shine to this build-a-better-pub game – gosh, I miss pubs. It mixes deck-building, dice drafting and worker placement and has lovely upgradable tavern boards to play with. It also has four out-of-the-box expansions, so it’s really good value for money too.
1. Space Base: post lockdown, the first game I want to play is Dune. When my friends are talking to me again, I want to play Space Base. I love the tuck and roll, everyone gets a go mechanic of this game – it’s just pure fun. I also have the expansion to ‘unlock’ (yeah, it plays like a legacy game without having to throw £50 worth of game on the fire once it’s done), so maybe I shouldn’t go in too hard on my first play of Dune…
Haha! What do you see in the future? What’s next for you?
Apart from alienating all my friends over Dune, I’m really looking forward to demoing again, but also getting some local game sessions up and running again – I’m a bit of a board game missionary and run a couple of free to play board game sessions in the Bradford-Halifax area – I take a load of games along and if anyone wants to play, I’ll set them up and talk them through it. Sometimes I’ll play too, but it’s more about getting people involved who wouldn’t have got involved before. I like to keep things nice and casual – there is a tendency for this hobby to appear a bit inaccessible and, yes, you can get gate-keepers, like in any fandom. I want to get everybody playing the good stuff. I would love to set up something more permanent in Shipley (Bradford has a Geek Retreat now, so I don’t want to tread on any of their lovely toes), but little steps, eh?
Sounds brilliant. Good luck with that. Which game designer would you most like to have round for games night and why?
Wolfgang Warsch, definitely: he’s a micro biologist by day, games designer by night and a good-looking chap to boot - so that basically makes him the Brian Cox of board gaming and micro biology! He’s made some pretty varied games, both co-op and competitive – it would be great to get on his wavelength. Get it?
Haha! Sounds like a great night! It was great chatting to Rob. I hope to meet at a expo one day soon! Rob runs The Tabletop Gaming Ramblers club which you can find here so why not pop along one day when we can to say hello! He also contributes to this podcast, well worth a listen!