Interview with To Die For Games - Great board game reviews and chat
We were really luck to snag Canadian based board gamers To Die For Games for an interview and man did they go to town, with - we think - all of the members of the team answering. Want to learn more about the cool people behind one of our favourite YouTube Channels, well now's your chance, here's our interview with To Die For Games:
If you could be a play tester for any designer who would it be and why?
Halden: Vlaada Chvatil because his body of work is so varied I wouldn't know what to expect.
Stephane: Stefan Feld. I still haven't met a Feld game that I didn't like. I love how his games usually center on an unusual mechanic, and offer multiple ways to score.
Caryl: My head wants to say someone like Alexander Pfister or Martin Wallace buuuut I gotta go with my heart and say that if Ryan Laukat needed someone to playtest something: "Hit me up, Ryan". I love his blend of storytelling with "game" in an untraditional sense. I'm more of a gamer who makes decisions based on feeling or flow and greatly enjoy his games for leading me on a narrative I can easily follow.
Jim: That’s easy, Rob Daviau. I am a huge fan of the Legacy series of games (I even made a Stratego version). Also with the start of restoration games I could work on a rerelease of Dark Tower… OHH.. LEGACY DARK TOWER! ROB…come back…wait…
Tracy: Jamey Stegmaier. Stonemaier games in general have always been my favourite, They are consistently solid, and elegant games.
Mandi: I can't just pick one. It would have to be Stefan Feld and/or Vital Lacerda. These are two designers that make games that provide a variety of ways to win. It appeals to my ADHD mind and opens a vast amount of game play opportunities to explore. Furthermore, I find their game play smooth and intuitive. Heavy games that don't feel heavy.
Pawlom: Although not technically a designer, I would love to be a play tester for Roxley Games. I love everything they have put out thus far, and greatly appreciate their attention to detail. The bonus is that they are also Canadian!
As a reviewer, what do you hope to communicate to your audience?
Halden: my biggest goal is to communicate a good sense of the game. I share my opinion but I hope I impart enough information that even if I didn't like a game the reader could still form their own opinion based on my review.
Stephane: I'm more easily entertained than most, so my hope with our reviews is that they give a good overview of what the game is about, to help the viewer decide if they will enjoy it or not.
Caryl: The "essence". I'm not a rules oriented kind of person. If I get a rule wrong, I keep it to myself and go along with the game. As long as people can see me communicate the fun and energy the game brings, I'm happy.
Jim: I hope to communicate the overall feel for the game. I want the reader to have a good sense of the game both thematically and play wide.
Tracy: That everyone can play board games, and are always welcome to do so. It is a hobby that has so much to offer to everyone, and there is probably at least one game out out there for everyone. I also want to communicate how board games, and the board game community is great for Mental Health conversations. Games help with brain development, and cognition in general, but they are also a neutral platform that all people can meet around a table, and have a common interest bring them together.
Mandi: As a reviewer, I hope to communicate that playing games should be fun and I am only providing my opinions. They are meant to provide viewers with additional information in their decision of wether or not to purchase a game. I also want to provide a well-thought out opinion that covers all points and doesn't unfairly portray a game. There is too much injustice in the world as it is...I don't need to contribute to it.
Pawlom: I will slightly modify this question, as my little corner of TDFG is with live streaming playthroughs as opposed to reviews. I enjoy teaching people games, and personally, I have always learned best by watching others play. So I didn't want to do straight up "How to play" videos as I find those can be quite dry. On the flip side, if you do just gameplay, it can be difficult for new players to know what you're doing and why. So my goal is to hit a happy medium of teaching, while showing how the game plays, and doing so in a live environment so that questions can be asked while we play. (Pawlom's great gameplay videos appear on the To Die For Games Twitch Channel and are fun to watch - Ed.)
If you could help a person make their first purchases for their board game collection what advice would you offer that person?
Halden: Try before you buy and pick something you think will have staying power.
Stephane: Sample several different games at a public event or FLGS (Friendly Local Game Store - Ed.) to see what titles appeal to them. If they play a game for the first time, and immediately want to play it again, that's a strong candidate!
Caryl: Currently working at a gamestore and even in my previous job, this is a question you actually get A LOT. My choice of wisdom words are usually "here's Carcassonne, it's one of my first and one of my favourite games, just try it". But maybe more generally, I'd ask what their interests are, if it's monopoly or something of that kind, I'd ask why and it usually comes to player interaction or "meannness". If that's the case, I point them to Coup and call it a day haha.
Jim: I would tell them theme matters. If your into the theme you are likely to play it again. Once you have a theme you could guide them towards a game that is a modern classic that will be a good foundation for their collection.
Tracy: Find a game that has similar mechanics to something you loved when you were young. If you like trick taking, find a modern trick taking game. I also say find a local gaming group, and try some games out to get a feel for what you like, then use that information to purchase those games, or games like them.
If you can:
-Try before you buy. Until you know what you like, it's nice to try the games in advance.
-Consider who the game is for. If you are planning on playing with a group, decide if could work on that setting.
-Comtemplate games that you can grow into. Sometimes you end up liking things that you didn't think you would!
Pawlom: Watch our live streams to see how the games play before purchasing, to see if it would be something you would enjoy! :) Shameless plug aside, I do think watching various gameplay videos, or review shows, will give you a good understanding of which games would be of interest, and which may be a pass. Also keep in mind the potential interests of those with whom you would be playing, so that you know you'll be able to get your new purchases to the table.
What challenges do you face in being a board game reviewer and how do you face those challenges?
Halden: my biggest challenge is time management. As a father of three, finding the time to get a good amount of plays of a game to form a good opinion can be tough. I've dealt with it by scaling back my review load.
Stephane: One somewhat enviable challenge is that we've become very busy playing games! Our exposure on The Dice Tower Network has been a really great boost to our viewership. That popularity has resulted in more and more publishers, big and small, asking us to review their games, and it's often difficult to say no. ;-) We all have day jobs too, so we need to learn to be selective with what games we commit to reviewing. But I really would like to play them all! ;-)
Caryl: Time management and lack of time to learn new programs or tricks. I strongly believe in providing quality in content and production that I'm happy with in not only as a content producer but also as a viewer. It's great when I get long weekends to finally sit down and watch some youtube tutorials on how to work after effects or premiere but sometimes, getting a great idea mid-editing, you'd think "hey, that'd be cool if i could do this", then spend another week on it so I can learn how to do that animation or trick. Sometimes you just gotta push through it and give it the extra time it needs so I can be happy with it.
Jim: Playtime and players. Sometimes I can play a game once and get a really good feel for it, but other times I need several plays to get a fair assessment of the game, and that takes a larger player count and that sometimes is difficult with my work schedule.
Tracy: As a female in a predominantly male hobby there is always the issue that men don't want you to be a part of an event, or have a voice, but I have been pretty lucky to not have to deal with much of that. The other challenge is how to make your passion become a career; I will always do this for the love of board games, but it would be awesome to find a way to do this as my job. With so many awesome reviewers out there it is tricky to find your niche. Luckily my quirky personality is pretty unique so helps draw people in, heehee.
Mandi: As a female reviewer one always worries about being taken seriously. As a reviewer in general, one worries about being heard in the sea of all of the other reviewers. I like to stay true to myself but continue to improve the way I convey my messages or reviews.
Pawlom: Slightly modifying this again for streaming media as opposed to reviewing. As this is still a fairly new medium for myself, some of the biggest challenges are the technical ones. We try to improve every week, and this always brings new technical, and set up challenges. I try to face those challenges with as much patience as possible, while spending hours in front of the computer trying to research solutions, and ways to improve. Also by playing games to take my mind off of technology!
What has been your favourite board gaming moment?
Halden: my favourite moments are seeing a game click with my kids. They are quickly becoming a solid game group.
Stephane: I spent most of a whole day as a volunteer demoing Hamsterrolle at the Ottawa Geek Market to families with children as young as 4. I loved the kids' reactions to learning how to play the game! Any time I see those lightbulb/ah ha moments happen when I'm teaching a game, it gives me a warm fuzzy feeling, and reminds me of why I do what I do. That's why I chose "thegamesteacher" as my online handle.
Caryl: I have many but the one that resonates the most with me was a 10 player game of Coup + the expansion, Coup: Reformation. There I was sitting in my seat, paying coins for other people to switch teams and manipulating the "targets" without getting my own hands dirty. I felt like the godfather. Or better yet, Olenna Tyrell.
Jim: I has lost every game of First and Goal (American football) to my best friend. They last time we played it I have down 7 points and no where near scoring and it was the last play of the game. In that game if you can’t score you can grab the two dice and try to roll “Hail Mary”. Hail is on one side of one die and Mary is one side of the other. It is a desperation play in football where you just thrown the ball to the endzone and hope you guy catches it. When I rolled and saw HAIL MARY! We both yelled! And then I was able to win in overtime.
Tracy: Wow! Hard question. I have two, one specific, one general. The specific one is getting to meet with Bruno Cathala at GenCon 2016. He is so funny, and personable. The general one, as teacher of board games at local events, is that "AHA" moment people have when they "get" a game, or find one they really love. It makes it all worth while.
Mandi: My favourite board gaming moment would be my 1/36 dice roll during a live stream for Tiny Epic Galaxy expansion, Beyond the Black. I am a terrible with dice and I pulled off an incredible dice roll to win the game!
What does an average day look like for you?
Halden: work, Kids activities, family time and hopefully a game.
Stephane: My day job runs from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM, then I try to squeeze as much play time into the rest of the hours as possible! Board games and/or content creation often until 11:00 PM or midnight, then hopefully I have an hour or two to get in some TV or video games before I turn in for the night.
Caryl: 5:00am, I'm up for an early gym grind for 5 days of the week so I can hopefully compete as an amateur in Women's Powerlifting. Soon as I get home, I try to eat a big breakfast so I 'm ready for the day. But before work, my priority is still taking care of my dog. Pup gets an hour or so time with me outside then I buckle down for work for my games store, or doing sales and customer service for Leder Games (my side job), then any time after 5pm or if I finish early, it's editing videos. And on a lot of days, I finish off the evening (usually around 8 or 9 in the evening) recording a video with Mandi lol. And if I'm reaaalllyyyy lucky, I may actually have time to play a game.
Jim: I get up at 3;00 am and have a coffee and look at various board game sites. Then I work from 4am -12:30pm looking at various social media sites on my break (mostly board game related). Then I come home, have lunch with my wife, do some things that need to be done around the house. Maybe the kids have an odd youtube video to show me or maybe Tyler wants to play a game. And then I cook dinner, work on my blog or other game related things and then watch a little TV before bed.
Tracy: Feed animals, walk dogs, film/edit footage for videos, lots of time on social media (some productive, some really not), more editing, more social media, and often gaming in the evening. Sometimes I escape to movie, or a evening out.
Mandi: My days are really busy. During the week, I work at my full time government job in HR 8-5, and then either head out to do the live stream or edit when I get home. I try and answer emails and do social media stuff on between all of that. Weekends are more game play sessions with the TDFG crew. I try to fit the gym and other activities in there, when possible. :)
Pawlom: No matter what the day looks like, you can almost guarantee I have at least one rulebook with me at all times!
Who are some of your favourite reviewers and what about them inspires you? (and yes if they’re genuinely on your own team, you can state them).
Halden: Tom Vasel was the first reviewer I related to, now I tend to rely on Joel Eddy
Stephane: I love fellow Canadian Rodney Smith from Watch It Played. I have met him in person, and he's such a great guy! I love how he early on decided that he didn't want to provide opinions in his videos, and chooses instead to just show off the game mechanics, and let his viewers form their own opinions. I also recently got to work with Paul Grogan of Gaming Rules at Origins 2017, and came to realise that he and I shared a lot in common with our approach to the board gaming industry, and why we both do what we do. I would love to do all that he does, and have board gaming be my full time job! We're like two peas in a pod.
Caryl: Mandi honestly inspires me. She's so personable, charismatic and a great personality to watch--it's one of the many reasons why I wanted to come on board to collaborate. Well before I flatter her toooo much, I will give a shout out to Bestplay Co. Joel, Glenn and Marcus do a great job at making really succinct videos that's perfect for my ADD and content that's relatable AND funny.
Jim: For games The Gameboy geek Dan King. He is generally my go to. I feel I get a good overall view of a game when I watch him. For personal inspiration it’s Mandi because she is juggling so many things at once and is still so cool, calm and collected.
Tracy: Zee Garcia; his presentation style always draws me in. Also Netters Play. We tend to like the same games, and she is so down to earth in her videos. Of course I love my own team too, because they rock!
Mandi: I like so many! I really enjoy Caryl's approach to reviews and respect I Suzanne Sheldon's and Annette (Nettersplays) content as well. They are all clear and concise and have a solid point of view. Dan King (Game Boy Geek) can also get a lot of information in a short amount of time. It's quite the talent. Several of the Dice Tower Contributors are also excellent.
Pawlom: Although technically not a reviewer, one of my favourite content creators is the Watch it Played channel. Even though it is a very scripted show, you can tell they are very genuine people that love the hobby, and they thoroughly enjoy what they do. (And once again, shout out to fellow Canadians!)
In your opinion, what elements make for a good board game review?
Halden: a solid breakdown of the game mechanics, feel of the game, and fact based criticisms.
Stephane: The 3 C's: clarity (be it language, images, or video), comparison (to other games people might know better), comedic effect (picking the right time and place to insert the right funny line or comment).
Caryl: Being concise, charismatic (which absolutely applies to written tones too, and not just for video!) and providing information people WANT to hear. Say it's around christmas time, a good content producer will provide a piece of content relevant to that time to help viewers find what they need, or give information on what's hot at the time. Having humour and having fantastic production quality as well as consistency in releases are a huge, huge, plus but may not always be a dealbreaker if there's any lack in it.
Jim: Not too long, and a very clear understanding of the rules.
Tracy: Honesty, and pride on your work. If you don't like a game it is okay to say so. What I like to do is say who would like this game. There are few games that I don't think anyone would like so let those who do like this type of game that they may like this one.
Knowing the facts
Making it relatable
Making it interesting
Providing useable insight and game comparisons
Being objective, but still providing your point of view
Being respectful of the viewer and the designers
Most surprising game of the past year or so?
Halden: not a single game but my discovery of solo gaming. So hooked.
Stephane: I didn't expect to like Ponzi Scheme as much as I did!
Caryl: Meduris! I went into this game with no expectation whatsoever and I knew Haba was trying to get a better foothold in their gateway games lineup (past the normal kids or dexterity stuff anyway). Mandi showed it to me one night and WOW. I looovveeed it! I also won the game, so that maybe have contributed to it haha. But I thought the way resources were gathered were really unique where you stack workers on top of one another, you also feel starved for resources if you're not prepared, and the best part of the game, aside from the visuals, was that it felt intuitive for me. I jumped right into it and could already find a strategy that worked for me.
Jim: Parade. I looked at the game and thought “Ok Alice in wonderland card game..hmmm” but it’s actually really good at multiple player counts and much more strategic than I would have thought.
Tracy: This stumped me a bit. I guess a game I was surprised to like as much as I did was Terraforming Mars. I am not into sci-fi/space exploration games, so I didn't think I was going to like it, but I really do.
Mandi: Clank! I don't usually like deck builders and this one surprised me. The variety of other gaming elements was a nice touch.
What’s your 'almost instant regret game' (you bought it, played it… OH NO!).
Halden: Tiny Epic Western. Love the Tiny Epic series but this one didn't click.
Stephane: I'm having difficulty thinking of any, because I usually try a game out before buying it.
Caryl: Honestly, it's gotta be Alhambra for me. It was probably one of the first 10 games I bought into, right as I was getting into the hobby. I watched the Tabletop episode they played with Wil Wheaton and Ashley Johnson (love her!) and it seemed like a great game. There was a little bit of tile laying (which i love carcassonne for) and purchase chaining. I played it once with my partner. She liked it and I immediately thought, never again. I think it has to do with the randomness of the scoring system. I don't like surprises!
Jim: Bamboleo. When I bought this game I thought it would be a great dexterity game. And it took me a while to balance it…. And we took pieces off… and it fell. And that was the game. A no for me.
Tracy: You ask some tough questions, heehee. I would have to say Carcassonne Hunters & Gatherers. It really fell flat for me.
Mandi: Cosmic Encounter. Sigh. It gets so much hype, but I knew that once I opened the box that it was not going to work for our group. (They did, in fact, request to never play it again after the first play through).
Pawlom: I don't wish to badmouth any specific games, but I have definitely had a couple Kickstarters come in that still haven't even seen the table. This could be due to a bad taste left after a poorly run campaign, or known issues that have arisen and not been fixed. Having said that, I have backed over 150 projects. So a couple bad seeds is definitely the exception!
When you are not relaxing with board games how do you like to pass your time?
Halden: Cycling and Netflix
Stephane: I play solo PC games, mostly RPG or Strategy, and watch a lot of TV. I also love getting outdoors and camping, but haven't gotten to do much of it recently. I really need to get back to reading regularly.
Caryl: Watching the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe hit (I'm watching Spiderman Homecoming opening weekend of course), hitting the gym, eating out (I do love food), play with my dog, spend time with my partner, nap, oh and of course, play video games! I still gotta beat Dark Souls 3 and I'm THIS close to finally beating Breath of the Wild.
Jim: I like to binge watch shows. Not all at once but rather find a show and work my way through it. Right now I am on House OF Cards (US version)
Tracy: Hiking, cuddling with my cats/dogs. Painting, and being outdoors as much as I can. It is cold here for a fair part of the year.
Mandi: I have so many hobbies! Snowboarding, sewing, reading and makeup artistry.
Pawlom: When not board gaming, I enjoy getting outdoors. Running and cycling play a large part of my life, and I have done a wide variety of events including marathons, duathlons, and long distance cycling. Winter in Canada does limit some of those activities, but I will still run year-round. (I have run in weather ranging from +40 degrees to -40 degrees). But since more time is spent indoors during the winter, that's when I'll also spend some time with video games. (Loving Horizon Zero Dawn right now!)
Do you watch any TV, What are your favourite shows at the moment?
Halden: Orange is the New Black, Game of Thrones, Flaked
Stephane: Yes, I like most TV content. I love Vikings, Poldark, Sherlock, Elementary, and Doctor Who.
Caryl: Favourites are easily Stranger Things, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Game of Thrones at the moment. But that's current stuff. If we're gonna go way back to all-time favourites, shout outs to Avatar/The Legend of Korra, Sailor Moon and Friends. Some of my earliest loves.
Jim: House of cards, Sherlock, Black Books, Ahs Vs. The Evil Dead, I.T. Crowd, Big Bang Theory
Tracy: I love to re-watch my good old faves over, and over again, Like Burn Notice. New though I would have to say iZombie, Supernatural, The Big Bang Theory, Madam Secretary
Mandi: Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Call the Midwife (I love BBC haha), Stranger Things, Black Mirror, Salem...I'm sure there are more, but that is all that I can think of at the moment lol
Pawlom: I cancelled my cable around 4 years ago, and never looked back! :)
What’s your grail game? (That one game you’d love to own but don’t for whatever reason).
Halden: war of the ring anniversary edition.
Stephane: Key Market (it's available, but prohibitively expensive)
Caryl: Stamps from Oink Games. It's essentially Reiner Knizia's Modern Art in a long, beautiful box, with simple, flat art style of "stamps" instead of artworks. It is beautiful, expensive, and probably never gonna be found in mint condition from what I've seen. (I am accepting donations if some kind soul out there no longer wants their copy...no? Well, worth a try. Can't blame a girl for trying)
Jim: Right now it’s Die Macher. I would have to bribe some friends with food and spirits to play it but I want to play it at least once.
Tracy: Keydom, and KeyMarket. I love all the Key games, and those two are elusive to find.
Mandi: Indonesia (I love Splötter games, but this one is a wee bit pricey for me at the moment lol) and any of the hard to get Felds. I need to round out my collection!
Pawlom: This isn't what people would typically think of when the question of "grail games" comes up. But after decades of searching, I finally received my grail game earlier this year. And that was an absolutely stunning Chess set. After around 25-30 years of trying to find "THE" Chess set, I finally commissioned a custom made set over a year and a half ago. The finished product finally arrived earlier this year, and I was beyond happy to have it. Any time I get the opportunity, I will always go for deluxe editions, or special editions of games. But I had searching many places in my travels, and never found "THE" Chess set until this one. Now that the search is over, I think the next grail game will need to be a very special Go set. Let the hunt begin!
Last two Aussie related:
Name 5 things you think you know about Australia / Australians (without looking it up / Googling).
Halden: Tim Tam Slam, everything there can kill you, Freddo Frogs, Coopers Beer, Royal Headache
Stephane: Big, dangerous, wild, easy-going, proud.
Caryl: Tim Tams are delicious; you birthed Chris and Liam Hemsworth, so the world thanks you for that; I'm still waiting to hear how to make lamingtons from Community Channel (anyyyy day now...); yo' spiders are crazy scary; am I allowed to say bogan? Because that's a thing I learned.
Jim: It was a prision colony, The Great Gatsby was filmed there, there are way too many poisionous snakes, The AFL, the birthplace of the greatest tv personality of all time Steve Irwin.
Tracy: So many deadly creatures, fiercely proud, beautifully stunning landscapes, watch out for those kangaroos and their kicks, hard workers (worked with an Aussie gentleman when he came to Canada, he worked for my dad's construction company, which I also happened to work for)
Poisonous snakes and insects
Pawlom: 1) Spiders are seemingly bigger than your face and will eat you whole!
2) If I split my time between Canada and Australia, I would never have to endure winter again! (That would be living the dream)
3) I would love to play on the courts of the Australian Open.
4) I've worked with some Australians when I worked with Carnival Cruise Lines, and I still don't understand Vegemite. LOL (some Aussies don't either.... ugh - Ed.)
5) A former Prime Minister loves his beer. To World Record levels. ;)
Would you like to visit Australia and what would you do here if you came?
Halden: Visit my cousins in Adelaide!
Stephane: Absolutely! I don't get to travel often, but when I do, I like to "go native", and live like the locals do, eat what they eat, etc. I love the outdoors and wildlife, and spending a week or five in the Outback is on my bucket list. I would also love to get to see Uluru up close, and in person!
Caryl: Absolutely! The country is beautiful and I'd love to learn how to surf. But first, I should probably learn how to swim...Australia has swimming lessons for newbies right? (most definitely, swimming is huge here - Ed.)
Jim: I would love to come to Australia. I would have to go to the Perth opera house, Try to catch a game with my favorite AFL team the West Coast Eagles (we’re the king of the birds, kings of the big game). I would also have to go to the Australia Zoo.
Tracy: All the beautiful countryside. I would love to see the coast as well. Living where I do there are a lot of lakes, and rivers, but have not seen much of the ocean, so it would be awesome to experience the waters there.
Mandi: would love to visit Australia! I love hot temperatures and I'm very interested in seeing the different types of animals. I would definitely set up a time to visit an animal type sanctuary and see what the gaming scene is like in Australia!
Pawlom: I would love to visit Australia, as I have a few friends that live there. I am still in touch with some Australians I worked with on the cruise lines, and a friend of mine moved down last year as well. I would fly my bike down, and try to bike as much as I could, and also hit some good snorkeling spots. That may also be the time to learn how to surf!
We'd like to thank the entire team of To Do For Games for taking time to answer all of our questions. If you want to follow these guys online, there's the To Die For Games YouTube Channel. There's also the Website, To Die For Games Facebook Page and of course Twitter.