Charles S. Roberts, The Father of Modern Wargaming passes away

Charles S Roberts, the Father of Modern Wargaming, founder of the Avalon Hill Game Company, has passed away.,0,1072832.story

I and many thousands of board gamers owe a huge debt of gratitude to Mr. Roberts as so many of us entered this awesome hobby due to playing Avalon Hill’s games. Condolences to his family and friends and long may he be remembered for the contribution he made to our lives.

Spotlight on – Michael Fox of the Little Metal Dog Show Podcast

I caught up with Michael Fox of the Little Metal Dog Show Podcast, an up and coming board games podcast and a great listen from the UK!

Hi Michael,

Tell us the story about your Little Metal Dog Show podcast.

– I’ve been a gamer since as long as I can remember, be it video games or board games. I’ve been doing a video games podcast for a few years called Joypod which is a bit different to the norm – it usually descends into me and my co-host shouting at each other, but people seem to like it. We’re about to relaunch the show in association with a bit gaming site ( so a few months back we decided to take a bit of a sabbatical. Around the same time I figured I wanted to do a solo project, so what better to do a new podcast on than board games? Initially I had no idea of the format or what the concept would be, so I figured I’d just get in touch with a few people to see if they’d like to chat about gaming. One was Xibxang (a friend of mine from the excellent GamerDork podcast), the other was Mark Brendan from Warheads. I liked the idea of a couple of interviews covering different areas in gaming, so have stuck with the idea ever since. For a bit of audience interaction I recently asked a friend of mine (Chris Swaffer) if he fancied getting involved with answering some questions, so he’s on board now too. That’s about it!

You have published number 7 recently with Tom Vasel and Eric Summerer of the Dice Tower. Tell us how you got them to agree to chat and your views on the experience.

– Same way I get everyone else on the show: send a polite email! Tom and Eric were great to have on the show. The Dice Tower is one of my favourite podcasts full stop – it’s informative without being too dry, filled with so much different stuff. I have to admit I was probably more nervous speaking with them than I was interviewing someone like Bruno Faidutti! I’ve been listening to them for a few years now, so it felt like the new kid on the block interviewing the old masters. They were great though, as is anyone kind enough to give their time to come on the show.

Can you tell us about the process you go through to produce the podcast?  Tell us about the ups and downs of publishing a gaming podcast. The challenges and opportunities.

– Well, first of all it’s a matter of deciding who to approach to come on the show, then sending out emails. If they get back and say yes, great! We sort out a time and take it from there. I usually record using a combination of Skype and a little program called PowerGramo – it grabs both sides of the conversation and stores it as a .wav file. I then chop it up using Audacity (a really easy to use audio editor), get rid of all the umms and ahhs and turn it into an mp3 (just so the file size is smaller). Then it’s a matter of recording the introduction, the in-between bits, sticking in some music and spot effects and sending it out into the world. The ups and downs? Well, speaking to so many interesting people is brilliant – I’ve made some good friends through the show already, and getting the odd review copy of a game before it comes out is always a bonus too. The only downside is the time it takes to make a show – that first episode probably took about 12 hours total to edit alone, simply because I was so rusty. I’m much better at it now though – after interviews are done, I can normally get the show done in around 3-4 hours now.

Any words of advice for others interested in design/publishing their own board games podcast?
– Hmmm. Try and find a niche, I suppose. I kind of lucked out on the format of LMDS – there’s not really another podcast out there that focuses on interviews. I’d suggest look at an area that you really love (and that you know a bit about too). Make sure it sounds OK too – maybe record a pilot episode or two and let people listen to it. If they suggest ways to improve, take it on board – they’re not criticising to hurt, it’s to help. You can even give me a shout if you like – I’m happy to help out!

What are your plans for the future development of Little Metal Dog Show?
– Keep on making the show, first off! I also love writing, so I’m keeping the accompanying blog going in conjunction with the show. I never wanted LMDS to be all about reviews – there’s plenty of stuff out there telling you all about games – so you can find my thoughts on what I’m playing on the site itself. I considered doing some video stuff, but really I can’t compete with shows like Board Games With Scott or the excellent Downtime Town. So I’m going to stick with what I’ve got for so far, keep on asking people with interesting stories to tell and get them to tell them.

How and when did you get into gaming?
– The usual Mouse Trap and Monopoly upbringing! When I was a kid I played all the usual stuff, but the thing that really pulled me in was HeroQuest. I played it on my own mostly (my brother was a bit too young), but it got me into heavier games. I dabbled a little in Games Workshop stuff, but to be honest was really put off by the attitude of the people in my local GW store. Still bought Blood Bowl though. At University I drifted away a bit from games, then moved to Australia for a bit. On my return, I spotted a games store in the town I was working one day and wandered in to see what stuff was on offer. That was the re-ignition, especially when the owner said they had a games night every week. I picked up a copy of Carcassonne, took it home and was hooked all over again.

What type of games do you like to play? Any particular favourites? Any games or game types that you hate?

– I’ll happily play anything at least once, just to try it out. I’m not an avid wargamer though – I find a lot of them a little dry for my taste; the heaviest I’ll go is probably Memoir 44 in that regard. I’m really enjoying the current deck building boom – there’s so many good games in that genre that each offer a different take, and Dominion definitely has a place in my best games list. Summoner Wars is a great game too – Colby Dauch at Plaid Hat has come up with a winner there. Co-op games are a big passion of mine at the moment – Pandemic is a great example (and I got to speak with Matt Leacock on an episode of the show as well). The game I’ll always play though, no matter when or where it is? Battlestar Galactica. Top of the list, definitely.
Likes and dislikes in regards to mechanics, theme?
– I’m a sci-fi geek, so if it involves flying through space or rockets, I’m there. Another favourite game of mine is Mission: Red Planet which has a beautiful steampunk feel to it. I’ve not played anything else with that theme, but the techy-Victoriana vibe is really appealing. As I mentioned previously, I’m not too hot on war games, but I’m not adverse to playing something with a historical bent. Also, I know that a lot of people hate dice in games, but I love them – the need to adapt to what has been thrown is something I really enjoy, and it’s a similar thing in deck building.
Tell us where we can meet you this year.Attending any upcoming conventions?
Well, I’ll be at the BoardGameCamp in London on October 9th. As I’m in the UK, there’s not much in the way of big conventions until the UK Games Expo next year, and I’ll certainly be there.

Will you be attending Essen? If so, any particular plans for interviews? Looking forward to playing any particular new releases?
– Man, going to Essen would be incredible. I would love to go, but as always it’s a matter of funds and timing! I’m a primary school teacher, but I think Essen falls on a weekend during half-term. If I manage to get there, it’ll only be for a couple of days. There’s loads of interesting releases announced for this year’s event, but out of all of them I’m probably most intrigued by 51st State (based on the Neuroshima Hex universe), Cadwallon: City of Thieves and the new one from Martin Wallace: London.

What is your view of the boardgaming scene here in the UK?
Well, it’s getting bigger. The growth of the Games Expo has shown that, for sure, but it’s a drop in a bucket. If you mention board games to your average member of the public they’ll instantly think of Monopoly… and that’s it. If you wander into a supermarket like Target in the USA, you’ll see stuff like Catan and Carcassonne on the shelves. Go into one of the big bookstores and your selection is even bigger – Barnes and Noble carry stuff like Dominion, for example. We need that kind of attitude here –  I think board games will always be considered geeky, but there’s nothing wrong with being a geek. We should embrace it!

What would you like to see done which could help board gaming become more mainstream amongst the public?
A bit more support from retailers, I suppose – and a bit more bravery from gamers themselves. Why not break out something like Citadels at work and see if some people want to give it a go to while away your lunch break? As well as that, getting kids to play will see a new generation of gamers – I play games with some of the kids I work with and they love it. Stuff like Diamant (aka Incan Gold) or Hey! That’s My Fish! goes down brilliantly – then I get their folks coming to ask where I get the games from. Keep spreading the word and the hobby can only grow.

Download the Little Metal Dog Show podcast on itunes or the LMD blog website –

The 2010 Finnish Game of the Year goes to Dixit and Finca

The 2010 Finnish Game of the Year goes to…

Dixit – Best Family Game

Finca (Mallorca) Adult Game

Dominion – What strategy do you like to use?

Dominion, by Rio Grand games is an excellent card game for 2-4 players. The Middle ages theme is pasted on and doesn’t really add to the atmosphere but the game is so good that it doesn’t matter. It’s all about hand management and coming up with an effective strategy.

In Dominion, you get a large number of card types to choose from to set up the core game. The rules provide you with a number of suggested starting set-ups, each requiring a different approach in order to collect enough victory points so I don’t see Dominion getting stale too quickly.

The game plays fast in the straight forward sets where you are focused on gaining enough riches to buy victory point cards but I found that in the set-ups which force players to “attack” each other, things take quite a bit longer. I love the mechanics and the fast flow of the turns and the minimum down time between turns.

When other players ask what strategy I use, I usually say “uh, I don’t know” as I tend to take what I pull into my hand and see how it goes. I am still trying to get my head around the strategy side of this game and I would be open to any suggestions from you gamers out there.

Post your thoughts and experiences here about Dominion strategy to help a fellow gamer get his head around the strategy element of this great game!

the Dutch Foundation Games Prize 2010

The Dutch Foundation Games prize 2010

This foundation organizes the annual election of the Dutch Game Award. This games award was created in 2001 where Dutch board gamers vote for the best board game of the year. It is hoped thatthe award encourages game producers to develop high quality games .

From the website – This year’s nominees are:

  • Brass : a board game for 3-4 players on industrial development in England , designed by Martin Wallace , published by White Goblin Games

  • Dixit : a card game for 3-6 players on creative direction and beautiful images, designed by Jean – Louis Roubira issued by Libellud

  • Fresco : a board game for 2-4 players on the restoration of a painting in a cathedral, designed by Marcel Süßelbeck , and Marco Ruskowski and Wolfgang Panning, published by Queen Games

  • High voltage : a board game for 2-6 players to manage an energy company, Designed by Friedemann Friese , published by 999 Games

  • Roll through the Ages : a dice game for 1-4 players on the development of a civilization , created by Matt Leacock, published by QWG Games

  • Steam : a board game for 3-5 players on the construction and operation of railways, Designed by Martin Wallace , published by Phalanx Games

  • Tobago : a board game for 2-4 players on a tropical island Prospecting, Designed by Bruce Allen , published by The Game Master

  • Vasco da Gama : a board game for 2-4 players on the exploration by sea to India, designed by Paolo Mori , published by 999 Games

I fully support these and other Board Games awards which promote the wonderful hobby of playing board games. There are so many wonderful games available and the more that is done to promote the hhobby and social fun that is board gaming, the better!

Check out the awards website (which is easily translated into English, for more information.

Spotlight on – Thru-the-Portal Ezine – Interview with Neil Meyer, Editor/Founder

I caught up with Neil Meyer, Editor/ Founder of the excellent British board gaming ezine, Thru-the Portal. If you haven’t read it yet, you are really missing out on a brilliant publication! To view the first three editions as a pdf download, go to Please post your comments, queries or whatever. This ezine needs all of our support!

Hi Neil,

*Tell us the story about your Thru-the-Portal ezine. It is clearly a labour of love and I for one applaud your efforts.

The magazine is definitely a labour of love!  I was introduced to hobbyist boardgaming by Laura about three years ago – via Ticket to Ride.  I thought it was a great game, and although I had played Killer Bunnies before, I didn’t really know that these kinds of games existed.  As Laura moved over to the UK last year she convinced me to go to Essen – “this really big boardgaming convention –you’ll love it!”.  And yes, it was really fantastic!  Just before leaving I tried to get hold of a magazine to find out a bit more about boardgames in general so I’d have an idea of what to look out for at Essen.  It  seemed, however, that most of these magazines had gone out of business or were very niche orientated so we thought we’d try produce our own online version, which removed many of the overhead costs associated with launching a new product.

* You have published some your third issue which is excellent btw. What has been the response so far? Any noteworthy industry supporters? How many downloads are you up to? etc.

It’s a strange thing having an online magazine as there is no pressing need to remove the previous issues, so instead of everyone rushing to the new issue we see a lift across the board.  Issue 1 has now been downloaded by over 3,000 people, Issue 2 is at around 2,000 downloads and we had about 500 downloads in the first 5 days of Issue 3 coming out.

As for industry supporters, they are few and far between.  I’m not sure whether they have had a bad experience with magazine publishers in the past, or whether it’s just not where their focus is, but we have to go to them – not the other way around.  Not yet anyway. J

* Can you tell us about the process you went through to arrive at the finished product? Tell us about the ups and downs of publishing a board gaming ezine. The challenges and opportunities.

thru-the-portal is published quarterly, so our regular contributors have about 2 months to come up with something that they want to write about, and I generally spend the last month pulling it all together.  I’m really delighted with the contributors who share their time and thoughts, and I’m always impressed by the quality that they produce – for free!  Outside of the games themselves, it is great to work with great artists to showcase the stuff I like so much, and which I think is so effective in drawing in people to the various gaming hobbies in general.

* Any words of advice for others interested in design/publishing their own board games ezine?

Oddly enough the advice would be the same as I have seen for those wanting to publish their own games.  If you want to do it, do it for the pleasure it will give you, not the financial rewards.  Understand also that there are a lot of ‘nay sayers’ out there who will tell you how you’re doing it wrong – but stay true to what you would want from the sort of publication you are producing.

* With the launch of the iPad, do you see the possibility for expanding your readership?

Yes, all eReaders are exciting for us, and I think more and more of the magazines we read will be produced this way.

* What are your plans for the future development of Thru the Portal?

We were disappointed that there was not a big enough demand for a printed edition, as we thought this would really be something people would be interested in – and we had the same sort of thinking on producing a 2011 gaming calendar.  Whether it’s apathy or a lack of interest in the printed format, I’m not sure, but I would like to revisit this at a later stage.

* How and when did you get into gaming?

My brother likes mopping the table with everyone in Monopoly and will play anyone anytime, so I remember growing up with games like that and Trivial Pursuit as a kid.  In about 2004 I discovered Killer Bunnies, which I thought was amazing and ended up playing with most of my friends on any given occasion.  As for the Euro-style boardgames, those are still new to me, having played my first one in about 2008.  Luckily Laura has been gaming for over 10 years and I managed to marry into a good collection of games!

* What type of games do you like to play? Any particular favourites? Any games or game types that you hate?  Likes and dislikes in regards to mechanics, theme?

I’m happy to give any game a try.  I like theme and tend to favour the fantasy genre – so I didn’t really like Memoir ’44 but really enjoy Battle Lore (which is essentially the same game).  I think the right game to play depends on the people you are playing with.  The more in depth games (e.g. Arkham Horror) require a commitment to playing and staying invested in the game that most new players simply aren’t ready for, but a game like Ticket to Ride is popular across the board!  At the moment I’m enjoying resource management games, such as Stone Age and Agricola.  I also really like Battlestar Galactica with the different ways that it plays out, being a co-operative and a bluffing game all in one.  I don’t think I hate any games… but I would probably steer clear of games that have a very high luck over strategy element.

* Tell us where we can meet you this year. Attending any upcoming conventions?

Essen is the next big event on our calendar and we are all booked and (almost) packed for it already!  Outside of the big events we try get into London to join the London on Board gaming group or sometimes go into Brighton to get a game or two there.  Having a young son, Mike, makes playing long games a little more challenging, although he is eager and will be an avid player as he gets older.

* I understand that you will be attending Essen. Any particular plans for interviews? Looking forward to playing any particular new releases?

I’m still researching the different games that are launching, however I’m excited to see some of the British games – such as Richard Denning’s 1666: Great Fire and Tony Boydell’s Totemo.  It also the first year we’ll be attending since launching the magazine, so meeting some of our readers and playing some games with them is also of huge excitement for Laura, Mike and me.

We have managed to get some press passes for Essen this year and are hoping to arrange a few meetings with publishers and designers to feature in the next issue which will have a big Essen focus – and will ship a month later to include this content.

* What is your view of the boardgaming scene here in the UK?

We’ve only met nice people – whether at conventions, as contributors to the magazine or in gaming groups.  And there is a lot of innovation – almost every time we go into London for gaming someone is play testing or discussing a gaming idea that they have!  I would like to see the various people that are interested in games and gaming in the UK try to build better links to promote the hobby overall – we’d love to be involved!

* What would you like to see done which could help board gaming become more mainstream amongst the public?

There seems to be a group of gate keepers in the gaming world who are not keen to invite new people into the gaming world.  Whether this is based on gaming elitism, poor social skills or some agenda varies from case to case, but as a contributor to the industry we have found it difficult to get any traction for the magazine with these groups, and I think the same is true for people who have an interest in the games but feel intimidated by the ‘geeks’ who play them.

That said – we are very grateful to companies like Seriously Board in New Zealand, the Spiel podcast, Wanderer podsast and a whole lot of smaller independent bloggers who go out of their way to be helpful in promoting the magazine.

We make a big effort in the magazine to include a wide selection of social gaming interests, as we see these as natural entry points to cross pollinate between the different niche groups.  We also try to include content that can be enjoyed by family gamers, hardened gamers and everyone in between – not an easy thing to achieve! J

Why we must encourage everyone to play more games – an important article by Roger Martin of Coiledspring Games

I came across a great article in the guide to UK Games Expo. In fact I would say it is an important article and links very well to the PIP Campaign being promoted on the Seizeyour website (see previous post).

Have a read and let me have your thoughts…

Why we must encourage everyone to play more games.

I recently got together with a group of old school friends.  They aren’t ‘traditional’ gamers but I thought it’d be fun to try out the new cooperative game from Matt Leacock –  ‘Forbidden Island’.

As I was reading out the rules, one of the guys, Richard, said ‘you’ve got to be a pretty sad kind of person to make up this kind of game.  Hasn’t he got more exciting things to do with his time?’.  I immediately leapt to Matt Leacock’s and all other games designers defence. An outrageous comment.  After a forthright discussion, we continued the game.

Reflecting later on this event, made me realise the size of the challenge we have to change the perception of games and gaming in the UK.  Richard is a highly intelligent, successful man.  He runs his own language school and is a qualified wind-surfing instructor.  Why does he have such a poor perception of games, gaming and gamers?

And I don’t think he’s alone.  It’s difficult to estimate how many people play which games across the world but one fact is illuminating.  Essenspiel, the German games expo, has almost 200,000 visitors.  France’s ‘Festival des Jeux’ in Cannes attracts 20,000.  UK Games Expo, the nearest we have to Essenspiel, has 2,000.

In pure market share terms,  the board game market, as a total of the toys and games market  was  5 per cent in Great Britain, 13 per cent in Germany and 11.8 per cent in France (all figures NPD Group inc, first half 2009). Europeans buy more games, play more games, enjoy more games than us.

Why the difference and is it important?

Part of the problem is the perception games have in the British psyche.

When I meet new people and tell them I work in the board games industry, the usual reaction is ‘my family love playing games’.  If I ask them which games, then the usual suspects appear: Monopoly, Cluedo, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit.  Sometimes TV-tie-ins such as ‘Deal Or No Deal’ or ‘Goldenballs’.  If they say they’re really into games they’ll mention RISK (before admitting that they haven’t played it since university).

I’ve a great many friends who live in Germany.  When I ask them which games they enjoy, they tend to be non-specific. They’ll say ‘strategy games’, ‘tile-laying games’ , resource gathering games’, ‘abstract games’.  They’ll then reel off their current favourite Top 10.

The games advertised on British TV are either TV tie-ins or established favourites. In Germany new games are reviewed in newspapers in the same way as console games or new books are over here.

Most people in the UK don’t have any idea of the  exciting variety and range of games that are out there.

We ran a demonstration of Quoridor our amazing maze game at Fenwick of Brent Cross in the month before Christmas.  It’s a simple wooden strategy game. The rules take seconds to explain (move your pawn or place a fence. The winner is the first to the other side).  During the demonstration the most striking thing for me was the fear that adults had of the game.  They would take one look at say ‘it’s too complicated’, ‘I’d have to use my brain to play it’.  The underlying feeling from them was: if I try to play this game and I can’t then I’d be made to look foolish and I don’t want to take the risk’.  Trying out the new game would take them out of their comfort zone.  The adults’ reaction was in stark contrast to the kids’ reaction.  Once challenged ‘I bet you can’t beat me’, 99% of the kids were up for the challenge and gave it a go.

If the opportunity is provided for kids to play, they will rise to the challenge.

Another part of the problem is public perception.  Best-selling games tend to be TV tie ins such as Deal or No Deal, Jasper Carrot’s Goldenballs or licensed characters such as Doctor Who or Bob the Builder. Unfortunately, the game’s manufacturer often has to spend so much money acquiring the license and marketing the game that they haven’t been able to invest in developing a good game.  It’s usually a predictable race around a board, collecting items and rolling dice.  These types of games can colour a players’ perception of playing games. TV tie-ins and licensed games are fine as a little light amusement but not the kind of thing to get ones heart racing and brain working.

But why should we be concerned with widening the involvement and enjoyment of playing games in Britain? Why not keep it a niche hobby? Does it matter that we lag way behind our continental neighbours?  I think it does.

Why playing games is important

Everybody at UK Games Expo will be aware of the enjoyment of playing games (intellectual challenge, healthy competition, sheer fun) but do we campaign strongly enough about the wider social benefits that ‘gaming’ gives?

Children who play games learn important social skills such as taking turns and fair play.  More significantly, they find out that losing is not the end of the world.  Persistence in the face of failure is a key life skill.  What counts is dusting yourself off and having another go.

Nigel Scarfe of Imagination Gaming is one of a group of inspirational people I’ve met since setting up Coiledspring Games.  Nigel has worked with 1000s of children.  He and his team go into schools and work with children from a wide variety of backgrounds evangelising about playing games.

I asked Nigel what the kids get out of his game playing sessions.  The first thing he said was ‘joy’.  ‘They try a new game, enjoy it and want to tell their friends. They have the thrill of a shared experience’.

Secondly  – a challenge.   Despite what people might say, it is about winning.  Kids don’t mind losing as long as they’ve had a good game.  As long as they feel it’s been fair and they’ve work hard.  One very useful tip for inspiring kids to play games is ‘avoid luck’.  Given that most kids games (snake and ladders, ludo) are pure dice rolling luck games it may seem counter intuitive to knock them, but kids find it difficult to understand the random nature of luck.  It undermines their planning and strategies and isn’t fair.  And fairness is very important to kids.  Skill based or tactical games give them the control of winning or losing.

Nigel also suggests talking through a game while playing, praising good moves and telling them why you’ve made a particular move.  This helps develop understanding.  Unlike adults, they like to learn and won’t feel patronised.

Thirdly, games spark imagination.  Kids aren’t lacking in imagination but TV and console games provide so much imagery that it can limit the child’s opportunity to develop their own.  Inspiring them to use their imagination while playing a game, thinking through future scenarios for some may seem daunting initially but as they get into it you can see them sparkle.  For example playing Dungeon and Dragons can open their eyes to a whole new world.  One that they can control.

Finally, children love the responsibility of saying I’ve got something new can I teach you.  Peer to peer learning and mentoring is quite a buzz in education circles but it really works with games.  They make a bond through helping other kids and teaching them.  This develops their social skills and ability to interact.   Nigel tells a fascinating story about bullies and the bullied.  His team went into a school and ran games session with both bullied and bullies together.  By encouraging them to play together they were laughing, became less defensive, less shy and less aggressive.  There was mutual respect and they were too busy playing the game and trying to win than worry about their image.

University of the third age

The importance of playing games isn’t just at the beginning of life.  We have a game Triolet.  It’s sometimes been called ‘Scrabble(r) with numbers’.  It’s simple to learn, and involves getting the highest score through placing number tiles on a board.  When we first distributed it, we thought it would appeal to parents and grandparents wanting to play it with their kids.  In reality we sold more copies to the over 60s than any other demographic.  We have teams of ‘University of the Third Age’ people playing it.  Helen Mitchell and her husband, both in their late 80’s play 3 times a day because they say ‘it keeps us young’.  Keeping your mind active in older age is especially vital.


Returning to my friend Richard, after being sternly chastised for his narrow focus, we continued the game while he sulked a bit.  As the game progressed, he was forced to interact on his turn.  He gradually thawed and by the end was as enthusiastic as everyone.  My newest convert…

[If you’d like to comment on this article then you can email me and there’s more about our range of games at

Nigel Scarfe and Imagination Gaming can be contacted at and you can find out more at them at

Top tips for newcomers:

-Start with a game whose rules take no more than 30 seconds to explain

-Preferably, start with games that you can being playing while explaining the rules

-Try to limit games to no more than 30 minutes.  With kids, 10 minutes is usually the maximum

-Don’t be afraid to change or ignore a rule if it makes it over complicated or gets in the way of your explanation.  You can always add it back if afterwards.

-Above all, make it fun!

Roger Martin

Coiledspring Games