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 http://www.thru-the-portal.com/portal/ 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

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