A while ago I started listening to a podcast called Garrett’s Games and Geekiness and I just really found myself enjoying the company of Doug Garrett and his wife, Shelley. I caught up with Doug and asked him if he would be willing to share his insights regarding his podcast and the wider world of Board Gaming in general.
Hello Doug and thanks for sharing your thoughts with Boardgames in Blighty.
Garrett’s Games and Geekiness podcast seems to be growing in popularity certainly amongst gamers I know. Tell us your story. Where did the idea for the podcast come from? How long have you and Shelley been gaming together? Why a podcast? You know the drill…
I’m glad to know that the podcast continues to find an audience. We’ve been putting out a weekly episode since way back in late January of 2006, only missing here and there for vacations and technical difficulties.
I started after hearing such great shows as GeekSpeak/BoardgameSpeak with Aldie and Derk, as well as Mark Johnson’s BoardgamesToGo. Both of those inspired me to try something new when it came to this hobby. I love talking about games and wanted to explore this podcast medium.
Shelley was the best part of the whole thing. After hearing Mark do a “wife show” that had some great interaction, I convinced Shelley to get on a microphone and that made the whole thing click. I like talking with my wife, and since she likes the games almost as much as I do, it has worked out well.
What are your gaming backgrounds? How did you first get into board gaming?
Shelley and I had been playing card games like Rummy or typical American games like Sorry for a long time (we’ve been together since we were in high school, age 15), but it was 2001 and Settlers of Catan that changed everything. That game (which we really don’t play anymore) showed us that there was an entirely different world of games to explore.
And what are your backgrounds outside of gaming?
Shelley and I are both teachers – she teaches 3rd grade (8 year olds) and I teach high school English and Journalism. As I said above, we were high school sweethearts who stuck together and have made a decent life for ourselves out here in California. It’s nice to be in the town in which you grew up and have family close by.
What is your view of board gaming in the USA and perhaps in other countries? What would you like to see done, which could help board gaming become more mainstream amongst the public?
Board gaming as we understand it is very much a niche market, but growing, in the US. It seems that games like Catan are getting mentioned more often in the mainstream media and that can’t be a bad thing. I hope that greater exposure will allow the hobby to grow.
As for other countries, I can’t really comment except to say that I’m happy to know that I have listeners around the world who are interested in the hobby. I love the fact that because of this hobby I have good friends from all over who share my passion for games.
As for what to do to grow the hobby – I think the best thing we can do is not be afraid to talk about the hobby with non-gamers. If they see that someone whom they like enjoys something that they may think is geeky or childish, they MAY re-think their prejudices. I certainly don’t expect everyone to play games, but I’m willing to try to figure out what games a person might like if they’re willing to try them out. For example the Easy Play line from Schmidt Spiele often works well.
Can you tell us about the process you go through to produce each episode? Any particular challenges?
I used to just hook up a headphone microphone to the computer and record that way. I have since upgraded to better mics, a mixer and a very good digital recorder. When I’m recording on the go, however, I still just bring the recorder, some splitters and a few decent headphone mics. Once I have the episode recorded I use GarageBand on a Mac to edit the episode (it’s easy and I’ve never taken any kind of courses or bothered to delve more deeply in that aspect). Then I just upload the episode to the site.
The challenges were back in the beginning when the GarageBand software was still working out its kinks, and I was using iWeb, another Apple product. They just didn’t understand how a podcast recording might be longer than an hour. I remember having to figure out how to get around that…. Also, there were the painful losses of data from sites I had built. Now (knock wood) everything seems stable.
Any words of advice for others interested in producing a board game podcast?
Just go for it! I think it’s very good to have someone else there for a conversation. Mark Johnson can pull off great solo podcasts, but others have tried and they just don’t have the knack for it – heck I don’t like doing them because I find myself editing out all of my pauses as I try to say what I’m thinking in the best way. If you have a computer and can get a cheap pair of gaming headphones with a mic attached, you’re set. The editing software is out there for free or cheap, and a website is fairly inexpensive as well.
You recently broadcast a series of podcasts from your Meeplefest Con. Tell about Meeplefest and how you put the podcasts together. Who was involved?
Meeplefest is an invitational that I run here in Silicon Valley. It’s just an extended group of friends who get together for four days of gaming. I’m lucky enough to know a number of designers who come to the event and I always record a wine-soaked podcast or two on Friday and Saturday of Meeplefest. Some enjoy coming in, sitting at the microphones, and discussing various areas of gaming. This past event’s podcasts were particularly good because with 3-6 designers sitting in the room I think we talked about areas and issues that don’t come up on many of the gaming podcasts.
As for who was involved, Susan McKinley Ross who invented Qwirkle; Chris Handy, designer of Longshot; Paul Tevis, designer of Penny For My Thoughts; Scott Caputo, designer of Kachina; Simon Hunt, designer of Pick & Pack; and Matt Leacock of Pandemic, Forbidden Island, and Roll Through The Ages fame. Other gaming friends such as Ric Bretschneider who has his own comics podcast Fanboy Planet, and Greg Zamira were there as well. They show up throughout the year on the mics.
- Which game designers were there? What were the highlights for you? For Shelley?
I get a kick out of sitting around talking about games – almost as much as I enjoy playing them. The entire weekend is always one of the highlights of my year.
What type of games do you like to play? Any particular favourites? Any games that you just hate?
I love Michael Schacht’s designs more often than not. China/Web of Power is my favorite game, and I’m always enthralled by his ability to hone a game down to quick possible decisions that have larger implications. My least favorite games – besides the typical roll-and-move genre that’s so prevalent in the US department stores – are standard dice games where how well you do depends almost entirely on what dice you roll. Dice Town is a recent one that many enjoy, but I just loathed.
Likes and dislikes in regards to mechanics?
I don’t like being over-burdened with choices. That’s why Schacht’s games appeal so much.
Upcoming public demos, conventions? Any plans to attend Essen 2010? Or perhaps next year’s UK Games Expo (hint, hint…)?
We will be in Essen this year working at the BoardGameGeek booth once again. Shelley and I were the main “game collectors” last year and that will be our job this year as well. The plan, however, is to get the demos that began haphazardly last year into a more formal structure. Instead of “hey, we have a webcam that we could use to show games…and we could even demo stuff!” we will head into the convention with that as a primary focus. We will have live demos streaming to boardgamegeek.com, and also film in higher quality for later playback too. It should be fun, and I hope that the publishers realize the benefit they will get by having the game shown in this manner.
Who are your favourite game designers and why?
See above for comments on Schacht. As for others, Stephan Feld seems to be producing hit after hit lately. However, I’m really just willing to try anything once.
Do you listen to other podcasts? Is there a friendly rivalry between you guys and say, The Dice Tower or The Spiel guys?
I do listen to most of the other gaming podcasts out there and commend them on the fine job that they do. There’s no real rivalry to speak of, but I will say I am happy to be the board gaming podcast with the most episodes out there – Episode 230 is just now up for this weekend.
You and Shelley make an awesome team. It almost seems like we are sitting around the table with you. Is this effect by design?
Thanks for that compliment. It’s certainly not “by design” in any way – it’s just the way we talk. I don’t have a script like some of the other podcasters do, and that shows sometimes as we can wander a bit, but I think that’s part of the fun. More than anything I want to get across the fact that here’s a typical couple that just happens to love playing games. We sit at the kitchen table, the dogs’ click/clack into the room, and life goes on around us. We would hope that listeners feel they have a good idea of who we are, because then they will have a better idea of whether they will enjoy the games we are discussing or not.
Do you or Shelley play games in your classrooms?
Shelley will play games with her 3rd graders occasionally. I actually run a Game Club at school and students can come in every Tuesday and play.
Lastly, how can my readers find your podcasts to download?
You can go to the Garrett’s Games and Geekiness website at www.garrettsgames.com to listen, or search for Garrett on iTunes, then subscribe.
Thanks very much Doug!