Spolight on – Stephen Conway of THE SPIEL podcast


I don’t know about you, but I need my weekly fix of The Spiel podcast. Stephen Conway and Dave Coleson’s awesome broadcast about games and the people who love them. They also have a great charity called the Spiel Foundation. Stephen and I trade occasional tweets on Twitter and I asked him if he would be up for an interview for Boardgames in Blighty. he graciously accepted and here it is. Spiel on!

Hi Stephen, thanks for taking some time to share the story of The Spiel with us.

The Spiel is certainly popular amongst the board gaming community. Tell us your story. Where did the idea for The Spiel come from? How long have you and Dave been gaming together? Why a podcast? How many subscribers do you currently have? You know the drill…

I have known Dave for 15+ years. We met while I was in grad school; I worked part time at a friendly local game store. He came into the store on his breaks from the theatre (he is a professional musician) and we quickly recognized that we fell off the crazy train at the same station.

The Spiel was my brainchild and it took a little convincing to get Dave to sit down and record the first few times. Though our specific format has taken some time to evolve, I had a very specific vision for a show. We would celebrate our passion and knowledge of games and in the process introduce players to the world of games in a way that was different than the shows available at the time. Thus far, I think we are still on course! We have between 3,000 – 5,000 regular listeners to the current episodes, but our audience is constantly growing. This means many people are still discovering The Spiel and are starting with our back catalog (over 100 episodes). For 2010, we are averaging over 12,000 downloads a month.

What are your gaming backgrounds? How did you first get into board gaming?

I grew up in a family that loved games. Some of my earliest and most fond memories are of my grandparents, aunts and uncles, and my parents laughing and playing cards until all hours of the night. In rural Indiana, where euchre is King, it was considered a rite of passage for my grandfather to sit down and teach me the rules and take me on as his “apprentice” partner. For my Romanian grandparents on the other side of my family, their game was pinochle. The day I was allowed to join the adults and play pinochle, I knew I had found my new home: the game table.

Dave’s story is similar. Games were a part of his family as long as he can remember. His Dad loves to tell the story of how he used board games to settle disputes between Dave and his siblings when they were little. He’d lock them in a room and let the play until everything was fine.

And what are your backgrounds outside of gaming?

I am a writer (primarily screenplays, but also prose and poetry), a filmmaker, and a podcaster. I hold Bachelor’s degrees in Theatre (Acting and Directing) and English and a Masters degree in English as well. In addition, I run two non-profit organizations: the Indiana Film Society and The Spiel Foundation.

Dave is a former Marine. He played in the Marine Corps Band during his tour of duty. He has been a professional musician (Trumpeter) performing at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre for over 20 years.

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?

The mass market in the United States is still only vaguely aware of the wider world of games, but this is changing. Board gaming in the US is on the rise. Sales of board games have doubled over the past decade. The issue is one of exposure more than anything. The more titles that make it into mainstream retail outlets, the greater the potential to increase the playing public. Of course, I also believe digital media and resources like The Spiel serve an important role in giving players new to the hobby a friendly and fun way to approach this wider world of games.

Can you tell us about the process you go through to produce each episode? Any particular challenges?

We outline each segment in advance, dividing up the information as needed. We research and prepare for recording on our own. Days later, we record the show which takes several hours. Then, the real work begins! I edit the recorded footage for each segment and assemble the show into a raw, rough draft form. Next I select music for each segment break and create or find pictures for the enhanced version of the show. Finally, I am ready to pull all the parts together to make the audio file for the show. After a final mixdown into mp3 and m4a (enhanced) formats, I post the file, update the feeds and write detailed show notes with links for each episode. Last but certainly not least, I announce the episode using social media sites, and other online forums.

The main challenge in producing any show is maintaining a consistent release schedule while keeping the quality of the content consistently high. We have yet to miss a release date in five years and this is a great a point of pride for us both. We both come from theatrical backgrounds, so we live and breathe the motto: the show must go on!

Any words of advice for others interested in producing a board game podcast?

Find your voice. Make sure you know what will make your show different from others before you ever turn on the mic or the camera.

Are you currently working on any special Spiel projects and if so, can you whet our appetite for what is yet to come from The Spiel?

I am in the process of launching a video series on the history of board games. Season one of The Spiel will be 12 episodes. Each episode is a showcase for a single title, punctuated by oddball interludes, historical vignettes, over-the-top demonstrations, and on-location interviews with passionate players and celebrities. Think Top Gear or Good Eats in terms of format and style. The goal is to introduce or in some cases re-introduce the audience to the engaging variety of fun available in old school analog games – to show how these games can challenge the mind, fire the imagination, and provide years of entertainment and laughter to players young and old.

I am entering into the first round of fundraising for this project. Round one will cover initial studio construction and production of the Pilot episode. From there, we will use the Pilot as an additional selling tool to investors and sponsors and will raise the necessary funds to produce the remaining 11 episodes for Season One. I’m very excited about this project and am happy to provide additional information to anyone interested.

What type of games do you like to play? Any particular favourites? Any games that you just hate?

I happily dodge the favorite game question by espousing a concept we embrace on the show: The Game Sommelier. To me, my favorite game is the one that matches the personalities and interests of the people I am playing with in much the same way a Sommelier finds the right vintage for a particular meal. My goal is to have fun when I sit down to play and the game is a vehicle for that fun. I’ll play just about anything under the right circumstances with the right crowd.

As for games I dread or avoid, Twilight Imperium is a game I just do not enjoy. I have played it over half a dozen times and feel like I have given it a fair shake. I know many people love it, but I’d rather jump in front of a bus than play it again.

Likes and dislikes in regards to mechanics?

In a talented designer’s hands, any mechanic can make a game sing. Player elimination is a mechanic that must be used sparingly or wisely or I will quickly lose interest in the game.

Upcoming public demos, conventions? Any plans to attend Essen 2010? Or perhaps next year’s UK Games Expo (hint, hint…)?

The Spiel budget hasn’t reached a level that will allow us to travel to Essen or the UK Games Expo…. yet. An abiding goal for the show is to reach that point and I really hope we are able to make one cross-continental trip each year.

Who are your favourite game designers and why?

I certainly admire and respect Reiner Knizia and Bruno Faidutti for the depth and breadth of their design resumes. I really enjoy James Ernest’s sense of fun and willingness to experiment. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Jason Matthews, Friedemann Friese, Vlaada Chvatil, and Antoine Bauza.

Do you listen to other podcasts? Is there a friendly rivalry between you guys and say, The Dice Tower guys?

I do listen to other podcasts but tend to listen to non-game podcasts more often, since I spend so much time eating, sleeping, and breathing games producing our show.

We like to give the Dice Tower guys a hard time, sure. Tom does his best to egg us on.

Ok, tell us about Goober. What is it (for the unenlightened) and tell us about your favourite gaming Goober.

Goober is Dave’s term for the stuff, the bits that come in a game. I have no clue how or why he came up with this term and, quite frankly, neither does he! A game has truckloads of goober if it has a ton of components or noteworthy or unique components. I tend to enjoy the goobery games with oddball components. I have an antique football (American football) game made in the late 1930s that uses a lightbulb to determine the outcome of each play. That one is certainly high on my list!

What’s the deal with curling???

Curling is awesome, what’s to tell? It’s the perfect synthesis of board games and sport, plus it has brooms! Seriously, it is ridiculously fun and requires more dexterity, balance and strength that any casual observer would think. If you haven’t tried it, give it a go and I bet many of you will get hooked like me!

Tell us about the Spiel Foundation. What is it all about?

The Spiel Foundation is a non-profit group whose mission is to donate quality board and card games to children’s hospitals and senior citizen centers. We use our experience with and knowledge of games to select 5 specific titles and then purchase and assemble bundles of these games to donate. We have grown from 6-8 bundles in our first year to 64 bundles in year three. That’s over 300 games this year! We host an annual fundraiser, the Spiel-a-thon, to generate income for each year’s bundle purchases. We do accept donations throughout the year and are forming partnerships with game groups and conventions around the country for fundraisers. For instance, we are sending 48 game bundles to the Houston area thanks in great measure to the efforts of the fine folks at OwlCon. For more information about the group, check out

http://thespielfoundation.com/

Lastly, how can my readers find your podcasts to download and how can they support the Spiel Foundation?

The Spiel is listed on iTunes, so you can easily subscribe to the show there. You can also visit us at http://www.thespiel.net. There you can listen or download shows directly OR you can subscribe using an RSS reader. We’re a small quirky town full of misfits compared to the big city lights of BoardGameGeek, but you’ll find a great community of Spielers there ready to roll out the welcome wagon.

Thanks so much Stephen. Spiel On!

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