Category Archives: game news

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

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.

Evangelise

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 roger@coiledspring.co.uk and there’s more about our range of games at www.coiledspring.co.uk.

Nigel Scarfe and Imagination Gaming can be contacted at imagine1@blueyonder.co.uk and you can find out more at them at http://www.imaginationgaming.co.uk/


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

www.coiledspring.co.uk

Support the PIP (Play in Public) Campaign!

Spread the word! Do you really want to spread the word and get new people into our great hobby? Go to the Seizeyourturn website – NOW!!!

There you will read about this great campaign which we all can take part in. PIP (Play in Public) is all about playing boardgames in public to demonstrate the great games that are now available and show the doubters that they can have fun!  Have a read and GET IN THERE!

http://www.seizeyourturn.com/play-in-public-campaign/

The 3rd International Gaming Photo Award

The International Gaming Photo Award

This is a contest of pictures about gamers, games and gaming around the world. You will have to translate the web page from Spanish.

The 3rd International Photography Contest 2010 is fun organized by the cultural association Cordoba played Tod @ s, with the collaboration of masqueoca.com, within the framework of the activities of the International Games Festival 2010 Córdoba,

Check it out if you want to submit a photo.

http://www.festivaldejuegoscordoba.es/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=23&Itemid=32

Just received a note from the publisher of War on Terror!

Just received a note from the publisher of War on Terror!

Dear Boardgames in Blighty, It’s great to be in touch. I’m the publisher (and the illustrator) of ‘War on Terror, the boardgame’ and ‘Crunch – the game for utter bankers’. I don’t know if you’ve heard of them but we’re doing something rather bonkers for edition 2 of War on Terror, and I thought this would possibly interest you, and at the same time amuse! We’re having an auction which starts this Friday, it’s a bit unusual… here are full details: http://www.terrorbullgames.co.uk/moneyauction/

Basically, we’re auctioning off the space on the War on Terror money, so that you can have your face on it, for the next 5,000 sets! I just couldn’t keep this to myself, feel free to tell the world. As the great hand in the sky says…it could be you! Best Tom

Have a look! You too can have your name on the money in War on Terror 2!

Spiele Des Jahres 2010 nominations

Nominations have been announced for the prestigious board game awards in Germany, the Spiele Des Jahres. The winners will be announced on June 28. Strangely, or not, new games are not always nominated…

The nominees are:

Dixit

Ident

A  la Carte

Roll Through the Ages

Fresco

Children’s Games

Diego Dragonstooth

Kraken-alam

Tower (Castle) Panic!

Vampire night

Turi-tour

httpy, the Spiele Des Jahres://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=de&u=http://www.spieldesjahres.de/&ei=6QMETMWfGZGh4QbfwPXLDg&sa=X&oi=translate&ct=result&resnum=8&ved=0CEEQ7gEwBw&prev=/search%3Fq%3Dspiele%2Bdes%2Bjahres%2B2010%26hl%3Den%26prmd%3Dn