About Today’s Guest: This is the third interview in our “Voices in Board Gaming” series here on The Opinionated Gamers. Today’s guest, Bill Corey Jr., is one of my favorite voices in the hobby, and his live YouTube show, The Cubist, is always a pleasure to watch. As you’ll read below, Bill has been a gamer most of his life, and even though he’s been doing this for decades, his enthusiasm for board gaming is still contagious. You can reach Bill via twitter at @CubistPodcast or check out his YouTube channel for The Cubist.
(1) When did you get into the hobby? What’s kept you in it for so long?
My dad was one of the original playtesters for Dungeons & Dragons before I was born, and my mom did two of the pieces of artwork in the original three D&D books (the Amazon and Lovely Witch, I believe they’re called). I remember being in Gary Gygax’s house as a small child while all the grownups were in his basement playing something on the sand table down there. They had some bowling themed dice game they’d let me play to keep me occupied.
As I got older and learned to read, I discovered I loved the idea of stories being told through D&D, and I vaguely remember running my dad through a randomly generated dungeon at the age of 6. (Fun fact #1: that’s why I’ve always considered 6 my lucky number… it’s the age I first thought of myself as a gamer.) It was almost certainly terrible and un-fun for Dad, but we did it together, and that meant a lot to me as a child.
(2) What have been the biggest changes you’ve noticed from when you were first involved?
When I first got seriously involved in tabletop gaming, every aspect of the hobby kinda fell into one of three categories: role-playing games, miniatures, or chit & hex wargames (Avalon Hill and the like). Of those three types, RPGs were far and away the most well known, and not always for the right reasons. As a result, people that identified as “gamers” were something of social pariahs, and quite often my gamer friends and I would keep our gaming hobby secret (or at least not advertise it), especially as teenagers.
Today, tabletop gaming has garnered some mainstream acceptance, and although there are still a number of narrow minded folks out there that label it childish, it’s now become a respected hobby with some presence in pop culture. Thirty years ago my D&D books and Battletech Mechs were literally kept in my closet… today my boardgame collection is the proud centerpiece of the main room of my apartment. Back then I would evade questions about my hobby… today I boast about it proudly.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of that shift in tone. When you feel passionate about something that you know is amazing but the rest of the world shuns, it can have a lasting impact on your growth as a human being. Gaming today is embraced and even celebrated, and that’s something we shouldn’t take for granted.
(3) I first came to recognize you as the “Con Cred” guy on The Dice Tower podcast. For folks who didn’t listen to that podcast back in the day, you would offer tips to convention attendees on how to make the most of their convention. I enjoyed the segment, so let’s resurrect it here: what are your five biggest tips?
In no particular order of importance:
- Live by the 6/2/1 rule: six hours of sleep a night, two solid meals, one shower or bath. Not only will you feel better and enjoy your time at the convention more, but you’ll be a more pleasant person to be around.
- Stay hydrated, drink water. Bring a decent sized water bottle or sealable mug to the convention with you, and use it regularly. There’s nothing wrong with occasionally having something else to drink, but you should drink more water than any other beverage overall. Resist the urge to just mainline Red Bull and Mountain Dew all weekend… if you feel like you absolutely need caffeine to continue functioning, go for coffee or a strong tea first (I like chai latte personally) if possible before resorting to energy drinks. Your body will thank you on day four of the convention.
- Wash your hands regularly, even if you don’t feel like you’ve done anything particularly dirty recently. When I started Con Cred on The Dice Tower, it was a play on the colloquialism “con crud”, a term meaning the disease du jour that always seems to get passed around gaming conventions. It makes sense that it would happen, too: we’re all touching the same game components over and over, eating together, using the same restrooms, opening the same doors, etc. Just remember that everything you’ve touched recently has probably been touched by a few hundred other folks, and act accordingly.
- Addendum: keep small tubes of hand lotion and hand sanitizer with you on the convention floor. The hand lotion is to counteract your hands drying out from constant hand washing, and the sanitizer is for those times when washing your hands isn’t immediately possible (like in the dealers’ hall, etc).
- Wear sensible shoes you can see yourself walking long distances in. Conventions often involve a lot of walking around, and nothing will ruin your fun faster than being in pain because you wore shoes intended for sitting at a table. Sitting for long periods of time, while unavoidable at conventions, can have unpleasant side effects on your feet, so shoes that don’t prevent swelling (sandals, etc) can really come back to haunt you on hour number 15 of your day when you’re hobbling back to your room at half the speed of smell.
- Don’t lug around a huge bag of games 24/7 “just in case”, and absolutely don’t wear a huge backpack in crowded spaces. Many quality game conventions have a games library for attendees to use, so there’s a reasonable chance the game you want will be available for you to use for little or no cost. If you must carry games with you, though, keep the number of games to a reasonable minimum. Not only will you be saving yourself arm and back pain, but huge bags of games are obnoxious to move with, and oftentimes those bags end up knocking into other attendees or creating trip hazards in aisles, etc.
(4) What’s your favorite convention? What makes a great game convention?
I get asked this question a lot, and it’s a tough one for me to answer. Different conventions appeal to me for different reasons, and it’s hard for me to rank one as necessarily being “better” than others. So, I’m going to cheat and list two that I’ve really enjoyed, along with my reasoning.
- As one of its founders, I have a special fondness for the Gaming Hoopla (www.gaminghoopla.com). It’s a charity convention that raises money for cancer research, a cause I feel very strongly about. Over the last decade or so, the Hoopla staff has worked very hard to create a sense of community among the attendees and staff, and attending a Hoopla event feels very much like coming home. It is easily the most welcoming and friendly convention I’ve ever attended, and the apt tagline “gaming for a good cause” gives it a special resonance that helps remind me that we’re all in this together. It’s a wonderful experience.
- I’m a big fan of BGG.con (though I won’t be attending this year). For my money there’s no better convention to attend to try new games, meet people in the game industry, and just play lots of great games for a few days. Most of my gaming friends outside of my immediate area attend BGG every year, and I always look forward to getting to see them and play a game or two with them. Also, the dealer area at BGG is always a good time… the crowds aren’t crushing like at Gen Con, and most of the new hotness in the boardgaming world is there.
(5) Back in the day, you used to do game demos with Mayfair. I think of Mayfair as one of the really historic institutions in the hobby, but they announced earlier this year that they were bought by Asmodee and were closing up shop. Would you like to share any fun memories of working with them? And were you saddened by this year’s news, or is this all part of the industry now?
I have a ton of wonderful memories from my days working with Mayfair. Over the years I became pretty close with many of the folks at Mayfair, and even though I stopped working with them years ago, I remain friends with many of them to this day. They’re a good bunch of people, and although I know things worked out OK for them in the end, I can’t help but be a little sad that Mayfair as an institution is no more.
I distinctly remember the year that the Catan 10th Anniversary Deluxe Chest came out. I was at Gen Con with Mayfair that year, and we were taking preorders for it at the time, but we didn’t have a copy at the convention for people to look at and play with. I was stationed at the Catan side of the booth (my usual spot), and I was given the challenge of selling Deluxe Catan to as many people as I could. It was daunting trying to get people to sign on to spend nearly $400 on a game they couldn’t see or hold, but I did my best.
On the last day of the convention we had a “decompression” dinner with all hands on deck, and I was told that not only had I met their sales goals, I had smashed them and even out performed their head of sales and marketing. It was a fun, weird, proud moment for me.
(6) Today, I mostly associate you with The Cubist, a weekly Youtube show where you discuss a variety of topics in gaming. Some weeks, you do deep dives on particular games (and I’m proud to have been a guest for the Agricola episode), other weeks you talk about gaming news and trends. It’s one of my favorite pieces of board game content each week. But I’m curious: how’d you pick the live Youtube format? As a written reviewer, I’m used to being able to edit my work… does the live format stress you out?
As we talked about above, I got my start in boardgaming media in audio podcasts. When I was submitting content for The Dice Tower and other shows, I was only doing 5-10 minute segments, which made the writing and editing process relatively easy. But when I decided to launch The Cubist, I was suddenly editing over an hour of audio, blending multiple tracks together, creating bumpers and stingers, and all the other stuff that goes on behind the scenes to make a podcast happen. At one point I realized it wasn’t sustainable for me, and so I stopped cold.
Then I got the bug to start making content again, but I remembered how draining trying to put out a weekly audio show was for me. I couldn’t see myself as a writer, but I could envision a show that was me just chatting with interesting people about board games. I’m a big fan of unedited content in general; it gives a sense of authenticity that can be lacking in other forms of media. YouTube and Google Hangouts has an extremely easy platform to use to create that sort of content, and so I decided to give it a try… and now I can’t imagine doing the show any other way.
As far as the live format being stressful, I’ve always found that I tend to be more driven and “in the moment” when I feel like there are real consequences for what I do… this is a big part of why I’m drawn to legacy games, and it’s definitely a factor when livestreaming. There’s no going back or editing (at least not for our live viewers), so everything I say and do counts. It can occasionally be stressful, yes, but most of the time I find it thrilling to know it all counts.
(7) You have what you call the “Cubist Scale” for reviews. Each game gets rated “Buy It,” “Play It,” “Forget It,” or “Burn It.” Basically, I’d say that’s a four point scale that is pretty similar to our OG scale of “Love it!,” “Like it.,” “Neutral,” and “Not for Me.” For me personally, I’d guess games typically fall 30% each in Love/Like it, and 20% each in Neutral/Not-for-Me. How about you: what percent of games you try are in each of your four categories?
This is a great question that I’m surprised no one has ever asked me before! If I had to guess, I’d say it breaks down to maybe 30% Buy It, 20% Play It, 45% Forget It and 5% Burn It. As I’ve matured as a gamer, especially in the last few years as Kickstarter has boomed, I’ve gotten a better handle on what sort of games I truly enjoy, as opposed to what kind of games I would like to enjoy. This has made me a little better at pre-judging games before I spend money, which means I have fewer and fewer purchase regrets.
I would like to also add, however, that the Kickstarter boom has greatly affected the signal to noise ratio in published games. There are a lot of “sevens” being made these days that might be fine from a design or balance standpoint but don’t bring anything compelling to the table (pun intended). That’s why my “Forget It” percentage is so high… I play a lot of games that I’d be perfectly content never playing again, not because they’re bad but because they’re forgettable in their averageness. I typically don’t talk about most of those games on the show, though, because I’d rather focus on games I feel passionately about, one way or the other.
(8) My toughest question: What’s left on your gamer bucket list?
Hmmmm. You’re right, this is a tough one. Well, I suppose I’d really like to go on one of those gaming cruises I see all my richer friends going on, heh. Other than that, I can’t think of much, except maybe owning a fancy gaming table and better livestreaming gear to use with it. Otherwise I think I’ve carved out a pretty satisfactory gaming life. I don’t really want to own a bazillion games… I have a hard enough time choosing what to play as it is!
(9) Another tough question: what are your top 10 games? Or feel free to make a longer list!
Outstanding, a question I can answer with confidence, ha!
- Eclipse – the best blend of euro mechanics and amerithrash dice-chucking fun
- Power Grid – specifically the “deluxe” edition, it’s much better balanced
- Tzolk’in: the Mayan Calendar – the best worker placement game ever, full stop
- Brass Lancashire – a true classic, and the new Roxley edition is amazing
- The Colonists – one of the best epic game experiences ever, highly underrated
- Alchemists – a thematic, fun blend of deduction and worker placement. Also incredible use of a smartphone app to enhance an analog gaming experience
- Pinochle – a highly underrated classic card game that blends an intuitive auction mechanism with trick taking and hand management. (Yes, I’ll happily teach.)
- Sentinels of the Multiverse – thematic, tons of variety, and just the right amount of tension and thinkiness.
- Quadropolis – I’m a sucker for city building games, and this one does it best.
- Anachrony – thematic worker placement with an interesting twist. Only Tzolk’in is better, and that’s only by a pretty narrow margin.
Honorable mentions (probably my 11-20 in some order): Terraforming Mars, Barenpark, Automobile, Gloomhaven, Amerigo, Dungeon Lords, Pulsar 2849, A Feast For Odin, Terra Mystica, Elfenland
(10) What advice would you give a new gamer, meaning somebody who has played a few modern games but is just getting into it?
I’ve got a few of them (in no particular order of importance):
- Try before you buy. Don’t go crazy buying every game that looks cool! It’s a very easy trap to fall into, thinking you need to own every game you enjoy the first time you play it… but that way lies madness, and it’s unsustainable in the long term. Allow your gaming tastes to mature and fully form themselves before you go broke trying to fill a few Kallax shelves. Having said that…
- Try everything! Don’t pre-judge a game just because you don’t like the theme, designer, cover art, main mechanism of the game, or because a reviewer said it wasn’t good. When you’re just getting into the hobby, you’re going to be constantly surprised by the sorts of games and themes you will and won’t enjoy… learn from those experiences, don’t cut them out before they even happen.
- Be prepared to lose the first time or two you play a new game. Work hard to be a good sport when losing, and try to learn from what other players did during the game. No matter how smart you may be, the odds of you grokking the strategies of new games every time you learn them are pretty low. Don’t let losing discourage you… use what you’ve learned to play better the next time!
- Be kind to people that teach games to you. Pay attention, don’t interrupt too often unless absolutely necessary, and remember that there are a lot of rules to remember… mistakes get made, even by the most experienced game teachers.
- Have a good time! Remember that the first and foremost reason to play games is to have fun! Relax, enjoy the experience, and don’t get too hung up on winning or losing. Enjoy the time spent with family and friends, and let the game create an opportunity to strengthen those relationships.