About Today’s Guest: This is the fourth interview in our “Voices in Board Gaming” series here on The Opinionated Gamers. Today’s guest, Chad DeShon, wears many hats in this hobby and industry. He runs BoardGameTables.com. He designs games, most notably the roll ‘n write On Tour, which will be released later this year. He’s also getting into publishing games, and has some big news below on that front. He’s an Age of Steam enthusiast, and he helps run Age of Steam Con. Chad lives in the Kansas City area, but he seems to attend most conventions around the country. He’s also incredibly fun to play games with!
(1) When did you get into the hobby? What’s kept you in it?
I played board games when I was a kid. A lot of Monopoly. My family played a ton of Canasta. Twixt and Chess with my dad.
But my grandma’s garage held some more esoteric titles like King Oil and Billionaire. I don’t know if the rules were still in the box or not, but we never read them if they were. We (I) just made up our own.
(2) You’re probably best known as the owner of BoardGameTables.com. How’d you get into making game tables?
My friend Terry had ordered a Geek Chic. One night we were making fun of of how long he had been waiting for it (over a year), and I had a light bulb moment. It’s business 101 really. The market needed more supply.
And I was a gamer, and I needed a new dining room table. Instead of getting one table, what if I found someone who could build a bunch of tables?
Since then, it has been so much fun to get to meet a ton of other gamers, and to better learn what they need from their table.
(3) I know you playtest game tables, as I’ve seen you do it! It’s not something people think about when they think about the design of tables. How do you go about this? What are your biggest “must haves” in a good game table?
Yeah. We playtest on new designs. It is easy to get the big picture features right without testing, but the small details, the feel of the play surface, the depth of the playing area, the position of the cup holders, these are all things you need to feel in real life to get them right. This is where being a gamer, and having a lot of gamer friends, is a real help.
The biggest must haves — the recessed playing area and the padded play surface — are on all our tables. The next thing is the most obvious: cup holders.
Even stopping there, you have yourself a very nice game table. There are a bunch of cool accessories. And they really are great, useful, and fun. But you still have a great table without them.
If you are only going to add one more accessory, then make it wing shelves. They are little platforms that sit at the end of the play surface to give you a surface for snacks or a laptop. Before you have a game table, it is hard to really explain why they are useful, but they are the one add-on that people repeatedly tell us they wish they had gotten.
(4) One of the things that’s really changed about the hobby since I got into it was the growth of board game accessories: game inserts, premium components, and, in your case, game tables. What do you think is driving the growth of game accessories? Is it the overall expansion of the market, or some other trend?
The growth of the hobby as a whole is obviously the primary factor.
Another factor is just people seeing other people make it work. Once one company proves a market, it is easier for others to follow.
Finally, people might not realize how much easier it is to sell things on the internet than it was 5 or 10 years ago. And not just sell, but to market. Targeted advertising makes it possible to advertise to niche communities. Automated email marketing and social media make it easier to keep in touch with your fans. And e-commerce platforms like Shopify are easier to use and do more for you.
(5) You’re publishing a game this year called On Tour. Where’d you get the idea for the game? How’d you get into the design/publishing process?
I had tried to design some games before. They were all awful. I really like roll and writes. The initial idea came from me wanting to make a heavier version of Rolling Japan or Qwixx.
I’ve been wanting to publish games for a while now. From a business perspective, not all gamers are interested in a +$1000 table. It is nice to have something to offer those people (we also just started selling board game bags https://www.boardgametables.com/board-game-bag).
From a personal perspective, having a published design is a dream come true, and I really enjoyed the whole process of taking something from idea to tangible product.
(6) I’ve been calling 2018 the year of the Roll ‘n Write. We’ve had Ganz schön clever, Railroad Ink, Brikks, and others. Is this a real phenomenon in your mind? Are Roll ‘n Writes hot right now?
The phenomenon is real. It has been growing for a couple of years now. I don’t know if we are at the peak yet. Probably not until at least next year. Roll and writes might slow down, but they are here to stay.
I think we are going to see it morph into dry erase markers being including as a part of bigger games.
(7) Do you have any other game publication plans?
Yes. We have signed the great auction game Q. E. by Gavin Birnbaum. We haven’t announced it yet, so I guess I am announcing it here. It will be on Kickstarter in December or January.
If you haven’t heard of Q. E., the main premise is something that doesn’t seem possible. It is an auction game where you can bid however much you want. Literally, you get a dry erase marker and can write down any number you choose. I have seen games where no one bid above 100, and I have see games where bids got as high as 10 quadrilli
This doesn’t seem possible, but it is.
Anca Gavril, the artist for On Tour, is also doing the art for Q. E. She has a fantastic style picked for this one that I am very excited about.
(8) What’s left on your gamer bucket list?
I’d like to attend WBC.
Design a epic baseball game focused on front office decisions, not the baseball games.
(9) Another tough question: what are your top 10 games? (Or feel free to make a longer list of favorites!) And feel free to discuss the many virtues of Age of Steam!
This could be a blog post all its own.
- Napoleon’s Triumph
I’ve called it “Michelangelo’s David” of board gaming. A masterpiece.
A war game without hexes or any randomness. This isn’t a game where you just smash your pieces into each other and see who is stronger. You must use real tactics. Bluff your opponent into exposed terrain, pin them done with a strong force, and then flank them to finish them off.
Unfortunately it requires a lot of work to learn. The rule book is short, but it is not intuitive. The game take four hours to play, and you probably won’t have any clue what you are doing until your third play.
Like Tichu, but for 2 or 3 players. And better.
My group has started to sour on Tichu and many other trick takers because it often comes down to the hand you get dealt. Haggis has this cool system where every player gets 3 wild cards every hand. This gives you tremendous flexibility to make something of your hand.
This is the game I want to play on my porch every afternoon when I am an old man.
- Age of Steam
You probably thought this would be #1, as I do run Age of Steam Con.
At its core, a great route building game with an auction that makes you pull your hair out. Not forgiving at all.
Most people would say that what makes Age of Steam great is that there are over 150 different expansion maps for it. Some have minor rules tweaks, some have really major rules changes. They all work to keep the game fresh every time you play it (and it is good enough that it deserves many, many plays).
For me, the fact that it is the “default” game for our group takes it to another level. I am constantly playing with people who have played 30+ times. The competition is rachetted up a notch. You know that if you make a mistake the other players will punish it, and you know that if you win a game, you really accomplished something.
And seriously. If you like Age of Steam, come join us for Age of Steam Con (https://www.ageofsteamcon.com) in Kansas City March 29-31. We had a great mix of experienced and new players last year and everybody had a ton of fun.
You’re strapped on the side of a rocket ship. You can’t steer it to a particular destination. You can’t make small adjustments. But sometimes you can throw your weight around to adjust the course of the whole game. The correct path is far from clear. But somehow you have to keep bouncing the rocket in the direction that helps you.
- Capital Lux
A tiny card game that plays in 20 minutes with unbelievable tension. Great player interaction, without “take that”. A very basic core rule set that would be interesting on its own, with some special actions that make it great. Add fantastic artwork Kwanchai Moriya. This game is not getting the praise it deserves.
A three player strategic level war game. It uses this combat mechanic based on the suits of cards in your hand. It seems wonky at first, but halfway through the game, you will see the strategy that it brings out.
Another example of a war game where just smashing your armies together is a sure way to lose. This game is about using maneuver to setup battles where you have the advantage.
- König von Siam (The King is Dead)
What a mind twist packed into 30 minutes.
The game is a simple area majority game, 3 factions fight to gain control regions on the board. Players play cards to move the factions around the board and control which faction wins. All players get a hand of 8 identical cards (actions). You can play each card only once.
The catch is that those three factions don’t belong to any one player. As you are playing your 8 cards, you are participating in an off-board tug-of-war to determine which faction will be “yours”.
So, you are simultaneously deciding both which faction will win and which faction you want to win.
Want one more twist? If you play with 4-player it is a partnership game!
People like to talk about Through the Ages. Through the Ages rewards careful planning and knowing the cards in the deck. In Nations, you will only see ⅓ of the cards. It rewards evaluating the situation and making the best of what comes out.
The dexterity game. Many have tried to top it. So far none have succeeded.
- Blockers (Uptown)
If you play Uptown, look up the scoring rules for Blockers and use them instead. They are much better.
Reminds me of Go a little bit. Clearly doesn’t require the same level of skill, but I think there is more skill than meets the eye.
I’m always down for a game, or two, or three, to close out the night. Plays fast. Plays fun.
- Die Macher
Had to expand the list to 11 to include this. It is starting to show its age a little with some of the rough edges. But still great. Nothing quite like it.
(10) What advice would you give a new gamer, meaning somebody who has played a few modern games but is just getting into it?
If you aren’t having fun playing games, then don’t play games. Or maybe try something completely different. Try a heavy game. Try a social deduction game. Try a dexterity game.