Boardgames Podcasts Selection

Where to start

The Dice Tower

(Hit 400 episodes in April 2014) Hosted by Tom Vasel and Eric Summerer, this weekly one-hour show is probably the best known board and card game podcast out there. Each show starts with a round-up of games the hosts have been playing recently, which tends to feature a lot of new releases (these guys get sent most new games that hit the shelves). It then moves through some (usually) interesting and varied guest segments before either tackling a ‘question of the week’, or going through a ‘top 10’ list (now including listener votes, via the website). These also include guest contributions, while topics can range from the likes of favourite games in a certain genre, mechanism, designer etc; while questions cover topics right across the scale.

Eric is a great co-host, while Tom is something of an acquired taste and simply annoys the hell out of some people – but once you get used to his very obvious game prejudices (sci fi/fantasy yay, Mediterranean boo) you’ll find a very knowledgeable and even-handed reviewer underneath. If you’re getting into gaming podcasts, I’d describe The Dice Tower as the one essential listen out there. This is further born out by The Dice Tower Network, which has brought many smaller but equally interesting podcasts under this banner to co-promote them all (many of them listed below).

The Spiel

(Hit 200 episodes in July 2014) The Spiel tends to sprawl over two hours or more and now hits podcastland once per month. Presenters David Coleson and Stephen Conway cover news and reviews in every show, often going very deep into game play and even histories behind some of the game themes. It’s an easy listen and their enthusiasm is infectious, while a good sprinkling of competitions and imaginative smaller segments keep things fresh. Episode 139, covering their trip to the Essen Spiel Convention 2011, is easily my favourite single gaming podcast episode ever – it oozes enthusiasm and is as god a travelogue as it is a gaming bonanza.

Unfortunately some pretty irritating advertising segments have taken my enjoyment down a few notches after repeat listening, but luckily these can normally be pretty easily skipped due to the episodic nature of each podcast’s structure. They now do an annual Kickstarter fundraising campaign which has cut out most of the in-cast fundraising appeals too. Also, some genuinely crappy games (Munchkin and the original Thunderstone spring immediately to mind) have had very OTT positive reviews, which had led me to questions the credibility of their reviews. However, on balance, I still very much enjoy every episode.

More board game podcasts

On Board Games

(Hit 150 episodes in March 2015) This is a friendly, chatty and honest one-to-two-hour podcast featuring “game industry veterans” Erik Dewey and Donald Dennis, with a third contributor joining each episode. For some time this was the wonderfully enthusiastic board game boffin Scott Nicholson, but he is now more of a part time presence with the ‘third chair’ being anyone from listeners to bigger board gaming names. The show’s format is usually an in-depth discussion on a particular topic for the first half, followed by reviews and occasional guest segments.

On Board Games is probably my favourite board game podcast right now. Dennis is refreshingly honest and cynical while clearly loving the hobby, with Dewey’s enthusiasm making him the perfect foil. It’s much more like overhearing a pub conversation than any of the other shows, while advertising is kept to a minimum. There’s still no swearing though, so no worries there kids, and it arrives every two weeks. Note: There is also now a ‘crowd funding edition’ spin off too – you can probably guess what I think of that dreck…

Boardgames To Go

Another more occasional podcast these days, Mark Johnson’s Boardgames To Go has been going since 2005 (making it one of the oldest board game podcasts out there) and has clocked well over 100 episodes. The release schedule is sporadic at best, while the content is equally hard to pin down; one week you’ll find a discussion on a particular topic with a guest, while the next could be Mark flying solo and just reviewing a few games.

If On Board Games is an overheard pub chat about games, Boardgames To Go is the (perhaps Amsterdam) coffee shop equivalent. Mark’s laid back voice is perfect for radio, while you very much get the feeling he simply presses ‘record’ on a whim and starts rambling on. While this sounds like it could be a disaster (and certainly would be in the wrong hands), he manages to pull it off pretty much every time. He’s also very honest, while always framing his opinions clearly within his own game prejudices, so it’s easy to know if you’re going to agree with his opinions on most games.

The Game Pit

Just as I started to miss my (semi) regular taste of UK gaming podcasts with the demise of The Royal Society, along came The Game Pit. Hosted by Sean and Ronan, they’re up past number 40 since their March 2013 début (it’s actually a lot more, but you wouldn’t know it thanks to a daft ’80s war game episode numbering system!). But more importantly, what you get is entertaining opinions on a bunch of games.

It’s a well trodden path: two friends with a good rapport shooting the breeze about their obsession. But they play off each other well, the ‘Englishness’ is a breath of fresh air amid the throng of good ol’ boys, and they do their best to make it interesting; whether pitching two games against each other in the arena, making predictions about upcoming releases, or giving a dreadful game both barrels. They like some rubbish games, so don’t take them on their word, bit its entertaining stuff.

Push Your Luck Podcast

“A podcast proudly made in Singapore”, Push Your Luck is a roughly bi-weekly board game podcast hosted by friends Eric (Kai Liang Teo) and Jon (Jonathan Er). The podcast has so far survived the upheaval of Eric moving to London, then to New York to study game design, moving beyond 50 episodes in January 2015. While occasional episodes have guests or group discussions, most weeks tend to follow the tried and tested board game podcast format: what we’ve been playing, followed by a topic/top 10 discussion.

But I’m not complaining: this is a fun show. The guys are refreshingly honest and have very different tastes, taking great pleasure in slamming both bad games and each other – but importantly doing it in context (they will say when a game is not to their tastes, rather than saying its bad, for example):a bad trait of some other game podcasters is to label a game ‘crap’ just because they don’t like it. My only complaint has been some episodes have had poor sound quality, which can make already tricky accents hard to hear clearly, but its certainly worth the effort.

Rolling Dice & Taking Names

Rolling Dice & Taking Names is now firmly on the board gaming podcast map with more than 60 episodes (February 2015). It’s co-hosted by Marty and Tony, two buddies from North Carolina, with the majority of the content concentrating on gently ribbing each other about their adventures in euro games.

They’re refreshingly unassuming, without being overly judgemental or bombastic – a really relaxing listen. It’s far from professional and this can add to the charm; but is also becoming a little grating as they’ve been doing this a while now. Expect jovial chat plus board and card game reviews, as well as occasional soirées into interviews, online board gaming and con reviews, plus some entertaining opinions from their game club friends.

Exploring Games with Gamer Chris

Started in May 2012, it’s fair to call this a slightly erratic podcast – but Chris is doing his best to up the output. He’s up around 25 episodes (June 2014) and with a solid (and enjoyable) blog behind him, Chris seems here to stay. He talks each time about his own gaming experiences (including in-depth reviews and session reports) while also tackling a wide range of gaming topics, from Kickstarter to solo games.

In his first episode Chris talked about being inspired by Mark Johnson (Board Games to Go, above), but he’s not quite hitting the same notes. Johnson talks about games in such an understated way it seems like a commentary, rather than opinion. Chris hits you with statements that demand an opposing view – but it’s just him in the booth. When he gets on this kind of tip it simply doesn’t work; he really needs a foil. But it’s only a fraction of each show and the rest of the time I find him an enjoyable laid back listen.

Specialised/themed gaming podcasts

Flip the Table

Fast becoming one of my favourite podcasts, board gaming or otherwise, Flip the Table takes a very different look at games. Instead of looking at new or classic titles the guys take the kind of games you’ll find in charity shops – often terrible TV tie-ins – and put them through their paces. There are always at least three of them on the show, joking around and generally enjoying themselves despite the terrible games they often come up against. From Space Jam and WWF to Murder She Wrote and Gone Birding, nothing is sacred…

Started in June 2012 (and hitting 70 episodes in February 2015), each one-hour episode starts with a daft review and ends with an equally daft ‘battle of wits’ competition. It ranges from grin worthy to laugh-out-loud funny and I’m yet to hear a bad episode. But while funny it’s not stupid; these are experienced gamers making serious points about often terrible but occasionally good games – they just do it with a level of humour you only get from close friends having a great time. What’s not to like about middle aged men discussing playing teenage girly games such as Party Mania, Heartthrob and Mall Madness…?

Heavy Cardboard

If you like your board games on the meatier side, Heavy Cardboard is the podcast for you. Hosted by friends Edward and Tony, each episode sees them concentrating a large part of the show on a heavy (or occasionally mid-weight) euro game: examples being Agricola, Kanban, Brass, Vinhos and Panamax. Each episode (expect two per month) also covers new purchases and wants, alongside mini reviews and an ‘anything goes’ section to see each show out. The show has a light, chatty feel but don’t be fooled: these guys know and are pretty obsessed with their heavy games. Reviews are in-depth and interesting, and they’re not scared to both disagree and diss a game (or publisher) when it deserves it.

Heavy Cardboard started in June 2014 and hit episode 20 in March 2015. Alongside standard episodes you’ll also find podcasts concentrating on anticipated releases, con reports and particular mechanisms which are nice for a change of pace; while on the website you’ll find them also dipping their toes into videos and written reviews. It’s nice to see a new podcast come along into an already busy market but easily find a comfy niche for itself – and I’m pleased to say Heavy Cardboard is settling into it really well.

The Long View

Hosted by Geoff Gambill, The Long View (75+ episodes as of February 2015) started out to fill a niche by talking in-depth about a single (usually established) game each week with a guest who has a healthy love for the game in question. It quickly established itself as a professionally recorded and often fascinating board game podcast. Geoff can be a bit repetitive and wordy at times, but overall he’s charming enough to get away with it.

Around twice a month a game is discussed in detail, covering everything from basics such as the rules and mechanisms to what that week’s guest thinks makes the game stand out from the pack. Where ‘How to Play’ (above) is great once you’ve bought a game, The Long View can be a real help in deciding if a game is right for you. Each episode now also includes at least one standard new game review at he end.

Boardgame Babylon

Now seemingly a very occasional podcast, it’s still worth subscribing to it for the few episodes that do come along. Host ER Burgess has his fingers in all kinds of board gaming pies – from designing to helping organise conventions to publishing games – so his insight is always interesting to those more dedicated to the hobby.

He has also hosted some great round table discussions from conventions, with the Race for the Galaxy in-depth discussion (episode 86) with designer Tom Lehmann and developer Wei-Hwa Huang, amongst others, being one of my favourite board game podcast listens to date. The series passed 100 episodes in March 2013.

It’s educational

Ludology

(Hit 100 episodes in March 2015) Ludology features two podcasters who have become very well known thanks to being regular contributors to segments on The Dice Tower. Ryan Sturm is also the man behind the How to Play podcast (below), while co-host Geoff Engelstein (Space Cadets, Aries Project) is a respected games designer in his own right.

Standard episodes (bi-weekly) take an analytical approach to particular features of game design in a deep yet chatty fashion. It won’t be for everyone, but is certainly worth giving a go. In weeks where there aren’t regular episodes there are ‘classic’ episodes; repeats of short guest spots by Geoff from The Dice Tower. Ryan has sadly announced he will be stepping out of the co-host chair after episode 100, but Geoff will continue on.

The Game Design Round Table

This is certainly specialised but if you’re a budding game designer – board or computer – just subscribe. It can be a pretty dry podcast that focuses purely on design, but it can be really inspiring; no more than you’d expect from regular contributors Rob Daviau (Risk Legacy, anything good from Hasbro) and David Heron (Blammo Games). They’re joined each week by Dirk Knemeyer, the man behind board games such as Road to Enlightenment and The New Science.

I find Dirk a little self important (I’ve never met the guy, he’s probably lovely), but you can get some top insight into the intricacies of design by listening to them chat. They also have some brilliant guests, including the likes of Tom Lehmann (Race for the Galaxy) and Brian Reynolds (Civ II, Alpha Centauri etc). They hit 100 episodes in October 2014 and you can expect a podcast each week. Former co-host Jon Shafer (Civilisation V) is taking an indefinite break from the podcast.

Board Game University

A project started by Tom Vasel (from The Dice Tower) in June 2013, The Board Game University is an occasional series of interviews with game designers and other industry experts aimed at giving advice to aspiring designers and publishers. Episodes feature 20-30 minute Q&As with the likes of designer Andrew Parks (Core Worlds), publisher Zev Schlasinger (Z-man Games), Stephen Glenn (Chaos in the Old World, Quarriors) and Rob Daviau (Risk Legacy, Heroscape).

Now hosted by Tom and Joseph Barber, episodes are a little flimsy for my tastes – especially when compared to the likes of The Game Design Round Table or Ludology, but you do get the occasional gems of wisdom. Really its very low level interviewing rather than giving much insight into anything – how did you start out, what are you doing next, why not plug some of your stuff etc. But it will certainly appeal to many.

Company specific podcasts

Plaid Hat Podcast

Game manufacturer Plaid Hat Games’ successes include Dead of Winter, Mice & Mystics and Summoner Wars. Most of its weekly podcast episodes see Plaid Hat staff; from designers and writers to play testers, chatting about design.

They have a great ‘lads together’ rapport and while Plaid Hat’s games make up quite a chunk of each discussion, there is plenty of chat about other games to; I’m no Plaid Hat fanboi, but enjoy every episode (they hit 150 episodes in September 2014). Most episodes start with a chat about what they’ve been playing that week, before moving on to an topic discussion. There’s a lot of laughter and ribbing, but you also get a lot of wisdom thrown in.

Wargame podcasts

Guns, Dice, Butter

Presented by David Dockter, the designer of “Triumph of Chaos”, currently nearing 25 episodes with each one tending to weigh in at a hefty three hours.  Dockter seems to be on first name terms with every game designer or publisher in the industry and is able to pull in some impressive guests.

Some of the conversations have a tendency to ramble, especially the round table ones, but are always interesting and contain some real gems. Could do with better editing as the volume of the music, which is used to break up segments, tends to much higher than the conversation so you find yourself having to adjust your sound level accordingly but is certainly getting better. Dockter is clearly an enthusiast for the hobby and has done much to promote it, even heading up a campaign to get younger players involved.

Advance After Combat

Now up to 20 episodes, the show is produced on a monthly basis. Its self declared format is to come across as three friends in a bar discussing wargames and it certainly achieves this with some of the language getting a bit “adult” as well as a few in jokes between the three presenters.

Sometimes it can sound like a wishlist of wargames to buy but there’s a genuine enthusiasm for the hobby from all the presenters and is well worth listening to.

Hex Encounter

Originally this was just two presenters and tended to drift into prolonged silences but they’ve recently added a third and it has given the newer episodes much more life. It seemingly became defunct after 13 episodes (in 2013).

One of its early episodes achieved a major coup by getting an interview with Dean Essig which is well worth digging out to hear the thoughts and opinions of one of the pre-eminent war games designers.

Not board game specific podcasts

The Cardboard Console

Pushing on towards 20 episodes as of February 2015, The Cardboard Console is an hour long weekly UK podcast hosted by friends Andrew Haywood and Matthew Simpson. In each episode they talk about two video games and two board games, plus two ‘wild card’ picks (anything from TV shows to books to exercise classes…). Despite only being on the scene a short time the sound quality is really good, the production is professional and the banter is top notch.

The format of the show is the same most weeks, and the segments pretty uniform lengths, so its easy to skip any bits you may not be interested in. The general idea is they talk about what they’ve been playing/doing that week – then on each tenth episode they look back over previous reviews and see if their opinions have changed. From episode 15 they’ll be having a guest on every five-ending episode, started with yours truly (shameless plug ahoy!). The ‘me’ episode withstanding, this is already one of my favourite podcasts.

The D6 Generation

(Hit 160 episodes in February 2015) A sprawling thee-hour affair, the bi-weekly D6G podcast covers board games, tabletop war games (plus modelling/painting) and role playing games. Hosts Craig Gallant and Russ Wakelin live and breath the hobby and it’s a testament to their radio skill, humour and enthusiasm that they keep me listening every week despite often failing to talk about a single thing I care one jot about. It won’t be universally appealing, but it’s definitely downloading an episode to see if it grabs you.

The main thrust is tabletop fantasy and sci-fi games, but there’s always a bit of board game chat thrown in. ‘The third chair’ is filled by an industry guest each week for a long discussion (which could be on anything game related), while they also cover what they’ve been playing/painting etc. There are some interesting and quirky segments (‘Total Fan Girl’ and a closing rant from Craig) plus the world’s most worthless segment, ‘The Hollywood Minute’, which ironically seems to go on for hours. It’s like listening to someone you don’t know on the bus on their phone describing their boring life. Terrifying.

Not Just Another Gaming Podcast

Not Just Another Gaming Podcast (NJAGP) is, in many ways, just another gaming podcast – but that’s no bad thing! It’s a lively gaming (mostly) show presented by friends Jeff Scott, Jim Reed and Matthew McHale. The three have a great rapport, hitting 50 episodes (June 2014) since their début in January 2011.

Board games are pretty much guaranteed to be on the menu every week, although war games, tabletop miniatures games and CCGs are also covered. Much is standard fare: ‘what we’ve been doing’ intros, question of the episode, game reviews etc. But what makes it stand out is it feels very much like a chat that can go anywhere; from games to novels to films to what they’ve put on their Christmas trees…

Additional Podcasts out there

Shut Up & Sit Down! The Podcast

The Shut Up & Sit Down guys (Paul and Quinns) are probably best known for their comedic YouTube gaming videos, but they’re now into double figures with their audio podcast and going strong. The first dates back to May 2012, so they’ve been particularly regular, but they seem to be on something of a monthly schedule now. As you’d expect if you’ve seen these guys before, the emphasis is on (very English) humour while looking at a variety of board and card games each week, alongside a regular Q&A from Twitter/Facebook and the occasional special guest.

While I enjoy the humour I unfortunately find my gaming tastes almost completely at odds with them. This would be OK if they weren’t quite so adamant in their views, saying games that are clearly popular and of a high quality bad on a regular basis – while extolling the apparent brilliance of games the majority would consider mediocre. Yes, its a matter of taste, but there’s a difference between seemingly putting something across as fact rather than opinion. However, this is good quality stuff if its to your tastes – if you’re into party/co-op/in-you-face games they’re definitely worth checking out.

State of Games

The State of Games podcast is presented by Chris, the man behind indie publisher Dice Hate Me Games, which had big hits with Viva Java and The Great Heartland Hauling Co. The show has a number of his friends as co-hosts plus occasional special guests, including games designers and friends from the games industry.

The show swings wildly in theme from week to week, covering lots of board game events, but for me episodes are now either too self-serving and backslappy – and/or far too Kickstarter-centric for my tastes. Each episode runs around an hour and it’s certainly worth checking out; as is their website (linked above) which has a great selection of reviews and other blog posts.

The Little Metal Dog Show

Another English contender, The Little Metal Dog Show concentrates on interviews, mainly with game designers. Host Michael Fox has a great radio voice and guests always seem at ease, while he’s clearly a man who knows and loves his topic.

I tend to find the show a little too saccharine and agreeable; I’m not expecting him to say “well, I think your game is crap”, but there’s only so many favourite and brilliant and amazing games you can talk about before the numbers stop adding up. This is most noticeable in episodes where Fox is joined by two mates to go through emails and discuss games they do and don’t like; these are often the podcast highlights and personally I’d like to see more of this honest opinion and less interviews. That said, it’s a high quality podcast that should appeal to many gamers, especially if you dabble in design yourself.

Garrett’s Games & Geekiness

Started back in 2006, this weekly board game podcast is one of the elder statesmen of the genre. It’s hosted by gaming couple Doug and Shelley Garrett who have an enviable game collection and an obvious love of the hobby. They are also sometimes joined by their gaming buddies, which just happen to include Board Game Geek co-founder Scoot Alden.

The show doesn’t do it for me; it’s just so relaxed and laid back I find myself losing interest. I’m also finding that couples presenting simply gets on my nerves a little, but that’s just a personal thing. If you’re a fan of that ‘up all night’ smooth style it is definitely worth checking out. You’re likely to find them regaling you about a new wine discovery as well as a few new games, while they discuss games in an interesting and informative way. It’s ad free, which is always a blessing, and tends to run around 30 to 45 minutes.

The Secret Cabal Gaming Podcast

Hosted by friends Brian, Chris, Jamie and Tony, the Secret Cabal is another podcast that concentrates largely on board and card games but isn’t scared to delve into other nerd and gaming topics when the mood takes them. Expect news and reviews delivered in a very professional manner by three guys with great radio voices and, well, another guy.

The show has two problems for me. One, they’ve taken a well trodden format and retrodden it, without really bringing anything to the party. That’s fine – I just have enough podcasts like this already on iTunes that I enjoy more (many people have really taken to Secret Cabal, so I’d certainly suggest you give it a shot). But my biggest problem with it – which may be unjustified – is I don’t get the impression they have a big enough collective depth to their gaming knowledge. A certain few games are mentioned too often in comparisons where others would be more appropriate, for example.

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