Cardboard Children: Filming Star Wars Rebellion

Hello youse.

In two days time, from publication of this piece, I’ll be filming a board game segment for a BBC TV show, and as ever the question is going to be – “how do we best cover board games in video form?” Further than that, the question is going to be – “how do we do it in a 4-minute segment?” Because while board game coverage on video is common on the internet these days (some might say too common), most of these videos are long and sprawling things. But in two days, I film a piece on the upcoming Star Wars: Rebellion, and it has to be good and short.

BOARD GAMES ON VIDEO

The segment is part of a BBC video game show, a special episode talking about the future of gaming. And with so many of our interviewees on the show talking about how video games are often prototyped on cardboard and paper, and with so many video gamers playing board games these days, it makes sense within our show’s theme to cover board games too. But the segment is brief, and will be playing to an audience that might never have touched a board game. It’s important to get it right.

We’re using Star Wars: Rebellion as a framing tool for the segment, really. It’s a highly anticipated game, one of the biggest releases in years. It looks beautiful on the table – a grand, attractive thing. And, of course, it’s STAR WARS – so that should be a nice enough hook to keep people interested. But the game runs to about four hours when two people sit down to play it. How do you compress talk about a four hour game down to four minutes of screen time? What do you focus on?

With this being a good high-profile slot for board game coverage on British telly, I want to make a good fist of not just covering this particular board game but also encouraging people to sample the other board games that are available right now. It’s important to express just how wonderful board games are – how exciting they are, how strange they are, how inspiring they are. So as we film this segment, we’re going to have to touch on why we play board games, and which ones we’ve loved over the years. We’re going to have to laugh about some old stories. Somehow we need to fit all that stuff in too.

I feel that one of the best ways you can cover board games in video form is by treating it as if the viewer has just stumbled by as a game is underway. I remember, many years ago, the first time I saw anyone play Magic: the Gathering. It was in the back of a little comic shop, and there were some guys turning cards and laying cards out on the table. They were moving tokens around and sliding stuff forward and back, and it was mystifying. I wandered over towards them and just listened in to what was going on. They were talking through their moves a little bit, but most of their chat was about other stuff – stuff related to the game but outwith their game, stuff not related to gaming at all. Eventually one of them turned to me and I asked, “What is this?”

I don’t remember exactly what the guy told me, but within a few sentences (about 30 seconds) I understood completely what was going on. It was a 2-player card battle, with cards representing monsters and land cards as resources. What grabbed me most was the guy explaining why he and his friend were playing. He made it clear that the game fit exactly what he and his friend were looking for in a pastime. He made it personal.

Board games are personal, and that’s why I’ll be shooting this Star Wars: Rebellion segment with a long-term friend, and someone I’ve played a thousand board games with. The rapport has to be real. In a four minute segment, we can’t be acting. To best serve the coverage of this new game, and board games in general, we need to be relaxed and honest.

Of course, we can’t get right into the nitty-gritty of the game, which is often what a board gaming audience demands. Maybe the hardcore board game veterans won’t be best served by the segment as a review, but hopefully they’ll see the love for board gaming that gets expressed in the final piece.

Where you people get lucky is in the fact that the BIG review will be on this page. It’ll be illustrated with exclusive pics from the shoot, as a kind of accompanying piece to the TV segment. Hopefully both things, the video and the review itself on this page, will be lovely things. But I’d still like a little nudge from you before this shoot – what kind of things should I include? What is important? Is it important to hear about the mechanics of the game, or is it enough to hear what we players – as we play it – think of it? We shoot in two days, so your comments will be hugely appreciated.

(Also, now that there are so many people providing board game content on video – what do you all think of what’s out there? Who are your favourites? What works and what doesn’t? How would you do it?)

Anyway, the game itself…

STAR WARS: Rebellion is a game from Fantasy Flight Games, with one player as the Empire and the other player as the Rebel Alliance. Players use their armies and their leaders to wage war across the galaxy, with the Rebels trying to gain sympathy and support, and the Empire desperately seeking the Rebel base while building their vile Death Star. A Star Wars game of this style has been a “dream game” for many, so there’s a lot at stake.

I’ll tell you all about it very soon. Excited? You should be.

Have a great week! And thanks in advance for your help!

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23 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    caff says:

    I am excited!

    I’m hoping the show isn’t going to be consigned to a 5-minute short on BBC News shown at 3am on a Tuesday morning… either way tell us when it’s on, yeah?

  2. Cinek says:

    So it’s like a tabletop version of the Star Wars Rebellion PC game?

  3. Thats no moon says:

    This looks like a great game but you know what would be an amazing game? Star Wars Armada on one of those personal computer things.

    We had Star Fleet Command, based on Star Fleet Battles which was great. Now Armada appears in board game form and every time I see it I just want to be able to play it easily and online.

    I know 75% of board gaming is the social aspect but this would be such an easy hit I am surprised it has not already been announced. They could even micro-transaction the crap out of it and I wouldn’t bat an eye as that’s the business model of the physical game anyway.

    Rab, make it so. Or punch it Chewie. Or spin up the FTLs.

    • Cinek says:

      Yea, I agree. SW Armada would be so much faster, easier and more accessible if released as a PC game. Someone should really go for it.

  4. slider271 says:

    Can’t wait to see the piece on Rebellion. I’m not sure how you should condense the review into a couple of minutes, but I do know that this article you wrote for RPS on Arkham Horror in 2010 is what got my wife and I into modern boardgaming…I think it was the way you made it sound unapproachable yet mesmerising. We played it once, found it nigh on impossible to grasp at that point, bought Fury of Dracula and never looked back…now we play boardgames more than video games (well, that was true until Stardew Valley grabbed my wife’s attention, and now I’ve lost her for the foreseeable future). So I guess I’m saying just be yourself, let the enthusiasm you always have shine, and you’ll be doing boardgaming a great service as always.

  5. Solar says:

    Hi Rab,

    4 mins is tight. I guess the deciding on the focus in that time is the thing. Is this a board game review tailored to ‘video gamers’*, or a platform to discuss how boardgames distil and refine game mechanics used often in video games, or perhaps a review that shows how boardgames and computer games often inform and feed off each other.

    Many reviews talk about why a game is fun, what it does differently, subjective reasons to like it, anecdotes about the unexpected events that set it apart from other games, those that contributed to the collective memory of ‘good times’.

    For me the most useful reviews are those that tap into what I love – story. It was a pleasure to read your Tragedy Looper review for similar reasons, such that I knew it was one to pick up and savour based on my own desire to draw a story out of a game of deduction. Pen and paper role play holds that too, where I suspect a lot of gamers start or explore, but there is something about the confines of a boardgame, the logic churning of rule-limited gears spliced with human imagination, the level competition and/or cooperation, that gets me going even more.

    So 4 minutes eh? I’d want to see what elements of rebellion pulled you away from the screen, what stories it created, what interactions were savoured and those that fell short, what could be gained and lost by translating it to a video game. If there was time perhaps some comparison might be worthy to the original Starwars Rebellion video game from Lucasarts that seems to have plenty of echos in the physical namesake.

    I’m sure it will hit the right notes however you play it. Thanks for opening it up for input!

    *Really I don’t like the term ‘video gamer’ but the term has been coined *wink* as something uniquely identifiable. Gaming is like reading to me, it doesn’t matter what medium it takes, as long as it allows fun and happy times; a blissful distraction with a story to tell at the end.

  6. slider271 says:

    Also, to answer your question on the video reviewers that are out there…the only video reviews I can watch without either cringing or just needing to turn off well before the end are your old Downtime Town ones, Tom Vasel’s (mostly short and to the point, and give you good feel for the game) and Drive Thru Reviews (a bit long but informative and you can tell when Joel is enjoying a game).

    Don’t focus on complex mechanics, perhaps just explaining that boardgames aren’t all roll and move, get a Ross the marvellous stories that you can create in boardgaming, which I’m sure happens in Rebellion.

  7. JakeElJonson says:

    Hi Rab,

    To echo an earlier comment, it was a piece you wrote a while back on the X-Wing Miniatures game that got me back interested in tabletop/board games as an adult; I ordered it pretty much as soon as I’d finished reading. I went on to plough through a lot of your Cardboard Children pieces on RPS, and watch video reviews you’d done, and following a mention you made somewhere found my way to Shut Up and Sit Down, which is now my first stop for video reviews. I’m now the proud owner of a shelf full of board games of various kinds, and it’s largely your fault.

    I like reading/hearing about the mechanics of games, and wouldn’t invest in one without finding out about that side of things now… But that wasn’t what got me hooked and reaching for my wallet in your X-Wing piece; it was the way you managed to convey the enthusiasm you had for the game and the fun involved in playing it.

    For a four-minute video on Rebellion, suitable for those with little prior experience of board games, I’d say mechanics should definitely take a back seat – focus on the experience and player interaction and you won’t go far wrong. It worked on me!

  8. Iain_1986 says:

    Video review wise, I have to say I’m a complete sucker for shutupandsitdown.

    They are about the only review site, across anything, that I check and watch their content immediately.

    Do I always agree with their reviews? No of course not.

    Can they somtimes me a bit “zany internet”…sure

    But I honestly can’t think anyone can’t see that they have the true “heart” of boardgaming in them. These are people with passion.

    Their videos too aren’t just “Static cam, pointing at person taking to camera in front of wall of board games”.

    Dynamic shots, odd angles, close ups, pans, wide shots etc etc.

    Its just more…interesting. Even if you don’t agree with them, you keep watching.

    • dontnormally says:

      I’ll throw in on this – SUSD create great boardgame content. Their style works on non gamers.

  9. Premium User Badge

    Skabooga says:

    I enjoy reading about people’s reactions to different parts of a game more than an in depth explanation of them. Some overview of mechanics is necessary, but it is the descriptions of the the betrayals, dashed plans, and victorious comebacks that sell me on a game. Heck, it was your description in that vein of Cosmic Encounter that convinced me to get it, and I’ve rarely made a better decision than that one.

  10. BongsworthIII says:

    The biggest obstacle for me getting into boardgames was that none of my friends or family really played them and there is just so much choice of seemingly VERY expensive games. However it was the enthusiasm of your article link to rockpapershotgun.com (apologies for not knowing how to hyperlink) about why they are worth the money that made me interested enough to look up games that I might like rather than being intimidated by a wall of very expensive cardboard that I might not like. Overall just enthusiasm for why games are great and showing you having a blast playing a game which people may not have seen before or wouldn’t normally consider can help change people’s minds about them and hopefully either take the step and buy a game or be interested in playing with friends who have games.

  11. indigochill says:

    My marketing mentor taught me this: if you’re selling a power drill, you’re not really selling a drill. You’re selling what people want the drill for. Namely drilling holes in things.

    Applying that to “selling” board games to people who aren’t board game players, you’re not selling a game. You’re selling the experience of bonding with your friends and family over a shared fiction that’s your own personal fiction created by and for your little group. Ergo, the feel of the experience is the thing, not ultimately the mechanics (mechanics contribute to the feel, certainly, but that might be too much to get into in a 4-minute spot).

    • Asokn says:

      I agree with this completely. Fundamentally people will be intrigued by something new which promises to be fun. I don’t think it matters if the fun comes from an interesting dice mechanic or from strategically playing cards throughout the game, the point is that the net result *will* be enjoyment.

      On that basis I don’t think anything seems a board game more than showing onlookers how much fun it is, everyone likes to enjoy themselves. The details are not really important.

    • gunny1993 says:

      Yeah this is a good point, I can vouch that even after several years of playing lots of different games (Table top rpg and board-games) with the same group of people, the majority of people don’t really care about mechanics.

      Way I see it, it can be broken down into two groups, those who like to know how a mechanic affects gameplay to make the experience more enjoyable, and those who just want to know how enjoyable the experience is.

      Almost certainly the former group initially started as the latter group, so it makes sense to target them.

    • richard says:

      Yeah, nailed it. I think this is why I’ve found the board game segments in Ep 1 & 2 of VideoGaiden unaffecting so far… they’ve just been Rab vs. that silent, judging, manikin. I like the idea of watching someone having the experience that I want to have (the scheming, the tension, the resolution of plans, shock, despair, then eye-contact and laughter between friends). Then I would send the video to my friends to convince them to play games with me, and throw out my manikin.

      • clg6000 says:

        Kinda disagree here–there are already plenty of reviews and playthroughs to watch of all the games he’s introduced so far, and given the small snippet of time he’s got to talk about the game, it’s too much to give any sort of real mechanical summary.

        I like his approach–albeit a little intense and creepy–of trying to distill down the games to the biggest feeling you’ll feel when you play. In City of Horror, for instance: no one’s ever going to point a finger in anyone’s face as intensely has Rab does to that dummy (and if they did, I’d strongly suggest it’s time for new games friends)–but when you friend does point at you when you play, behind the trash talk and nervous laughter–that’s how it feels inside.

        Like a good whiskey, it’s nicely distilled. Not to everyone’s taste, though.

  12. clg6000 says:

    Rab, I think you’ve already got the gist of how to handle it, clearly from everything on #videoGaiden. But here’s what I think anyway:

    4 minutes is a blip, and no time but for the barest essentials of rules and mechanics. Really, all anyone need know is that it’s Star Wars, the one we all know and love–the Rebels, desperate to survive in the face of the overwhelming might of the evil Empire, must resort to guerilla tactics and surgical strike heroics. The Empire, on the other hand, gets to blow shit up like dynamite in an outhouse. Needless to say, that’s not very popular with the galaxies populace–and the more they tighten their grip, etc. etc.

    For the Imperials, it’s about focusing their power on finding the hidden Rebel base (which is definitely not on Hoth, oh no siree, that would be too obvious…). For the Rebels, is running out the clock, and swaying the universe to their cause by proving it’s winnable. That’s it. It’s Star Wars.

    I think what’s interesting about this game will be the ways in which it isn’t Star Wars–maybe Wedge blows up the Death Star. Maybe Luke gets encased in carbonite. Maybe two Death Stars converge on Dagobah and oblitetate it before anyone can find Yoda. That’s the joy of these games–you rewrite the stories as you relive them.

    It’s a great idea to have an old friend to play against, I think–the trash talk, the cat and mouse, the bald face bluffs. The narrow escapes from your well laid plans that you curse out loud, but are secretly proud of…that’s all so much better with someone you know. What you bring to the table can play out on the table.

    Logistics dictate you can’t watch that emotion emerge in the bit you’re shooting–but if you can capture at least one moment of that, you’ll do justice to the game, I think.

    Anyway, whatever you come up with will be top notch, I’m sure. Can’t wait!

  13. clg6000 says:

    As for great board game video journalists, there’s none much better than Shut Up & Sit Down. By far, they’re the most creative, thorough, and funny team doing regular cardboard video content. (Why have you guys not worked together yet?) They’re really the only folks doing anything different–though Board With Life comes close (but of course their most prominent stuff is more websitcom than review–still fun though).

    Tom Vasel is an institution, and pulls up his production values with sheer enthusiasm–but got in first on the “guy who loves games just talks about games” bit, and so does it way better than the now legions of people (many of whom are in the Dice Tower Network) who try the same thing in front of the ubiquitous and tired wall o’ games. (Can we end this trope already? 9 times out of 10, when there’s a wall o’ games in a review, I end up just scanning the collection, and not paying attention to the actual content.)

    Richard Ham aka rahdo really does the very best runthroughs if you want to experience what it’s like to play a game; but Rodney Smith of Watch It Played is best if you want to actually learn the rules.

    Marco Arnaudo (maurnado on BGG and YouTube) has a nice academic take on titles and a focus on wargames. I also like Joel Eddy of Drive Thru Review, mostly because his tastes are close to mine.

    Lots and lots of others now, but those are the most prominent from where I sit. Still, even in the flood, I think there’s plenty of room for a rebirth of DowntimeTown–or even the quick, intense board game review haiku you’ve been laying down on Gaiden. What are the chances you step back into the fold?

  14. Kevashim says:

    “how do we do it in a 4-minute segment?”

    ZAA-OOO-ZAA

    Overwatch baby!

    (For those not getting the reference and seeing simply gibberish, I apologise)