Wil Wheaton is one of my heroes. I don’t say lightly either, given that Chris the DJ from Northern Exposure , Jack Killian from Midnight Caller , Ford Prefect from The Hitchhiker’s Guide and Josh from The West Wing are also counted amongst that number. Wil has, of course, one major advantage over the other four in that he’s a real person. His other major advantages include relentless honesty and self-examination, an infectious enthusiasm for the things he loves and a profoundly skewed sense of humour. He’s also responsible for Wheaton’s Law which, frankly, needs to be tattooed across the internet most days.
Most recently though, Wil’s been hosting TableTop on Geek & Sundry. Geek & Sundry is the YouTube channel created and curated by Felicia Day, which includes shows like Written By A Kid , Sword And Laser , Learning Town and, of course, TableTop . Which is a chat show, mostly, carried out whilst Wil and his guests play a table top game. Guests have included Eureka ’s Colin Ferguson, members of Team Unicorn, Sam Witwer and Paul and Storm. The show’s brilliant, very smart, very funny and full of geek celebrities trying to win at some of the best games on the planet. Now with season two confirmed and TableTop day scheduled for 30 March, I talked to Wil about the show, the games and the geekery.
Congratulations on TableTop season 2! For anyone who missed TableTop Season 1, could you fill them in?
“ TableTop is a bi-weekly series I created with Felicia Day for Geek & Sundry. We play table top boardgames like Settlers Of Catan , Tsuro , Munchkin and Lords Of Waterdeep with interesting people who we know from the entertainment industry. What we end up with is something like Dinner For Five meets Celebrity Poker , but with hobby boardgames. New episodes are released every other Thursday.”
Is there any limit to the sort of games you cover on Table Top?
“Games have to meet the following criteria:
“1. I have to love the game.
“2. The game must be playable in 60-90 minutes.
“3. The rules have to be easy to explain and understand.
“4. The game needs to have both high luck and high skill components, so it's fun to play regardless of the player's experience level.”
What's been the impact of the show? Has it raised the profile of boardgaming as a hobby?
“For the first few months we kept hearing about something called The TableTop Effect, where a game we played would sell out almost immediately. I didn't want to mistake correlation for causation, but after a year of these stories from retailers, publishers and distributors, I'm having a harder time denying it. For example, when we played Zombie Dice , Steve Jackson Games sold out of their print run – over 30,000 copies – in under two weeks. I talked with Kristin Looney, who owns Looney Labs with her husband Andy. They publish Star Fluxx , which we played in season one, and Kristin told me that after that episode aired, they added $200,000 in profits to their year.
“But beyond those hard numbers that business people like to read, there's something more important happening: people are watching TableTop and getting excited to start gaming with their friends and families. Gamers who played when they were younger but stopped once they got jobs and families are starting up their weekly game nights. Gamers who are pair-bonded to muggles have been able to show their partners why they love gaming so much, introducing them to our hobby in the process.
“A reader commented on my blog today: ‘Since watching TableTop I have gotten more time with my kids. Being disabled I cannot go running around with them and this allows me to have that quality time I hope they remember later on.’
“Another said: ‘I got back into gaming – both with friends at work and with my kids – thanks to your show. Before TableTop , I thought Settlers Of Catan , at a glance, looked confusing and abstract. Then, after watching your episode, I realised it was simple and cool, and it’s one of my favorites to play with the guys at work. And now there’s a stack of new games at home that I’ll play with my kids on a regular basis – it’s been a great way for us to spend some family fun time together.’
“One father told me that his tween kids spent every evening in front of their own computers or televisions, and after dinner he pretty much didn’t see his family until breakfast. But after watching TableTop together, the kids were inspired to start a family game night. TableTop , he told me, literally brought his family closer together.
“There are dozens of parents of special needs children who have emailed me or talked to me at conventions, thanking me for giving them something that helps their children.
“I even heard from a guy who felt like his marriage was drifting apart until he watched TableTop with his wife and they started playing games together.
“My ulterior motive with this show has always been to make more gamers by showing how much fun it is to play games, and I’m pretty confident that I can declare that effort an unqualified success.”
Were there any games you'd have liked to have covered in season one but weren't able to?
“I love games like 7 Wonders , Dominion , Eclipse and Tribune , but for one reason or another we couldn't translate the fun we have playing them into good TV.”
What was your favorite game from season one?
“ Ticket To Ride , with my wife, and my friends Colin and Amy. A close second is Last Night On Earth , because of the Doctor Hannah character Felicia created.”
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One of the things I love about the show is how disarming it is, with the guests all very relaxed and focused on playing. What sort of challenges are there as host?
“I can't play as competitively as I normally would. I have to make sure everyone is having fun, help out when someone forgets or doesn't understand a rule.”
What's your dream guest list?
“The entire cast of T he Big Bang Theory and Nathan Fillion.”
Can you tell us any of the games on deck for season 2?
“S mash Up , Lords Of Waterdeep , Star Wars X-Wing , The Resistance , Shadows Over Camelot , Forbidden Island ... and some others that I'll keep a mystery at the moment.”
Tell us a little about TableTop day. How did it come about and how's it going?
“ TableTop Day is an international gaming event on 30 March. The idea is for gamers to gather at homes, libraries, community centers, friendly local gameshops, dorm rooms, beaches and other fun places to play games together. We built a website that makes it easy for gamers to plan, join, and coordinate events, at tabletopday.com . It's a celebration of the hobby that we love and the community that's made it possible for us to do a second season.
“It feels like we've been working on it for years, but I think the idea came up in a production meeting right after our second episode aired, and we were getting a hint of how popular the show was. All of us at TableTop are working really hard to make International TableTop Day the best celebration possible of the table top gaming culture we love, but nobody is working as hard or as tirelessly as my friend and associate producer, Boyan Radakovich. TableTop wouldn't be possible without Boyan's hard work and expertise in the gaming industry, and he was a natural leader for TableTop Day. He got a bunch of publishers on board to give exclusive expansions and bonus gaming materials to some friendly local game shops, which has made it possible for people who play there to get a TableTop Gloom expansion, bonus cards and playmats for Smashup , and other awesome things. Boyan and Tabz have coordinated just over 2,250 events in 55 countries, and more people are joining and adding their own every day. We're already talking about making this an annual event, because the response has been so overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic.”
Positive and enthusiastic are pretty good ways to describe both TableTop , and Geek & Sundry. The standard of the programs is incredibly high but what comes across more than anything else is the sheer fun the staff are having getting to talk about this stuff. I can certainly relate to that, especially with TableTop , where Wil’s love of the games they play is there for all to see. It’s a great show, on a great channel and I’m delighted there’ll be more of it. Thanks to Wil for taking the time to talk to me.