Last week, I had the great opportunity to visit the set for the upcoming television show Above Board. The brain child of Travis Oates, Above Board is a lifestyle comedy show celebrating our little corner of the vast nerd multiverse – board games, role playing games and collectible card games. The show combines inside jokes about modern board games with tongue in cheek interviews and smart comedy. Above Board will not feature play through videos or reviews, preferring to leave that angle to the people who already do it well – the YouTube personalities we all know and love. (But look for YouTube celebrity cameos). In this article I will review the various segments featured on the show.

The show shines due to its roots in improv sketch comedy. Travis was the owner of the ACME Comedy Theater in L.A. in the 2000s, and most of the cast and crew has previously worked with Travis and with each other through ACME. Everybody on the show has practiced humor, enthusiasm, and charisma that comes from a shared experience in live improv. A majority of the show involves smart banter between the hosts: board game savvy Travis Oates, and the more refined, board game innocent straight man Leif Gantvoort. The humor shines through as Travis continually lies, cheats, and steals in order to embarrass and one-up Leif.

Each show spotlights three board games, beauty shot in a dynamic, close camera fly-by of the board and components (lens flare included). This “car commercial style” has witty narration and ends with a great list of the proper player qualifications for the game. These back of the box “badges” go above and beyond the classic “age 8 and up” in truly surprising ways – think “appropriate for cube fetishists”.

Live skits interspersed in the show allow the rest of the talented cast to shine. Quick Picks has a cast member creating a crazy top 5 list, such as “board games I cannot pronounce”. Retro Spectrum presents an entire line of games, with every version and expansion listed and duly noted. Let Me Spillane It To You features Brian Spillane confidently explaining a board game concept completely wrong. Versus pits two cast members against each other, debating which of two completely unrelated games is superior, often leading to hysterical comparisons – imagine “Gloom vs. Gloomhaven”. Lights and alarms announce surprise game show type competitions between the hosts (usually rigged by Travis) involving crazy tasks. And the frosting on the cake is that our own Tom Vasel does a regular Top Ten List, themed but with surprise twists.

Pre-recorded segments are also an important part of the show. Visits to board game conventions, component factories, and field reporter interviews are reminiscent of The Daily Show or Top Gear. The cast made pilgrimages to both Essen Spiel and GenCon, and the footage and interviews from these huge conventions is priceless. Ludicrous historical newsreels show imagined origins of classic games, and fake commercials for our well known maladies, such as Analysis Paralysis, had the audience in stitches. Role Playing segments feature cast members arguing inane points, then transitioning to the miniatures on the table, having the actual fantasy characters continue the arguments to great effect.

I was initially worried that a television show about board games might take the low road, bashing the eccentric uniqueness of our passion for a cheap laugh, or the opposite and turn into a bland reference documentary. The show consistently exceeded my expectations, balancing smart inside jokes and skits with informed knowledge about the games we love. Above all, the comedy shines through, crafted by a cast well versed in timing, surprise, pathos and satire. I, for one, am looking forward to Above Board and cannot wait for its release.

Dice Tower News has previously reported about a board game television show in production- namely Above Board, created by actor/producer/director Travis Oates. The show will combine intelligent journalistic humor (think Daily Show or Last Week Tonight) with sketch comedy and features all the inside jokes and strange personalities that make our industry so special. Segments of the show are filmed with a live studio audience, and the Dice Tower community (that’s you, guys) is being given advance notice to become a part of history. If you are going to be in the Los Angeles area on May 1-3, you can be part of the audience for the next 6 episodes of Above Board. Just to sweeten the pot a bit, there will be game giveaways, food and general frivolity. Rumor has it that our own Tom Vasel may be present, as well as other surprise guests..

All the details are in the call for audience members below, so make sure to hit that phone hotline – I’m sure the show will fill up soon.

prime time

Always thought you could pick and schedule TV shows better than the network executives? Here is your chance in Prime Time: The Broadcasting Tycoons, a new game on Kickstarter from Golden Egg Games, designed by Elad Goldsteen, with artwork by Naomi Robinson.

In Prime Time, 2-4 players take on the role of TV executives, charged with scheduling shows to win time slots by achieving the highest ratings among certain demographics, generating revenue and advertising dollars, and meeting the expectations of the corporate suits. The game plays in 30 minutes per player.

The game is played in six rounds, divided into two 3 round ‘seasons’. Each round consists of four phases; the Development phase, ; the Broadcast phase; and an Income phase. After the 3rd and 6th rounds, there is an Awards phase included in the round. In each round, players will earn victory points and money for their shows. After the 6th round, the players add 1 VP for every $3 they have in money. Highest total of VP’s at the end of round 6 wins the game.

prime time board

Prime Time combines a worker placement mechanism with a card system. In the Development phase, players have three actions they can use to take spaces on the board that give them certain benefits, such as a new demographic through PR, firing talent, or R&D. Some spots—shows and talents—are resolved by auction once all the actions are taken. Show and talents are defined by demographics, star quality, and genre, allowing players to plan their TV schedule strategy. If you lose the auction for a particular show, have no fear. You can move your action token to another untaken show or talent, or use it for another available action.

The heart of the game is the Broadcasting phase, where players schedule their shows for certain nights and times, assign talent to the shows, and compete to accumulate demographic cubes—which come in different colors of pink, brown, yellow, green, blue, and black wild card tokens—on their shows by matching their supply of shows and stars with the demographic demands. Once all the shows with demographic cubes all filled, any shows without cubes are ‘cancelled’ and discarded, entitling the player to a re-run card (yes, there are re-runs even in a board game). Any talent without cubes will be returned to the players hand during clean up and can reassigned, or fired, in the next round.

Having shows that people watch, indicated by the number and variety of cubes, allows player to earn money and compete for clients who will choose to advertise with you for bonus money. Demographic cubes also determine the ratings winner for each day. The hottest shows, talent and executives will eventually help a player win awards and VPs during the Awards phase after rounds three and six.

Once all the phases are done, the cubes are removed, money is earned, empty talent cards returned to the players hands, and the board is cleared for the next round. After the 6th round, the game ends and the player with the highest VP total is the winner.

The game looks good, and one of the stretch goals (already reached) will provide higher quality cards, with a lot of components; a board, different types of cards, tokens, paper money and colored cubes. The text of the cards also make it clear that the designer and artist have their tongues firmly in their cheeks, with a show called Talently featuring the worst singers and dancers competing for a prize, or the talent group The Long Hair Dudes.

The Kickstarter has a number of stretch goals that add extra shows, talent and executives to the mix that comes with the base game. The campaign has only two backer levels, and will be available in English and German. One backer level allows for pick up at this year’s Essen Fair. Otherwise, the scheduled delivery date in January 2016. The KS campaign runs until September 3, 2015, and can be found here.

Image from Toronto Globe & Mail

Image from Toronto Globe & Mail

Toronto’s Globe and Mail reports that the Board Game Café, Snakes & Lattes, is the subject of a new sitcom coming to Candian streaming service Bell Fibe (and YouTube, for the rest of us) this September.

“The show is a fictionalized account of Snakes’ early years. Comedian Jamie O’Connor plays Max Packett, whose lack of human touch and micro-management has driven Snakes to near-bankruptcy. That’s when James Kacey (played by actor and comedian Troy Matthew Martin), who helped Packett come up with the idea for a board game café but dropped out after deciding it was too silly, reappears to help.”

Snakes & Lattes’ fairly prolific YouTube channel previously posted a series of videos explaining their unusual business model, entitled “How to Snakes,” so we can infer they’re well acquainted with working around camera crews. If well done, this has great potential to drive more awareness and more excitement about the wide world of board games, which can only be a good thing. Even better, those of us outside Toronto might stand a better chance at a board game café of our own.