Aug 31 2008 12:00pm

Podcast Roundup 2: The Vintage Gamer; 2d6 Feet in a Random Direction

MicrophonesOnce again I’ve got two podcasts to recommend, once again, very different from each other: warm, useful reviews of games of all kinds from past decades, and enthusiastic, wide-ranging reviews of current developments.

The Vintage Gamer
by Jim Van Verth

The Vintage Gamer is one of those things that it would never have occurred to me to do, but that delights me and makes glad it’s there, now that I know about it. In each episode, Jim reviews a game of days gone by, generally days of the ‘70s-‘80s. He casts his net widely, covering board games, computer games, roleplaying games, and a bit of everything. Episodes run from half an hour up to an hour or a bit more, and he uses his time well to go into details, share stories of actual play gone right and/or wrong, and draws in observations from others, too. His delivery is good and when he gets funny, it’s very funny. (His review of Illuminati in episode 33 required me to pause twice because I was laughing so hard.)

What elevates this over untrammeled nostalgia is that he looks at his subjects with clear eyes. He points out what didn’t work then, and what was okay then but has since been improved on by later designs, as well as what was fun then and may still be a lot of fun. He’s not trying to recapture some lost golden age, but rather seeing what actually does stand tests of time.

Oh, and his roundup of related news like who’s reprinting and revising great old games is really helpful for those of us likely to either want them for ourselves or to be shopping for friends who live for such things.

2d6 Feet in a Random Direction
by Chris Hanrahan, Brian Isikoff, and Finn Kisch

2d6 Feet in a Random Direction covers roleplaying, minis, and board gaming, with forays elsewhere. Episode 36, for instance, spends some quality time with Chris Bennett and Bruce Harlick, talking about computer game design, changing markets, and things like that. The episodes are each about an hour long and cover multiple topics - it occurred to me that this is one of the podcasts that most reminds me of the gaming magazines I used to read, back when it was feasible for White Dwarf, Different Worlds, Computer Gaming World and the like to cover fields widely.

The key, or at least one of the keys, to enjoyable commentary is having a perspective that lets you see things others may miss. The 2d6 Feet crowd have that in a big way. Chris runs one of the really successful, really high-quality gaming stores, Endgame in Oakland, CA. This is not a trivial enterprise: all the gaming-related markets are flaky on the business side and prone to flakiness in the customer population. Making a go of it in retail requires being aware of a lot of trends and making wise decisions on limited information, and being willing to look at what others are actually doing as opposed to what you might wish them to. Chris does this, and has been doing it for a long time. His cohorts also have neat vantages that let them point out things I’d miss and understand things that would otherwise just confuse me.

They also display an attitude I aim for myself, of wanting to like what they’re doing and looking for reasons to enjoy the things that come to hand. They’re by no means uncritical, even when it comes to work from close buddies or work that might satisfy them in a lot of ways but not all. On the other hand, they’re also not given to the total slam, and willing to give praise to good pieces of works that overall didn’t work for them. Since their enthusiasms range more widely than mine, this makes them a great source of recommendations for me, at least—they take me out of my ruts, and I like that.

The podcast series carries the explicit warning on iTunes, and it’s warranted. They don’t hit any of my buttons about offensive prejudice-mongering or anything of the sort. It’s just that when it seems appropriate to get a little vulgar, they do. There’s nothing in the episodes I’ve listened to that I would actually want to hide away from Mom, but I would tell her, “Yeah, there’s some moments of cursing,” and she would smile and say, “I’ve heard such things before.”

And that’s it for this time.

Adam Jury
1. AdamJury
Thanks for the Vintage Gamer review, Bruce! I'm a big fan of 2D6 Feet, but I hadn't heard of VG before ... which is kind of surprising, as I follow a lot of Mur Lafferty's stuff, and I don't remember her ever mentioning Jim's podcast before. :-)
2. Mikki
Speaking of White Dwarf: a couple of years back, I read through a whole bunch of old White Dwarf issues -- those being issues from the days when it actually discussed gaming rather than functioned as a hobby guide and catalogue for Games Workshop products, so, you know, probably pre-1987 or so. It was pretty fascinating reading, not so much for the quality of the writing (which was probably okay, though I honestly don't remember that well) but for the simple fact that it was a pretty evocative and informative historical snapshot of the gaming available in those days, warts and all. A big part of that was precisely the lack of polish; you could really see the underlying attitudes pretty clearly. It's interesting stuff. If GW were to put out a DVD with PDFs of the old issues or something, I'd snap that up in as econd.

Much as I enjoy the internet and the geekgasms it enables me to experience, there's something to be said for having an actual printed historical record like that; I don't think the net does that all that well -- or perhaps more to the point, it's not something we tend to use the net for.

(Also, speaking as someone who's been involved in the gaming print media in its various forms for a good while, now, I'd also like to take this moment to thank the net for making that field increasingly desperate... but that's another rant.)
Lon Braidwood
4. daDiceGuy
White Dwarf that brings back fond memories. Thats how I got all the crazy monsters my players didnt know about after the memorized the Monster Manual.
David Goldfarb
5. David_Goldfarb
When I think of Endgame I think of Aaron more than Chris; of course I'm just a customer/gamer and don't know how things run behind the scenes.
Bruce Baugh
6. BruceB
Mikki, I would kill...well, not you, but maybe some random neighbor you dislike...for a set of White Dwarf back issues. Definitely some fascinating reading.

David: You perhaps have the advantage of being on the spot. I've been in Endgame once, briefly, if memory serves, and that was a long time ago. Chris gets associated with the operating of Endgame a lot more in the podcasts. But this is not to denigrate Aaron!
David Gillett
7. TheRazor
Thanks for the reviews. I've listened to Dungeons and dragons podcast but its to long. I like my podcasts to run a half hour or less. I listen to so many that I can only cherry pick the hour long ones to a few.-DavidG
Brad Heacock
8. badllama
White Dwarf is an interesting snapshot of the gaming world, especially before it changed to Games Workshop's personal platform for back-patting.

I'll have to check out these podcasts though, I've been missing my fix of geekdom lately.

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