Once 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.