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Tabletop Episode 11 – Elder Sign

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I’m going to take a break from my usual board game reviews to talk about Tabletop. If you are not familiar with it, Tabletop is a webseries hosted by Wil Wheaton (Star Trek, Toy Soldiers, The Big Bang Theory). Each episode, he reviews and plays a board game with a variety of different people. I’ve never actually seen a full episode of Tabletop, so this will be my first time actually watching a full show.

For their eleventh episode. Wil Wheaton played the board game Elder Sign with Felecia Day (Buffy, Dr. Horrible, The Guild), Mike Morhaime (President, Co-founder of Blizzard), and Bill Prady (Executive Producer of The Big Bang Theory).

Elder Sign Box CoverElder Sign is a coop board game set in the Arkham Horror universe. Players take on the role of investigators trying to defeat one of the ancient gods before they can wake up and devour the world. I’ll avoid giving you the full run down of how to play like usual because:

  1. I’m sure it will appear on Board Game Quest eventually in its own post and
  2. You can watch the episode of Tabletop below and get a much more entertaining run down of the game.

The webshow is about 34 minutes long and it takes you through their full playing of the game. Now, normally, I’d say watching a group of people play a board game would be about as much fun as sitting in traffic, but the brains behind Tabletop do some interesting things to keep you engaged over the half hour of the show. Some of the notable things I enjoyed were:

  • The visual aids. A board game is played on a 2D surface. It would have required a lot of top down camera shots to really get a feel for the game components. However, there are a lot of CGI pop-ups during the show that help immerse the viewer as they play. The put dice results, objectives and rule call outs on the screen during the play, which helps keep you abreast of what’s happening in the game.
  • The interaction of Day and Wheaton. It’s pretty obvious who the actors are on this show. The interaction between Day and Wheaton is pretty entertaining and you can tell they are very comfortable in front of a camera. Prady wasn’t too bad in his own right, but I don’t feel I saw very much of Morhaime. In the end, the producers knew who the stars of the show were and kept the focus on them.
  • The Game Explanation. At the start of the episode, they give you a solid understanding of the basics of the game. This helps anyone who might be interested in the game itself and wants to know what it’s all about. This, combined with the entertaining play session makes for something that will keep you tuned in for the full half hour.
  • The Fast Forward. Tabletop smartly doesn’t show you the entire play session. First, it would be well over an hour long, challenging even the most die hard viewers. More importantly, it helps keep you interested. By jumping around, they can cut out a lot of  uninteresting turns. Thank you for keeping for leaving out the mundane.
  • The Side Comments. Honestly, I think this is my favorite part of the show. They take an actor off to the side to give a bit of commentary. Wil Wheaton is quite hammy, but had me laughing a lot at the end. “Wheaton Fails Again!” was one of my favorite moments. Every gamer has been in the spot where you know you are contributing nothing to the team. Wheaton does a great job of playing that up. Felicia Day also has a great moment where she is calling for tentacles (watch it and you’ll understand). It’s these side moments that really help keep the show interesting. Seeing player turns, round by round could get dull, even if they actors are trying to keep it lively. But having them talk “off game” they can add bits of comedic elements to a show that’s really just watching people play a board game. I don’t know if these are scripted moments, and I really don’t care. They entertain me.

So that’s my thoughts on the very first full episode of Tabletop I’ve seen. I’ve heard of the show in the past and enjoyed bits of it, but never sat down and watched a full 30 minute episode. I’m glad I did though. It was a lot more interesting then I expected and I think they’ve got something good going here. I’m looking forward to when they play a game I don’t own just to see how it’s different from a viewer’s perspective. Not an easy task when I own over 200 board games.

So give it a watch below and let me know what you think:

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While he will play just about anything, Tony loves games that let him completely immerse himself in the theme. He also is a bit of a component addict.

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