Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Table Top on Geek & Sundry

Wil Wheaton’s Table Top web television show on the Geek & Sundry YouTube channel recently caught my eye as an innovative integration of reality show-style production with board game video feature.

As the father of a toddler I don’t have much time to watch television or movies (let alone have much time to myself, period); even viewing online videos cuts into time for other tasks. So I rarely take much interest in television/web TV media unless it really seems noteworthy; however, when adorable geek and prolific web-TV producer Felicia Day announced Geek & Sundry, I took note (I’d previously enjoyed her Dragon Age: Redemption web mini-series, though I don’t have the time or patience to catch up with previous seasons of The Guild…yet).

The Geek & Sundry YouTube channel offers a number of interesting new programs -- check out the preview video for an overview -- as well as a home for Day’s The Guild; but what particularly caught my eye was Wheaton’s Table Top, which tapped into my interest in contemporary board games. The previews touted Table Top as a reality style show similar to celebrity poker featuring notable geeks playing a particular game each episode.

I’ll admit I had some trepidation given my general dislike of reality style television; but I was pleasantly surprised by the first episode, which featured Wheaton and three fellow geek personalities playing Days of Wonder’s Small World. The video’s 30-minute format works well, with Wheaton offering a brief but informative overview of the game followed by key portions of the game play (such as opening moves and major strategic action), colored by the participants’ personalities. Video graphics showing close-ups of pieces, highlighted sections of the board, and other information help summarize game concepts and follow developments throughout the course of the game; the slick production values enhance viewers’ understanding of the rules. In-game commentary, both at the table and during individual interviews, further demonstrates not only individual strategies but good sportsmanship in the face of victory and defeat.

In the past I’ve enjoyed Professor Scott Nicholson’s Board Games with Scott videos, which offer specific features on individual games as well as broad overviews of several games within a genre. While Table Top isn’t quite the next iteration of such features (a category in which I’d also include “unboxing” videos and in-play reviews), it’s another entertaining perspective on the growing board game phenomenon. Rather than a basic overview or review, Table Top’s  combination of reality show and game feature provides an enhanced look into the actual experience a game offers; granted, this varies with the players, but Table Top’s participants help make this look appealing and provide an entertaining video, too.

I’ve had Small World on my Amazon.com wish list for a while, but haven’t yet had the courage to shell out $49.95 to buy it. Wheaton’s Table Top episode featuring the game pushed me closer to the brink. These days the internet offers plenty of opportunities for researching game purchases, from rules downloads at publisher websites to online reviews of all sorts. Still, nothing makes an impression quite like trying the game out for oneself, or at least watching an engaging play experience like that shown on Table Top. The show isn’t really a review, but provides a concise overview of the game, highlights key game elements, features engaging demonstrations of in-game play and strategy, and offers an entertaining look at one group’s play experience; viewers can judge for themselves if the game seems right for them.

Despite constraints on my time and my general impatience in watching online TV or movies on my laptop, I’ll admit a mild fascination with Felicia Day’s web video endeavors. Her involvement as a producer of Table Top as well as one of the driving forces behind Geek & Sundry draw me to explore more offerings on that YouTube channel. I’ve already enjoyed her videos for The Flog, and the Geek & Sundry video preview just might entice me to investigate other geeky programs when time allows. And sometime I might just have to find the time to dive into The Guild from the series’ beginning….