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Interview: Rodney Smith of Watch it Played

Learn how to play board games.

Modern board games often times have a rule book that’s as thick as a Canadian accent [1]. These tomes can be overwhelming and serve as a hindrance to new people wanting to enter into the hobby of board gaming.

But board game fans have an ally in Watched it Played, a YouTube channel created by Rodney Smith that is dedicated to teaching how games are played.

When I discover a game has a Watch it Played video, I tear that game’s rule book into tiny pieces, throw them up in the air like they’re confetti, then walk through it like I’m Prince strutting into a bachelorette party. That’s how much I’ve come to rely on Watch it Played videos. If fact, knowing a Watch it Played video already exists for a game is often a deciding factor for me actually buying a game [2].

So I traveled to Canada and captured Rodney, bringing him back to Nerds on Earth HQ. He was questioned thoroughly, then released unharmed.

An Interview with Rodney Smith of Watch it Played

Clave: Rodney, you’ve carved out a niche as the go-to source for board game instructional videos. My theory on your origin theory is that you were cloned in a vat. Am I close?

Rodney: Funny you should mention cloning. There was rumours of a video where my cloned twin was exposed, but that is buried deep enough on the internet, I doubt anyone will ever find it… hopefully…

3yearsIn reality, my origin story doesn’t contain too many super heroics, though I do shoot my videos in an unfinished basement. If any of these spiders down here are radioactive, it’s possible things could get a whole lot more exciting.

That said, I’ve been a fan of tabletop gaming since I was quite young. Jumping into Magic The Gathering when it first released was probably one of the primary influences on me. That game triggered both my enjoyment of gaming and collecting. Probably a little too well. I quit before if became a problem, but the mark it left of the enjoyment of sitting around a table with friends playing games on a tabletop was pretty deep.

Many years later I found myself with a modest collection of games, and a life that couldn’t quite support playing games regularly. I actually began to get rid of my tabletop games, as they were a constant reminder of all the gaming I wasn’t doing. Amidst that, for whatever reason, I found myself interested in a game that had just released: Mansions of Madness.

Mansions of Madness looked like the kind of game my daughter and I would really enjoy, but I couldn’t figure out whether it would be a good fit for us or not. I watched reviews. Some said it was great, some said it was terrible. I didn’t know what to think. And it occurred to me, if only I could have someone teach and show me the game being played, I could figure out for myself whether or not the game would be a good fit, and I wouldn’t need someone else’s opinion.

And so the idea of the channel began. I bought Mansions of Madness, and my daughter and I taught and played the game on YouTube, inviting viewers to propose game play suggestions between the episodes which we would come back and do. This was before the launch of the very popular TableTop with Wil Wheaton, so we had the pleasure of being the first on the internet doing this sort of thing with tabletop games (at least that I know of)[3].

Clave:  Instructional videos for board games are something I don’t think the gaming community knew they needed until they saw one of yours, then immediately realized they couldn’t live without them. Now there is no going back. Was this your villainous plan all along? And what do you plan to give us now that we are hooked?

Rodney: Despite my uncertainty over the place tabletop gaming could take in my life at the time, I was still regularly enjoying video content created by other people, like Tom Vasel, Scott Nicholson, Joel Eddy, Undead Viking, Drakkenstrike and Marco Arnaudo.

I had an interest in creating content, but these guys were already doing great reviews, and I didn’t feel that was an area I would excel in. I’ve always had a difficulty trying to quantify the “fun” that someone else will find in a box.

However, one thing I have always enjoyed…. which doesn’t quite make me villainous (though it might suggest I may not be entirely right in the head), is reading rule books.  I love learning new games.  I like seeing a box full of bits come to life through the rules that the designers has created for them.

I also knew that other people didn’t much care for rule books like I did, so it occurred to me early on that providing a visual medium where a game could be taught might be something people would find helpful.  And again, I knew that this was something that I would find helpful when trying to figure out if a game would be a good fit for me. I hoped my videos could be a nice compliment to the great content already being made by other people.

As for future plans, my hope is to simply be able to continue to do what I do, but do it better and cover even more games.  The challenge is being a one person operation, and already feeling like my capacity to create videos is reaching its limits. Will I be able to find someone else to help join and make content for our channel?  Will I simply find a pace that is perhaps more sane, but allows me to cover enough that I am content?  I’m still working out the answers to those questions.[4]

Clave: One of the charming things about your videos is how you engage your kids in the fun, which as a fellow dad is something I try to do as well. What advice would you give to fellow parents who want to involve their kids gaming?  Follow-up question: Do you think Luke is using loaded dice in order to always defeat you?

Rodney: Let’s start with the question of Luke’s luck. First of all, I don’t believe in such notions, and always smirk when people complain about their “bad luck” in games. Come on, this is science and math, not a horoscope!

Your fate is not assigned to you. On balance, we will all have the same general results when rolling dice. Right?  RIGHT?! Well, that’s what I try to tell myself, however, Luke has an uncanny ability of rolling especially well while on camera, to the point he’s been dubbed “Lucky Luke” on the show and by the viewers. It’s a title well earned.[5] 

My biggest advice for parents hoping to game with their kids is this: don’t force it. I’m all for parents leading by example, and enforcing certain behaviors. However, gaming isn’t the same as eating a balanced diet. It’s entertainment. And nothing makes something less entertaining, than being forced to do it.

Believe me, I appreciate the compulsion to see family members as built-in gaming partners, but you want them to be willing participants, not dreading your gaming sessions together.

To this end, I suggest choosing games with themes your kids are going to enjoy, over picking out the games that you think are the most fun. We live in good times for tabletop gaming. There are so many games with so many various themes to choose from. Find the ones that suit your future gamer and sacrifice a bit of your own enjoyment if necessary. It’ll be worth it in the long run.

Clave: What else are you nerding out on right now?

Rodney: One of the challenges of running a YouTube channel as a business full time, is that the responsibility for the content falls to me, and that creation process is very all consuming. This does mean that several of my other interests have had to take a back seat for the past few years.

I have a nice batch of comic books gathering dust behind me as I type, waiting for me to catch up and read them.  All the 100 Bullets collected editions, the Hellboy and BPRD collections, Invincible and several Marvel hardcovers await my attention.

I do squeeze in some television, and have been really enjoying the new series: Mr. Robot. A mind bending, modern day social hacktivism series which is still unpacking new ideas about what it is truly all about. As a fan of Isaac Asimov, the new series Humans is also an interesting look at robots and advancing AI.

Mostly though, I have my nose in a rule book, or am scripting, shooting or editing a new video. Which is not a complaint. I’m doing exactly what I want to do, and that’s due to the support of viewers who continue to watch and financially support us so that I can keep doing the series full time.

I am grateful to be so busy! [6][7]

Clave: Thanks, Rodney. You are free to escape, but you won’t get far. I know where to find you on Twitter and Facebook.

 

[1] I shouldn’t have made fun of your accent. I’m a West Virginian who now lives in Minnesota. I don’t even attempt to talk any more.

[2] In fact, I just pre-ordered Blood Rage after watching a Watch it Played unboxing video.

[3] If you want to peek at the precursor. This also gives you a flavor for another mainstay of Watch it Played, which is Rodney playing through the game with his kids.

[4] In the meantime, Rodney is experimenting with some new delivery options such as Periscope.

[5] See Luke in action.

[6] Rumor has it that Dungeon Saga by Mantic Games will be Rodney’s next instructional video.

[7] Seriously, go check out Watch it Played. Rodney is putting up new content weekly.

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