Monday, July 28, 2008

Geek Interview #1: IronMoss

This is the first in a new series of interviews you will only find here at Games on the Table. I got to thinking: most interviews you read involve well-known people like game designers and publishers and the like. But I realized that the average game geek is typically just as interesting, or more so. So I've decided to bring you exclusive interviews with common members of the Board Game Geek community. Here, you'll get an inside look at the lives of those you see in passing every day while surfing on BGG.

I tried to think of a catchy name for the interview series, but nothing has stuck yet. Ideas I had were:
  • "Who's that geek?"
  • "The geeks you never knew"
  • "Meet the geek"
I'm open to opinions on this. If you have a better idea to name this interview series, leave a comment.

So how do I select the lucky geeks for my interviews? It's somewhat random really. I look for BGG users I've seen from time to time commenting on geeklists, thumbing items, posting articles and reviews, etc. I look around threads and say, "Hey, that user looks familiar. I'll interview him." Every geek counts, and each human life is interesting, so anyone I choose will be worth it.

Today, I begin this new interview series with a user you've probably seen thumbing items right and left: IronMoss. (All of my words are in bold text.)

When did you become a board game geek and what drew you into the hobby?

I believe there’s just something about the genetic make-up of folks that really draws them to this kind of hobby. I’ve enjoyed playing games as long as I can remember – still recall playing Uncle Wiggly with my grandmother at her house and playing various card games with my mom when I was young. Middle school saw Chess and role playing games come to the fore. By high school, several friends and I had picked up Car Wars, Battletech and a few old hex-and-counter wargames. Axis & Allies saw a lot of action during college.

Post-college featured the occasionally “party” game (which are all perfectly good fare), but I really did not (re)catch the gaming bug until I stumbled upon a Wizards of the Coast store (which, of course, was going out of business). I picked up the Limited Edition Carcassonne and Guillotine. They immediately relegated Trivial Pursuit to the back of the closet. And since then, I’ve been branching out to try all sorts of games.

It is clear from your geekbadge and microbadges that you love trail running and distance running. What is it that you love about running and what keeps you going? Distance running is difficult after all.

Running delivers a lot for me. Heading out onto the trail for a run is a terrific stress reducer / head clearer. The sense of accomplishment from finishing a long run is great. The fitness level that one can maintain is terrific – both in terms of the weight that you keep off and the increase in overall health.

I try to change my ‘running objectives’ each year. Several years ago, I wanted to focus on shorter distances, which involved a lot of speed training and resulted in my first sub-20 minute 5K (19:45) in my life. One year, after coming off a couple of injuries (most notably a stress fracture), I simply wanted to stay healthy for 12 months (which I did). This year, I set my sights on our local 50K (~32 mile) trail race. And although I wasn’t much to look at by the time I finished, I did finish the race.

I’m not sure I’ve met many folks who are both avid boardgamers and runners, but I find a lot of similarities with the two communities. Both tend to feature more introverts than extroverts. Both feature people of fairly even temperaments and long attention spans. And I don’t think I’ve met anyone in either community that I don’t like.

What is the significance of your avatar?

My nuclear symbol avatar represents my undergraduate degree – Nuclear Engineering – which I earned at the University of Virginia in 1991. Although I’ve been doing mostly systems engineering for the past decade, I remain a great supporter of nuclear power production.

You have an Orchid Enthusiast microbadge. How did you get into orchids?

The Orchid Enthusiast microbadge is actually my only contribution to BGG’s mircobadge offerings, so I’m pleased that someone noticed. [We actually boast 3 orchid lovers now at BGG.]

A good friend got me started with orchids ~15 years ago. Over the years, I’ve picked up a new one here and there. I now have a couple dozen Phalaenopsis (most common indoor type) and one Dendrobium.

Orchids are just spectacular when in bloom. And I think it’s neat that you may go many, many months between blooms, but when they do, the flowers may last a month or more. Fortunately, we have a sunroom in the house that the orchids seem to like. [Even more fortunately, my wife has allowed me to keep most of them there.] I have a few images in my BGG gallery of some of our orchids in bloom.

I like the game Masons. You've given it a 9.25, which is higher than the average rating for this game. You've also written a strategy article for new players. What is it about Masons that makes it so enjoyable for you?

Masons has a lot of attributes that put it right in my wheelhouse. I enjoy abstract strategy-esque games with just enough luck that you need to manage. And I love the sense of timing that you need to be successful at Masons. One must assess how to best influence board development, strategically position yourself to replace cards as needed and know when to score your best cards. I’ve seen games where very few scoring opportunities present themselves, and the winner is in the 30s. And I’ve seen the other extreme where the winner is well over 100.

Masons has been implemented on, which has proven to be a terrific venue to play on-line. I’m often in at least one 3- or 4-person game at the site.

With whom do you most often play board games?

Most weekends during the year, my wife and I gather with another couple – do dinner, set the kids off to play and sit down for a boardgame or three ourselves. As the prime gaming instigator in the group, I’m very impressed with the number of games that our little group has played successfully. We’ve enjoyed a lot of Euro games over the past several years. Recently, we’ve played a lot of Railroad Tycoon (on the Eastern US and Europe maps) and Imperial.

During the week, I try to sneak in as many games with our two girls as we can fit. We play a mix of traditional kids’ fare (e.g., Rat-a-Tat Cat, Crazy 8s) and some slightly more advanced games (e.g., Ingenious, Blokus, O Zoo le Mio, Hoity Toity). Although I’d rather play games that push the envelope just a little bit, I’ll play whatever they request.

I see that you have the "Plays Games with Children" microbadge. What are your favorite games to play with children?

My favorite games to play with the kids are the ones that aren’t made exclusively for kids, yet our girls can play and win against the adults. I was incredibly tickled (and a little jealous) that one of our girls was the first to win at Blokus by playing all her pieces, including playing the one-block piece last. In a game of Ingenious, one of the girls was a mere 1 point away from maxing out in each of the six colors enroute to a commanding win. We’ve had similar good experiences with Coloretto, Hey! That’s My Fish! and 1313 Dead End Drive.

Of course, the girls also have their favorites – Rat-a-Tat Cat is their most requested game. And I am (almost) always willing to play any game for which they ask, including Twister.

Do you play video games or roleplaying games?

Years ago, I played games like Doom, Sid Meier’s Civilization II and III, Wizardry VIII and Railroad Tycoon III on the PC. I’ll still break out Civilization III every once in a while.

My roleplaying days ended several decades ago at the conclusion of high school. I had a great bunch of guys with which to play D&D, Call of Cthulu, Vigils and Vigilantes, Twilight 2000 and Top Secret back then. I still have several of the D&D books, but I don’t foresee playing again anytime soon.

As of now, you've given almost 10,000 thumbs-ups on BGG. I think it's great because people deserve that encouragement. Talk about your thoughts on "thumbing" BGG items.

When I first started contributing to BGG – mostly images – I was a little uncertain as to whether anything I was submitting was any good. EndersGame sent me a note with some nice words of encouragement along with a few ‘thumbs’. For me, a little positive feedback went a long way to keeping me motivated to keep contributing.

In turn, I’ve tried to return the favor to the BGG community. Since I know a little bit about photography, I’ve spent a lot of time the past couple of years reviewing the new image submissions, as well as many of the existing galleries. And I’m very pleased to say that I’ve seen many, many very impressive images, running the spectrum of artistic, creative and informative. I can only hope a few of my thumbs helped encourage people to continue contributing.

I can tell you that I've been encouraged by your thumbs-ups. The effort to post items is certainly more worthwhile when there are people like you there to support the effort.

As of now you've contributed 301 images to the BGG image database. That's a lot of pics. Do you invest a lot of time and energy into photography? When snapping shots of board games, what is your goal?

As an undergraduate, I served as the photography editor on our daily student newspaper. Taking, developing and seeing your own photos in newsprint was really a neat experience. I particularly enjoyed doing sports photography – especially (American) football, lacrosse and basketball.

Since then, other than some scenic vacation stops and family snapshots, I really had not done much with the camera. BGG provided a great outlet for exercising my creative photo ‘muscles’ again. I don’t have a lot of time to take photos, but when I have a little bit of time (and some good lighting), I’ll sneak out the digital camera to shoot a few images.

And although there are MANY better photographers than me at BGG, I just enjoy taking useful images of games that are under-represented on the site. I’m particular proud of the work I did to provide images to many of the ‘standard deck of cards’ games that previously had few to no images in their galleries.

Do you currently have a favorite board game? If so, why is it your favorite?

Historically, I always loved playing the ‘engineering’ games like Battletech and Car Wars. Designing your own mechs / cars for battle prior to actual game was almost as fun as playing. Sadly, it may be a while before either of those games see the light of day again.

Currently, I have really taken a liking to Railroad Tycoon. It has enough going on to feel complex, yet it’s relatively easy to teach. It is has great replayability with the set-up changing just enough to make you rethink your strategy each time. The board and components look fantastic (and, as a bonus, my board never exhibited any warping). And its expansion (Rails of Europe) may even make the game better.

If something great happened in the board gaming world today, what would it be? (in other words, what would be your ideal wish for the BG world today?)

I believe that it’s already happened. The development and proliferation of so many new games / gaming groups / gaming venues over the last decade has been impressive. However, the spread of so much information about the boardgaming hobby – all of which has been facilitated by on-line boardgaming resources (of which BGG may be the most prominent) – has been the real engine (by my way of thinking) that has powered the expansion of the hobby.

I have been amazed (and pleased) at how I’ve been able to travel for work over the past several years, yet – with a few clicks of the ol’ mouse – find a FLGS in the city where I’m staying that hosts a regular boardgaming night. I’ve met a lot of interesting and avid gamers and been able to try games that I’ve only heard about previously. I have also found local groups that play on a regular basis. It goes without saying that I’ve learned an incredible amount about games, that I would have otherwise never heard of, from various on-line boardgaming resources.

Looking back a decade or two ago, if you didn’t already have ‘your guys’ nearby and available to game, finding a group with which to enjoy the hobby was definitely a non-trivial exercise. And if you’re local gaming store didn’t carry a particular game, you may have only discovered its existence by chance.

If you had something valuable to teach or share with new board gamers, what would it be?

Games are very much like art. There are many different genres of games and not all genres are appreciated by everyone. I would just encourage folks to try as many different types of games as practical to help gain a sense of the features of games that they enjoy. Once you discover what game features that you like, you will be amazed at the wealth of games from which to choose.

What would you say is or has been your most significant contribution to BGG and/or the board gaming world?

I try to play as many games with my daughters as practical. If both of them can grow up with an appreciation of boardgaming and a healthy interest in playing different games, I believe that will be a great contribution to the hobby.

What kind of world view do you hold? What is the purpose of life and the cosmos?

Not sure that I spend much time thinking on the cosmos-level; however, if my daughters grow up to be independent, happy, good people, I will have considered my time on the planet to have been successful.

Thanks to IronMoss for the interview. If you would like to know more about IronMoss, look him up on BGG and take a look at some of his contributions.

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