Thursday, August 28, 2014

Faculty Lounge: Adrienne and Jim Jones of Great Big Table

Here in the faculty lounge I get together and talk to other board game interested podcasters and bloggers to learn a little bit more about what they do.

I first learned about the Great Big Table podcast from the Party Gamecast Podcast.  The Party Gamecast heard about Jim and Adrienne’s love for the game Therapy and decided to do a review of it and then have the Great Big Table podcast do a Mystery Science Theatre commentary.

Dr. Wictz So I have to ask, is therapy your favorite board game?

Jim: Therapy. Yep, you know us too well.

Dr. Wictz: Before I get too far, give everyone a quick run down about Great Big Table in case folks are not familiar with your podcast?

Adrienne: More meeples for more peoples! Great Big Table is all about finding people, games, and opportunities to play board games. From building a game group to building a collection, we love to discuss the how-to of playing more games with more people.

We game in a variety of situations: at home with our kids, with other adult gamers, with people who play very casually, and at a regular community game night we host, so the podcast reflects that variety by covering everything from Cthulhu-infested nightmare realms to teddy bears racing boats.

Jim: Adrienne covered it pretty thoroughly. Great Big Table covers board gaming from the standpoint of introducing more new people to the hobby as well as getting those that have already discovered the hobby (new and old timers) to take up the mantle of evangelizing board gaming to their communities.

As far as content goes, it’s just a late night conversation between Adrienne and I about a general topic after our three kids have been put to bed. We’ll talk about games that we’ve played in various settings recently. We cover thrift store finds, as it’s a great way to build up game libraries, and then we usually cover a main topic about some aspect of the hobby each episode. But, we’re not afraid to change it up if something strikes us as being fun to try, which is how the cross-over Therapy episode with the Party Game Cast came about.

Dr. Wictz: Does being married make it easier to get together to do podcasts? From my vantage point, as a listener, it sounds like recording an episode is one of your options for "date night."

Adrienne: That's what we thought when we launched the podcast, but it might be harder at times because we have to have relative quiet for a couple hours. Even now, we're editing out late night phone calls and "I need to use the potty" cameos by our kids who should be sleeping soundly. I suspect it would be easier if one of us could go to a quieter place and record, but it would be a lot less fun.

Jim: In some ways it is easier, because we can just talk to each other and that seems to be compelling, at least from the feedback that we've received. Maybe that's why you get a "date night" vibe. We like to talk to each other and hang out,  so that's not a problem. Like anything, though, there are logistics to consider.

Life with three kids and trying to be active and engaged in our community while running a community game night, Adrienne managing a grant for our church, and planning and executing our annual Extra Life board game marathon weekend for Riley Hospital for Children (http://www.extra-life.org/team/stpetersgamenight) just takes a lot of time and energy. Because time commitments affect one or both of us, being married probably makes that part of recording harder. We wouldn't want to do the show without both of us, I think, because that wouldn't be our show. I am sure that's true for any podcaster, but we haven't struck on the formula to make them come out any faster, yet. We have plans to make that happen, so stay tuned.

Dr. Wictz: What do you think you kids will think when they are older and they listen to past episodes of the podcast?

Adrienne: Right now, they're fascinated by it and want to be appear on the podcast, that is until we get out the recorder and ask them to speak.

If they should ever listen, I hope they'll laugh- even if it's at our general gooniness- and remember some of the times we've spent together. I'm also okay with them being embarrassed by us in the future.

Jim: Our kids are fans of some podcasts. We listen to Flip the Table in the car together when we run errands on the weekends. They even sing along, with well timed bance's, to its theme song. So, they were very intrigued by the idea that we had our own podcast.

I'm sure it'll embarrass them in the future, but I hope they hear that we are having a good time together and appreciate that aspect. That's the best we can hope for.

Dr. Wictz: You have mentioned on your show you met in college, but you have not gone into the details on how you met at college, so I ask, how did you meet at college?

Adrienne: A mix of my procrastination and Jim's geography put us both in the very last summer orientation group. He flew over from Germany where his dad was serving in the Army and we both arrived to a campus neither of us had even visited before. There were only a few core classes with space remaining, so we both ended up in Asian Politics (amazing class) followed by Issues in Human Genetics. He was jetlagged, and I skipped most of orientation for another event, so we didn't meet there though I clearly remember an advisor making a joke about his name.

There was this unpleasant and aggressive kid in both those classes who kind of adhered to me, and I noticed Jim and another guy in both classes who lived in my dorm, so I asked them if they would let me walk with them to and from class a couple times. Jim was shy and hardly said a word to anyone at first, but he would write these hilarious notes with drawings during class and we just hit it off. No one would describe him as shy today.

Jim: I came to my college orientation after a twenty seven hour trip, on my own, from Frankfurt, Germany, before cell phones and when long distance phone calls required a second mortgage on your house. I almost didn't make it to our college town because the commuter carrier that the Department of Defense bought my ticket from went out of business between the purchase and my trip. So I was a stranded eighteen year old in the Saint Louis airport the day before my college orientation and two weeks before the start of school.

I was exhausted and emotionally wrecked by the time I figured how to get to my destination and went through orientation. I remember seeing Adrienne in orientation, but not much else from the entire thing. I took the only honors courses that were available, as did everyone else on that orientation group, including the aggressive kid and the guy who agreed to walk with and sit next to Adrienne in order to put Mr. aggressive off. If I had had my wits about me, I might have declined the option to take one or both of the classes that Adrienne mentioned. As it stood, I owe a lot of the best things in my life to pure chance.

Dr. Wictz: Do you see the Great Big Table podcast as a supplement or a competitor to the Baby Toolkit: parenting gone geek blog?

Adrienne: Baby Toolkit is about to turn 8, so it felt established in its own arena by the time we started the podcast. I won't speak for Jim, but I never envisioned a lot of that readership tuning into a podcast on board games. Generally if mom bloggers transitioned from blogs, it was to to vlogs, and podcasts never exploded like they did in other arenas. It may be the need for a quiet space that is the major hurdle. Thus far in this interview, I've supervised two kid baths, dealt with a "code brown," answered the phone, and worked on a couple loads of laundry. The written word waits, and I really appreciate that.

We definitely love to review board games on the blog that are kid and family friendly on the blog. We also talk about some of the same topics like community gaming, Extra Life, and Gen Con. I welcome crossover participants, but they always surprise me.

Jim: I never envisioned a lot of crossover. Sometimes we review games or mention the podcast on Baby Toolkit, but its just incidental to being part of our life and being geek parents.

Dr. Wictz: Unintentional (I think), thrift store/garage store finds have become a recurring segment of your podcast. Why did you start looking for games in these places?

Adrienne: We embraced aspects of simple living early in our marriage. We were married, marginally employed, and finishing college, so we didn't have to give much up to embrace the philosophy. A concern for reuse and the labor conditions in foreign clothing manufacturing made me interested in purchasing fewer new goods. Once I started shopping consignment and thrift, it was just a matter of browsing a few more aisles to expand to games.

My favorite game find remains the cards-still-in-shrink San Juan game I found on vacation. It's not only a favorite game of mine, it also piqued Jim's interest in resale shopping for games.

Our next episode, the one on our hard drive, is about gaming on a budget, so we pull out all our tips and tricks for resale game shopping.

Jim: Adrienne found a bunch of great games after thrifting for a while. I thought it was great, but never joined in until stumbling across a Buffy the Vampire Slayer Game in a Goodwill close to my work. I had heard it mentioned as a grail game on a number of podcasts, so I scooped it up after confirming that it had all its pieces. After that I was hooked. We, well mostly Adrienne, have found some great stuff over the years. I'm always amazed when we find games for a dollar that have obviously never been played. Also, its been a big help in filling out our community game night's library.

I think Adrienne's find of San Juan is one of the best. It blew my mind that the cards were still in-shrink and it only cost two dollars. As for my own finds? It would be a toss up between Buffy and the unpunched aMazing Labyrinth that had never been played.

Dr. Wictz: Why did you start Great Big Table?

Adrienne: We started Great Big Table after Jim noticed the topic of gaming groups coming up on a number of podcasts. It seemed like more people were actively looking for gaming groups, and we could really sympathize. We spent most of our twenties hoping to find a group to join (this was back in the middle '90s, so the hobby wasn't as widespread as it is today).  In the past decade, we started creating new communities, and we wanted to help other folks not spend a decade hoping to find something they could create now.

Jim: I listen to a lot of podcasts produced by the board gaming community. I had commented during a car trip that issues around community building, promoting board gaming as a hobby, and game groups were regular topics on most shows. As we had been addressing these areas in our own life, I thought that we might be able to record a podcast around those ideas. Adrienne wondered if there would be enough material in that topic until we proceeded to spend the rest of the three hour trip hashing out all the areas that could be covered. We have a multi-page Google Doc of show ideas that mostly came out of that conversation.

Dr. Wictz: If you were introducing someone to the Great Big Table podcast and you could only select one episode for them to listen to which episode would you select?

Adrienne: Much like our children, I love each episode for different reasons. I laughed the hardest making the Therapy the game episode with the Party Gamecast. If someone is willing to give us their time, I would probably recommend the first episode, so they can decide if they want to embark on this journey with us.

Jim: We don't have a lot of recorded episodes (yet!). You'd think it would be easy to choose one, but I like pieces of all of them for different reasons. There are moments in each that make me laugh and those are the moments that I like the best. Because of that, if I only could choose one, it would have to be the first one, episode zero. A lot of the running jokes have their start in that episode. It also has tells the most about our history, so I think you get a good introduction to us as people and gamers through it. That doesn't mean that it is the best edited or sounding, but it is probably the one I would choose.

Dr. Wictz. How did you come up with Great Big Table as the name for your podcast? What were the other contenders?

Adrienne: I'm sure I blocked any contending names from my mind because they were probably ridiculously bad or already taken. My oldest was obsessed with the song Welcome Table around that time, and I really like that idea applied to gaming. Great Big Table is, in my mind, a place where there's always room for another player and new conversations. It's my ideal of gaming, good company and an open invitation. And yes, in my mind's eye, the table offers great snacks, I love food.

Jim: I remember this. We like naming things and have come up with some good names for various things over the years. Part of that three hour conversation about the podcast was brainstorming names. At one point, one of us, I think it was me, suggested "At The Table" and Adrienne pointed out that it was close, but not exactly right. She mentioned the Welcome Table connection and said that we wanted something that had that welcoming vibe. We started wondering out loud what would make for a welcoming game table and Adrienne said something about one that was big enough to hold everyone that wanted to play. That made me think about the "big tent" idea from politics and religion (a tent big enough to cover a large group). Then Adrienne said it should be a Great Big Table and that was it. I loved it instantly.

Dr. Wictz: Episodes tend to come out once or twice a year, do you plan on keeping that schedule? What do you envision for the future of the Great Big Table podcast? (Any more mystery science theater style comments for other board game playthroughs?)

Adrienne: It is one of our great hopes to put out at least one episode a month. We have had a great incentive to do so, but there have been some pressing family things that have kept us in the very slow lane. We always aspire to issue episodes more frequently. Our target is 1-2 episodes a month.

Jim: It's never been our plan to have them recorded so sporadically. It just happens to be that way at the moment. A friend's son compared us to a season of Sherlock; one to three episodes a season and then we're done. That's a nice way to think about it, but it isn't our intent. With school starting for two of our kids, and some of our other community commitments winding down, we're hoping to pick up the pace on our recording, editing, and release schedule.

Dr. Wictz: If someone wanted to learn more about your blog where should they go?

Adrienne: Is this a trick question? To the blog, I would guess… BabyToolkit.com. I can’t imagine any other source of information about it. We also have a blog attached to the Great Big Table podcast at GreatBigTable.com.

Jim: We also gab a lot on Twitter as @babytolkit and @greatbigtable.

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