Thursday, January 2, 2014

Faculty Lounge: Jonathan Wolfie of iSlayTheDragon

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 was admiring the writing output and quality of the blog iSlayTheDragon, and I really wanted to learn more about their process.  I sent Jonathan Wolfie, the head of iSlayTheDragon, a tweet asking him if I could interview him.  In less than a day he gets back to me and we conduct the interview.  Fastest turnaround time between first contact and an Interview ever for the Dr.Wictz blog.
Jonathan Wolfie: Ah well, apparently I should work harder, I have too much time on my hands.  The interview was enjoyable.
Dr. Wictz: Give a quick run down about iSlayTheDragon in case folks are not familiar with your blog?
Jonathan Wolfie: Sure.  iSlaytheDragon is a team of 4 guys - myself, Jon Schindler, Jason Meyers, and Andrew Brooks - who write about board games.  Most of our posts are game reviews, but we also have a series of Guides to Gaming.  We also occasionally post opinion posts or talk about current "issues," and recently we've started doing previews of Kickstarter games as well as Interviews.
Dr. Wictz: Why did you start iSlayTheDragon?
Jonathan Wolfie: I actually started the blog by myself as a way to write RPG session reports for the campaigns I was running with my Pathfinder group.  It began after my first Gencon attendance, which is really when I began to discover the gaming world beyond D&D, Settlers of Catan, and Heroclix.  I had hoped to grow into the RPG community but my interests shifted and I started writing more and more about board games and thats sort of the community I fell more into.
Dr. Wictz: What sort of arm-twisting did you have to do to get J. Schindler to collaborate with you on the blog?
Jonathan Wolfie: I actually have him chained to a desk so he'll keep writing.  Just kidding.  But seriously. I've learned about myself that when I can find a team to work with on a project I have, the end result is much better than what I could do by myself.  I actually used to work with Jon, like at our real day job, and one day he brought in Ticket to Ride and asked if I wanted to play over lunch.  I did and after that we decided to play something every week.  I taught him Dominion, we played Cosmic Encounter with some of other guys, even though it wasn't Jon's favorite game.  At some point, Days of Wonder had a contest to design a new Ticket to Ride expansion, and we jumped on that.  Our finished product turned out pretty awesome - we created map based on H. G. Wells' the Time Machine, so it was a map of the UK but in 3 different centuries.  We did not win the contest, but we had a lot of fun coming up with the ideas and putting the whole project together.  We actually put it up on our site for a while, a nice print and play copy, but when we partnered with we let them host the game, so you can still get it there. (  Free stuff!
Anyways,  at that time Jon had his own personal blog, and I was going to ask him if he would be interested in teaming up for the board gaming blog, but he actually beat me too it.  He said, "I have an idea of another project we could team up on" and suggested doing a board game blog together.  That was back when iSlaytheDragon was still more my random posts - sometimes  RPGs, sometimes board games, sometimes completely random stuff. I said yes, lets do that, lets use iSlaytheDragon.  The rest is history.  It worked out really well, because I am more of a fan of thematic, epic games with lots of plastic, and Jon likes euros and could care less about theme, and he actually prefers cubes to minis. So we've got two unique perspectives.
Dr. Wictz: How did you recruit your other co-bloggers?
Jonathan Wolfie: Now there's where the arm-twisting comes in.  Actually, what happened was Jon's wife was pregnant, and he didn't think he would be able to maintain our schedule of "nemesis reviews" - we used to both review the same games, so people had 2 unique opinions.  So he actually tried to quit, which probably would have killed the blog.  So I told him fine, he could quit, but he would have to help me find someone else to help me write the blog or it would die out.  I put out the call for more writers, and I actually decided it was time to expand what we did, if we weren't going to have nemesis reviews anymore. I put up a help wanted page looking for a news person, an interviews person, an RPG person, and more reviewers.  Then Jon said he could probably handle the News.  Jason, or @spielemitkinder on twitter, responded to our call.  He had been writing his own blog with his kids, but apparently his kids got bored of it and he was looking for a better way to do things.  So he said he was interested in joining our team and we liked his blog so we let him in.  We actually incorporated some stuff from his blog - primarily the "complexity" rating, which turned into a full set of game stats - and he's been a powerhouse putting out reviews at a ridiculous pace, so that's been great.
Andrew just joined the team a few months ago.  He was a friend of mine from college.  Sadly, neither of us had really "discovered" board games back then.  I played Heroclix and he taught me how to play Warhammer 40k, which I played exactly once and wish I played more back then, but what can ya do? Anyways, I wanted another writer so that we could keep putting out consistent content without too much pressure on any one of us.  Andrew had left some comments on the blog in the past and I always liked his arguments and thoughts, so I contacted him and asked him to join.  Andrew has the least amount of writing in his background, so he was a little nervous, but excited to join, and it's been great having him.  My plan worked.
Dr. Wictz: What are the challenges to being part of a blog with multiple bloggers?  How do you keep yourself organize? Do you have team meetings?  Do you pre-plan blog posts?  Is there an editorial board? etc.
Jonathan Wolfie:  I think the benefits far outweigh the challenges.  It's a lot more fun to have a group of guys to bounce ideas off of, and it takes a lot of pressure off each individual.  By myself, I could never keep up with daily posts - I just don't have the time to play that many games or think up that many ideas.  But when one of us gets busy and can't finish a post on time, there are 3 other guys who can pull something out to fill the gap.  When I have an idea I can bounce it off everyone to see if it's a good idea.  We can delegate some of the tasks, like managing social media accounts, so that no one is overburdened, because we all have lives outside of our little site.  We've got families and homes and jobs that take up a lot of time.
In many senses I think of iSlaytheDragon like a business.  We don't actually make any money, but we make decisions like that.  I'm basically the "boss" so if I make a decision that's how it goes.  I completely trust Jon so I'll bounce all my crazy ideas off of him and he'll be honest if my ideas are good or not.  Any one of us can throw out an idea - we email each other a lot - and I like hearing everyone's ideas, but ultimately the final decision when one is needed is up to me.
We have a calendar that we try to keep updated with one someone has a post, so that's how we stay organized.  It helps everyone plan ahead and helps me see where there are gaps that need to be filled.  As far as coming up with ideas for posts, I throw a lot of general ideas out there and encourage discussions - say, about what guides to write or whatever.  I think we communicate pretty well, and we all like different types of games, so I just let everyone pick what games they want to review and we get a variety.  We rarely have overlap and when we do, people just coordinate and write dual-opinion posts.  We have a lot of fun.
Dr. Wictz: How did you come up with islaythedragon as the name for your blog?  What were the other contenders?
Jonathan Wolfie: The name actually stems from the RPG origins of the blog.  I don't remember if I had other ideas in contention.  It's been so long I don't remember exactly how I came up with it.  But the basic idea is, imagine during an RPG session, as a player, the DM tells me I'm facing a dragon.  What do I do? I slay the dragon of course! Plus, everyone loves naming things with the lowercase "i" at the beginning, and I liked the twist on that.  iPod, iPhone, iSlaytheDragon.  It works great metaphorically, too.
The problem we're having with the name now is that people see "i slay the dragon" and don't necessarily think "board games," but we've had the name for so many years it would be weird to change.  We're working on that.
Dr. Wictz: In your bio you mention you are a writer, filmmaker, dragon slayer, video editor, and graphic designer...Where do you find the time to accomplish all of this?  Do you still get to see/talk to your spouse?
Jonathan Wolfie: If only I could be all of those things at one time! Well, as long as I can remember, I've loved storytelling.  As a kid I wrote a lot of stories - Super Dog was my brilliantly designed superhero in elementary school, and my friend Blake and I would invent alien races and come up with epic, ridiculous missions.  As I grew older I wrote a lot of short stories and in college I shifted from a computer science major to a new media major, which incorporated filmmaking.  I'm a very visual person, so I loved filmmaking.  I made a few short films, some of them for fun, some of them for class.  We made a web series that was terrible, but it was still fun to make.  My most recent project is a web series that I've been 'working' on for 3 years.  I say "working" because it got sidetracked when I got married.  It's actually closer to being done than it is to being started, but there's still a lot of work. Last year I was writing a book with my mom; I take a train to work about an hour each way, so that gives me time for that.
So I guess the answer is, I don't have time for everything.  I do maybe 1 or 2 things at once.  At my job I do video editing and graphic design.  The writing I do is for iSlaytheDragon, and we're working on a brand new site design right now so that takes up a lot of time.  I have to give each thing a period of time and then set it aside for anything else.   It's dumb, I need to finish something.  I do get to spend time with my wife, that's why I can't do everything.  She'll play some games with me - Pandemic is her favorite, and we recently started playing Hanabi a whole lot.  She likes cooperative games.  We do play a lot Dominion, though.
Dr. Wictz: What is your favorite type of board game and why?
Jonathan Wolfie:  I love big, thematic games with lots of interesting things to do and usually some form of combat.  I don't mind dice-rolling combat, but I prefer more interesting combat mechanisms, or at least an interesting game surrounding the combat system.  My 2 favorite games are Cosmic Encounter and Twilight Imperium.  Cosmic is just goofy fun with an underlying layer of strategy.  There's lots of interaction and I love zany powers.  Twilight Imperium is just epic beyond epic; if it was just a combat game I wouldn't like it, but there's so much you can do with technology, politics, negotiating.  It's terrifying and enormous and just a lot of fun.  Rex is another great game with the coolest combat mechanism of all time, so simple yet so intense.  It's not random but you never know if you're going to win or lose.
Dr. Wictz: If you were to introduce someone to your blog and you could only have them read one entry, which entry would you have them read?
Jonathan Wolfie: I guess that depends on whether or not the person is new to the hobby or not.  For newbies we have a whole series of Guides, posts that are designed to help people understand what the heck we hobbyists are even talking about.  People don't necessarily know even basic terms like "Meeple" so we wanted to create a starting point that says "there's a lot of stuff you don't know yet, and that's okay.  Let us help you get started."  We have one post about games that are a great starting point, that are easy to learn, fun, and introduce a lot of core gaming concepts:
If I'm talking to a person who is already familiar with the hobby, I'd probably send them to a review of one of my favorite games - Cosmic Encounter, Twilight Imperium, X-Wing.  I guess I'd have to pick one, probably Cosmic Encounter.  I like to share my excitement about these things.
Dr. Wictz: If I wanted you to review a board game what should I do?
Jonathan Wolfie: We have a nifty contact page on our site with my email address on it.  Email me, tell me a little bit about your game, preferably provide links to a web page with more detailed information and a PDF rulebook.  For review requests we always look at the rulebook first.  When we first started getting requests we took anything, and we got a few TERRIBLE games.  Jon had to re-write a rulebook once so we could even decipher how the heck we were supposed to play.  After that we said hey, we need to see the rulebook first because this is a waste of our time. If your game doesn't look like we'd enjoy it, we won't accept it.  That doesn't necessarily mean its a bad game, but maybe it is.  
Dr. Wictz: Do you ever have any guest board game designers?
Jonathan Wolfie: We haven't really had any guest posters.  Maybe 1 or 2.  We're not against it, we just haven't focused on that yet.
Dr. Wictz: If the answer above is yes, how do you invite guest onto your show?  Is there anything I could do (as a board game designer) that could get me invited to by a guest on your show?
Jonathan Wolfie: We don't have a "show" but I definitely would consider running guest-written posts.  That's something we're going to try to do more of starting in 2014 with the launch of our new site.  Right now we don't go after anyone, but if someone contacts us and says "hey I have an idea for a post," I'll say "great! write it and send it to me. If I like it and it fits our site, I'll run it!" I actually want to have more game designers write stuff, but like I said that's something we'll pursue starting next year.
Dr. Wictz: Name a board game designers you have always wanted to interview.  Explain why you would want to talk to them.
Jonathan Wolfie: The other guys probably have better answers to this.  I'm aware of what game designer created the game I'm playing, but I'm not necessarily obsessed with a single game designer.  I guess my first choice would be Christian T. Peterson, the guy who designed Twilight Imperium and who also happens to be the CEO of Fantasy Flight Games.  FFG is not a company you often hear from.  Many gamers love them, many hate them.  Their games are certainly brilliantly produced, but their rulebooks are often a mess and some of their games seem less refined than they could be.  I'd love to get in the mind of that guy and find out more about what they're doing over there.
Dr. Wictz: If someone wanted to learn more about your blog where should they go?
Jonathan Wolfie: I'd just say go to  You can explore our posts.  We have a page listing our reviews, a page listing our guides, and an about us page.  In a few months the site will be totally different and a lot better, but it will still be, so bookmark it and check back every day for new stuff!
Thank you Jonathan for taking the time to talk to me.  You can also follow Jonathan on twitter @Futurewolfie and iSlaytheDrangon on twitter @iSlaytheDragon

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