Thursday, February 6, 2014

Faculty Lounge: Paco Garcia Jaen of G*M*S Magazine

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 admit that reaching out to G*M*S* founder Paco Garcia Jaen for an interview is bit of a reach for a board game designer blog less than a year old.  But, I figured as I wrote my tweet to G*M*S Magazine, what was the worse that could happen, he could say no.  To say I was ecstatic when Paco Garcia Jean replied Yes to my interview request is an understatement.  Saying I panicked I might lose the interview because I took so long to get back with him is also an understatement.

Paco Garcia Jaen: Don't worry about the delay. I have been really up against it this week anyway, so I wouldn't have been able to reply on time.

Dr. Wictz: Thank you for the reassurance, or maybe I should be thanking you for being busy. Either case let’s get on with the questions.  I know G*M*S Magazine has always been an online platform, but with magazine being part of the name, I have to ask if you ever been tempted to turn it into a print magazine?

Paco Garcia Jaen: Actually when I started G*M*S Magazine I wanted to make it a printed venture; the website was a quick start for what I hoped would become a "real" magazine, hence the name. Back in the day when I still live in Spain I became involved in gaming in the early 90's and some friends and I got together and started a small run magazine called "Enrolate" and we loved every second of it, so I thought I'd replicate the formula and have a good time.

These days things are not as easy, though. I couldn't find a team of people  who were able to commit the time needed to create something professional and managing all aspects of a printed magazine production on top of a very busy job was not an option. That difficulty, joined with how easy it became to create my website using Wordpress as a platform dissuaded me from continuing the printed avenue. I would still love to have a printed magazine because I am very passionate about design and love flipping pages, but as things stand, I really can't afford to make that desire a reality.

Dr. Wictz: You have mentioned in previous interviews that you were not happy with the state of writing by other on RPG, board games, etc. when you started G*M*S magazine.  Where were other folks doing wrong that you are doing right?

Paco Garcia Jaen: The thing that bugs me is how people make do with amateurish work and pay no attention to detail or make an effort to produce outstanding material. That applies to a lot of blogs and also publishers' websites. With the incredible amount of resources the Internet can produce today, I feel there's no excuse to create a badly designed product. A few hours of Internet browsing will give you all the ideas you need to turn a manuscript into a decent looking document.

We live in a visual world and companies spend a lot of money creating the right visuals for a reason: it works and they have to stand out because that's the way to get one up over the competition. Now, I don't expect people who write as a hobby to either become proficient in graphic design or spend a lot of money to make their blog look amazing; that would be too much to expect. However I do expect people to look at their website and do some sort of semi-objective assessment of its looks and feel. Also to look at other, good looking sites, and get ideas and inspiration from them. That doesn't happen anywhere near often enough.

The second thing that bugs me a lot about reviewers and reviews is when people give unsubstantiated opinions. I read very, very often "This game is very bad because it didn't do what I wanted it to do". Some reviewers write their reviews without any objective or constructive criticism and that is a blight, as far as I'm concerned. A blight that hurts the hobby a great deal. And it hurts companies too.

When we write a review and people read them, those reviews help make a decision of buying or not buying. If people decide not to buy because of a badly written and badly thought-out review, that review is doing both the reader and the companies a disservice.

Dr. Wictz: You have a large staff of writers.  How did you recruit them?

Paco Garcia Jaen: I must admit I have been blessed with a wonderful number of people who contribute wonderful material to my site and I can't be grateful enough to them. I am seriously lucky! Finding them, though, has had its ups and downs and it hasn't been easy either!

I firstly started to find reviewers by reading reviews. I would go to the Boardgamegeek, or similar sites, read reviews and, if I liked them, I'd contact the author and I asked permission to republish. Some said yes and some said no. I kept track of people who said yes and asked again when they produced another review. It hasn't always worked out and people come and go, though I can't say I've ever had a problem with any of my contributors, they're fantastic people.

One thing I've always made very clear is that my website doesn't make any money and I can't afford to pay. The little money that comes in every year through some advertising goes to pay for the hosting of both the website and the podcast. If there is any left, it's spent in equipment. This means I never make any demands from anyone. People produce what they want, when they want to. If that is one review a month, great. If it is a review every two months, great. If it is 10 reviews a week, like the incredible Endzeitgeist does sometimes, great! Sometimes I manage to get them some things, like PDF books, sometimes physical books or games - I must admit it doesn't happen as often as I'd like!

Dr. Wictz: With so many writers how do you manage all of the diverse topics you talk about?

Paco Garcia Jaen: As for how I manage, the truth is that I don't. I trust the contributors I deal with completely. They are extremely professional, honest and knowledgeable and I don't feel I have to be on top of them to make sure the content is up to scratch. I read what they produce and, from time to time, do very minor edits - typos, spell checking, that sort of thing - but overall they know what they're doing and I trust them to do it the best they can.

Dr. Wictz: What do you think is the future of board game media?

Paco Garcia Jaen: If with board game media you mean board games themselves, I think we're about to see a few very interesting stuff. Firstly we'll see a huge increase in offer and demand - thanks in no small part to Kickstarter and Crowd Funding. Creating miniatures is easier, printing is easier, reaching an audience is easier, self-publishing is easier... I'm not saying it's easy, just that it is easier than it was 15 or 20 years ago.

We will see a lot of attempts to incorporate tablets into gaming. Some will be more or less successful, but I doubt there'll be a revolution in that area until we get really big tables that can act as boards. I know there are a few, but they're expensive and not many applications for them, so that won't happen for a while.

If with media you mean TV, websites, magazines... We'll also see a lot of new stuff, but with different formulas. Tabletop has set a really good frame and formula for what a TV series could work and look like. They understand there is not enough money within the industry itself to pay in advance for the advertising and they have found a different way to make money that benefits them, the games and the viewers.  Eventually a TV station will take on the idea and they'll run with it.

We will also continue to see the popularity of podcasts and blogs grow. There will be a lot of them coming and going. The good ones will stay and the bad ones will go. Some good ones will go because of difficulties or simply the people behind them get tired, and some bad ones will remain because the people behind them will be determined and passionate. Kind of like any media today, really! :)

Dr. Wictz: I heard you first got into RPG games, any particular favorite?

Paco Garcia Jaen: Well, Dragonlance will always have a very special place in my heart because that game helped me out through some very, very difficult times. Dark Sun was a bit of a revelation for me at the time because it had an incredible art direction and the setting was just wonderful.

Dr. Wictz: What drew you into hobby board games?  What is your favorite hobby game?

Paco Garcia Jaen: The thing that got me hooked to boardgames was the realisation a few years ago that they're actually pretty good! We only had Monopoly and that sort of games when I was growing up and, as you can imagine, they're not the best game to grow up with, I ended up disliking sitting around a table with my family. Then RPGs took over and I didn't feel the need to look for anything else. Also I lived in a very small-minded town in the south of Spain and we didn't have any games shops outside toy shops... not great.

Then I discovered the likes of Carcassonne and Battlestar Galactica and that was it for me! As for a favorite, I'd probably keep either Alien Frontiers or Fleet. Having said that, if I ever had to choose just one favorite game, I would probably have a nervous breakdown! :)

Dr. Wictz: What single article or video do you recommend to a new G*M*S Magazine reader?

Paco Garcia Jaen: That's a very tough one! "Going Cardboard" ( by the wonderful Lorien Green is a terrific documentaries about Boardgames. Really worth watching. For RPGs there's a documentary currently on production after a successful funding on Kickstarter that will be worth watching. Until then, choosing just one article or video is much too difficult! :)

Dr. Wictz: Who is your favorite interviewee?

Paco Garcia Jaen: Now you put me under the spotlight! LOL I would have to say Margaret Weiss. She was wonderfully gracious and generous with her time and her honesty. A truly charismatic woman who produced some work that helped save my life - quite literally - so I'll always have a special place for her.

Dr. Wictz: Which board game designer have you always wanted to interview?

Paco Garcia Jaen: That is another difficult question to answer. I'd love to interview Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, but, for obvious reasons, I can't. Reiner Knizia is a good one and I'll have the chance to host a panel with him at the UK Games Expo, so that'll come. And the reason why I am looking forward to it is because I am curious about his thought pattern and ability to keep creating without getting bored or producing the same time and time again. I think he's quite a remarkable man!

Dr. Wictz: I really enjoy your Unboxxing the Game videos.  What inspired the segment?  What are the best and worst games you have unboxxed?

Paco Garcia Jaen: Why thank you sir! One thing about boardgames is that it's very difficult to actually see what you're buying. More often than not it's almost impossible to see what's inside the box other than in photos, so disappointments do happen because, like it or not, we prefer to have good quality things.

However what inspired it was a good experience! Pelgrane Press is one of my darling RPG companies and they produced a limited edition of Bookhounds of London, for their Trail of Cthulhu Game. I paid for it before I even asked what was going to be in it. When I received it, the whole thing was so absolutely fantastic that I just had to show the world, so took my hand camera and asked a colleague to record me opening the bag and showing what was inside. I got very good feedback from that video and decided to do it again with Therion 011 and Cave Evil. Then my partner got involved because he likes to do video editing and, a few thousand pounds in equipment and two and a bit years later we're still making them!

Dr. Wictz: If I wanted you to review my game what should I do?

Paco Garcia Jaen:  If anyone wants me to review a game, they just have to say hello and we'll get talking. We do have some requirements for reviewing games, though. For example I don't review PDFs - or do it very rarely - or print and play board games. This is not because I have anything against them - at all - but because when I review games I do taking into account the production value as well as the game value.

In terms of RPGs, I get a ton of PDFs pretty much every day and I just can't deal with them all. I am a bit dyslexic and a slow reader at best, so dealing with a lot of PDFs is an impossibility. So I prioritise the companies that send or give me physical products because they've invested money in giving me something to review.

Dr. Wictz: What is the best way to reach you?

Paco Garcia Jaen: The best way is probably Twitter. I try to be very active and communicate with anyone who says hello. Facebook and Google+ are also good places I keep up with as often as I can.

Dr. Wictz:  Thank you again to Paco Garcia Jaen for letting me interview him.  You can follow G*M*S magazine on twitter @gmsmagazine, facebook, and google+.  G*M*S Magazine can be found at

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