Due to unfortunate exigencies of geography, I do a lot of commuting by car. Therefore, I listen to a lot of podcasts. I like to be entertained (and possibly learn something new) from a podcast, so a lot of the podcasts I listen to are on hobby themes– movies, history, mathematics, comedy and gaming. Over the years, I’ve seen what works and what is a struggle to listen to, and have formulated an opinion or two (yes, I know, you’re shocked). Here are the factors that I think play into a successful HOBBY GAMING podcast.
- I like a podcast that doesn’t take the subject too seriously. It’s about games, and games entertain people. The podcast should entertain people, too.
- I prefer, but don’t insist upon, podcasts with more than one people talking. I like podcast teams of two or more, even if there is a defined alpha male… the lead can always lob things at a co-host or team member when he is running out of steam, or play off of what the co-host or team member has for news. Podcasts with just one person behind the mic usually sound less extemporaneous and more wooden.
- I like podcasts where the podcasters are not homogenous. One commentator may like a certain thing, the other commentator may like another. And conflict ensues. Not shouting and name calling, but at least two points of view. If everyone likes the same things and sounds the same on top of that, the end result is a very dull podcast.
- I like teams that can be funny with their material. Not telling jokes all the time, but at least riffing off of each other in an amusing fashion that is easy to follow and keeps the listener engaged.
- I like podcasts that are not a flash in the pan. It takes a while to get a unique Voice and a unique program. I’m willing to invest the time to listen if a podcast producer is willing to invest the time to create the content.
- I like Structure, and Recurring Items. These are related. If you are listening to a podcast, and hear “Oh yeah, this is an odd episode, therefore we will hear ——-“ than the creators have really succeeded in drawing you in to their world a little.
- I prefer podcasts that Support Their Show with links, show notes and some descriptive information about what the show is about on a podcast website.
- MOST IMPORTANTLY, the commentators have to have Something Intelligent to Say. That means the commentary has to rise above the level of “all tactical games but Advanced Squad Leader suck” or “Memoir 44 isn’t a wargame, cuz I say so” style commentary. The podcaster has to convince me that he or she has put some thought and time into a review– really played the game, not glanced at it. The listeners can usually tell. We’re geeks, after all.
With these factors in mind, I’m going to put out my CURRENT survey of what I’m listening to these days, and the reasons why they are on my Itunes feed. I want to caution anyone reading this not to read TOO much into this post. Podcasts come and go. My tastes change as programs change. Last year’s must-listen becomes this year’s “oh yeah, another one of those is out”. I’m going to try to do one of these podcast surveys a year, that sounds about right for frequency. Keep in mind, this is just my own, dare I say it, educated opinion, and doesn’t represent anything other than that. I appreciate ANYbody who puts in the time and dedication necessary to make a podcast happen, and I will generally give them at least one listen if they catch my attention. So if you aren’t on the list, no worries– it’s still a big bucket of win for you to be podcasting at all, I appreciate what you do. Without further analysis or alibis, here are my current Top 5 +1:
- I’ve been Diced. Team: Tom Grant (alpha male), Scott Tooker, Paul Hartenstine, John Keener, Dave Peters. This podcast comes off as somewhat gentle and unassuming, but I’ve found the commentary to be outstanding and thoughtful, and the humor very dry and entertaining. The gaming group behind this podcast likes many of the same games I play or have grown up with, and Tom Grant’s reviews, in particular, are very well written. My only criticism is the crew of this podcast clearly don’t record in a studio and record from Skype feeds, so there is the occasional long pause as they sort of figure out who is supposed to speak next– this is a very minor quibble. I’ve been Diced is actually a podcast I rate as a “must listen” these days.
- Gameopolis. Team: Mark and Jeff. Jeff appears to be alpha male in that he seems to do most of the organizing and production, but the in-studio commentary is an equal effort. This would probably have the top honors if it were just a tad more prolific. Gameopolis started life reviewing and commenting on older games (again, from my generation) and still make that a recurring bit of every even-numbered episode in my favorite segment, “the Dusty Old Box”. High marks for humor, team interaction, subject matter and show support. The real draw of this podcast is the interaction between the two hosts, Mark and Jeff, who both have a humorous, detached manner that I find very engaging. I love their format, it’s just right– not so long that it is tedious, about the length of an average commute for me.
- The Gaming Gang. Team: Jeff McAleer and Elliott Miller. Jeff appears to be alpha male of this show. An outstanding show with a calm, dignified and bemused approach to the subject of hobby games, I particularly like this one for the show’s unwavering support of smaller format games and small publishers. To some extent this might be their relationship with their sponsors (one of which is Victory Point Games), but I don’t mind, I want to hear that stuff. I find the topicality to be excellent, but their support website over-commercialized and confusing to navigate.
- The D6 Generation. Team: Russ Wakelin, Craig Gallant and Raef Graenger. Russ appears to be the alpha male in terms of the production, but the podcast is a true partnership in the studio– this is the selling point. Two years ago, this would have been top of the heap. The show is still very funny (in places) and I owe it a debt of gratitude to introducing me to some hobby fixations– Uncharted Seas and Dystopian Wars come to mind. However, the content rarely wavers out of a certain niche of gaming and some of the bits and subscriber plugs are … to be kind… showing some age. Each podcast is in the neighborhood of FOUR HOURS LONG so it is great value for the investment (nothing). I still listen to D6 Generation faithfully but not end to end like I used to– I use a special podcast app to skip over the many commercials, shout outs and bits I can easily miss. Sadly, the chemistry that made the show for me was the interaction between the three very different commentators, and that has recently changed with the departure of Raef (Granger), who appears to be making his own new (commercial only) podcast.
- The Dice Tower. Team: Tom Vasel, Eric Summerer and several major regular contributors. Tom is unquestionably the alpha male of this podcast, and appears to be the major contributor though he does acknowledge assistance from several individuals. SIX years ago, this would have been top of the heap. FOUR years ago, I was hardly listening to it at all, now I listen to every episode. The Dice Tower has been around a long time and has become something of a mainstay in the hobby. I was an avid listener (and sometimes contributor) in the very early, Korea days of this show. With the departure of the first co-host, Joe, my interest dropped somewhat and I would only listen to an occasional episode of interest. Several changes in format have changed my mind about the modern Dice Tower. First and foremost is the addition of Eric Summerer, a professional voice actor, who has taken on the announcing chores and some of the production. The introduction of enhanced podcast format makes the media easy to view on an Itouch (with pictures!). I’m hot and cold about the addition of (SEVERAL) additional commentators and their regular bits to the “Dice Tower team”. Some of them are wonderful (I will point out the Moritz and Geoff segments in particular here) and some are.. well, a little stilted. Still, the amalgam of this effort is a new face to the Dice Tower that I really enjoy. Tom (and the many other people associated with the Dice Tower) support the subject wonderfully with a plethora of extra bits, contests, youtube reviews, lists, and opportunity for listener interactions. The Dice Tower is a great example of how a show can evolve over time in a positive way.
- +1: Meeples and Miniatures. Solo Presenter (and alpha male): Neil Shuck. This is another show with some legs that focuses on the miniatures end of hobby gaming. Miniatures based podcasts are mostly too specific (e.g., Warhammer, Flames of War or War Machine podcasts) for my tastes. Meeples and Miniatures is much more generalized in its approach and takes time to review figure ranges, as well as some boardgames (mostly of a military nature), magazines and other supporting material. I like Neil’s commentary and I like his reviews.. but most of all he does seem to be plugged in to the UK side of the hobby which I value a great deal on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Some Honorable Podfades
Over time, a podcast that you enjoy will stop producing, go on hiatus, take a “temporary break” and never return. This is called podfading in techno hipster slang. Over the years I have enjoyed many podcasts that have departed as the producer(s) got too busy with other endeavors and have never returned. It’s appropriate, in an Annual post, to pay homage to the podfades of yore.
- Roll 2D6. by “Adam and Nate”. I always liked this podcast, for reasons similar to why I like Gameopolis. The two leads worked in a partnership, had funny chemistry together, and I liked listening to them describe their projects, reviews and convention visits. Sadly podfaded around May of 2010, though they did publish a year-0ld Kublacon episode in May of 2011, retroactively.
- The Vintage Gamer. Solo Presenter: Jim Van Verth. This was a fantastic podcast on games from an older generation hosted by Jim, the creator of a Diplomacy Play by Email utility and the author of Mathematics for 3D Game Programming and Computer Graphics. Jim’s strength was in his very dry humor, the extensive research he put into his (sporadic) podcasts, and great support on his Vintage Gamer website. I loved the subject matter of most of his episodes. This show started in 2006 and sadly podfaded somewhere in 2010.
- All about Miniatures. Team: “John and Dan”. Another great podcast of yesteryear where the subject was entirely about miniature gaming– mostly science fiction, historical and some fantasy ranges were discussed and reviewed, as well as new rule sets. I really wished this podcast had stuck around for a while, it really filled that “generalist” niche nicely and we haven’t seen one like it since. All about Miniatures started in 2006 and podfaded somewhere in 2008.
- How to Subscribe to a Podcast (hubspot.com)