Marc writes ands podcast game reviews, strategy, and commentary with The Thoughtful Gamer. As the name implies, he tries to take deeper, more thoughtful looks at board games and the community around them. He also hosted a special episode of his podcast with psychotherapist Jason Perez on mental health and using gaming to help break out of a self-defeating depressive cycle.
Welcome, Marc. Tell everyone a little bit about yourself, and what you do
My name is Marc and I run The Thoughtful Gamer website and podcast, where I review and discuss board games and the culture around them in-depth. I'm slowly working my way into doing more video stuff too, but the majority of what I do is written and the weekly audio podcast.
Outside of board gaming I enjoy reading, golf (alongside other miscellaneous sporting activities), and I'm a bit of a movie snob.
Tell me a bit more about The Thoughful Gamer. How did it come about? How long have you been running the site?
I started it more or less exactly a year ago because I wasn't seeing a lot of board game reviews or discussion that interested me. Pretty much everyone was using the Dice Tower review format with its emphasis on doing an overview of the game and the rules, while I wanted to see something more like high-quality movie criticism, but applied to board games. So I decided to try to do just that. Soon after I decided to give podcasting a shot and found out that I loved it, so that's also continued.
What's your release schedule like?
I try to release something three times a week--a written article Mondays and Fridays, and a podcast every Wednesday. The "official" podcast is every other week and I fill in miscellaneous content on the off-weeks. Usually just me talking about what games I've been playing. Sometimes I'll have a short interview/game preview. And for a few weeks I had an RPG 'cast in that slot, though that's fizzled out.
Are you a one-man show, or do you have a team/contributors?
I'm pretty much a one man show for most things. So far all of the reviews and most of the posts have been me. But the podcast is almost always me with a couple of good friends friends who I game with. Orion and Matt are the most frequent people on the podcast.
Here's a question I'm sure many other content creators have. Where do you find the time? 😉
I'm fortunate to be able to do this full time for the time being while I work on generating a fan-base on Patreon. Given that, I'm often hard on myself that I don't do more! But I'm working on it.
Let's talk about your gaming history. What got you into gaming? What are the games of your childhood?
Well, I've been PC gaming since I was a small child. I loved the Dark Forces/Jedi Knight Star Wars games a lot growing up, before I discovered great RPGs like Morrowind and KOTOR. As a kid we played some board games. I remember liking Scattergories and Balderdash quite a bit, and when we visited my grandparents we'd play a lot of different domino games. In high school I was introduced to Magic: The Gathering and while I enjoyed it, it didn't stick. I didn't discover modern eurogames until late in high school when I first played Catan. I liked it and understood that it followed a different kind of design philosophy but it didn't hook me hard. That didn't come until I played Dominion, where I was blown away by the variety of strategies available there. After college and getting married I started researching and reading about the world of board games more and more, and now I'm in deep!
What are some of your current favorites?
For a while I've said that Twilight Struggle is my favorite game, and it probably still is. 2017 releases Gloomhaven and Spirit Island are both spectacular. Netrunner is my card game of choice. Twilight Imperium is always epic. Space Alert and Dominant Species also hold a special place in my heart.
A fellow Twilight Struggle fan! I knew I felt a good vibe coming from you.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a content creator?
Personally I struggle with depression which results in a lot of wasted hours trying to motivate myself and trying to not get stuck in a rut trying to write something that I am not able to write at that moment. I have to learn and re-learn constantly that when I get in those situations I need to shift gears and immediately focus on doing something else instead of getting caught in self-reinforcing despair.
More broadly, I'm hopelessly bad at marketing myself. I'd rather be in a world where people who would like what I do find me naturally, but that's not how it works in such a seemingly crowded field. I'm not particularly good at social media and I hate the idea of putting on some kind of fake persona to get views.
Damn, you just hit a lot of notes I struggle with myself. I'm actually finding a lot of content creators are in a similar boat.
I think it's something more people struggle with than we think, but it feels very shameful to admit that you don't produce as much content as you ought to because of personal faults. It's hard for me to say that, but I think it's probably healthy for myself and others. Maybe.
"faults" is probably the wrong word there
I get your meaning, and I totally agree.
So what makes you the happiest about what you do? What genuinely brings a smile to your face?
Playing great games, of course. Laughing and getting constantly off-track when recording podcasts. Interacting with my awesome patrons on discord every day. Doing the dreaded editing re-read after struggling through a review and thinking "huh, this one's actually pretty good. I think I got it". Getting random bits of inspiration for articles or game design ideas. Receiving good comments out of the blue from people on social media who have just discovered the site/podcast.
All great things! What are you currently working on now? What can we look forward to next from The Thoughtful Gamer?
(besides being part of the AWESOME Nor'easter series)
Haha! Well, two big goals for 2018 were to do more video stuff and to get a game design prototype going. I've got some videos in the editing room and some planned, including a Twilight Imperium game that I'm going to edit Ken Burns-style (with lots of talking-head interviews from the participants), an April 1st surprise video with my wife Amber, and a Netrunner how to play/game demonstration. Lots more in the idea bin, but I have to make sure I don't over-promise things.
In terms of game design, I've got a handful of ideas in the bin, and one that I think I'll start to work on first, but I'm trying to get a writing backlog again to give myself some padding. Maybe. We'll see.
So what's this design you're thinking of starting? Care to share any details?
It's a 2 player fighting card game in which time is a resource to be manipulated. So the idea is that there would be a lot of focus on attacks putting someone at a disadvantage, making the next attack more effective--snowball effects, but players can go back in time and change prior attacks to shift that dramatically. Inspired by Level99's Exceed system and a wonderful scene in the movie Hero where the combatants play out the entire fight in their minds before doing any actual attack. I love that idea of participants so skilled that once certain conditions are set, the fight plays out like an inevitability, so their focus is to manipulate those starting conditions. Not sure if it'll work as a game, but I want to explore it and at the very least create a bad prototype.
I LOVE HERO. You caught my interest right there. Once you've got something ready we'll have to play sometime!
My wife introduced me to it. It's her absolute favorite movie. So beautiful. Once I have something ready and if it's not horrific I'll let you know!
Excellent. Well, thanks for taking the time to chat. Is there anything else you like to add before we wrap things up?
Hmmm. Don't think so.
About the Nor'easter Series
Nor'easters is a series of articles spotlighting a different tabletop game designer, publisher, or content creator from the Northeastern United States each week. The series was inspired by all the amazing people in the industry I've met over the years in my home region of the US.
Make sure to come back every week and see who is spotlighted next! To see a complete listing of the series' articles, click here.
Media personality Rob Kalajian has been a staple in the board game world for many years. As a former writer for Purple Pawn and the owner of A Pawn’s Perspective, Rob focuses on board game reviews, events, and news. A self-proclaimed geek, Rob loves all things toys and games and even helps raise his four kids in his spare time.