Watching People Play

An Introduction to Board Game Videography

by Doug Mann

2 March 2016

 

Shut Up & Sit Down and more...

 

Shut Up & Sit Down

Last but not least is the top-notch game journalism offered by the British website Shut Up & Sit Down, run by Quintin “Quinns” Smith and Paul “Paul” Dean with assists from time-warped eighties hipster Matt Lees, Irish immigrant Brendan Caldwell, and a few of their other friends and lovers. The SU&SD crew have been mashing up board game reviews with the dry surreal British sketch comedy of Monty Python, Big Train and The Mighty Boosh since 2011, shooting their videos in the kitchens, dining, and laundry rooms of their squalid flats and in the historic streets of old London.

They also do blog-style reviews and podcasts, both with a free-flowing sense of humour. Though British, they tend to be somewhat sceptical of Eurogames, usually reserving their enthusiasm for the most solid Ameritrash.

The video reviews by the frenetic Quinns involve such hijinks as dressing as an explorer in Escape: The Curse of the Temple, roaming about a park looking for lost gems as one might in Splendor, or wandering through crowds on the Tube (with Paul at his side) explaining the pros and cons of Fantasy Flight’s re-theming of Dune in Rex. Paul’s reviews are somewhat dryer, but also use some theme-connected sketch comedy and are more thoughtful in tone than Quinns’ mad rushing-abouts.

Quinns Raves over the Pyramid Power Emanating from Kemet

Quinns raves over the pyramid power emanating from Kemet

SU&SD’s reviews are funnier than most big-budget American sitcoms (yes, I’m thinking of you, Charlie Sheen). Their cinematography is low-budget cinema verité, though they get the most out of their micro-budget, using quick cuts and odd camera angles to add some Adam-West-era-Batman-style entertainment value to the comic core of their reviews. SU&SD do not take a lot of time explaining rules, so marks off here, but they are willing to trash sacred cows like Arkham Horror if they see fit (I won’t be throwing out my copy quite yet).

My only substantial critique of the site is the occasional skewering of a popular game not because of its mechanics or playability, but for its use of politically incorrect imagery, such as Quinns’ recent thumbs-down review for the critically lauded Blood Rage. Ars gratia artis, I say: there’s far too many asexual, non-racially-specific theme-light abstracts and Eurogames out there to quibble seriously about such imagery.

So, for a completely different approach from old Blightly: two dice for rules explanations, four for the critical theory of gaming, and five big chuckles for their wacky sense of humor. Here are Quinns’ review of Kemet, Paul’s of Ashes, and Matt’s opening combo of Coup and a recipe for sweet potato fries (both equally tasty):

 

For its combination of critical theory and board gaming sitcomedy, here’s Paul’s overview of Specter Ops, which ends with him getting drunk and agonizing over a lost love of games with hidden movement mechanics, like the then-out-of-print Fury of Dracula:

 

Consolation Prizes

I’d like to mention a couple of runners-up, both of whom post on YouTube: the Rahdo Runs Through It series of reviews/game plays by Richard Ham and the Drive Thru series of reviews hosted by Joel Eddy.

I prefer the Drive Thru series as a more reliable match for my own taste for rambunctious games married to strong themes. For example, he gushes over Ashes and Blood Rage. However, both Ham and Eddy are both quite thorough in dissecting the games that they review. Ham has the annoying habit of constantly referring to aspects of games that his wife “Jen” either likes or dislikes without her actually being present (at least in the episodes that I’ve watched), and he rejects the brilliant design of Kemet, so points off from me for his otherwise strong series of reviews. Both Rahdo and Drive Thru do straight-up game reviews without any comic banter or sketch comedy.

Also worth mentioning is the series with the slickest production values on the Web, Table Top, which features Hollywood types playing full games with some rules explanations and the occasional direct-to-camera musings over strategy by the individual players. It’s hosted by former Star Fleet junior officer Wil Wheaton and co-produced by Wil and Felicia Day, who also appears in a few episodes.

These can be quite entertaining, though not as much as Shut Up & Sit Down, and aren’t useful for either rules explanations or game reviews. For those who fondly remember The Next Generation, you get to hear Ensign Crusher whining yet again, this time about losing yet another board game. Also annoying is the fact that there is usually one celebrity who has no idea how to play the game (examples include the otherwise admirable Alan Tudyk and Karen Gillan)—if they can learn lines, they can learn a few game rules! I especially recommend their playthroughs of Cards Against Humanity (not for the kiddies!) and Sheriff of Nottingham.

 

The Judgment

The Duke and The Scorpion visit Westeros

The Duke and The Scorpion visit Westeros

In summary, if you want a short overview before buying a game or a rules refresher, visit the Starlit Citadel. If you want to learn how to play a new game, go to Rodney Smith. If you want an amusing and mildly critical overview of a specific game or game genre, the Dice Tower is your wisest destination.

But if you want a little of everything and some belly laughs, then your top pick is Shut Up & Sit Down, which is in my view home to the best board game videographers on the World Wide Web.

Freeze frame on Kemet’s scorpion staring down the Duke from Coup, then fade to black to the sound of slowly intensifying kettle drumming. FIN.

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