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Going Cardboard

A documentary film about designer board games and the people who play them

By

Lorien Green

Lorien Green

Photo by Nataline Viray-Fung

In 2006, Lorien Green noticed that the number of game boxes in her basement was growing quickly. Her husband Adam had discovered designer board games, and his collection was expanding. Soon, she was hooked on games like the bean-farming card game Bohnanza, the energy-production board game Power Grid, the archaeological card game Lost Cities, and the brilliant dice game Liar's Dice.

(The depth of her addiction can easily be seen in her description of a victory in her first game game of the conquest board game Small World: "My Pillaging Tritons / Peace-Loving Ratmen combo totally won the day for me there.")

And while her background -- a degree in marine biology, work in community relations and online marketing -- doesn't scream "filmmaker," Green is now putting the finishing touches on Going Cardboard, a documentary (she lovingly calls it a "geekumentary") about the designer game industry and the people who play the games.

"Geekumentaries like Monster Camp [about a live-action role-playing game group], Spellbound [about the 1999 National Spelling Bee], and Word Wars [about competitive Scrabble] got me thinking about what geeky niche hobbies I'd want to hear more about," Green said. "One of the top ones on my list was designer board gaming."

The film that inspired her most was Tilt: The Battle to Save Pinball. "I loved it," she said. "When I found out that director hadn't gone to formal film school, and yet made such a great documentary, that's when the little voice in the back of my head started suggesting that maybe I could do it too."

Early on, Green was helped by her brother, who had gone to film school. She also read books, attended workshops and "devoured podcasts" about the process of creating a documentary. "I'm learning as I go, big-time," she said.

Since starting work on Going Cardboard, Green has interviewed dozens of people: game designers like Alan R. Moon, Reiner Knizia and Klaus Teuber; publishers like Jay Tummelson of Rio Grande Games and Mark Kauffman of Days of Wonder; and notable personalities like Derk Solko, cofounder of BoardGameGeek.com, and James and Sheila Davis, who own more than 10,000 games.

Green said that although she has loved working on the film, which she expects to release later this year, she is eager to complete it. "Once the film is done, I'm looking forward to starting to play a lot more again, and finally becoming the cylon I always knew I could be," she said. "I love the idea of going to a board gaming con and playing board games. I think I should try that sometime."

Green answered a few more questions about Going Cardboard.

Why did you decide to create a documentary about board games?

Literally because I wanted somebody to do it, and I couldn't find any information about one in production.

I'd been following geekumentaries for about a year before that. There were multiple films about Scrabble, at least three about live-action role-playing, and none about designer board gaming. Which seemed weird to me, since it was catching on like wildfire and seemed to be the "next thing" that many of the Magic: the Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons people had evolved towards.

I also have a habit of looking at crazy goals and saying, "Hey that looks fun, why not?"

What about the board game scene do you think will translate well to a film?

When I first started thinking about this project, the things I felt qualified board gaming for its own documentary were two-fold (at least).

The quality and variety of the games makes them very photogenic, and because they are so different from what most Americans are used to with board games, that was going to be an eye-opener and make for compelling viewing.

Second was the players and the culture. At that time I hadn't been to any big board gaming cons, and I didn't grasp the full significance of Essen, but I knew that groups of adults would gather on a weekend and play board games 'til 3 a.m. or later. The first time my husband came back from one of those, I was baffled at the concept of people wanting to play board games all night. I knew that there must be something pretty interesting to cover there.

Once I got into the medium, started meeting these micro-self-publishers and independent designers, found out about Essen, and some of these movements to get board gaming into libraries and schools, all that really added a layer of interest and reaffirmed my feelings that it was a genre deserving its own documentary.

Then articles started coming out about Settlers of Catan being the "new golf" in Silicon Valley, and these games started to be noticed by a more mainstream audience, so the timing was working out nicely. It's just so much more on the radar now than it was in November 2008, when I started toying with the idea.

Who are some of the most interesting people you've interviewed?

It's actually hard to pick. Scott Nicholson was a blast to interview! He's involved in board gaming on so many different levels (as a gamer, an educator, a podcaster, and now a designer himself), so he had an amazing amount of entertaining and interesting things to talk about.

As part of my interview with Greg Lam (who self-publishes his games, and has been featured three times in the Games magazine Top 100), we took a field trip to get some components for one of his games.

Oh, and Nick Kellet, the designer of GiftTRAP, really got me energized talking about the indie gaming movement, and using social networks to get the word out. What makes all these interviews fun to do is that they're all just bursting with passion about their hobby, and it shines through every time.

What plans do you have for distribution?

In a perfect world, Going Cardboard will show at film festivals and be picked up from there by a distributor. You don't count on that at all, though I feel that it's a great candidate and somebody should want to grab the distribution rights.

These days there are so many options, though, I'm prepared to do that myself if need be. The focus at the moment is getting through the editing and getting this done as quickly as possible.

Bottom line, it'll get out there, one way or another. That's just how I roll.

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