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Going Cardboard

Going Cardboard is a documentary about board games, and as such, I needed to see it.  This is a great idea, and the fact that Lorien Greene was willing to track down industry luminaries, drag a camera to mostly camera non-friendly events, perform interviews, and edit the resulting footage into a feature-length documentary as a personal project is a great service to the hobby.  Going Cardboard won't be remembered as a watershed moment in boardgaming, but it is not for lack of effort or passion on the part of the creator.  I am extremely happy that such a documentary exists.

But...

This is a small release film by a single person, with all the usual things that means.  It's difficult to find a copy, the film/audio quality is sometimes inferior, and the creator is often a bit too close to the trees to see the forest.

The goal is to present an overview of modern hobby boardgaming, though I never found the thesis clearly stated.  The movie is part love letter to a small hobby, and part proselytizing.  This is somewhat problematic, as the movie seems to be trying to find a place with both the hardcore gaming crowd and the uninitiated.  In trying to serve both audiences, it mostly misses on both counts.

As a hardcore gamer, I found that a lot of the interviews seemed to push the conventional wisdom of the greater boardgaming hivemind.  If Alan Moon or Derk or Jay Tummelson says it, it lends it a bit more gravitas, but it doesn't change the fact that it's well-understood in hobby circles.

It is instructive to compare King of Kong, the granddaddy of small-hobby documentaries.  KoK is clearly made by outsiders looking in, allowing them to knowingly elbow the audience, and say "Can you believe these guys?" Going Cardboard mostly lacks that context.  Many times the movie sounds like an echo chamber for hobby gamers to pat themselves on the back.

And entire parts of the hobby are glossed over or omitted entirely.  There's very little discussion of wargames or Ameritrash, and only the briefest, uninstructive discussion of BoardGameGeek.  In some ways, this feels like boardgaming circa 2002 -- Euros dominate everything, the web is a mere shadow in the boardgaming world, and the Spiel des Jahres reigns supreme as the unquestioned jewel in the crown for boardgaming.

So that means that, presumably, this documentary is supposed to be for the uninitiated boardgamer, the friend or relative who doesn't understand modern boardgaming.  The problem is, I wouldn't give this documentary to a friend who wants to understand hobby games -- I'd just play a game with them, or failing that, just give them a copy of Settlers of Catan.  Boardgaming, for all its faults, doesn't suffer from a way to bring people into the hobby.  There's very little prior knowledge required to play on of our games, just a willingness to learn rules.

All that said, I am very glad I bought this, because the special features do everything that the feature film fails to do.  Alan Moon discusses his time at Avalon Hill for some much needed context for the hobby.  Corey Konieczka discusses the licensing and development process at Fantasy Flight.  Derk fleshes out the history of BoardGameGeek (though I still would like a bit more discussion of its impact on the boardgaming hobby).  Best of all, perhaps, Christoph Boelinger shows off the film footage that went into the Dungeon Twister promotional video.  The special features run at least as long as the movie, and nearly every one is a fascinating story.  They don't have the narrative flow of the feature, but they work well in assembling a whole out of pieces.  This is where the hobby is truly brought to life.

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