If you’re reading the DWP, chances are you’ve delved below the surface of board games and started to recognize the signatures of certain designers. They leave their mark on their games like an author does in a book, but how often do we examine the people behind the games that we love? Douglas Morse has a storyteller’s view of the hobby. His film, The Next Great American Game, explores the process of modern game development. It’s an examination of one man’s passion to create a game that might have been better suited for the 70s or 80s, and his interesting rocky journey through the industry.
Morse’s new project is a photographic exploration of board games and the people who create them.
Wizards of the Tabletop features photographs of some of the most popular games in the hobby today and portraits of the people behind their designs. Morse is interested in telling the story of the modern board game and what goes in to making them.
“I was taking video for my film The Next Great American Game while Steve Jackson played a dozen or so players grand master style in Ogre. I had recently moved to shooting video with a small mirrorless hybrid camera (The Panasonic GH2) and I was not going to take video straight for over two hours. I conducted interviews with Phil Reed, CEO of Steve Jackson Games and Daniel Jew, the lead developer. I also began to take some photos as this was a good little camera with a fairly large 4/3 chip that could take 16MP RAW images,” said Morse.
“When I finally cornered Steve, and began peppering him with questions, I asked him to pose for a few pictures. They started with him holding the gigantic Ogre Designer’s edition box, but then I asked him to do something a bit more creative: he would lie down crushed by the Ogre box. I dragged over a chair, stood on it and took a few dozen pictures. As a creative person, he totally got it and did fun things with his eyes and glasses. That led to a series of photos of designers taken as I was shooting interviews. The idea for a book of photos started percolating as I took more photos at Gen Con that year”
His approach is very interesting. There is a ton of board game media sources out there that vary in quality between really high production value to simple single camera set ups. The nice thing about media in the hobby in general is that , although a nice presentation is appreciated, the most important thing is what the person has to say. As people get to know reviewers, they can see what games they typically like and how their tastes align.
With all of the different blogs, video reviewers, and podcasts that exist, there are very few that are taking a truly documentarian approach to the hobby. This is where Morse shines. His work is intended to reflect the current state of the hobby. His current passion project has taken over three years.
“That first photo of Steve was taken at Origins in June of 2013. For three and a half years, I’ve been grabbing pictures of designers at cons all over. I even took a few more pictures at BGG.CON 2016.”
Documenting the people behind the games and the games themselves has always been his goal. Through the making of his documentary, Morse got to know a lot of the people in the industry and form connections with them.
“The import of the book has emerged. In making the film, and in interviewing the designers, I always felt it important to celebrate the people behind the box. I didn’t want to create a cult of personality, but to celebrate, and explore the creativity and intelligence behind game design. ”
When you spend so much time with game designers, many of whom Morse admits, are heroes of sorts to him, it can be a humbling experience. Taking someone’s photo is an intimate experience and they give up something to the photographer. Good portraits are made when there is a level of trust between the subject and and artist and that takes time and work to develop.
“If I have a goal with the photos it is either to capture the spirit of one of the designer’s games in the photo, or capture their particular personality. Sometimes these things overlap, sometimes they are very different,” said Morse.
“Going to a train museum with Alan R Moon was great fun. What I enjoyed most about it though was my ride to and from the museum with Alan. Just a time to hang out and chat. That’s rare. Working with Matt Leacock was fun, not just because he’s so laid back, but because the photo came out even better than I had hoped. The glaring light as he stands on Pandemic Legacy was great. I also really enjoyed bringing Toni and Ted Alspach into a totally dark tent and finding just the right tone to match One Night Ultimate Werewolf. Another fun shoot was going with Friedemann Friesse to a power station museum.”
Wizards of the Tabletop is an interesting look at both board games and people. Morse has done an excellent job capturing the essence of the designers he’s shot and his keen eye for detail and creative approach make for some wonderful board game pictures. As the industry continues to grow, we’ll see more and more coverage of the people and games that we love. This beautiful book is just another step in that evolution.
Morse is currently Kickstarting Wizards of the Tabletop. He’s met his funding goal, but for more information or to get behind the project, you can check out his campaign here.