It is a new age. And in this time of chaos we must adjust and adapt. When the pandemic hit, I really wondered if my days of having dinner with designers were put on indefinite hold, and I seriously considered just calling it quits. However, I was scheduled to meet with Geoff Engelstein during RageCon [understandably cancelled], and he was nice enough to take this venture into the frightening realm of social media. So, I am lucky enough to be eating a 3000-mile socially-distanced dinner with one of the smartest designers in the board game industry. Author of several prominent board game design books, designer of Space Cadets: Dice Duel, The Ares Project, The Expanse, and many others, Geoff is my indentured guinea pig on my first dinner interview over Zoom.
DTD: Hey! Can you hear me alright?
GEOFF: I can. how are you?
DTD: I’m doing well. I hear you fine. Thank you so much for being the guinea pig in this chaos of an adventure.
GEOFF: Oh yeah. We are…there’s a lot happening, a lot happening over here. [laughs]
I should say, in a fit of excitement, I may have mailed dinner to Geoff. Frozen. So we each had to cook our respective cajun meals before the interview. And yet, he still agreed to do this.
DTD: That’s awesome. I just got my stuff all together.
GEOFF: Okay, so is the gumbo…is that like, supposed, that’s supposed to be like a bowl? That’s like a soup kind of thing? Or is it supposed to be…?
Dinner tonight is cajun fare: Gumbo, Red Beans, Shrimp Au Gratin, and a King Cake.
DTD: Yeah. Gumbo is soup. And you can put it over rice or put it wherever…it’s a soup.
Characteristics that make gumbo are: strongly seasoned stock thickened with a dark roux plus either okra or filé powder [dried sassafrass leaves], and meat, often andouille sausage. Plus, it is the official state cuisine of Louisiana.
GEOFF: Okay. Got it.
DTD: Definitely. And the red beans are, you know, soupy, stewy beans.
GEOFF: Should I have made rice? I didn’t make rice.
DTD: I made a little rice; I’ll just shove some through the camera for you. That should work out.
GEOFF: Nah, that’s no problem, we will work around it. [laughs]
DTD: Not a worry at all. The gumbo is nice without it.
GEOFF: No, my wife is here. She was saying she would start some rice up.
DTD: Not a biggie.
GEOFF: My son is here also. He’s making a…he’s making us drinks. We’re making hurricanes.
DTD: Oh, awesome.
GEOFF: Modified hurricanes.
BRIAN: The world’s most bastardized hurricanes.
GEOFF: Because we decided 5 minutes before that we were definitely going to need a drink to get through this, and that seemed the most appropriate. And we had like, you know, three out of five ingredients, we are working from there.
DTD: Sounds perfect.
GEOFF: So, you are in California? So, what’s going on with the fires? Are you doing okay?
DTD: I’m doing OK. There’s actually fires close enough to my house to be stressful, but not enough to be dangerous.
GEOFF: Yeah, so okay. [to wife] We can make a little rice. We have 15 minutes.
DTD: It’s more a state of kind of paranoia. Because last year, the fires got very close to my house. So now we are…
GEOFF: Yeah. Oh really. Now what city are you in actually?
DTD: Well, I’ve got a place near Sacramento and I’ve got a place in Napa Valley. Right now, I’m sitting in Woodland, kind of near Sacramento. And there’s…the fire is not going to reach here, but the Napa Valley one, if there’s a big strong wind or another spark or something, it could happen. So, we watch the news, and we don’t know what else to really do.
For those of you following the California Wildfire news, this interview took place after the LNU Lightning complex fire, but before the Glass fire hit. The image is from October 5, 2020, when hopefully things are calming down.
GEOFF: Okay. Well. ‘Cause last year I mean, I had friends in the L.A. area that actually had to evacuate. And they ended up not losing their house, but it’s still super scary.
DTD: It is. It’s a waiting game. You just kind of sit around and see. It’s an adventure. Every summer now, it seems.
GEOFF: This whole year has been an adventure.
DTD: The year has been insane.
GEOFF: [yuck noise] It’s like cough syrup.
The drinks, I assume. Not the California wildfires. Or else I don’t get the metaphor.
BRIAN: It is basically cough syrup.
GEOFF: There is a very elaborate drink preparation going on over here.
BRIAN: I don’t do anything by task. Hi, how are you?
GEOFF: So, I think Brian can join us for the conversation if that’s OK with you.
DTD: That’s fine.
GEOFF: You know, he’s co-designed a lot of stuff with me, as you know.
DTD: Usually—I don’t know if you’ve looked at the web page at all, but I kind of just transcribe things verbatim. For better or for worse.
GEOFF: Yeah, I did see that. I looked at some of them. So, feel free to edit stuff out.
DTD: I’m not planning on using any of the video. I’m not good enough for that, and I’m not posting anything on YouTube. I’m going to try to make this the same as I’ve done in the past. Its like you and I went out to dinner, and we are just chatting. About how wonderful it is outside, with fires and pandemics, and probably plagues of locusts now.
GEOFF: Okay. So, we are still just getting a little organized here.
DTD: Yeah, not a problem at all. This is a tester. I’ve got all the time in the world.
GEOFF: Let me just take the shrimp out of the oven.
BRIAN: I thought we were talking about board games.
DTD: No, we’re not going to talk about board games at all. I thought we would talk about other stuff. Now I wish I had made a mixed drink.
BRIAN: There’s still time.
DTD: There’s still time.
BRIAN: They just can’t keep me away from their bar.
DTD: I just got myself some wine. I figured I had to represent Napa Valley.
GEOFF: Oh nice. What are you drinking?
DTD: I’ve got a little winery that I am absolutely in love with called Madrigal in Calistoga. And I’ve got a Petit Syrah. A 2014.
GEOFF: Very nice.
DTD: I would say I was saving it for a special occasion, but honestly, I forgot I had it until I went searching for wine today.
BRIAN: That’s a special occasion.
DTD: It is a special occasion.
GEOFF: So, I was…I’ve only really been to Napa once. Susan and I went, and we went when she was pregnant. So, I made her drive from winery to winery. Where I would sample, sample different things, and then we’d go on to the next one. So, she feels like she really didn’t get the true Napa experience. And she was complaining the whole time, like “why did we plan a trip to Napa when I was pregnant?”
Susan was, in fact, both confirming and complaining about this fact in the background.
BRIAN: Since I’m reasonably certain she was pregnant with me.
GEOFF: She was. We had no kids.
DTD: If you are looking for a trip to Napa, I’ve got a little villa there. You’re welcome to stay at. If there’s not any pandemics going on.
GEOFF and SUSAN: Oh wow.
GEOFF: We might take you up on that.
SUSAN: Yeah, don’t say that twice.
DTD: No, it’s a funny story. A lot of things lined up exactly the right way. I retired from being a veterinarian, and then I was sitting in the office with my wife. And she said, “Wow, everything lined up great.” I jokingly said, “Yeah, we should buy a mansion.” And I hear ticky-ticky-ticky-ticky [typing noise and gestures]…
GEOFF: Oh, OK!
DTD: And she said, “How about this one?” And so, we started giggling like lunatics, and we went and visited this really large house in Napa, feeling like we are 18 years old, giggling under our breath, going “[very low, serious voice] Yes, we are serious buyers, and want to look at your large house.”
DTD: No intention of buying. And they kept talking down, and talking down and talking down, so now I have a large house in Napa. And I really don’t know if it was a good idea or not.
New floor, new doors, new A/C, new kitchen…I’m leaning towards ‘not’.
GEOFF: Wow, so cool! And you got a house and a story, which is even better.
DTD: Oh, it’s a great story.
BRIAN: I have absolutely no idea what this is going to taste like.
DTD: I bought it from the owner of Shelby Cobra.
GEOFF: Oh wow. Okay. Well we saw, we saw that movie. What was it? Ford vs. Ferrari. So, I guess that’s all that Shelby stuff, right?
DTD: That’s true.
GEOFF: Well cheers! I can try this concoction that my son has given to me. We will see how bad, we’ll see what’s going on…
DTD: Cheers to you! That looks impressive.
GEOFF: Smells good. Smells very tropical.
BRIAN: I did give him the warning—I have absolutely no idea what this is going to taste like.
GEOFF: It’s actually really good. It’s rum…
DTD: Good. Make him like 6 more, and then Ill get some really good stories. I’ll learn secrets that I’m not supposed to know.
GEOFF: Oh yes, could be like Drunk…we’re just watching Drunk History, so it’ll be that. So, there you go.
DTD: ‘Drunk Gaming History’ with Geoff Engelstein.
GEOFF: Drunk Gaming History.
BRIAN: Oh, that is good.
GEOFF: So that can be my new YouTube podcast. I can get drunk and talk about games.
BRIAN: But that’s just every time.
DTD: I’m in. Yeah, not a problem. I think there’s an opening for that. I’m sure Dice Tower would go for it.
GEOFF: Okay. So why don’t we get this show on the road here? We’re going to start with our Shrimp Au Gratin, I guess. While everything else is kind of…while the rice is being cooked.
DTD: Sounds great.
GEOFF: Start with that. Then we can start talking. Or continue talking, I suppose.
DTD: OK. I think I’ve been talking. Sometimes I forget. Ive got a lovely little brown patch on the side of mine where the cheese got a little toasty.
GEOFF: Yeah, it came out looking good. I’ve been taking some pictures.
DTD: Good! Oh, that’s awesome. If you could send those to me, that would be awesome.
GEOFF: I will definitely do that.
DTD: Fantastic. I haven’t had this before. I’ve bought from these people lots of times. Because I have a little gaming convention I do in the Napa house a couple of times a year. And I will usually get something really big from these guys. Often a Cajun Turducken that feeds about 30.
GEOFF: Oh wow, OK. Oh jeez.
BRIAN: What is in a…what are the three things in a Cajun turducken?
DTD: The tur. The duck.
A standard turducken is a chicken stuffed in a duck, all of which is stuffed in a turkey. I totally misunderstood Brian, who was legitimately asking what three cajun creatures can be russian-doll’ed together. I was not trying to be snarky.
BRIAN: Is it like…what’s stuffed inside the gator?
To be fair, Hebert’s does offer odd selections of critters, including alligator, rabbit, crawfish, etc.
DTD: I think the only thing that makes it a Cajun turducken is it has a pork Cajun cornbread stuffing in between the layers. And on a good day it looks gorgeous, and on a bad day it turns to soup.
BRIAN: I heard a while back; I heard a while back that Popeye’s has started selling a Thanksgiving turkey.
DTD: Really? I gotta look into that.
It’s true. They come seasoned and frozen, 13-16 pounds, and cost $40. The only way to order one is to call.
BRIAN: Yes. Which at some point, I suppose my life will be in the state where I will try it.
DTD: [laughs] I mean, we have Popeye’s out here. You don’t have Popeye’s out there?
BRIAN: We do.
DTD: Oh, yeah, yeah. I thought you did. I actually grew up in New Jersey…
BRIAN: Oh, where in New Jersey?
DTD: Not too far.
I’m not sure what I’m saying at this point. Delerious on food and wine.
BRIAN: Well, that’s all of New Jersey. Not too far.
DTD: Yeah, huge state. Monstrous. [eating] I cheated. I started. It’s really good.
GEOFF: Heh. We are getting organized. Give us a chance.
DTD: Oh, no problem.
SUSAN: Do you want a hand?
GEOFF: No, I’ve got it. Okay.
BRIAN: I’ll just start talking about board games. The problem with pinball…
DTD: OK, OK. I am a pinball guy. So, I am more than happy to talk about pinball.
DTD: That’s awesome.
GEOFF: And it was like… “Why would there be a web site called This Week in Pinball”? There’s not enough going on in the world of Pinball for them to have weekly news.
DTD: Actually, not the first time I’ve heard of This Week in Pinball.
GEOFF: See, see! It’s a real thing.
DTD: It’s a real thing. I am a member on Pinside.
BRIAN: Doesn’t change the fact that there is not a week’s worth of pinball news.
DTD: There is basically a BGG for pinball.
Pinside is a ridiculously good resource for all things pinball. I cannot praise it enough.
BRIAN: Well, that I can understand.
DTD: Yeah, I have at the Napa house, I have 3 pinball machines in the garage.
GEOFF: Oh, do you really? Which ones do you have?
GEOFF: Simpsons Pinball Party? That one?
DTD: Simpsons Pinball Party. Considered one of the best pinball machines made, late 90s, early 2000s.
GEOFF: Right, right, right. Yeah those are those are not inexpensive.
DTD: They are not bad, and I’ve had it long time. The one that hurt is, there’s a new company, Jersey Jack Pinball that makes really custom, you-do-not-want-to-put-these-in-an-arcade pinball machines.
GEOFF: Yeah. We have one of The Hobbit machines [ranked #35] from them, actually.
DTD: I do, too!
GEOFF: Oh, okay!
DTD: That’s awesome!
GEOFF: So, you have a Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit?
DTD: Well, it’s the same designers. They headhunted the designers from Lord of the Rings in order to do their Hobbit machine. And that Lord of the Rings machine was always one of my favorites.
GEOFF: Oh really. So, what are you what are your thoughts on that Hobbit machine?
DTD: I think it’s very good, and I think it got a lot better after the upgrade, or the updates.
GEOFF: Yeah, yeah, that’s what I was going to say. So, we got one of the first ones. I was on I was on the list to get one for like 2 years or 3 years.
DTD: I remember that time.
GEOFF: It’s actually a whole, it’s actually a whole long interesting story. Do we want to talk about the whole long interesting story?
DTD: Yeah, sure. I was on the list, too. I love talking about this stuff.
GEOFF: I was interested at one point…so, we had, I had a pinball machine growing up, I had a Fireball machine.
GEOFF: And then when we moved, when we lived here…we’ve been in this house for like 20 years, but…at some point we bought a Cyclone machine, pinball machine. And then we traded that out for a Star Trek Next Generation.
DTD: That’s a good one [ranked #18 on Pinside].
GEOFF: Yeah, so that was a lot of fun. But you know, how many times can you play the same pinball game. So, we felt like, I was interested in doing some stuff. And I was kind of messing around with emulation, we had a MAME cabinet that I have with all the games and stuff.
DTD: Yup. I have a MAME cabinet in my garage.
GEOFF: I would be very comfortable at your place, I think. I think it would work out.
DTD: I have an original Vectrex in there as well.
GEOFF: Susan just said off-screen, she said that she would be…that going to your home in Napa would be one of the few game conventions that she would be happy to attend.
DTD: Other things to do.
GEOFF: Anyway so…it’s actually, really, the shrimp is really good.
BRIAN: Yeah, it is. Well, it’s hard to screw up au gratin. It’s cheese and sugar.
DTD: It’s awesome.
And we are once again off to the races! Next time, between bites of cheese and shrimp, we talk about Geoff’s origins in board games and, yes, video games.