I am both astonished and grateful to be going out to dinner with the man, the myth, the legend, Christian T. Petersen. The designer of Twilight Imperium, founder of Fantasy Flight Games, and most recently, CEO of Asmodee. The Dice Tower booth at GenCon was across from a retail booth, putting games on display for sale. One of my fellow dice dudes pointed and said, “See that guy selling games? That’s Christian Petersen.” And the rest is history.
DTD: Thanks again for doing this – This is awesome.
DTD: I know it was really last minute.
I believe I went up to Christian and asked him to go to eat that same day.
CTP: Oh good, good, good. I didn’t really have that many plans this GenCon; a lot of times I’m out with international customers. And they’re not here.
DTD: That’s true, it’s such an empty strange GenCon. Yes, two for Corey Thompson. I’m sorry I couldn’t hear you.
We are at Weber Grill, a steak house very proud of their charcoal grills. The maître d’ checked us in happily.
DTD: Sounds great. So, I’ve heard so many great things about you from mutual friends, so I’m really excited about this.
CTP: Good! This should be fun. I’m hungry too.
Weber’s smelled incredibly … meaty. I was quite hungry as well.
DTD: Oh good. It was literally the only reservation I could get anywhere.
DTD: Well, it was this, or I could get into… Oh, the other big place, St. Elmo’s. I could only get in at 3:00 o’clock.
CTP: Was that in the afternoon? Wow.
St. Elmo Steak House is definitely the popular place for dinner at GenCon. Famous for shrimp cocktails the size of VW microbuses.
DTD: And that was it.
CTP: Yeah, I’ve actually never been here. I know a lot of meetings and stuff go on here, but I always missed the Weber’s.
DTD: Yeah, I was here my first GenCon, I came here. That was pretty good. I enjoyed it.
CTP: When was your first GenCon?
The staff seated us at a lovely booth in the back. Quite a quiet, cozy setting … for now.
DTD: It was not that long ago, I’m just saying like five years ago. Thank you very much.
CTP: [lounging into seat] All right!
DTD: I’m relatively new to the whole thing. Yeah, I’ve been doing news for Dice Tower for about five years.
DTD: I was in the hobby a whole bunch before that. I mean, I played games back into the 80’s. Maybe even into the 70’s.
CTP: Right, right.
DTD: So, yeah. But GenCon… Yeah, I think it was about five years ago I went to my first one.
I went to GenCon in 2016. And I drove there from California.
CTP: That’s great.
DTD: So, what do you think of this GenCon?
CTP: You know, I like it. Do I wish it was back to normal? Yeah.
DTD: But it could have been so much worse, you know.
CTP: Yeah. I still think… I see a lot of people. They’re happy and they’re buying games. They’re playing. I mean it’s really not that different. Except maybe more, you know, acne-getting after the show. From wearing masks the whole time. [laughs]
DTD: It feels a lot smaller than the other ones that I’ve been to for sure. With less vendors, less people.
DTD: And even that initial door opening that happened at the beginning of the exhibit hall, it just… There wasn’t a rush. It just kind of trickled in.
Traditionally, people mob outside of the exhibition hall on the first morning before the hall opens. And inside the hall, vendors wait to see the flood of humanity rush in. This year, no rush. Just a casual stroll.
CTP: Right. Yeah, it’s different, but… You know, I still feel there’s been good energy. Yesterday, in particular, I felt really good energy.
DTD: I think most people are just so excited to be here.
DTD: It’s been too long without a convention, and most of the vendors that I’ve been talking to said they under packed for the convention, thinking it was going to be small. Sold out, and did really well. Some even record numbers
CTP: Really? Well, we’re doing fine. I mean, we’re not, I mean… This is the first time in my new business, first time we are here.
Christian stepped down from the head of Asmodee in 2018, then started several new ventures. He purchased the Gamezenter in Roseville, MN, a tabletop game store and event center, previously used as the Fantasy Flight Games Center.
CTP: So, in that part… So I don’t have any yardsticks that I’m here with. But I think we’re doing better than expected.
DTD: Awesome. Somehow you got ahold of this “Unfathomable” game, that nobody else has. Really kind of kind of odd that you would get that one.
CTP: Is it really…? [laughs] No, we… you know when FFG decided not to attend, you know, we were their neighbors, effectively. I bought the Game Center from them about a year ago.
Several publishers decided not to attend GenCon in 2021. Something about a virus.
CTP: And our offices are right across the parking lot. And obviously they want the game there.
Our quiet corner booth was visited by a very large party of people, and one of the loudest renditions of Happy Birthday I have ever heard came blasting across the room. Perfect for a recorded, transcribed dinner interview.
CTP: They want the GenCon exhibitors to… [laughs at sheer loudness of song] birthday party!
DTD: [laughs] This is going into my interview, too. It going to be transcribed that there’s a giant birthday party. So, you still have a really good relationship with Fantasy Flight?
There was a giant birthday party. It was technically 25 days after my birthday, but I’m sure it was for me just the same.
CTP: Oh, of course! So, in fact some of them are in our store right now back up in Roseville, MN, doing the pop-up GenCon.
DTD: Oh, Nice! OK, cool.
CTP: I think they should have been here, but you know, that’s the decision they made. So, they allowed us to…
Our waiter, Andrew, arrived to the table, and just exuded an attitude of “I am going to feed you until you explode.”
DTD: Hey doing well.
Andrew: Excellent, excellent. My name is Andrew. I’ll be taking good care of you tonight.
Good Care = Exploding
DTD: Oh, wonderful.
Andrew: Have you guys joined us here at Weber’s Grill before?
CTP: First time for me.
DTD: And it’s been years for me.
Andrew: Excellent! Welcome back, and welcome for your first time sir. May I get you more water here? We are doing the digital menu process. Is that something you are familiar with? Would you prefer paper menus?
DTD: I’ve done it at a couple places.
CTP: We can do it.
Spoiler: We cannot. We almost immediately messed it up.
Andrew: All right. Just a little bit about our menu to let you know we’re all playing tonight. All of our steaks are 28 day aged Prime USDA Black Angus. All of our ribs and pork chops are all smoked, and we do all of our grilling on our 36-inch charcoal Weber grills back there.
CTP: Of course.
Andrew: Is there anything I can get you now, while I give you a little time to look things over?
DTD: I think I’m doing alright right now on water.
CTP: Good for now.
Andrew: Thank you guys. I’ll be back with you in a few minutes.
CTP: Alright, let’s see. [discussing digital menu] I think it’s the private dining and events, I guess?
DTD: Private dining menu?
CTP: Could be.
We were looking at the wrong digital menu. One side was the menu, and the other was for private events. I had nearly catered myself a function within the restaurant.
DTD: I wasn’t sure… Oh, I had scanned the wrong side.
CTP: Ah! Me, too.
DTD: So that’s my fault entirely.
CTP: It’s usually me with the smartphones.
DTD: Yeah, apparently I’m signing up for a private event. Which also doesn’t sound bad… There we go. Oh man. I’m more hungry now. Everything looks good. I think, I think… I just have to go with a steak. [laughs]
CTP: That’s what it looks like. I may go with ribs, since you’re not filming video.
The temptation to just take some video right then was overwhelming. And I’m pretty sure Christian would not have minded.
DTD: Well, there you go. No, no, no. And see, that’s why I do it. If I don’t film video, people will get really messy, obnoxious meals. It’s wonderful. It’s been really fun – I’ve been doing this for a while, and sometimes I go out to really high end fancy restaurants, and sometimes, you know, people just want to go to a burger joint.
DTD: I’ve done some breakfasts and some lunches, some dinners. It’s been a blast. I think… I think so far I’ve done about 25. Maybe a little more.
I’m boasting. Christian Petersen is my 24th mealtime interview.
CTP: That’s a lot. Any notable ones you remember that stick out?
Go check them all out at DiceTowerDish.com! You know, it feels really dumb to link to this webpage from this webpage. So I won’t.
CTP: All right, well we gotta make it the most entertaining one yet.
DTD: Oh, there’s already singing, so how could I make it better?
CTP: Yeah, exactly! [laughs]
DTD: This is great. And if it’s not the most entertaining one ever, I have it on good authority that if I invite you out to my house in Napa Valley, we can probably go to like the French Laundry, or something like that.
Thomas Keller’s French Laundry is considered by some the best restaurant in the world. I have been, and it is an extraordinary experience.
CTP: French Laundry, sure. But there’s a lot of great stuff, and I would rather… My favorite place to go. I love, I love Napa. I love California wine. It’s great.
DTD: I’ve got a wine cellar. I’m a big fan as well.
CTP: I do too, so let me see what what’s my favorite? We’ll talk about that in a second. I gotta… I’m looking at their wines right now. Oh, they just don’t hold up to what is in my head just now.
DTD: No, I mean. It’s weird looking at California wines for me, when I’m not in California. There’s odd picks for what is their choice.
CTP: What what makes you have a house in Napa?
DTD: Oh, it’s an odd story. Everything kind of lined up perfectly for me. I had sold a business. I was a veterinarian and had a veterinary hospital and sold it.
DTD: And other business interests had all lined up. My wife was joking around with me in our office, and I said, “I think I can retire. We’re doing pretty alright.” And I said, jokingly, “I think we should buy a mansion.” And I hear behind me, click click, click click click click click. “What about this one?”
We called the realtor, and immediately felt like 18-year olds – “We would like to look at your mansion house. Yes, we are serious buyers, not teenagers crashing an open house.”
CTP: And were you in California at the time?
DTD: I was. I went to school and had my practice in California. In the San Joaquin Valley, right on the I-80 corridor. And so we ended up looking at a place in Santa Rosa, at the edge of Santa Rosa.
DTD: And we lowballed them a lot, but they entertained our offer. Before I knew it, we had bought this house. And I use it for entertaining and games and things like that.
CTP: Sure, sure, sure. So you’re not really in Napa, you’re in the Santa Rosa side.
DTD: I’m in the Santa Rosa side.
Napa Valley is a north-south valley, closed in by mountains to the east, west and north. At the top of the valley is Calistoga. And over the western mountains from Calistoga is Santa Rosa.
CTP: Just over the hill, or…
DTD: Just over. Do you know Mayacama Estates, that area? I have a house next to Mayacama, up in Shiloh Estates.
CTP: Sure. OK. So, you gotta go…
DTD: So, it’s like by Windsor, by Calistoga.
CTP: If you go up the road, and it kind of veers over, goes over the mountain.
CTP: It’s beautiful. Beautiful little drive.
DTD: Oh, I love that road. And then a lot of my favorite wineries are right there in Calistoga. And then I creep down into some of the weirder ones.
CTP: That’s great. I’m going to have some wine, but I’m not sure what.
DTD: I usually lean towards the pinots and a couple of the cabs.
CTP: Yeah, I do more of the cabs mainly.
To be fair, Napa Valley has great cabernets. But very few pinot noirs. Most good pinots come from the neighboring Russian River valley.
DTD: Although recently I’ve been playing with some of the Spanish wines, the Tempranillos. I like those a lot.
Tempranillo is a spanish black grape variety. I only heard about it a few years ago. Rioja is a region of Spain known for it’s tempranillo.
DTD: I don’t really know most of the ones that they have listed here.
CTP: I don’t either.
DTD: Although this is hysterical, their Cabernet from Yolo County, California. I have a house in Yolo County. There’s no wineries there.
I stand corrected. I have found there are several nice wineries in Yolo County, and they just get overlooked due to their impressive neighbor to the west, Napa Valley.
CTP: Their red blend Matchbook thing, is it the Yolo as well?
DTD: I was looking at Black’s Station. Yolo County. I have no idea where that is.
CTP: There’s another Yolo county down at the end. There must be a bottler there or something.
DTD: Oh, Matchbook. I think that’s in a town called Esparto.
Again, totally wrong. Matchbook is in the town of Zamora, a mere 7 miles from my home in Woodland, CA. I was thinking of R H Phillips Winery, which is in Esparto, CA.
CTP: I’m gonna try the Matchbook just to feel connected to your home county.
DTD: That’s great. I have a house right outside of Sacramento, and the one in Santa Rosa. So, I bounce between those.
Andrew: Any questions that I can answer for you right now?
Our magnificent monger of meats Andrew returned to take our orders, although it was all a blur in my hypoglycemic state. I am fairly certain I ordered a big steak. And Christian ordered a smaller steak. Plus ribs. There were likely vegetables involved, but lets be honest… They are secondary to the steaks.
CTP: Yeah, do you have a bearnaise sauce?
Andrew: We do not have a bearnaise sauce, unfortunately. Sorry about that. Yeah, I’ll go ahead and get those sticky ribs put in for you. And the steaks will be out shortly.
DTD: Sounds great.
CTP: Can we get some wine, too?
Andrew: Yeah, yeah. Of course. Whatever you would like.
Our waiter Andrew is a true saint of a man. So giving. Co congenial.
CTP: Go ahead, Corey.
DTD: Oh, you’re gonna make me go first!
CTP: You’re the host.
DTD: Oh, that’s just mean.
DTD: Let’s go for the Black’s Station Cabernet.
Andrew: And then you want to do a 6 or a 9-ounce glass?
DTD: Let’s do a 9 ounce glass.
CTP: I’m gonna do exactly the same. And we can compare notes, yeah?
DTD: But I thought we were getting the two different wines…?
This was a very clever ploy on my part. I actually know very little about wine. And it is much easier to talk knowledgeably about a wine, if no one can taste it to contradict me. It’s like critiquing a song while wearing headphones, and no one else gets to listen.
CTP: Oh, you want to do two different ones?
DTD: Oh, it’s up to you. It’s up to you. I could go either way.
And the trap is set.
CTP: We can do that. You know I’ll take that back. I’ll have the Matchbook. The nine-ounce Matchbook. Red Blend Matchbook. I just want to get a wine from your county! They’re both Yolo County.
DTD: I think it’s a bad idea. [laughs]
CTP: We’ll see, we’ll see.
DTD: Yolo County is… Actually, one of the…. Toasted Head is in Yolo County. But that’s more of a kind of mass production wine.
CTP: Sure. I think most of these are.
DTD: Oh yeah, Oh yeah.
DTD: Wow, you know a lot of them.
These are very, very, VERY good wines. In comparison, the Yolo county wines are most definitely paint stripper level hooch.
DTD: Cade, yeah. There’s a little one that I’ve fallen in love with called Madrigal.
DTD: Madrigal. Like singers. Like madrigal singers. It’s Spanish, and it’s in Calistoga.
CTP: Oh, [correct accent] Madrigal?
Whereas I let americanized garble fall clumsily from my lips, Christian instead pronounced “Madrigal” with all of the eloquence of Iberian nobeltry. Mah-dree-gahl… With a properly rolled European R.
DTD: That’s the one. It’s owned by Chris Madrigal. And they they have a tempranillo that really just delights me.
CTP: They grow the tempranillo in California?
DTD: Yeah. He grows a couple unusual grapes there. And then going into proper… I mean, I like Opus [One] a lot. But Opus is more, I think show than wine nowadays.
CTP: It’s good. But it’s typically one of those fancy wines everybody knows. You know, that type of thing.
Opus One is a joint effort between Rothschild and Mondavi. And it is a famous gifting wine.
DTD: And then Wren Hop. Uh, it’s mostly pinots. They do a lot of different pinots, which is kind of interesting. And they’re right in the area, pretty close to Mayacama area.
CTP: Yeah, there’s more Pinots over in Sonoma side.
DTD: And Russian River, too. Up into Healdsburg and things like that.
CTP: I like it up there. It’s beautiful up there.
DTD: It is so pretty.
CTP: I actually like… You know, its not a fancy vineyard or anything, but I really like Ferrari-Carano up there. Makes me happy. So, were you affected by the fire?
DTD: You know there’s been three major fires since I owned the house, and every one of them has come very close, but not enough to do damage. Or even smoke damage.
Northern California has had several wildfires of late, and Santa Rosa was seriously hit by the Tubbs Fire in 2017. I have been very lucky.
CTP: You should be fine then, I guess. All the dry, really old, dry brush is gone.
DTD: It’s still scary. It’s, uh, you know every time one goes through, we just get really nervous during fire season now. It’s, it’s unnerving. I’m supposed to be asking you questions! [laughs]
CTP: No! Come on, you’re the guy with the house near Napa Valley. That’s much more exciting.
I beg to differ.
DTD: It is an honest offer. If you wanna have a parking spot, and play, it’s my convention house, my show house. And, I’ll have you know, twenty person gaming conventions there.
CTP: That’s awesome. Would be great! Lots of wine and lots of board games.
DTD: Lots of wine, lots of games. I have such a good time with it. And it was a bummer, you know, during the pandemic, everything slowed down. And before the pandemic, we had some construction going on, so it’s been a little while. Actually I had Steven Buonocore there not that long ago.
CTP: Yeah, I know, I know. He must have talked to you. Because I had lunch with him.
DTD: I heard…
CTP: And then he had lots of good things to say.
DTD: Stephen is not one to not talk. [laughs]
And that seems like a good place to stop for this session. Plus, discussing master Buonocore can take several pages in and of itself. Come back next time when Christian tells incredible tales of his entry into the board game industry – most during high school.