An Interview with Lorien Green: Going Cardboard

In the Before Time, From the Long Long Ago…

It was the primitive days of 2008 when a woman stepped forward with an idea: an idea of a documentary both for and about the gaming community. For lo’, as it turns out that gaming culture has existed for decades (who knew?), there had been very few film attempts at exploring the world of designer board games, let alone the people that love them.

So she decided to make it herself.

Enter Lorien Green and the birth of Going Cardboard, a board gaming documentary.

A bonafide gamer herself, Lorien raised money through a Kickstarter campaign and spent much of the following year immersing herself into the vibrant community of gamerdom that even she was only partially aware of. The result was Going Cardboard, which is equal parts instruction manual for those who aren’t huge gamers and labor of love for those who are. It was released in early 2012 to many appreciative fans, including ourselves here at the Cardboard Republic. We had a chance not long ago to sit down with her to discuss her movie, her nerd creds (spoiler: she passes), and the gaming  atmosphere writ large. We also addressed five questions you will see us pose to ourselves  and others here on the site going forward.


 Round One
What was your gateway game?

My gateway game was Bonhanza actually, which is not considered one of the typical gateway games, but I do tend more toward card games. So for me that was definitely a gateway game; also Power Grid is one that we played early on that I really liked . . . We played Catan at the beginning too, but it wasn’t for very long.

What was the last game you really enjoyed playing?

Dominion for the most part. There was one I played at Pax East – we ran into Scott Nicholson and some other people, and this guy had this new game and it’s got a weird long name. It’s like Something Duels of the Spell Wizards. I bought it because it was really good.

How big is your game collection?

Oh…we have really, really, seriously cut down. I think we had about 300-400 during the time that we were filming, but since then we got into the pinballs we got rid of some of them, we downsized some of them.  I’d say we have a couple hundred at this point.

What’s your favorite type of game to play?

Definitely card games: Dominion, Thunderstone. We went to Thunderstone because I started out in Magic: The Gathering . . . I like board games; I definitely have played Monopoly and played all that and I like them and I really have nothing against Monopoly, but for me it’s really more the card games.

That actually goes into our other question, which is: how do you feel about Monopoly?

I have nothing against Monopoly. I gathered that people – a lot of people – really have a chip on their shoulder about it. I felt like I was pretty kind to Monopoly in the documentary… I have nothing against it, but what Scott Nicholson (of Board Games with Scott) says – it’s like a starting point of discussion – that’s really a good assessment of it. It’s really a base you can start talking about board games from, but it’s like night and day different. It’s not the same [as designer board games] at all.


Why did you want to make the documentary?

Basically because there wasn’t one, and I thought it was a really cool topic and it was photogenic. I was a gamer at that point, but I was really casual and I still am sort of casual . . . I just recognized there’s so many [films] about these other geek topics, and it was just one that needed it, you know? So it was basically filling a niche. That was the big reason.

Everybody wants to talk, so it was really easy to get interviews. I thought it would be hard to get Reiner Knizia (Lord of the Rings, Lost Cities) and Klaus Teuber (Settlers of Catan); I was freaking out contacting them. But they want to talk about it. So, it was no problem at that point. I mean, I didn’t even know about ESSEN when I started. You kind of just follow the rabbit hole.


How was ESSEN? Was that intimidating to go into?

It was actually so much fun, because I like doing things independently and I was there by myself . . . it felt like an adventure, you know? There was my backpack and my film stuff and there are throngs of people. I’m just wandering around and I’m like, “Gotta get footage”. I was hunting the whole time, and I like the hunt.

So it was fun, but I didn’t get to do any gaming. I went there – the world’s hugest gaming convention – and didn’t game. That’s a regret, but at the time I was just so focused.

But it was awesome. . . .Like they say in the movie, everyone should go there once – absolutely. It was amazing, and Germany is so cool.


What message were you trying to convey with the documentary?

It was what you call an advocacy piece, so it was very pro designer board games; I wanted people to know about the games because I felt it was a cult thing that I stumbled on. Everybody that I go up to that finds out about it, they’re like, “Wow… it’s really awesome”. They say that in the film too like, “Oh I never knew these games existed!”  I wanted to get that information out, and I’m an online marketer by trade, so I wanted to market it.

The other thing was I wanted to show the people, because a lot of documentaries that I don’t like make the people look stupid and geeky. I didn’t want to do that because everyone I knew were cool, normal people.


You mentioned in the film how inclusive the gaming community was. Did you find that this helped you while making Going Cardboard?

Yeah, and that was the thing: at the Gathering of Friends, I had access to a ton of designers and publishers, which was a really big deal for me. It’s invitation only; everybody playing there knows, “Ok this is a friend of someone who is a hardcore gamer” or, “This is somebody who has been vetted”. It really amplifies that you can walk up to anybody because there’s a trust factor already . . . that helped a lot for me.

The same thing goes for any board game convention. Right off the bat you know you’ve got something fundamental in common with the other person. I think it’s huge, and that’s really important today in society in general for meeting people.  It gives you a good commonality.

My husband and I met playing Magic, so it works . . . I was a casual player. I just liked collecting the cards more than anything. I loved the art, and he was a major hardcore tournament player. I was running with that group back in college, and that’s when I wish I had like really cracked out and done a documentary. Oh my god I wish someone had, and I really regret that they didn’t, because it was like soap opera city. I mean, it was crazy. You would see Richard Garfield walk across the lobby with his patchwork blazer on, being King of the World.


Who are you hoping to reach with this film? Are you hoping to show the game community to themselves, or are you hoping to reach new people who aren’t necessarily gamers?

It was really two-purpose, and my editor told me, “Do not try to make a movie with two audiences in mind”. My mentor, my other favorite documentary director told me the same thing. . . I was just like, “I can’t help it!”

Friedemann with his trademark green.
Photo courtesy of 2-Spiele

I want the people who are hardcore gamers to see that stuff – to see Friedemann Friese (Power Grid), to hear him talk, and to see those people who designed the games that have given them hours and hours of pleasure. I felt that was cool, and people want that. Especially because back then, [when the documentary was filmed], those guys were not on camera very much. There were print interviews, but nobody was seeing them too much, especially Donald Vaccarino (Dominion), who was like a hermit at the time. . . .People questioned whether he existed, maybe he was a front. I mean seriously, that’s what everyone kept saying at ESSEN, and I was going to ask him that. Eric Martin, who was with me from Board Game News– he was like, “Don’t ask him that. He’s been asked that like a dozen times.”

I wanted the hardcore gamers to know some of that stuff, know how Power Grid came to be, things like that. But I also wanted to be a marketing vehicle. They can hand this to one of their non-gamer friends, and they can watch it and be drawn in. And want to then play. I wanted to appeal to newbies and to hardcore players. There were some trade-offs when we do that, but I think we pulled it off ok.


It was definitely interesting for us to see the designers of these games that we’ve played. The Dungeon Twister guy…

Oh he was awesome!  That was totally random. I was just walking around ESSEN and I saw his booth, and it was one of the only ones with video. Nobody was doing video at ESSEN. He had a Dungeon Twister video I was watching, and I was like, “Oh my god, this is hilarious”. He was just out there with his energy, but it wasn’t until the next day or so that I was like, “What do you do? I should interview you.” It was just out of nowhere, and he was one of the most fun interviews.


It was announced recently that Geek & Sundry will be partnering to help sell the board games that they feature in Target stores.  What do you think of board games making it onto mainstream store shelves?

Well, I think it’s something that the geek community itself has really wanted. They feel legitimized . . . whereas some designers, like Mark Kaufmann from Days of Wonder, are not even interested in that at all. They say, “If we went to Walmart, they would negotiate the price down to a ridiculous margin, and the quality of the components would have to do down”, and it would wind up not being the experience they wanted people to have.

Now that it’s happening, I saw a lot of controversy regarding it. There was discussion saying that it’s not really going to help because the people psyched about these games already know about them . . . but the people who don’t know are still going to be intimidated and not approach it. Which may or may not be true, you know?

I don’t know how much it helps, because you still kind of need a rules person – you need a guide with these games because they tend to be more complicated. Now, they’re bringing in a lot of the simpler ones, so that’s good. Maybe if they just get the gateway games into places like that, how can it not be good for the hobby? It must be good.

“I had this game in its original Latin!”

But then there’s a certain degree of it that comes with anything. It’s like the Sneeches: when it becomes mainstream people do the hipster thing. They’re like, “I was into that when it was really cool and obscure” – there’s going to be that backlash.

It can’t be bad, especially for the designers. I hope they completely succeed. . . .If that’s what it takes, for someone like Wil Wheaton to talk about it for people to notice, well then good that he’s talking about it! I think the hobby itself would be fine without that, but people do want it to grow.


What do you think about board games going digital now? I know Days of Wonder is doing a lot of that.

I like it. For me it’s been a solo experience every single time. . . . I’ve played Carcassonne with friends [online], but it’s not necessarily fun. They did a brilliant job of implementation, Carcassonne. Especially where they hit asynchronous play, they handled that very well. But it still isn’t the same. If I want to play Carcassonne I want to sit down with people.

As far as getting the word out, it’s awesome. It’s phenomenal, it’s super important. It’s a great way for people to get the rules, and that’s a big thing with me. It’s a computer handling it, so it gets you warmed up and walking through it. You’re not making mistakes because it basically won’t let you. I think that’s one of the greatest services that [digital board games] provide. I mean I really did enjoy Dominion on the iPhone for awhile – I was playing it all the time. And I was playing Ticket to Ride on the X-Box; that was cool.


Ticket to Ride seems like a good one for that.

Yeah, it really was. And the Ticket to Ride iphone implementation is different [from the board game]. They’re smart to not make it the exact same game and try to cram it into an iPhone – it’s sort of a simpler, more streamlined thing. It’s a lot of fun, but I don’t really do them much because when you think board games, you want that other experience.  It’s a good way to get your fix, but it has its pros and cons.