Meeting of Minds – Elisar Cabrera

One of my core aims with The Giant Brain is to promote designers and publishers in the UK gaming scene. To this end I’m establishing a new series of articles where I interview various folks from across the UK tabletop gaming scene to get an insight into their games, their thoughts on current events in the industry and anything else that pops into my head. I hope you enjoy it.

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Elisar Cabrera is a freelance producer, having produced low budget feature films, short films and web series. A former international film sales agent, Elisar also brings 15 years of selling film rights to international distributors and broadcasters to his role as a producer.

His production company, Capital City Entertainment, is currently working on a project called Board Game: The Documentary. He has been interviewing people right across the industry, including myself before a recent pitch session, in order to delve into what makes the world of board games tick and was good enough to take the time to answer some questions from me.

As the hobby has grown there has been a recent rise in documentaries and books detailing the behind the scenes of the industry. What attracted you and your company to making a board game documentary?

By saying the word ‘hobby’ you hit on exactly why we wanted to make this film. The idea that we have a growing sector of a creative industry that is doing fantastic numbers and yet, a big part of that growth has happened because hobbyists and part time games designers are working as entrepreneurs in their spare time from their day jobs. To me that’s an incredible fact.

There are other documentaries released or being made about the growth of the popularity of board games. I believe we will be different in that our story is 100% about the British indie experience while the other films are all American.

To me, the story of many UK indie designers is very similar to those of indie filmmakers. We make our films however we can, working in other jobs if necessary, and then get our film out there to the public. That’s what indie games designers do. We’ve had countless docs about other industries but actually very little is known about the board game industry. That’s probably because it is lumped into the toy business, and to the media ‘games’ almost always refers to digital/video games.

In the UK we have this thriving creative industry and I hope this film will shine a long overdue light on it.

Who have you interviewed so far, what has been your favourite interview, and who is top of your wishlist to still get on board?

I think we have filmed some wonderful and fascinating interviews. I don’t envy the editor’s job with this because we have already so much footage and it’s going to be hard to edit it down. Unlike some of the American documentaries we are not chasing the big names in games design. For us the story is about the true indies. So far we have filmed with Peter Blenkharn of Inside The Box Games, Tris Williams of Big Potato Games, the legend that is Ian Livingstone CBE, James Wallis of Spaaace, Roger Martin of Coilspringed Games, John Morgan who owns Thirsty Meeples in Oxford, Mike Berry of Leisure Games and designers such as Brett Gilbert and Bez Shahriari.

We are also tracking the stories of Nigel Roper, a first time games designer who will be at UKGE with his game Thieves, and Cakes and Ladders, a new board game cafe opening in London later this summer.

It was a real dream come true to interview Ian Livingstone. I am the generation that was a kid and bought a first edition of Warlock of Firetop Mountain. I collected so many of his books and magazine. The FF RPG system actually became my RPG of choice for its simplicity when I was a young teen. To listen to his stories about an era of games that I remember was just a joy.

As far as wishlist, it may sound strange but I don’t really have one. I know some other documentaries are chasing the big American and German names in design like Leacock and Stegmaier etc. However that’s not what our film is about. We’re the film about the little guys and gals. The first timers, the part timers, the playtesters. For me I am most excited about going around UK Games Expo and seeing new designers with their first time or second time games. For instance we will be interviewing Lily Lockett of Double L Games who is exhibiting at UKGE with her first game, and she’s only 16! That’s exciting, to know that board games is inspiring fans that young to want to make their own games to a standard that they can make them and sell them.

Actually, that does bring me onto a more generic wishlist for interviews. I’d like to interview more female designers and BAME designers. I am aware this industry is very white male dominated and so I’d like to discover if there are more diverse designers out there.

What sort of release are you planning for the documentary? Will we see a cinema or streaming release?

At the very least it will be a streaming release. I would love a cinema release. I used to work in film distribution so its an area I understand. My last movie was a zombie comedy called Ibiza Undead which was released in the UK straight to DVD and VOD but actually was released in the USA (under the title Zombie Spring Breakers) in 76 American cinemas last November. The last documentary I produced was Who’s Changing: An Adventure In Time With Fans about the changing face of Doctor Who fandom and we released that on DVD selling via Amazon. I’d like it to be released on DVD as I think with our potential audience of board games fans they would likely prefer a physical copy rather than a digital copy. Board games is a physical hobby after all. But before any kind of release I hope we get invited to some film festivals.

We have seen an explosion in boardgame content creators over the last couple of years. What do you think of the current state of boardgame criticism and do you have any particular favourites?

The most influential one for me over the last few years was of course Will Wheaton’s Tabletop. I could be watching a show and half-way through I would have it ordered on Amazon. If I had to pick favourite reviewers then it would be Tabletop Magazine and The Guardian’s Board Hoard.

To be honest I am not one to really seek out review sites if I need an opinion about whether to buy a game or not. With so many games released I do know they are quite important for games to get word out, but on a personal level I prefer going to a board game cafe and trying out a game for myself. I think games are a uniquely personal experience, it either works for you or not. We all have our own preferences on what floats our boat.

Do you have plans for any future projects around the Tabletop game community?

I’d like to do an actual scripted movie set somewhere within board games fandom. If anyone has a screenplay get in touch!

It’s great to hear that you are such a fan of the UK indie scene, something I’m looking to support myself with The Giant Brain. Of course many small companies turn to Kickstarter to see their dreams become reality. What are your thoughts on the impact of Kickstarter on the board game industry? Do you back many Kickstarters from UK designers and what are you most eagerly awaiting if so?

I have only just recently started backing games on Kickstarter. The first was Off The Rails by Rotten Games last Autumn. That was a great experience for a first time backing because the game went straight into production following the campaign so we received it just a couple of months later or thereabouts. Off The Rails is British and I really did want my first backing to go to a UK indie designer. Other than that I have backed both of Stuff By Bez’s 2018 campaigns for Wibbell++ v2 and Kitty Cataclysm. And the other British game is Full Moon Jacket by Strangely. Those are all in early stages so there’s still a while before I will see the fruits of those campaigns.

I think it’s been great that small companies have a way to get their game to market themselves. I am surprised not many campaigns really embed crowdfunding in their games’ DNA. Its mostly treated as a pre-order system. Crowdfunding gives your audience a chance to be a part of the game not just own a copy at the end of the day.

Crowdfunding has been used by filmmakers to make their short and feature films. I have done it for film and I will likely start a campaign for this film we are making in the future. Most filmmakers offer a chance for a backer to be in the film somehow or contribute to the film. I’d like to see more designers offer the chance for backers to be featured in artwork, be immortalised in a miniature or name a character, for instance. Being very creative with the crowdfund campaign can be really a good way to attract an audience. You’d probably incentivise backers not just to buy a game for themself but perhaps also tap into backing games as a gift to friends and family.

For small companies I think Kickstarter may end up getting harder and harder to get noticed on, if it’s not already the case. We might reach a point where it’s time for smaller companies to migrate to a different platform, one that will get involved in promoting them and where audiences know what kind of games they can find on that platform. To be honest with board games doing so well on crowdfunding I am surprised a board game only platform hasn’t already been launched. I know there is one in Germany which just is for indie German board games only.

But generally I do see crowdfunding ultimately evolving itself into more niche platforms and that will be better for indie designers and companies.

What board game are you most excited for from a UK designer in 2018?

For the last few months I have had a prototype of Thieves by new publisher Merlin Games. It’s a great mix of strategy and luck with a 2 player gaming experience that reminds you of playing Backgammon (a favourite game of mine since I was a kid). First time designer Nigel Roper will appear in our film and is exhibiting the self-published game at UK Games Expo 2018 for the first time. I’ve played it a lot over the last few months and introduced it to friends as it only takes about 90 seconds to explain how to play. Like Backgammon you tend to play several games at once, making it a best of 5 games for instance.

Also as I love cats I am looking forward to the fast paced Kitty Cataclysm from Stuff By Bez which I crowdfunded when they had their campaign earlier this year. The cat based artwork, which Bez is doing herself, is great!

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