When I first ventured into the world of board game media as a consumer, I stumbled upon this guy named rahdo who ran through board games. I was immediately drawn to his videos. He rambled as he explained the rules. He played against his imaginary wife, Jen. Jen isn’t actually imaginary, you see. She exists. She just rarely appears on the video. He plays as both himself and Jen and explains it all to his viewers via a running commentary of his moves, and he does this all from a first-person perspective.
Rahdo, whose real name is Richard Ham, lives in Malta and started reviewing board games to help people navigate the daunting task of deciding whether or not they should buy a game. According to the introduction video on his youtube channel, the purpose of his video series is “to the capture the essence of what it feels like to play a really great board game”. To help consumers decide if a game is right for them, he provides three different videos: the run through, the extended gameplay, and final thoughts. If you would like to know more about Richard’s videos, check out his youtube channel here because this article isn’t about his videos. This article is about capturing the essence of the man behind the camera.
It may seem to some that playing against an invisible Jen is a gimmick. When talking with Richard, it’s quite clear that he is very sincere about the positive impact gaming with his wife has on him and their relationship.
“I get to have my perfect game day on a regular basis: playing a nice meaty (but not too long) euro with my wife, while chowing on pistachios, with our beagles under the table keeping our feet warm,” he shares.
If this wasn’t enough to warm the cockles of even the blackest heart, he struggled identifying who he’d play a board game with if he could play with anyone in the world because his “primary enjoyment of board gaming comes from sharing it with [Jen]”. If it’s not with her, it isn’t as interesting to him. He goes on to say that if he was asked to play a game with Barack Obama, he would. However, he goes on to add that he’d likely be thinking, “man, I’d probably be having more fun with Jen”.
When playing board games, Richard’s main focus is on the fun of the game, not the play of the game. As a result, he has two main requirements (other than being Jen) for being at his game table. First of all, a sense of humor is an absolute must. It only takes a video or two to realize that Richard is a very laid-back, easy-going type of guy. This laissez-faire attitude is seen most directly in his second need: a lax roll back policy.
Richard has a detailed review policy posted in his guild on Board Game Geek. Basically, he doesn’t accept any money for previews or reviews. If he reviews a prototype and the publisher wants to then send a finished copy of the game, he accepts it, but it’s not a requirement. If it’s a retail copy of a game, he carefully considers whether it’s a game he and Jen would like. If not, he’s upfront about it and asks if the publisher wants to proceed. If it’s a game they’d like, Bob’s your uncle, Richard does the run through, and everyone’s happy. This doesn’t mean that if he had a crystal ball that could tell him the truth about a game, his favorite designer, or the future of the industry, he wouldn’t take advantage of it. If such as a magical piece of awesomeness existed, he would streamline his review process.
“I’d probably use it to tell ahead of time if it’s a game Jen and I will enjoy, to save me the trouble of having to research everything so much,” he states.
Before he started reviewing board games, Richard was a video game designer for twenty years. He worked on Syphon Filter, Fable 2, Brink and The Sims to name a few. Long before his days in the digital gaming world, he played pool with his friends in high school, which is when what he considers to be his greatest gaming accomplishment occurred. He broke in a game of eight ball and proceeded to clear the entire table without giving anyone else a shot. Needles to say, his friends were very impressed.
When asked to describe positive characteristics of the gaming community, he listed five. First is that people are brought together by a love of play. Second, people tend to be generally mature. There are a lot of smart people in board gaming. In addition, the community is very inclusive. Finally, it is incredibly generous.
While tending to focus on the positive, Richard does recognize that there are issues facing gamers today.
“I would say the toughest thing is, given the high price of games, often they have to be bought sight unseen, which is a huge gamble,” he cautions. “This is why I actually started making my video series!”
Speaking of his video series, Richard is happy being a reviewer, and couldn’t see pursuing games in any other capacity. Being a publisher, for instance, is so far removed from anything remotely in his thought process.
“To be honest, being a game publisher is such hard work, where every decision you make is second guessed by so many vocal end users, with so much stress and so little financial reward, I can’t even imagine giving it a go. I’m honestly in awe of anyone who does publish games and eternally thank to them as well!”
Now for the most important bit of information: Richard is apparently pro-Nutella. When asked to share his favorite recipe, he said he prefers it “straight out of the jar on [his] finger, of course!” He doesn’t like double dipping though. Luckily, he has ten fingers.