The board game documentary Going Cardboard opens on a shot of a convention center in Essen, Germany with people pouring through the doors.
The film (available for purchase on DVD) by director Lorien Green, delves deeply into the world of European board games, and how they differ from those stateside.
See, over there – and especially in Germany – board games are serious business. There are columns in newspapers devoted to reviewing them. They make stars of their creators. And, if you win the game of the year award, Spiel des Jahres, you can make a lot of money. As Jay Tumnelson, head of Rio Grande Games states, it’s “an award worth winning.”
After providing an overview of the gaming scenes in Europe and the United States –wherein quite a few folks badmouth the likes of Monopoly, calling it “Ameritrash” – Going Cardboard settles in to a fairly straightforward narrative, wherein they follow Bryan Johnson, who is trying to get his game Huang Di made, to contrast the successes of a game like Settlers of Catan.
Catan was the breakthrough game. Winner of the Spiel in 1995, the game rapidly became so popular that it was being bought in Europe, and brought over to the United States, despite everything being in German. It rightly deserves the appellation given it in the film, “cardboard crack.” It was easy to pick up, and everyone could play it.
Despite its rather esoteric subject matter, covering a slew of games 99% of the American populace have no idea about, as well as fuzzy audio and grainy video, the film is totally wonderful.
The people in Going Cardboard love their hobby, and are just adorably enthusiastic. It’s amazingly contagious, and the folks speaking are so knowledgeable, and the film edited so well, that the viewer has no trouble whatsoever discerning how a game is played.
Granted, the ending’s a bit tacked-on. Following Bryan Johnson and the repeated defeats he has in making Huang Di a reality, you get this bit at the end about the massive success of a game called Dominion, which seems put on simply to demonstrate that things can end up positively, rather than with yet another down note in Johnson’s quest.
Still, despite everything, this is a fantastic bit of pop culture that really engages the viewer, and will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy by the end.