Building on the success of their hit video series Chad Vader: Day Shift Manager, Matt Sloan and Aaron Yonda (pictured above—first and third from left, respectively) have tapped into their other passions to expand their comedy empire. One of the more popular shows produced by their company, Blame Society Productions, is nothing more than the two co-founders playing board games with friends and sharing the results. They drink heavily and verbally rip each other to shreds, just like any number of board game nights around the world. Beer And Board Games is a weekly experiment that’s almost guaranteed to go awry. It combines the adrenaline rush of fighting your friends for glory with the emotional volatility that naturally results from the heavy consumption of alcohol.
Each episode is funded by fans and a live audience who pay for toasts, insults, and the right to choose the next game or beer. The games aren’t limited to more grown-up fare like Axis And Allies or Dark Tower. Some of the best episodes feature the competitors avoiding the dud in a drunken game of Mystery Date or dealing with endless banishments to the “Black Hole” in a loud round of the VHS horror game Nightmare.
Beer And Board Games has found enough of an audience to crowdfund three seasons of shows, with a long backlog of donation rewards. Sloan and Yonda talked to The Gameological Society about obscure board games, what kinds of board games make for the best comedy, and their love-hate relationship with show regular Dylan Brogan.
The Gameological Society: How long have you been playing board games?
Matt Sloan: I had brothers and a sister when I was growing up and we’d play board games all the time. We had a closet full of them. Unfortunately, they’re all gone now, but I wish I still had some of them.
Aaron Yonda: My brother and I played board games all the time when we were growing up including some of them that we play now on the show, like Talisman and other stuff. Actually, in a way, that’s where the show idea came from because my brother and I—was it three years ago? We were just playing board games and drinking beer and we said, “We should make a show out of this because we’re riffing off each other and making fun of each other and being jerky like brothers do.” We just thought this would be a really fun show to do.
It was good and bad and stupid and fun. That’s the important thing.
So we made it into a challenge. We’re going to drink six beers and play a game and see what happens. It was as simple as setting up some cameras and recording it. It was just an experiment. We had no idea if it was going to be good or bad or stupid, but I think it was kind of a combination of all those things actually. Good and bad and stupid and fun, that’s the important thing.
Then, I got really sick of editing it because it’s really hard to edit four hours of footage from two different cameras, and we stopped making it for a little while. I thought, “What if we expand the show?” Matt wanted to be on the show, so we said, “Let’s do it.” We have a lot of comedian friends, and we can just rotate them in and out.
Sloan: That way the show will stay fresh and we’ll always have new combinations of people and new faces and it’s always like a different—uh, what’s that called?
Sloan: Yeah, but where you throw a bunch of people in an enclosed space?
Yonda: Reality show?
Sloan: I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m saying. It’s always a different dynamic, and it is a reality show.
Gameological: And I imagine games like Talisman help with that dynamic. I’ve never played it, but I’ve heard Matt describe it as one giant excuse to fight with your friends over the rules.
Sloan: That’s basically it.
Yonda: It’s a real friendship test to play Talisman. Although, I have to say the new version they’ve released is a little bit better, but there are still plenty of opportunities.
Sloan: Yeah, it still takes eight hours to play.
Gameological: The first few episodes were just with Aaron and his brother playing games that seemed really complicated. There was an episode where you just gave up and started playing Street Fighter II.
Sloan: Yeah, I think it was one of the early ones. They just gave up.
Yonda: After six beers, we were just like, “What’s happening? I don’t even know what’s going on anymore” and we just said, “Let’s go play Street Fighter, that’s easy.” Actually, it was the Cthulhu game. That was incomprehensible. There was shit in the rules that said, “Pay attention to the rules in this book unless a rule on a card makes more sense.” It was like they made it as confusing as possible.
Sloan: I think as the show evolved, that was one of the major innovations. We actually have to play the game.
Yonda: We wanted to expand to other board games because, of course. I’m really glad we did with classic games like Monopoly, which was actually the first episode with Dylan [Brogan, a show regular]. We were friends with Dylan for a while before that, but we never knew exactly…
Sloan: …how horrible he was, and boy, we found out.
Yonda: You get a few beers in him, and he gets funky.
Gameological: He’s become one of the show’s breakout stars. I imagine he’s one of the more requested members.
Sloan: [Sighs.] Yeah.
Yonda: Much to our everlasting regret, yes.
Sloan: The audience is sort of conflicted on him too because a lot of our audience is like, “Don’t have Dylan back” and the other half says, “You have to have Dylan back.”
Gameological: Well, he is one of the more dangerous members of the show.
Yonda: He’s the only one who has exposed his testicles so far.
Gameological: Well, yeah, I was dancing around that. Is there another member in the rotation who gets requested a lot other than Dylan?
Yonda: I think everyone else is fairly equal. Jason Stephens gets requested a lot.
Sloan: He’s the other most frequently requested performer. Mostly people get requested when they’re actually on the show. The audience will see someone they haven’t seen in a while and they want that person back again. It’s mostly Jason and Dylan.
Yonda: [Jason] is a voice guy who does really good impressions. He’s a really good improviser. Actually, he and Brad Knight run a local improv company here in town called The Monkey Business Institute. He really enjoys being on the show. He loves playing games, and he loves drinking, and he loves to just dick around and be funny. So this is the perfect venue for him.
Gameological: It seemed like when you started the show, you wanted to do pure fantasy and role-playing games and at some point, you started to do more accessible games like Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit and then kids games like Candy Land. What sparked the move?
Yonda: I think it was all part of the experiment. Let’s find out what happens when we play a kids game and drink our regular portion of beer and just see what happens. Kids games can be fun to play off of. We had the whole “King Kandy” routine where I won the game, and then, my reward was going to meet King Kandy, who’s actually a molester.
Sloan: All that stuff, it just happens spontaneously. We don’t write any sketches. We don’t really prepare anything and that’s what really keeps the game fun for us. Another reason for the move to doing different types of games is the same reason that we have different people on the show. We just want every show to be unique and have a different kind of vibe to it. We don’t want the show to be the same thing every time. Like if every week, you’re seeing the same kind of jokes and Dylan dropping his pants. We don’t want that to happen every time.
Yonda: The next episode that we’re doing is an old ’90s VHS interactive game. It’s a Star Trek game, and there’s going to be a Klingon telling us what to do on the monitor.
Sloan: We played a horror VHS game called Nightmare like two years ago, and it’s one of our more popular episodes. So it’s about time we try another one of those.
Gameological: Those games with interactive hosts seem fun for you guys as improvisors. There was Mr. Gameshow, which was a disaster.
Sloan: Oh, Mr. Gameshow was terrible. I actually was really worried we weren’t going to have an episode there because Mr. Gameshow was so difficult to deal with. He doesn’t stop talking.
Yonda: I think what’s fun, especially with Nightmare, was when the guy would come up and interrupt us and we were legitimately like, “What the hell?” He would always come up right while we were saying something. There was this weird timing that was really funny, and we were constantly being interrupted by the game. And you had to respond to it.
Gameological: Where do you find all of these games?
Sloan: A lot of them are from thrift stores.
Yonda: We go to thrift stores here in Madison and can find them for a dollar or two. We found a copy of Cranium for $1 that was fully intact with no missing pieces. Also, our fans send us games all the time and loan them to us. The Star Trek VHS game is being loaned to us by a guy who played a Stormtrooper in an episode of Chad Vader.
Sloan: A lot of times people will sponsor episodes, like they’ll pay for a sponsorship to have us play a particular game. We usually have to go to eBay to find it or just some special place. We get them from all over.
Gameological: Has there ever been one that was requested that you couldn’t find?
Sloan: The talking princess game called Enchanted Palace. We couldn’t find that one, so the person who sponsored it actually sent us their copy.
Sloan: Then we played it and sent it back to them.
Yonda: There was a game that I saw on eBay recently called The Vanilla Ice Rap Game. It looked really great but unfortunately, I was outbid or something. I really want to play that. If any of our fans happen to see this interview, send us your copy of The Vanilla Ice Rap Game. We know you have one.
Gameological: And there was a bidding war for this?
Sloan: Oh, of course.
Gameological: How much did it go for?
Any game for kids that says, “If an adult is leveling a gun at you, what should you do?” blows my mind.
Yonda: I don’t remember what the final cost was. It was probably around $50. I forgot the auction was happening and missed it by like 60 seconds or something. That’s quite a bit for a game like that, but the fact is, it comes with an electronic mic and you get to rap along. They give you the rhymes in the game and you just have to improvise rap lyrics, which—
Sloan: —is right up our alley.
Yonda: I saw a couple of games that have been going viral on the Internet that would be really fun to play. I forget exactly what it was called, but it’s about prisoners in jail, and they get released when people play “liberal” cards.
Sloan: Oh, is that called Capital Punishment?
Sloan: It’s like a conservative propaganda game.
Yonda: There was another one along those lines, probably made by the same people, where your goal is just to live off the government and collect welfare from various places and cheat the government. Those are very expensive like $100 or $150 because they are pretty rare. Those would be a real treat to play on the show too.
Sloan: Some of our favorite games are educational games. We’ve got quite a few child safety games.
Gameological: Yeah, like The Child Awareness Game that you played with the makers of Cards Against Humanity. That seemed to be pretty popular because the questions were so jarring.
Sloan: Right, and The Social Skills Game was another one of our favorites. We’re always on the lookout for those. We’ve got a couple of those types of games that are coming up pretty soon that are going to be a lot of fun.
Yonda: Any game that’s for kids and says, “If an adult is leveling a gun at you, what should you do?” That just blows my mind. You’re playing it with your 4-year-old, and you’re like, “Timmy, you’re out in the street, and this guy’s leveling a gun at you.” Did they really think that was something that needed to be taught to really young children?
Gameological: Could you think of a kids game that wouldn’t work or do you not know until you start playing?
Sloan: The games that are the least successful on the show are strategy games or games that require a lot of concentration because either the game is so over our head that we can’t even get started—which goes back to the origins of the show—or we get so wrapped up in it that we’re just too involved in the game and the show is just four guys with their heads down playing a game. Those are games like Axis And Allies or the Game Of Thrones game that are just complicated.
Yonda: Those can often be funny because we can’t play them properly. We just can’t really wrap our heads around them, or they’re so complex that we get enraged.
Sloan: Anything can work.
Yonda: I think that’s one of the strengths of the show: No matter what game we’re playing, we’re going to find a way to make a video out of it.
Gameological: I imagine Cards Against Humanity is the fan favorite because it’s just made for an Internet audience. If TV would allow you to say certain things, it would be popular there too. Is that hands-down the favorite?
Sloan: I think so, yeah.
Yonda: Our Cards Against Humanity episodes are the most popular ones. We’ve played it four or five times. We’ve played every expansion, and we also sort of added Cards Against Humanity into a recent episode, Peter Coddle Tells Of His Trip To Chicago.
Gameological: Where did you find that Petter Coddle game?
Yonda: [Cards Against Humanity co-creator] Max Temkin actually told us about it, and we found it on eBay.
Sloan: Basically, it’s 19th century Mad Libs, and that was another problem because that was a story. How do we make Peter Coddle’s trip make sense but not be 30 minutes long?
Yonda: The biggest problem with that game was that as we played with the little slips of cardboard paper in the game, they disintegrated in our hands and we lost a lot of clues.
Gameological: I imagine that had to cost quite a bit.
Yonda: It was surprisingly cheap. It definitely was an antique, but these old Peter Coddle games are pretty common.
Gameological: Is there a game that you’re dying to do that you haven’t yet gotten to or you’re afraid won’t work for the show?
No matter what game we’re playing, we’re going to find a way to make a video out of it.
Sloan: There’s really popular games that I don’t feel would work for the show, like Scrabble, Boggle, or chess. Stuff like that. It just seems like there’s not enough of an interactive element, but who knows? People certainly request them quite a bit.
Gameological: Is it because they’re just pure strategy?
Sloan: Yeah, I think so. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to watch four guys sitting around and playing Scrabble. Also, there’s just so much sitting and thinking. That’s not really good television.
Yonda: A lot of people want us to play Twister. That’s stretching the boundaries of the definition of a board game. I just can’t imagine us being able to film that. That would be challenging. Maybe during a live, on-stage broadcast.
Sloan: Oh yeah, that’s a good idea, sure.
Yonda: We’re thinking about doing a couple of live shows like we did in Chicago. It was really fun and maybe we’ll try to do one here in Madison and there might be another one in Chicago this fall.
Gameological: We’ve talked about games that you’re planning on playing and hinted at some future episodes, but are there other plans you have for this? New directions you want to take the show? Not just the games you play but the format?
Sloan: I think we just want to keep growing the audience. We want more people to get involved with the show and become fans of it. I think it’s a unique show. I don’t think there’s anything out there exactly like it and definitely venturing more into live performances.