Video Reel: Retro Card Games in a Video Game Town 0 Comments

My good friend Stan and I sat down with a GlobalTV camera crew this past month at our local haunt, Edmonton's own TableTop Cafe. We played a quick game of Famous First Downs for the cameras (which Stan won with a last-minute field goal) and discuss the role games play in the social fabric of our city.

Stan and I both hail from the local video game industry where we both spent over a decade with BioWare, a highly successful Edmonton game studio which is now a part of popular sports game publisher, Electronic Arts. Casual board and card games were a common lunch time pursuit at the office and some of us would stay after hours on Tuesdays to play some of the longer strategy games as well.

BioWare's presence has led to a game design and development focus at many of the local colleges and universities in town. As of this past November, you can now earn a certificate in Game Development at the University of Alberta and, at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, students and instructors are developing a brain-controlled roleplaying game that's at the forefront of cognitive science. And, underpinning all of that wonderful high-tech academic work are some extremely popular courses providing students some invaluable, hands-on experience designing physical board and card games. The end result: an incredibly vibrant and tightly-integrated game community here in Edmonton.

So that's a behind-the-scenes glimpse into some of what's going on in my local game scene. Enjoy the quick video spot and apologies for GlobalTV's pre-reel ads. I've provided a full text transcript below.


Transcript: GlobalTV Retro Card Games Spot

CAROLE: A local game designer is going retro, hoping to inspire a digital-savvy generation to get back into card games. Shane Jones has more on this Make Something Edmonton project.

ROB: [playing Famous First Downs] …holding the line… Take your momentum.

STAN: [laughs]

SHANE: A fierce football battle is brewing at the TableTop Cafe. Rob Bartel and Stanley Woo are face-to-face, playing one of the World's Smallest Sports Games.

ROB: What I've done is I've taken a series of different sports and I've condensed them down into eleven-card card games.

SHANE: From football to flagships, the pocket-sized card games use a few coins and your wits to compete in the strategy-based entertainment.

ROB: [playing Famous First Downs] ...You and your trick plays!

STAN: Trick! Three yard run.

ROB: Go take it for seven.

STAN: You mean I get seven out of that?

ROB: What I found is that sports tell a story. And when you only have eleven cards to play with, and when you're working under those constraints, you need something that people already recognize, that they already understand.

SHANE: The two-player match-ups are typically quick - a half hour at most. The pace, though - all set by the players.

ROB: [playing Famous First Downs] ...go ahead and flip a coin.

STAN: Tails!

ROB: [groans] Beaver tail, even.

STAN: Unlucky...

STAN: Ultimately they were social. And, in this day and age when we have a lot of digital social media, there is really something really comforting about sitting around with your friends, joking around a coffee table for an evening and just playing a physical game.

SHANE: With an effort to get you to put down your technology for a bit, retro board and card games is what the TableTop Cafe is all about.

BRIAN (owner of the Tabletop Cafe): I'm trying to promote independent games as much as I can. There's a lot of stuff starting on Kickstarter but the fact that there's one in Edmonton is really good for me because, if I want to order his games, I know exactly where to go.

SHANE: Bartel entered his games into Make Something Edmonton as a way to promote our city's neighbourly culture.

ROB: This is my piece of that Edmonton identity. Games are about community and about really building an environment where people can have fun together. And we want Edmonton to be a fun place where people can do that.

SHANE: An old-fashioned approach promoting friendship and gamesmanship through cards. Shane Jones, Global News.

CAROLE: Bartel and Woo are collaborating to start up some tournament leagues. For more information, go to


I hope you enjoyed that bit of insight into my local game scene up here in Edmonton, Canada. This is where my ideas for Famous Games Co were born but now I sell my World's Smallest Sports Games worldwide (my small games are big in Italy!). So I'd love to learn more about the game scenes you're a part of, whether it's just you and your family, a broader circle of friends, or a whole city. So post in the comments and fill me in - what the card game scene like in your area?

Play games, be Famous,

Rob Bartel, founder
Famous Games Co.