I recently was given a copy of the documentary The Next Great American Game, Deluxe Edition to review. While I didn't promise them I would do a review, I felt it was worth sharing my thoughts.
There are two parts to this documentary, and I'll talk about each separately.
The main movie is the story of Randall Hoyt, a game designer who believes he has created the next great American game. From what I can pick out, it is a roll-and-move game about weaving through traffic jams, with random effects thrown in for flavor. Like so many other unpublished game designers I've worked with, Randall has not explored what is going on with modern board games as he heads to Gen Con with visions of contracts dancing through his eyes. It's a typical case of someone designing a product without spending the appropriate time to understand the market, publishers, or potential purchasers. It does not go well.
I found the first half of the movie to be uncomfortable, as Randall exhibits what I've dealt with again and again - being defensive about his game as being the greatest game, frustrated as nobody will take his art seriously, and not doing the proper homework before entering a field. As I run a community-based group for game designers, I have seen my share of Randalls, so for me, I've seen the story in the real world many times. While I would hope that other first-time game designers would see enough of themselves in Randall to not made the same decisions, I fear that the Dunning-Kruger effect will have them saying that their game is better. (pro tip: It's not.)
The second half of the movie is better, as Randall realized that he needs to listen to what people are saying and make changes. He still slips into moments of grandeur as he comes back to visit with some of the people that he previously pictched to. With the exception of a dentistry story that made me squirm in my chair, I found the ending of the movie sent an appropriate message and appropriate expectations to up-and-coming designers.
There is something that new game designers need to recognize with this movie (which becomes most apparant from the director's interview in the bonus features) - because this process was about creating a movie, the producers helped Randall to get meetings with game companies and searched out opportunities for him to pitch his game. In addition, having the cameras in the room during the game pitch ensured the game companies were on their "best behavior" during the meetings. Someone going on their own expecting this same treatment may find a frustrating outcome.
The real value for game designers in this movie is in the Bonus Features, some of which come with the main movie, and many more of which are in the Deluxe Edition. This portion contains interviews with many well-known game designers and publishers, where a more realistic view of the world of recreational board game publishers comes to light. For someone wanting to hear the voices and thoughts of Reiner Knizia, Alan Moon, Klaus Teuber, or Richard Garfield (amoung others), it is a treasure trove with hours of wisdom and stories for game designers. If you listen to podcasts regularly, you will have heard from some of these people before, but to have them collected in one place is quite valuable.
To compare this to other movies out there, the Bonus features are akin to the content found in Going Cardboard, but with a more focused look at game design. The Bonus tour of LudoFact is a short version of what can be found in Made for Play, which focuses on the publishing process.
The main movie plus a handful of designer interviews costs $19.95 and the Deluxe edition is $39.95. The Bonus content by itself costs $24.95.
If you are wanting to see the path of a first-time designer as someone who is not into modern board games dips his toes in the pirahana-infected waters and like a documentary that focuses on the story of a single person, then the main movie is for you.
If you are a student of game design or more experienced in the field, the bonus collection is a better choice, although if you are already a fan of podcasts, then you have heard much of this before from these same designers on various shows.
If you are seeking more of an overview of the modern board game industry, fans, and players, Going Cardboard would be the better choice.
You can purchase access to The Next Great American Game, Deluxe Edition via their website at http://www.tabletopmovie.com/ .