When he was a kid, Aaron Yonda loved board games, but didn’t always have somebody to play against.
“Sadly enough, I would play them on my own because there was no one else to play them,” Yonda said. “Somehow I’d play both sides.”
It’s fair to guess that Yonda never has to worry about playing Stratego, Monopoly or any other tabletop board game on his own again. Yonda and Matt Sloan are the hosts of “Beer & Board Games,” a web-based improv comedy show from Madison that has fans eagerly watching, donating money and even pulling up a seat at the gaming table.
Yonda and Sloan, creators of Madison’s Blame Society Productions, may be best known for creating the web series “Chad Vader,” about the travails of Darth’s less successful brother, a grocery story manager. While that show (now concluded) was meticulously scripted and shot, “Beer & Board Games” is loose and improvised.
The players (usually Yonda and Sloan plus two comedian guests, such as Alan Talaga, Sean Moore or Dylan Brogan), have five or six beers with the game, to ensure that nobody takes winning or losing too seriously. As they navigate a game of Trivial Pursuit, Chutes and Ladders or Mystery Date, they rip mercilessly and hilariously on each other. It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how funny you play the game.
“A lot of times I make a point of not really playing the game well because then I have a lot more fun,” Yonda said.
The show, now 120 episodes in with new ones posting every Thursday at beerandboard.com, has built such a following that fans have started sending them games to play. After Yonda complained in an interview at being outbid for a copy of the Vanilla Ice Rap Game on eBay, a fan bought another copy and mailed it to him.
“We’re working on getting a couple of ridiculous right-wing propaganda games from the early ‘80s,” Yonda said. “One is where you are a person on welfare, going around to different welfare offices and take money away. The other one is where you play a prisoner who has been released from prison by some liberal.”
“It’s pretty terrible, but we’ll play it,” Sloan said. “We’ve sort of made our way through the classic board games and we’re going into these fringe worlds of tabletop gaming.”
Perhaps even more innovative than the idea for the show is the way “Beer & Board Games” has evolved with the crowdsourced support of its fans. Fans pledge money to support the show and get swag, such as signed posters or beer steins or special perks. For $60, the hosts will insult or toast the person of your choice during the show, while for $75, they’ll name one of the playing pieces after you.
“The audience kind of forced us to do it,” Yonda said. “They wanted various things and they wanted to get involved. We did a couple of Kickstarters, and the audience was so excited about that we were like ‘Okay, we need to have a way to do this permanently.’”
Last week, “Beer & Board Games” set up a permanent home on a new site, subbable.com/beerandboardgames, to take audience donations and suggestions.
Audience members can also donate $10 to watch exclusive live streaming episodes. During the live broadcasts, Courtney Collins acts as an online moderator.
“The live audience runs the requests by me and I handle the donations and serve as the go-between (between the players and the audience) during the shows, and spend a lot of fun time chatting with the audience while the show is going on,” she said. There has even been a "Beer & Board Games" live show with an audience in Chicago, and plans are in the works for a Madison performance this fall.
Yonda and Sloan say that kind of direct and ongoing contact between creators and fans is what keeps the show fresh.
“Being able to interact so closely with your audience really helps with innovating your content,” Sloan said.