163 – with Stephen Buonocore – The Family Gamers Podcast

Stephen Buonocore

Episode 163

Stephen Buonocore

It’s an odd numbered episode, and we’re excited to welcome a fantastic guest this week.

He is the president of Stronghold Games and spokesperson for Indie Game Studios, the best host of Board Game Insider, fellow Dice Tower Network contributor, sworn enemy of Tom Vasel, and perhaps most importantly, the mild-mannered alter ego of the great Elton Johnocore, Mr. Stephen Buonocore.

What’s the story behind “Elton Johnocore”?

At GenCon 2019, Stephen ran an event “Rock & Roll & Write” to show off roll & write games. He dressed as Elton John, and even sang some karaoke!

Can you tell us about your podcast?

Stephen co-hosts the podcast Board Games Insider with Ignacy Trzewiczek (president of Portal Games). They do their best to give a view inside their companies, and the board game industry. In “Event Deck”, they comment on the news. “Strategy & Tactics” is for answering questions posed to them on BGG and others.

What we’ve been playing:

Stephen: a lot of R&W – That’s Pretty Clever / Twice As Clever / Brikks, all by Wolfgang Warsch.

Also: Second Chance, Dizzle, and Encore (also known as Noch Mal) … and another one (unnamed) that will be revolutionary.

Anitra played some solo Hex Roller (our review) while waiting during a bowling event.

Andrew ran a very successful pop-up game night, with Shobu (our review), Quacks of Quedlinburg, Drop It (our review), Dimension, and Century: Golem Edition.

What do you think your favorite family weight game is that Stronghold or Indie Game Studios has published?

“We tend toward more gamers’ games”, but some of his top games include: Fabled Fruit, the Fast Forward series (we reviewed Fortune), and Finger Guns at High Noon.

Stephen’s absolute top family game, though, is Survive! Escape from Atlantis. It’s 40 years old now! Originally published by Parker Bros/Hasbro, Stephen reached out to the designer shortly after forming Stronghold Games. Work to escape the island and get ahead of your fellow players while they fight off sea creatures!

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?

Andrew talks about our “For Science!” segment and wonders what weird things Stephen has eaten.

I’ll eat anything. Anything served in a restaurant can’t kill me!


At The Gathering of Friends (Niagara/Buffalo): Duff’s Wings – he gets “death wings” EVERY YEAR! He now entertains himself with video of his friends trying ONE.

Even crazier: some promotion for a Science channel stuff… it was dried grasshoppers! Stephen relates a story of Zev Shlasinger (of Z-man Games) in China, eating deep-fried scorpion.

Board Game in the Middle

Remember this from last week? In this we list three games, and we have to pick the game out of the three that has the middle BGG Geek Rating. Not complexity, Geek rating. The choices:

  • Panic Island (Blue Orange)
  • Spy Club (Renegade)
  • Rescue Polar Bears: Data & Temperature (Mayday)

Andrew voted for Rescue Polar Bears. Anitra voted for Panic Island. Stephen also votes for Panic Island.

In the middle: Rescue Polar Bears: Data & Temperature! Lower than Spy Club by just a fraction of a point.

Congratulations also to all the people who chose correctly on our Facebook poll!

Mirage card and yellow cave dweller

SNAP Review – Panic Island

Asher and Anitra tell you about this delightful cooperative game. Work together to save as many eggs, dodo birds, and cave dwellers as possible in just 2 minutes. But beware Action cards that will slow you down!

Read the summary and see the rest of the images in our SNAP reviews.


Stephen is always looking for convention help for Stronghold/Indie. They call themselves “The Knights of the Stronghold”. Indie Game Studios and many other game publishers use Envoy – a nationwide organization that brings together pubs/stores/gamers/etc. and reward gamers to demo specific games. Find out more at dexposure.com

Stephen, you’ve been to way more conventions than we have. We have listeners all over the world, so we’d love to hear from someone who HAS been all over the world about conventions.

What’s your favorite convention?

A hard question. 3 favorites (maybe 4) – middle size, particularly good for gamers. BGGcon, Dice Tower East/West, Geekway to the West (St. Louis). All of these are around 3000 people – small enough to not be overwhelming. Much more social than the big conventions. Look for the “players wanted” flags!

Origins is his fave for large conventions. Gen Con is 70,000. “Big, and crowded, and difficult”, so stay away if you have a fear of crowds.

What are your thoughts about the family-friendliness of these medium-sized conventions?

BGG & Geekway are also quite family friendly. BGG Spring started as “BGG Family”. (All of them are good!)

PAX Unplugged is also pretty big, but it’s not ridiculously big (at least not yet). “Not the top of my list to bring your kids.”

Questions from our audience

What do you look for in a game that would appeal to a family demographic, especially to add it to Stronghold’s offerings?

  • Theme, family-friendly art
  • Fits the broad category 8-adult. “We don’t do children’s games” (ie. 6+ or below)
  • Plays well for kids, but entertaining for adults.

Followup: Do you aim for a certain percentage of games for families? Or just “take the best available”?

  • Short answer is “yes”. Companies can specialize in a few types of games, and most do.
  • Wants to keep Stronghold’s offerings diverse.
  • “I want Stronghold to be a company where everybody can come and find a game.”

You had a career before running a board game business. Before you were running Stronghold Games, how did you manage your passion for board games when you were working all day?

  • “The same way everybody else did – you do it when you get home, on the weekends, and as much as you can.”
  • Grew up playing games with friends and his parents.
  • Continued playing games in his spare time.
  • Mid-2000s, was studying the game market, and many companies weren’t being managed well.
  • Stayed in IT as a “day job” from 2009-2016.

Andrew is curious: What’s your favorite beer?

  • “How do you pick a favorite child?”
  • “I love all well-made beers…” particularly the big flavor profiles.
  • He’s also a certified beer judge! Want to know more about that? Check out BJCP.org

Last question: What’s your favorite game of all time?

  • Easy! War of the Ring
  • “most thematic, most mechanically sound, plays differently every time”
  • It’s a big game. 3 hour minimum play time, so not a great family game.

Find Stephen Online:

StrongholdGames.com – sign up for the newsletter!

Instagram: @strongholdgames

Twitter: @strongholdgames (talk to Stephen directly!)

Facebook: @strongholdgames

And don’t forget the Board Games Insider podcast!

Find Us Online:

Facebook: @familygamersaa and thefamilygamers.com/community
Twitter (X): @familygamersaa
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