On a cloudy Wednesday evening, while most of America is busy choosing the right Netflix show, I find myself seated in the bustling event hall of the Fantasy Flight Games Center in Roseville. Attached to the gaming center are the manufacturing and development buildings that house workers producing tabletop favorites such as Battlestar Galactica and Android: Netrunner. There is a palpable energy in the air, perhaps due to the knowledge that future Fantasy Flight games, which will undoubtedly be played in this event hall, are being created just a few rooms away. To my left, three long rows full of X-Wing Miniatures players battle it out in a tournament organized by a local player; stationed at an elevated table with his laptop, he periodically calls out instructions or results.
Across from me are two tournament veterans and, some might say, X-Wing podcast celebrities, Tim Dugan and Carson Wray. Wearing bright red polos with their Radio TCX logo, Dugan and Wray take a break from their hectic podcasting schedule to chat with me about their successful podcast as well as the subject it focuses on: Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures. As they describe the ins and outs of their ever-expanding X-Wing community, I realize I’ve peeked my head into a budding world filled with competition, character, and a massive amount of content.
The Radio TCX podcast currently averages 1,600 to 2,000 listener downloads per episode. Dugan and Wray have quietly built up a steady following, gaining new fans and retaining enough Patreon supporters to cover the cost of producing weekly installments. Even though there are plenty of people who have never heard of X-Wing, the people who have are choosing to listen to this local program. Though the hosts remain humble about their status in the game’s community, it’s easy to sense their star power while they describe traveling the country for different events. Gamers new to the world of X-Wing shouldn’t be scared to check out the podcast—they’ve intentionally built it show to accommodate newbies as well as intermediate players.
Radio TCX always kicks off with the familiar sound of Chewbacca’s call, which is part of the theme song—an arcade-style take on the classic Star Wars soundtrack—and provided by Jordan Bleau. Dugan and Wray waste no time before jumping into whichever expansion pack or news piece the episode centers around. Occasionally they bring experts and X-Wing tournament champions on to give pointers or rehash their victories. Some episodes offer prizes for the people at home, and regular listeners will find interesting discussions peppered in with the expansion-pack explanations—like in episode 52, in which they examine the similarities in strategy between X-Wing and chess. Radio TCX is not for the listener looking to find another S-Town or This American Life; rather, it’s a podcast built and successfully run on the very specific audience of novice-to-intermediate players of this specific game.
As I rattle off questions about different aspects of podcasting and the game, Dugan and Wray can’t help but smile. I find myself somewhat overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of tournament play surrounding us. But the seasoned hosts are clearly used to it, answering each question with the focus of a Star Wars fighter pilot.
Amanda Costner (TCG): How do you guys know each other?
Carson Wray: So Tim and I met just playing at weekly tournaments, like this one over here. He’d been playing just a few months more than I had, so he was a little better than me. I’d be doing well, then get to the final round and lose to Tim. That happened for a few months.
Tim Dugan: He’s better than me now, I was better than him back then. But he usually wins if we play now.
TCG: Do you concur, Carson?
Tim: He’ll never admit it.
Carson: So during those weekly events, after we were done we’d sit around and talk a little bit about the game, strategy of the game. And then as time progressed those conversations got longer, and eventually we said, “Hey, why don’t we start recording these conversations?”
TCG: How would you describe X-Wing Miniatures?
Tim: Well, I think X-Wing has a nice balance between the depth of complexity and how involved you can get in the game. Because I think you have just the core set where you start with an X-Wing and just a couple TIE fighters. It’s a pretty easy-to-understand board game: set a dial, reveal a dial, move a ship, take an action. I think it’s that balance of easy to learn, but a lot of complexity there.
TCG: How closely associated with the Star Wars movies is the game?
Tim: Well, it’s so cool because the game design is so good, and the Star Wars flavor is so good, that it’ll pull in people who really like Star Wars and it’ll pull in people who maybe don’t care so much about Star Wars but really like miniatures games. I’ve played with people who have expressed to me, “I wasn’t a huge Star Wars fan until I played the game.”
Carson: Because it captures the flavor of the dogfight. It could be World War II planes fighting against each other and those mechanics; it works really well capturing that. So this just happens to be the Star Wars twist on that, which—Star Wars is kind of based off of the World War II style.
Tim: Yeah, George Lucas pulled his influences from those types of fights.
Carson: It makes it a pretty fun game, and you’re like, “Oh this feels like I’m actually flying a ship.”
TCG: Back in the day, gaming was considered a nerd thing, but now it’s kind of considered cool. Do you agree with that? Or have you noticed that?
Tim: Nerd culture has kind of become cool.
Carson: When [Star Wars] Episode VII came out, there was definitely a huge wave of new players getting into the game. The player base probably doubled around that time. And it was like, tournaments were filling up and we didn’t have the space for all the people to play.
Tim: We’re in the middle, kind of, of a board game renaissance right now. In the last 10 to 15 years, it seems like it’s been a bigger thing than ever. The numbers at Gen Con, which is a board-game convention in Indianapolis every year, just keep getting higher and higher—they actually sold out this year. There are a lot of new game stores opening up, which are really appealing play spaces. Especially for a game like this, which tends to take up a lot of space.
Carson: There’s a wide range of ages playing games now. It’s not just a certain generation into board gaming; it seems to be a more broad spectrum.
TCG: How diverse do you think the community is right now in terms of gender?
Carson: So it’s not 50–50. I would say there are definitely women that play. Just with the Star Wars brand in general, I think there’s a lot of older male fans, but I think, especially with the newer films, they’ve done a better job getting women more interested in the franchise. We have a lot of parents bring their daughters to play [at Fantasy Flight] and they’re having a great time.
Tim: That is a cool part of it, too. Our age range is pretty wide, for like what the typical player is here. We’ll have people in their teens all the way up to, you know, people in their 40s, 50s, 60s who play. The community is welcoming and friendly enough that it’s a comfortable thing for them to do.
TCG: What’s the youngest age that you’ve seen playing?
Tim: I almost lost to a nine-year-old once.
Carson: Kids have a lot of free time. They can pick it up pretty quickly.
TCG: How would you rank yourselves as X-Wing players?
Tim: We both had strong finishes in the last two World Championships. [Carson was] 21st at the last World Championship, and I was top 32.
Carson: You were, like, 28th I think?
TCG: Do you guys feel like celebrities?
Carson: So it’s weird because the reactions are disproportional within the X-Wing community, and then it doesn’t matter anywhere else.
Tim: We’ve been playing in this group so long, it’s just like we’re part of the community.
Carson: So locally it doesn’t matter. A lot of players have known us before we started the podcast. But if we travel or if there are national events here then yeah . . . it’s a really weird realization when somebody’s heard your voice but hasn’t seen you, and then you talk to them and you can see that realization dawn on them.
Tim: We’d only done about seven episodes, and we went to this tournament in Chicago. Someone recognized us just by our voices. They were like, “Yeah, we were listening to you all the way up on our car ride from Tennessee,” or something. And that was a really cool experience.
TCG: How has the podcast changed over the last year and a half since you started?
Carson: If you go back and listen to the first few episodes, you can tell . . .
Tim: . . . we weren’t as practiced.
Carson: We’ve improved.
Tim: We’re a lot more trained with the intros and boiler points and “Follow us on Twitter” and all that.
TCG: How would you compare yourself to the other podcasts out there that are focused on X-Wing?
Carson: We tend to be not the most competitive minded of all the X-Wing podcasts. But there are a lot of competitive-minded X-Wing podcasts, and not as many middle-ground, more accessible podcasts.
Tim: We were not the first X-Wing podcast. There are actually a fair number, and what we noticed was there was a trend amongst the other X-Wing podcasts where they had a lot of good content but they tended to be two to three hours. So we looked at that and said, “Okay, we want a really tight edit on the show and a really concise format.” So our shows tend to average between 23 to maybe 45 minutes at the upper limit.
TCG: What are some of the more difficult aspects of recording a weekly podcast?
Carson: I have a bird at home, so I have to cover him so he’s not chirping too much.
TCG: What’s your bird’s name?
Tim: You can hear that bird in the background of a lot of episodes if you listen.
TCG: What advice do you have for people wanting to start their own podcast?
Carson: I would say, you definitely need to do your research ahead of time.
Tim: It has to be fun to do. You have to be doing it not necessarily for the fame or prominence; you have to be willing to put the work in and be consistent.
TCG: Why do you like this game so much? Why do you think the community continues to grow and thrive?
Tim: We have a really good community, both locally and on the national scale. I know a lot of players around the country now, and it’s generally a very friendly environment. There are other competitive games that can be a little less friendly, but we’ll have people, even at the highest level of play, still joking around during matches and having a fun time. So that’s one thing I really like about X-Wing.
TCG: What advice would you give to people who are new or have never played X-Wing?
Carson: Trying a tournament, if you have one in your local scene.
Tim: Yeah, just don’t be afraid of the tournament thing. Because that’s gonna be the best way that you’re gonna learn, and you’re gonna meet a lot of new people at the tournaments.
TCG: One final question I’ve been dying to ask. Are you guys actual good friends?
Tim: His girlfriend asked when I was moving in—I was over there so much.