Humans of the Tabletop: Amanda Wong

After meeting Amanda “Panda” Wong last year via social media, I learned that we were fellow foodies and I soon learned of Amanda’s amazing baking skills. Her cookies were a lifesaver during the long hours of convention gaming at Strategicon. We’ve played several games and shared several meals since then.

Amanda Wong grew up with board games in her home, but as an only child whose family moved often, she didn’t always have a playing partner. Although an extrovert, Amanda sometimes didn’t make friends easily, either.

“I feel it’s even harder as an adult. I don’t drink a lot of alcohol or go on causal dates so meeting new people has been tough,” she said. “But gaming has been a great way to meet new friends and keep in touch with old ones. It also keeps my mind sharp. I love trying to solve the puzzles and hone my strategist skills.”

After watching Wil Wheaton on Tabletop nine years ago, Amanda binged on YouTube board game videos, devouring episodes of Watch It Played and Rahdo Runs Through before buying her first modern board game: Caverna. 

When she heard about Game Haus Cafe’s Kickstarter and subsequent grand opening, Amanda brought her friend Ruby to the Los Angeles area’s first board game cafe and connected with the community of gamers there.

“I didn’t own a lot of games and this was a great way to try new-to-me games,” she said. “I found some great geeky girls to play board games with and never looked back. Ruby and I went every Saturday. [Game Haus owners] Robert and Terry were both so welcoming.”

During the gaming cafe’s early days, Amanda, Ruby, and friends were one of the few groups comprised of all women gamers, which led them to being interviewed by podcasts and blogs.

“I guess it was a novelty,” she said. “I didn’t realize how unconventional it was for women to play board games until I started looking into board game conventions.”

Ruby eventually moved away and Amanda stopped going every Saturday, but still visits regularly. “Everyone I’ve met has been really nice. There are other places to play games in the area but they didn’t feel as welcome and comfortable.”

Game Haus has not only been a place to play games both old and new, but to foster relationships in a safe space. 

“I love seeing families inside playing games,” she said. “Game Haus has a great, warm atmosphere. And there’s such a variety of games and players that I don’t think there’s really any judgement on what type of game you like to play.”

Nowadays, Amanda plays a wide variety of tabletop games, from classics like gin rummy and mah jong to modern favorites like Lords of Waterdeep and Star Realms. She always enjoys a game of Takenoko (“If you have a panda in a games, I will definitely be interested”) and worker placement games such as Asking for Trobils are also beloved (“It’s really easy to learn and not as ‘mean’ because you are not blocked from any placement spots”).

When she’s not gaming, Amanda enjoys crafting items by hand and her Instagram is filled with photos of her latest creations. “I know how to knit, crochet, jewelry designing, 3D beading, cross stitching, origami, and right now I am mainly card-making.”

Her love of pandas is also well known; at the gaming table or on social media she’s often referred to as Amanda Panda.

“As I get older, the more panda-like I get,” she laughed. “You know, someone that just wants to eat, play, and sleep.”

Inspired by Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New YorkHumans of the Tabletop is an ongoing series about the people I’ve played games with. Click here for past Humans of the Tabletop.

Humans of the Tabletop: John Gonzalez

You know how you just get along immediately with certain people? That’s how it is with me and John Gonzalez. I’ve known John (aka Book Of Nerds on Twitter and Instagram) since August of last year, but it feels like we’ve been friends for much longer, thanks to random conversations on social media.

A former teacher, John is also a writer, miniatures painter, and podcaster. While I’ve gotten to know him through the many hours we’ve spent playing Twilight Imperium Fourth Edition, I asked John to talk about his journey into the board game hobby for this re-launch of Humans of the Tabletop.

Fifteen years ago, John Gonzalez, his wife Lorena, and his sisters would gather at his mother’s home for family game nights. Well-worn classics like Monopoly, Clue, or The Game of Life usually hit the tabletop during their regular gatherings.

“Eventually, I bought Betrayal At House on the Hill,” John recalled. “It was an illuminating experience as far as teaching goes. I had a really hard time teaching the game, mostly due to inexperience.”

When work and school began to take up everyone’s time, the game nights ended. It wasn’t until a train ride in 2009 that John re-discovered modern board games, learning Dominion during the trip to Seattle for PAX. Although he loved the deck-building classic, he had doubts about his family’s response to game.

“At the convention, I learned how to play Munchkin,” he said. “Knowing that it would be a hit with my family, I bought a copy and we started having family game nights again.”

Fast forward a few years and John found himself at the newly opened Game Haus board game cafe in Glendale, California, thanks to an invitation from Oscar, a friend of Lorena’s sister. After playing Indigo, Chinatown, and Bohnanza, John and Oscar began meeting up for more games together.

“Lorena and I started playing more games at home as well,” he said. “Our collections have grown these past few years and it’s been our main hobby since then.”

As his passion for the hobby grew, John began honing his skills as a board game teacher. Drawing on his years of experience as a substitute teacher, John utilizes techniques from the classroom when he’s teaching games.

“When I learn a new game, I start thinking about how to teach it, breaking it down into digestible chunks,” he said. “I make an outline in my head and identify the tricky bits. I think about the student, their familiarity with modern board games, and how convey the rules in a way that is approachable.”

Even when he’s not teaching a game, John is constantly analyzing how people teach a game to him, watching the methods they use. He loves learning games for two reasons: “I’m learning a new game (yay!) and I can pick up new teaching techniques.”

His enthusiasm for learning new things helped him make the leap into podcasting, as he recently joined The Five By board game podcast. “I’m a huge fan of the podcast, so I’m very excited about being one of the hosts,” he said. “Writing a five-minute review is decidedly different than writing one for a blog. I found myself having to be more succinct and to the point. It’s a different beast and I’m still learning, but I’m really energized and I love learning and developing new skills.”

Outside of board games, John and Lorena are regular participants in Extra Life, a 24-hour gaming marathon where gamers raise money to support local children’s hospitals.

“Gaming means gathering around a table with friends and having a good time, sharing some laughs, and having a bit of friendly competition.It’s an opportunity to be social and meet new people.”

Inspired by Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New YorkHumans of the Tabletop is an ongoing series about the people I’ve played games with. Click here for past Humans of the Tabletop.

Humans of the Tabletop: June 4, 2018

Inspired by Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York, I present Humans of the Tabletop, an ongoing series about the people I’ve played games with.


“Now that we’re both basically retired, it’s good to get out of the house to meet people and play games. It’s nice to keep your mind active and enjoy the puzzly nature of games. Gaming has always excited us with its friendly competition. Win or lose, you still have friends.”

Humans of the Tabletop: April 23, 2018

Inspired by Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York, I present Humans of the Tabletop, an ongoing series about the people I’ve played games with.


“During elementary school sometimes when it rained we’d have indoor recess and play board games or draw, but I would read books. One rainy season I got into reading series of books like The Woodlanders. And once I got into Harry Potter, my love of reading exploded.”

Humans of the Tabletop: June 5, 2017

Inspired by Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York, I present Humans of the Tabletop, an ongoing series about the people I’ve played games with.


“The first game I played was Legendary. My friend said it was a deck builder. I didn’t know what that meant and seeing all of those cards was frightening, but after one game I thought it was pretty cool. Before I knew it, I’d bought the game and five of the expansions.”

Humans of the Tabletop: Gamex 2017

One of the best things about playing board games is the time spent hanging out with your fellow human beings, bonding over your shared experience at the tabletop. Inspired by Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York, I present Humans of the Tabletop, an ongoing series about some of the people I’ve played games with.

This initial series is from Gamex 2017, the second of three conventions hosted by Strategicon every year in Los Angeles. My heartfelt thanks to these first participants, all of whom I’m fortunate to call my friends.


“I’ve been playing the COIN (COunter INsurgencies) games series from GMT. The last one I played was A Distant Plain, based on the Afghanistan War. They’re long games and they’re fun, plotting out how to build up your troops and how to attack people. I think I’m one of the few Filipino gamers in Phoenix, so it’s always exciting to meet someone that understands your cultural heritage, your big family, your similar background. I play a lot of war games so I’m usually the only woman in the room. I feel like L.A. is a much more diverse crowd. It’s cool to see women gamers and gamers of color all around here.”


“At my first Strategicon I volunteered during the first day. After I finished, I walked around to see what was being offered in each room. The next thing I know, I’m playing one game after another. It felt like Vegas, where there’s no windows and you can’t tell what time it is. Then I experienced my first game of Werewolf at a convention. Man, I did not know what I was getting into. There were about 30 people and there were 3-4 games going on at one time. Ten in the morning rolled around and I ran into some buddies. I joined them and played more games until about 10 at night. The last game I played I was falling asleep at the table, but I finished it.”


“Outside of gaming, I train for half marathons. I do the Avengers Infinity Gauntlet Challenge, where you run a 10K on Saturday and a half marathon on Sunday. That’s 19.3 miles in two days and I’ve been doing it because I saw that shiny Infinity Gauntlet medal. Each medal has a different gemstone from the Marvel Universe. So I’m stuck running this half marathon for six years straight and after that I’m done. I’m going to lift weights the rest of my life.”