Archive for Ignacy Trzewiczek
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I have this provocative statement that designer should never listen to playtesters and that playtesters have no idea what they are talkin' about. Every designer panel I run, I always say: 'Ignore them. Just don't listen. They have no clue.'
It's provocation statement of course, but there is a seed of truth in it. Today I'd like to show you the real life example when I totally ignored my playtesters.
Last months I spent developing Alien Artifacts. The rules were changing every day. It was quite a ride. Those of you who watch Portal Games vlog saw it every week - a new version of the game, new series of test, changes over and over again. That was real work, real search for better mechanisms, for better flow, and smoother experience.
At some point we had it. The game worked nice. Playtesters liked it a lot. I remember Asia (one of our playtesters) asking me for a p'n'p files because she wanted to play it at home. That was a good sign. That was a sign I was waiting for for months. It looked like we finally had a winner. We had a version we could start balancing.
And then, few weeks later once again I changed the game.
OMG. You should hear my play-testers. I killed the game. I broke it. I made it a disaster. I made a mistake. This new version is a bullshit. They were whining like babies.
I didn't listen. I asked them to play. They were complaining. Trying to prove me their point. I didn't listen. I just watched. The game was smooth. The game was fluent. It was just a noise of disappointed play-testers that made the whole experience less fun that I'd wish for. But I knew what I wanted. We kept balancing the game. Ignoring the noise of complaining playtesters was my daily routine.
'We are balancing the game. Shut up and play.'
'But the new version is much worse. These changes are a huge mistake, Ignacy.' they said.
'We are balancing the game. Shut up and play."
I ignored the feedback. After a long weeks of that ridiculous playtesting sessions, I packed the game and went to The Dice Tower con. I run about 20 games of Alien Artifacts per day, five days in a row. New players. New feedback. And guess what.
No single person complained, no single person even mentioned these two rules. Almost everybody praised the game, people loved it, people were coming back with their friends to play it again. The game was smooth and fluent.
I was right. My playtesters were wrong.
So what exactly happened?
We like the things we know. We get used to things. We hate changes. We can listen to Smoke on the water thousands of times in our life and we are happy. We can watch Die Hard over and over again and we are happy. We do really feel home sweet home even though we spent a week in the best resort ever.
We like the things we know.
It is crucial for us, designers to have different teams of play-testers. I'd call them waves. At some point, when one of the groups loose fresh perspective, when they got too familiar and too attached to the version, you must thank them for their work and move on to the new group. The old group already likes the game as it is. They will resist every change. They will send you the wrong message. They are - I am sorry to say that - no longer value for you.
You must move to the other group.
With Alien Artifacts I lacked enough groups. I got stuck with not enough playtesters. I got stuck with a group that was resisting changes.
Luckily I knew when to stop to listen to them.
I planned to write about First Martians being a living board game later this year, when we are closer to the actual release of the game, closer to the street date. Well, I had to change my plans. We'll talk about living board game today. What happened?
This Tuesday Rodney Smith from Watch It Played published the video about First Martians. In the set up for the first mission, he presented slightly different opening of the game from what players who pre-ordered the game know. Immediately a ton of questions was asked. Did Rodney make a mistake?
Nope, he didn't. Actually, few times in the video he was telling that he is using the app and future viewers may have a different version of the app and things may vary. First Martians is a living board game. Since Rodney recorded the video we updated the app, we changed set up slightly and we let you play the game without food problems (as it was in the previous version, when Rodney was recording the video).
Let's talk about living board games. It's a fascinating subject.
First Martians comes with the supporting app. This app has all Event and Adventure cards. It has all missions. All set ups, all objectives, all different cool features.
We call First Martians the living board game, because we are going to update the content in the game, adding more and more cards, missions, and features. You buy the game once, but it grows - 'lives' - over the months. The game will change and adjust to our - and that means yours because based on your feedback - expectations.
With a living board game publisher is able to edit every single card in the game. If there is a mistake, it will be fixed. If there is a balance issue, it will be fixed. If there is any way to improve the card or mission, it can be done.
What's great about having all the content in the app - publisher can add more content over the months or even years. As for First Martians, the game is technically not even released yet, and we already added few more cards this Monday with the last update - just to surprise players with a few new events. Box says the game comes with 500+ event and adventure cards. As for today, I can confirm that the game has more cards than it had when we sent it to the print. You cannot add content to baord games unless this is expansion or promos. Here, with a living board game that has all cards in the app we can support the game on a constant basis and it cost users nothing. Just update the app and get 20 new cards. Just download the new version and enjoy 15 new adventures.
Living board game can adjust to the real life events. You can expect that on April 1st you will find in the app a new set of cards - events and adventures that will change the game into ridiculous series of funny events. They will be available in the app only this one day. The publisher is able to celebrate any event or anniversary - changing or adjusting cards you have in the app. For example for an Early Launch kits, we will have a unique mission in the app. The game box says that the game comes with 16 unique missions, but for this 2 weeks window when we celebrate the official release of the game, there will be 17 missions.
Living board game is also a great fan creation supporting project. It can be fueled with the ideas and imagination of fans, who will create the content for the game and it may be naturally presented in the app. No difference between official cards from the game and some sleeved cuts from your office printer. It will be native content presented in the app, as smooth and native as the official one.
'You know that at some point there might be better fan missions than your original ones?' asked me Michał Oracz a few weeks ago.
'I know and I cannot wait to play them' I said and I really mean it. When buying the living board game you buy the basic content, the things that are listed in the box at the moment of release of the game and you also get a ticket for more, for all the amazing things that designer and fans will come up later on. The game will change and grow fueled with creativity of fan base.
First Martians is one of the very first games with the strong app support. It meets with a lot of excitement from board games fans and also with a lot of reservation from players who prefer pure analog experience. I know we are stepping into a new territory. I know we will make mistakes. I know we will experiment and we will learn. But overall I do believe that we might be part of something very important for our hobby and good for all players.
Living board concept is something so much interesting from a designer point of view. It's a way to update the game with new ideas, it's a way to be in contact with fan base and see the game grow over months and years to come.
Since 2012 I was strongly supporting Robinson Crusoe with new scenarios and promo cards.
Here, with First Martians and access to your copy of the game directly via app I can see endless possibilities. Cannot wait for what will happen in the future.
Wed Jul 19, 2017 11:20 am
I shouldn't have done this, but well, I was tired and bored after a 10-hour-long flight from The Dice Tower con, stuck at the airport and waiting for connection flight to Poland.
I opened my phone and took a look at a Facebook group about board games. In most cases that's like askin' for trouble. And here it comes - there is this person, Jakub, who writes: "balance of job cards in Godfather is off (killing other minis is clearly overpowered). I played twice."
He played twice. He knows better. I wish Eric Lang and the whole CMON development team had a chance to meet the guy earlier. He would have fixed the game for them. He is really fucking good.
I've been there. I've been there in 2004 with a release of Zombiaki, in 2005 with a release of Neuroshima Hex, in 2009 with a release of Stronghold... With every damn release I am there. Because there is always this dude who played twice. And he knows better.
I had this awesome Twitter discussion with a guy about Cry Havoc.
'I wish #Aftermath fixes the balance issue in Cry Havoc.' he tweets me.
'No, sir, the expansion won't change the status of power in the game. We are not changing any balance.' I reply.
'Shame. The game is not balanced.'
'You need to learn how to play each faction and how to fight each faction. Play more. The game is well balanced'
'I played once and ebayed. Thanks'
He played once. He knows better.
I was so close to follow up with one more tweet. 'Did you ebay your bike back then when you were a kid and fell down after your first ride?'
I can literally see the letter from his disappointed father sent to the bike company.
We bought a bicycle produced by your company. I have to say we are very disappointed. Today my son gave it a try and fell from it! This device doesn't work. It has only two wheels. What were you thinking producing a two-wheel device?! Did anybody tested this before? It is not stable at all. It falls over each time you try to use it.
I will tell everybody in my neighborhood about your product and your company. Next time you put a new product on the market, do some work testing it!
We live in strange times. We live in a world where you post your opinions in a split second. We played, we post right after the game, with a hot mind, with no reflection whatsoever. Just type a few words and click publish. Your Facebook just couldn't wait any longer, huh?
We live in a world where reviewers don't say how many times they played before they reviewed the game.
We live in times where a First Impression review is treated like actual review, and is never followed up by a full review after few plays. Just play once, tell your initial thoughts and move on - share your opinion with the world immediately, now, fast, quickly, without any hesitation and then 'review' a new game next day.
I'd like to ask you to act. Don't let people who played once create the whole narration about games and influence our entire hobby. Don't let them squander months of hard work on the game because they played once and lost. Expose them. Ask them questions. Ask them how many times they played. Ask them what strategy they chose. Ask them hard questions and make them prove they know what are they talkin' about.
Or at least ... ask them to send their CV to CMON if they are so freakin' smart.
'I play-tested it more than 100 times'.
No, you probably didn't. You played it 100 times, but playing is not play-testing.
Shall we begin?
I receive many emails from young designers and see the same phrase everywhere. 'I play-tested it more than 100 times.' This is a sentence I read in so many submissions.
First of all, 100 gameplays are actually not as many as it sounds. Sorry to say that. 8 games of Robinson in a single day, every damn day of a long week? I've been there. 10 or 15 games of Imperial Settlers over one weekend, over and over again? Yep, regular stuff for me.
100 games is not enough, it is not a number you are looking for if the game is complex and you need to balance it.
But the number doesn't matter. It's not the game of numbers. It's the game of quality.
Play-testing means work. It is a goal-oriented game session. It is a task with a precise outcome. It is playing a game for a purpose.
You cannot start a play-testing session without knowing what you are testing. You must exactly know what you are checking that day. What question you are looking to answer. It's not about: 'Let's play, and we see how it goes', it's always about: 'Let's play and check if strategy XXX is valid' or 'Let's play and see how it works without this rule,' or 'Let's play it and see if adding more event cards makes the game longer.'
If you are not experienced yet, write the question on a piece of paper. Write down what you want to know after the test.
And when the test is finished, either you have the answer to the question you wrote down an hour before, or you don't have it and you need to playtest again, and again, and again. Until you get your damn answer.
Questions and answers. Without that, without a goal of a particular test, you are not play-testing. You are just playing.
What about play-testers? Depending on your goal, you tell them openly what you are doing today or you don't reveal it at all.
You tell your play-testers that today you:
- test if a particular strategy is the winning one (guys, please, today try to play a strong money strategy),
- test if you can build an interesting strategy with the new cards you added (here are a couple of new abilities; please, today use them as heavily as you can),
- test if there is something you want to compare and want them to pay attention to (please focus on combat today, because I really need to see how it compares to the previous version),
You never tell your play-testers that today you:
- are checking if the game is too long,
- are checking if the game is less interesting after you removed some minor rules,
- are checking which rules are confusing for the players
In general, if you balance the game, you say it openly to play-testers and ask them to focus and do their best to find the best winning strategy. You agree to some cheating, like: 'Let's assume I got this card in the first round and these two cards in the second round. I think this might be crazy strong.' Go for it. Agree. Give them all they ask for and let them prove that some synergies are crazy.
In general, if you check if the game is smooth, if the experience is great, if the gameplay is right, you shut up and just watch the players play. Don't tell them that you want to see if they feel comfortable. Just watch them. You'll see it anyway.
I had this awkward moment yesterday. You know, last year we moved to a new office in another city. With the new location came a bunch of new play-testers. They don't know me that well yet. They don't know the way I roll yet. They must learn what play-testing means.
Yesterday, after the game was done:
'This cash-in action was...' the guy began.
'We were not play-testing that.' I shut him down. At that very moment, I probably sounded like the biggest jerk ever.
But yesterday I was checking how factions influence the strategy of play. I didn't say that to the testers, it was something I needed to check without them knowing the purpose. I didn't care what their opinions about the game flow or the cash action were. That was established many games before and I'd been very satisfied with it for weeks. That's why I shut the guy down before he even began.
I might know how to play-test the games. I do, however, lack the communication skills. Anyone runs a blog about that? I'd love to learn.
There were no zombies in the Neuroshima Role Playing Games. To be precise, there were no zombies, no mechs, and no dead children. We put into this game literally everything; it was a 500-page-long book that looked like a witch’s cauldron. We put in it every single idea we had, and man, we were at our best back then, we were 20 years old, and each of us was writing like a madman.
Neuroshima RPG became the most popular RPG in Poland, kicked the asses of Warhammer RPG, D&D, Call of Cthulhu, and any other RPG that came out in Poland. We created a monster and people loved it. It was in 2003.
I never understood why Michał Oracz, the co-writer of Neuroshima, hated mechs. That was his thing, that was his mysterious drive. He fuckin’ hated mechs. Hence, not a single mech in the entire universe. Every single time a fan created a fan-based expansion, article, adventure, or any piece of content that included or mentioned mechs, Michał was complaining. That was always funny.
Michał also never agreed to add zombies to the game. One of the most popular themes in pop culture never made it to the book. Michał said it was lame, and that Neuroshima didn’t need zombies. I never argued. We had so many other awesome things in the book that it was easy for me to pass on zombies.
My thing was children. I removed from the game every single sentence that talked about hurt children. I knew it was supposed to be a post-war world, I knew children get killed in wars, I knew that all. But back then my son was 1 year old. My mindset was pretty clear. There are no dead children in the book.
People didn’t listen to us. Role Playing Games are all about creation, it is all about the Game Master creating adventure, the setting, the campaign, and using his or her imagination to create something new – within the framework they play in.
Mechs and zombies were born. Players added them to the universe anyway. The fan-based content was full of them.
Michał was struggling. He was complaining that these zombies made no sense, that it was lame, that it hurt the Neuroshima vision and world.
Finally, he gave in.
"Damn," he said. "I’ll add zombies. But we’ll do it my way."
And so Death Breath was born. Published in one of the official expansions, zombies – as seen by Michał Oracz – made it to the game. Became official. Fans were happy. After all, we designed the game for them, right?
This week, almost 15 years later, we publish Death Breath as an official army for Neuroshima Hex. Designed by Michał Oracz himself, even though he always was against zombies in the game. This is his vision, his approach, the compromise he reached with our fans. They have zombies, he has his beloved universe accepting the creation.
Everybody is happy except the fans of mechs.
No, it’s not gonna happen. I've known Michał for more than 20 years. Forget about mechs.
From day one after the release of Imperial Settlers I was openly saying that we have a 3-year support plan for the game – and by saying that I meant that we had three more factions already planned and would release them. And then we would see what happens.
Today, after releasing two expansions, I must say that none of them – Atlanteans and Aztecs – were in my initial plan. Both of them were born later, after the game was released – and both of them surprised me and gave me a lot of joy.
The story behind Atlanteans is widely known, I talked and wrote about it in many interviews and articles. One of my employees just approached me and said something like: ‘That would be cool if you designed Atlanteans and they would sink at the end of the game.’ A few months later he had his Atlanteans on the table.
What’s the story with Aztecs?
It all started with reviews of Imperial Settlers.
When I was designing the game, Imperial Settlers was always an engine building game, pure and simple. You have your cards, you build your combos, you create synergies, and – boom, you crash your opponent 82 to 47. Production buildings, feature buildings, and action buildings – all were like small cogs to build a perfect scoring machine.
Never thought about Imperial Settlers any other way that just another engine building game. With cute artwork. With four factions. With awesome components. But still, just a simple engine building game.
And then I read the reviews. It turned out that a very strong theme that came with the game, the fact that we played with four very thematic factions, took the game from an engine building card game and put it in a ‘simple civ game’ basket. That was unexpected. I was debating with reviewers … in my head. ‘There is no technology tree. There are no religions. There are no leaders, culture paths … It is no civ game, for God's sake!’ I was saying that … in my head.
Seriously, though, I was not going to tell them that my game is not that awesome as they say and it does not deserve to be put into the civ games basket.
Rather than opposing all this for the sake of my own view, I started to wonder if I could perhaps make Imperial Settlers more civ-like and if this was possible to truly make it a cute and simple civ game.
And then the Atlanteans happened.
Civ games have a technology tree. There was no place for that in the game, but with the Atlanteans, I was able to add at least a bit of this cool theme and feeling. Three simple tokens that worked on the existing cards and made them work better. Simple and add a civ flavor.
That was the first step. That made me think about the second step. Religion.
Adding temples, gods, monks, priests was a very intriguing idea. Lots of vivid images in my head, lots of ideas for cards and abilities. Egyptian gods, Roman gods, mythology at its best. That was a very tempting second step. And a very risky one…
Issue number one. Religion itself.
I didn’t want to offend players and let’s be honest – people get very easily offended when we talk about religion. It was a risky ground. From the very beginning, I wanted rules that were somehow similar to rules governing religion in an old RPG called 7th Sea. Let me quote the chapter about Faith:
‘You aren’t really sure what this Advantage does. In fact, it may not do anything at all. Is it worth it? You’ll just have to exercise some faith and find out.’
I decided to use the push-your-luck mechanism as the religion mechanism. I wanted to try to make it random, to make it one of those ‘you never know’ things. On the one hand, I found it super thematic and cool, that using a Prayer action will always have an unknown outcome. On the other hand, I was afraid that it might offend somebody's feelings. It’s just a game, these are just cute little Settlers, but I knew I was really walking on thin ice.
Merging religion with the push-your-luck mechanism was a risky move.
Issue number two. Aztecs, altars, and human sacrifice.
To be honest, I don’t remember how I stumbled upon Aztecs. Was it the idea of a fan? Something one of my playtesters suggested? I honestly don’t remember. What I know, what I remember is the fact that I very quickly realized they matched the idea of religion. They were the faction that would bring altars, temples, ceremonies, and prayers.
And blood. Lots of blood.
I didn’t want blood in Imperial Settlers.
We spent an insane amount of hours discussing what to do. Asking illustrators for sketches and their ideas for cute Aztecs. We were desperately looking to making these rituals look cute and remove any blood and gore scenes from the game. And although many Aztec buildings have a worker as a cost (which is sort of a human sacrifice), although the faction does not produce shields (the Aztecs are easy to raze), although I put many small details and pieces to make this faction sort of true, we put just as much work to keep the game family-friendly and preserve the spirit of the Settlers universe.
Finally, the Aztecs were released. None of the issues I was afraid of became a case. It looks like we were delicate enough to not tread on anybody's toes. This is – as I needed it to be – a cute and funny faction that merely introduces a new mechanism to the game and doesn’t hurt any feelings.
And me? I have the Technology in Settlers. I have the Religion in Settlers. I have … Well, I have another step to make. A great adventure awaits, again.
It was a sunny day. We were going to Bruno's Faidutti Gathering of Friends. It was me, Fabien, Sabrina and His Majesty Bruno Cathala.
You may know Bruno from his amazing games. You might know him from his funny photos. You might... Well, in case you didn't know, he is the funniest designer I ever meet. And he talks a lot. If you combine two Eric M. Lang's and add a bit of Steven Avery, you'd get Bruno. That's how much he talks.
(I heard people calling him 'radio Bruno'. It wasn't me. I just say what I've heard).
Anyway. We are in the car. Bruno talks. There are 3 people speaking French in the car and me. For a good five minutes, everybody is very kind and polite and speaks English. And then radio Bruno changes into French.
So we are in the car. 4 hours drive from Geneva to Etouvry, three French-speaking gamers and me, in the back seat. I take notepad and pencil from my backpack and I start to work. I draw a tile for Robinson Crusoe, I list all features of the tile - that is Terrain type, Source type, Discovery token, Beast icon and Totem icon. Then I draw tile for First Martians and I start to compare them.
Regions in First Martian gain discoveries, just like in Robinson Crusoe. Remains of crushed Russian probe. Remains of landing parachutes. Especially interesting samples of rocks. All kind of boring stuff you could find on Mars.
Then regions gain Samples. First Martians is a game about scientists. They are here to examine the surface of the planet. I needed samples in the game, I wanted players to find strange rocks and minerals, I wanted players gather them and then examine. This was different from Robinson Crusoe and actually, that was a huuuuuge step into past, to the very first prototype of Robinson Crusoe. Back then, in the early versions of the prototype each Island tile came into the game with few cubes that represented wood and food. Players were gathering them and then, at some point, the source ended. Finally, in the game, we changed it into an unlimited source, a place you can use as many times as you want - but here, in First Martians, I came back to this idea. From one particular region, you can have only a few interesting, exciting and new samples. To find new scientific discoveries, you will have to go to new regions. Made sense.
And then something amazing happened. Suddenly I got this cool idea. It was this very moment when Bruno said something in French. I am pretty sure it was this exact moment when he said something in French because for the whole 4 hours he was saying something in French.
Anyway, I draw a small arrow on the tile. Those of you who played Robinson Crusoe know what that means. It means 'morale drop'. I wrote - 'Volcano. Stress goes up. They are afraid when visiting this tile.'
And then my eyes opened. That was an ocean of possibilities. That was a door I accidently opened. Bruno was saying something with excitement in his voice. I think he felt the moment, even though nobody in the car had any idea what I was scribbling in my notepad.
Each region in First Martians has a unique feature. It leads to choices. It leads to discussion. It makes players debate which path they will take to reach the destination tile. They plan, like in a real situation, they plan the path they should take. They wonder if it is better to risk driving through the tile with '?' (adventure), or an arrow (drop morale) or just sacrifice more action pawns and go through mountains (additional action pawn needed).
That was it. From the very first moment, it was ready. Never needed to change it. It is in the final game, just literally copied from my notepad.
This is how Bruno Cathala helped me with First Martians. We all know he is a genius. He didn't even realised he is helping. He just did.
It was a couple of days ago. I was driving home and thinking about Crazy Karts. No idea why. Just the random stuff that comes to your mind when you are tired and drive a car.
The idea of introducing a change in the rules came naturally. Instead of two races with a trophy after winning the first race, we could have one longer race with a small trophy after finishing each board. Each board would have a checkpoint line, and when you pass it you get a small trophy. The race then continues. Instead of racing through 3 and then 4 boards, we would do one 5-board-long race. This means 4 chances to grab a trophy and the game would be even better!
Why haven't I come up with this idea back in 2015, when we were developing Crazy Karts?
Because it doesn't work like that.
I have a pretty bad memory, but this one stuck with me for a long time. I've just double checked it - it was a Polish review of The New Era published on a Polish website back in 2012. It really got me. The reviewer said: 'Ignacy released 51st State, playtested it on thousands of players who bought a product, then fixed the mistakes and released The New Era.'
It hurt. A lot.
From today's perspective, the reviewer should have later posted a sort of an appendix. It should be something along these lines: 'Then, a year later, after the global playtesting of The New Era, he repaired the product once again and released a patch called Winter. Those who bought Winter didn't know, however, that they were a part of a play testing operation. Ignacy was gathering worldwide results to build his Imperial Settlers...'
It doesn't work like that.
We are creative people. We are designers. We come up with new ideas on a regular basis. That is why I have so many cool promos and mini expansions for Robinson Crusoe - I live this game and come up with new stuff over and over again. That process is never finished. The game is never done. The mind, the brain is working all the time and attacks you with new rules, cards, and ideas without warning.
Like the one with a finish line on each board of Crazy Karts.
This weekend I talked with Charles, the designer of Crazy Karts. He liked the idea. I believe we'll come up with a few trophies and publish this variant here on BGG, so you guys can enjoy it. I hope you'll have a great time with this small rules modification. And with any other variant I created after releasing the game. Like the solo campaign for Imperial Settlers. Like King Kong, Dr. Livingstone, or Treasure Island scenarios for Robinson Crusoe. Like the 10 heroes for Stronghold. Like a ton of promo cards for 51st State and Imperial Settlers.
Don't blame designers for being creative.
Don't ask them why they didn't come up with that stuff a year before.
It doesn't work like that.
The designing process never ends.
The weather has been pissing me off lately. For the past few years there had been no real winter in Poland and although I felt like I missed real winter, well, it turned out, I didn't. I am not a big fan of low temperatures and all that crap that comes along.
Anyway, this weather thing made me think about the four seasons. The four seasons in a publisher's life.
Winter sucks if we talk about the weather, but it is awesome at Portal Games. It is either the end of the year (if we talk about December) and that means a holiday season, great sells, our sales team is pumped out and everybody is super happy. Games sell like cookies and we know this is the month we were waiting for the whole year.
January and February are great, too. It is the beginning of the year. We have plans. We have new year's resolutions. We know that this new year will be bigger, better and more awesome than any other year in the past. We cannot wait to share the news about our new games with the world. We cannot wait to see new artworks and first samples of new products. Everybody is excited. This year, this January we know for sure, it will be a year of First Martians and we can feel it in the air every single day. The whole company's life revolves around the biggest release in our history.
I love the spring season. There are longer sunshine hours, jackets go back in the wardrobe, smiles and energy are in the streets. I don't like the spring season in the company. It is time to finish up the projects. It is the time of stress and tension. It is the moment when our creative spirits must be reined by the chains of brutal reality, strict rules of rulebooks, final cards, final components, there is no space and time to be creative. It is the time to produce. I am no longer an asset to Portal Games, I am an obstacle. I am the one who wants to change something, to update, to make it better but my production department is cold as ice.
Spring is the worst. It is only stress and tension, no fun.
Summer is awesome. The weather is great. The convention season is at its peak, the releases will hit the market if we aimed for Origins or Gen Con. The hype for the games is highest than ever, fans discuss the games, I am super active on social media and I love it. My company is working hard on the Essen fair, so again there is a lot of tension, scheduling, negotiations with manufacturers and finishing some files, but for me this is the moment to promote, to talk about games, give interviews, and hang out with fans.
Summer is the best.
Autumn is all about Essen. The weather sucks, days are short, the rain is an everyday friend and the temperatures are low. Every year it stirs in me the love for Warhammer Role Playing Game and dark fantasy games. Every damn year.
In the company, we are at our best. The sales department is preparing for the holiday season. Same with the warehouse. The production department is preparing for Essen and for all reprints needed for the holiday season.
And the creative team? Sometimes during Autumn they have a few days off. Because all they needed to create, is already at production. They need to recharge. They need to get some fresh energy. They need to play some games.
Because Winter is coming. And all the fun will begin again...
What's your point of view on seasons and games?
We grew up reading Tolkien, Howard, Herbert, Dick, Lem… We were watching Willow, Blade Runner, The NeverEnding Story, Robin Hood… And yet, we don’t write books… we don’t make movies. We don’t make those things, because we make games. We make games that tell stories.
Books and movies are a perfect chance for us to escape to new, different worlds. They fuel our imagination and dreams. They let us walk in the shoes of great heroes and have exciting adventures. With games, however, we can go further. We can experience these stories together with our friends. Gather around a table and fight enemies together. Survive or die as a group. Together, we can tell stories.
This is what we do. This is what we believe in. Do you want to defend a castle? Do you want to build an empire? Survive on an uninhabited Island? Call your friends, sit at the table and get ready for an amazing story you will all tell and share this evening.
That's what I wrote about Portal Games a few years back. That's what I believe in. Lately, I am even more committed to my belief. The games, the best games we play these days, are truly amazing and provide experiences you cannot compare to anything else. No movie can do this. No book can do this. No video game can do this.
A two hours' challenge when I play Twilight Struggle leaves me always exhausted but happy. I don't care if I won or lost, I don't care if the game was hard for me or if I got some good cards. I don't care because the only thing that matters is the experience. I always feel like I was in the middle of a cold war, like I was fighting for control over the world, like I was there, in the White House with my advisors. This is the experience, this is me being there and trying to solve a political crisis.
A five-hour-long investigation I conducted when I played Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective for the first time remains one of the most vivid memories of a gaming night I've ever had. It was back in December 2015, many months ago and yet I can remember precisely every moment of the game. I was there, looking for clues, investigating the crime scene, interrogating suspects. I was discussing with Merry many possible theories, we were browsing through the booklet looking for things we might have missed, we were totally immersed. That evening, Sherlock Holmes offered us The Experience. During these five hours, I really was an investigator. It was amazing.
I am writing about this, because a new edition of Robinson Crusoe was recently released and so many of you had a chance to live the adventure for the very first time. Robinson is a tough beast. It punches you in the face and knows no mercy. You will lose again and again. You'll get killed by a puma. Starve to death. Freeze during a harsh winter. There is a million ways for you to die in Robinson.
But one day you will win. One day you will build this damn wood pile and get rescued.
And that, my friends, will feel fucking awesome. You won't belive you actually did it. You won't believe you won and you got rescued.
That's The Experience. That's board games.
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