- Piotr Silka(sipio)Poland
Piotr Siłka: You start design games about 1990. It took You some years to have Your first games published and also you told once that before you made a good game you had to do a twenty games. Did't You want to give up this because it was so hard for You to made a good game?
Martin Wallace:Designing games is fun, even when they do not work. You can do so much work in your head when you are out walking, or even working in a classroom. It's like you take your office with you. I never thought about giving up, even when certain other people advised me to do so (please do not ask who, as I cannot tell you). Working at something is the key to being good at it, without all of that practice I would not be the designer I am today.
PS:And how it look like at present time? How many ideas turned into a sketch of the games? How many of sketches are starting to be developed? How many of them are finished (you are not resining during the test) and finally how many of them are published?
MW:There are a number of games in the pipeline but I cannot give you details. I'm developing about three or four designs at the moment, researching a few others, and arranging artwork for a couple.
Nowadays when I start on a game design I finish it. I usually know before I even start doing the research that a game is possible. I very rarely abandon a design now, I can normally get through and come up with a finished product. However, I do not start as many designs as I used to in the early days. Part of the skill of designing is knowing very quickly what will and will not work. You learn from your mistakes, and I've made most of them!
PS:You are a full-time designer for a quite long time. How you typical day of work looks like?
MW:I like to stay in bed as long as my wife will let me, which is not long. I then get up and look at my emails. At some point I have to do some actual work, but I try to put this off for as long as possible. I then go shopping and make tea for everyone else, as they all have proper jobs.
PS:You said that designing is fun. So how You divide this during you day between designing and the rest work. Is there any system of work, for example few hours for paper work to lunch and after reading, brain storming and working on You prototypes. If you have playtests usually one a week i assume is at lest all day?
MW:I have no system whatsoever. I am very disorganised, continually lose things, never get around to filling VAT forms in on time, and hate doing the accounts. Designing happens at random moments, although most of my good ideas come to me first thing in the morning while still in bed - my brain is still relatively clear in the morning, so I can get some good thinking done. One playtest a week on average, in the evening, so just a few hours. Sometimes I have an afternoon playtest if I'm working on a 2 player game (a friend of mine is free during the day, not having a proper job).
PS: Mostly you play in your games, but when for the last time You play in somebody else boardgames and what was that?
MW:I do not get the chance to play many other games. I think the last one I played was Olympos, which was OK.
PS: Does you kids (I asume that they are no kids anymore) play with You, do they like boardgames as the same like you?
MW:I have two children, 19 and 21. My younger child does like games but I do not get the chance to play with her often (neither of them live at home with me).
PS: You are known from very thematic games, and from the fact that the theme is first, before mechanic. What are you first question you ask yourself when you starting thinking about game (what feelings should have player during the play and how to create them or rather something else?
MW:When approaching a new theme I'm looking for the important elements that have to be simulated to some degree. Automobile is about making money, which is exactly why people make cars. Discworld is about not knowing what other people are up to, and dealing with lots of trouble. Going back to some of my older games, Struggle of Empires is about who you make alliances with. I try to have a simple core idea and then hang a game design around it. The big question I ask myself when playing a game is whether people are enjoying it. It's not hard to design a game that works, the real challenge is making one that people want to play again and again.
PS: Are there any themes about which You wanted do a boardgames, but You weren't satisfied with the result of the work and you still not finished those games or even it occurred that is very hard to "translate" in the language of games?
MW:Yes. I'm working on a game about steam ships which is not coming together very well. The problem is that ships are all about taking people from a to b, which is hard to do without just doing another train game. It's also difficult to turn certain stories into games. I spent a lot of time trying to do a game about Don Quixote, but gave up in the end. Fortunately Pegasus have now published a game with that theme, so I can give up on it now.
PS:Is there a chance for a reprint one of You old games like Empires of the Ancient World, Way Out West, Mordredor event the oldest than those games? Don't you think about re-disign them for example?
MW:Empires possibly, Way Out West would require another company to undertake production. Mordred no, as it was released as a charity game. The problem with Empires is that it is difficult to develop it to make it suitable for the 21st century.
PS: During working on Tinners' Trail you had this conception that all elements will be wooden. Did it help in designing process or rather not? This game was a inspiration for one of the best games in Poland published last Year about salt mine which is "Magnum Sal". I don't know did You have opportunity to play if not i truly recommend to you.
MW:I only restricted myself to wooden pieces as it is the cheapest way to produce a small run of games (what you pay for wood does not change much with quantity). It was an interesting restriction, which I think helped me come up with some games that I might not otherwise have designed. If Tinners Trail did influence Magnum Sal then that's great. I've heard of that game but not had a chance to play it.
PS: How do You like the polish version of God's Playground?
MW:The production values are much much better. I have to admit, though, that I have not played it with four people yet. I very rarely play my own games once they are released. I was pleased to hear that it won game of the year in Poland.
PS:How did You prepared to design Moongha Invaders which is quite unusual project for You? You had enough of games with historic background?
MW:I designed Moongha Invaders as a favour to Andrea 'Liga' Ligabue. He suggested the monster theme. It was really meant to be a small run game just for the Modena show, but it seems to have become more popular than I expected.
PS: Londonas you said is a example of the game that during the development had many changes? Bud did You fell potential of this game from the beginning? How long did take You to finish this game and what was You reaction when you notices that on the same that another game about London it those times will be published?
MW:I normally can see whether a game can be developed into something 'better' early on in playtesting. I think it took about three or four months to fully develop the game. It does not bother me when another game on the same theme comes out about the same time. It has happened before with Princes of the Renaissance coming out about the same time as Phalanx published 'The Prince.'
PS:How was with using the deck building mechanic in Few Acres of Snow? You have played in Dominion or rather heard about it and during thinking about this game you thought that will be great tu use it?
MW:I had played Dominiona few times. I make a point of trying games that seem to be popular, just to see if there are any good ideas that I can steal. When I started designing A Few Acres of Snow I had no intention of using the Dominion mechanic, it just suggested itself as a good solution to the problem of coming up with the core system. Only when I started playtesting the game did I realise that the Dominion mechanic has an awful lot of potential.
PS:There are still some voices calling for change of rules even after second editions? Do you planning to look into this matter or this is closed chapter for You?
With regards to A Few Acres of Snow I have no plans to revisit the game. What I can say is that other designs in the pipeline use some of the same ideas as Snow but in new settings, and where no dominant strategy can ever occur.
PS: One of You games that will have a premier soon it is Zeitalter der Vernunft? I read that this is a Struggle of Empires on steroids? What are the main changes and how it happen that You re-desing this game?
MW:The main change is that the game is quicker – you have cards that allow you to place armies on the board more quickly, so cutting out the long build-up to war. It is a game I had intended going back to for a long time. I had intended it for another company but that did not work out, so I offered it to my friend, Uli Blenneman.
PS:The other games is Test of Fire: Bull Run 1861 Can you tell a little about it? What will be the next title published in series game of American Civil War?
MW:Test of Fire is designed to be a very simple wargame aimed at introducing people to the hobby. I see it as a way for a father to introduce his son or daughter to wargames without having too many complex rules. There is a lot of luck in the game, you roll dice to see what actions you can perform. However, the battle itself was very chaotic, so I see this as fitting. I think experienced gamers will find it too simple for their tastes, but then they already have a lot of complex games they can choose from. I am working on another ACW game but I cannot give you any details about it.
PS:Are there any other mechanics that You like very much and wanted to used in the future in Your games?
MW:I think I have stolen most of the mechanics that I like, I do not know of any others that I wish to use. I would stay away from using a rondel mechanic as Mac Gerdts already does a great job in producing games with that element in.
PS:How many books about car industry you had to read to have this idea for Automobile?
MW:Not sure, I bought a lot of books but many of them were for illustrations. It's not the number of books you read but finding the key texts that give you an insight in to the theme that is important. Initially I read books about cars, but this did not give me the necessary insights. Then I switched to reading about the historical figures associated with the car industry, which gave me the critical information that I was looking for.
PS: After reading those books and seeing illustration of cars what was the first ideas? There was only things that You wanted to show in boardgame or even then You had in mind the relationship between them?
MW:I knew I wanted the game to include pictures of cars. I also knew that I could not use cards as the game was for the Treefrog Line, which meant just a board and wooden pieces. It was that restriction which led to the track around the edge of the board. Until I had done the research I had no idea that the best way to go was to focus on the American car industry. Once I made that decision the game fell together fairly quickly.
PS: In instruction You wrote that the game was mostly developed during one long weekend. What was the changes that occurred after this time?
MW:I cannot remember the details but the main change was getting rid of the stock market system. I wanted a share system where players could wait until later in the game before selling shares in their company for a higher return. It was too fiddly and caused more problems than it solved. Development is very much about getting rid of mechanisms and smoothing things out.
PS: How it happened that You start thinking about game based on the Discworld?
MW:I actually wanted to do a game based on Iain M Bank's books, but could not get the licence. A friend of mine suggested Discworld and so I looked into it. It helped that some people I knew had good contacts with Terry Pratchett.
PS:Which books of Terry Pratchett had the bigger influence on the game?
MW:The Guards trilogy had the biggest influence on the game, as you can probably tell from the number of Nightwatch characters in the game.
PS: Anhk Morpork is completely different from most of your games because it doesn't have historical background. Did it made harder to design or rather easier?
MW:About the same. You research the theme in the same way and then try to come up with mechanisms to reflect that theme. However, this was a more interesting game to design as there is humour to deal with – which is lacking in real history.
PS: Did You show the game to Terry Pratchett himself or even play with him?
MW:Terry does not play games. He's seen it and approved all of the artwork (which he really likes). When I first approached his agent the response was to play it with the fans and see what they thought of it. Fortunately they liked it, so I got the green light.
PS:Could You share some more information about Witches? What was the main inspiratione during the desining process?
MW:The game is aimed more at the family than gamers. It has the feel of a light rpg board game. Each player takes on the role of a young trainee witch and travel around Lancre attempting to solve problems. Some are easy, such as curing a sick pig, others are harder, such as invasions of elves or dealing with the Wintersmith. Solving a problem means rolling dice and hoping you get the right total. There is a little bit more to it then that as you only roll half the dice to begin with and then decide whether you want to continue or run away. At this point you can add cards to your total. You then roll the remaining dice. Thus the decision making in the game is very much about risk management. I feel it does a good job of reflecting the world of the witches, even down to having to meet up for cups of tea! There are no clever or novel mechanics in the game, its all about being as close to the source material as possible.
PS:How work on Project Mythotopiais going. Do you planning to publish this games next year? Could you tell us some more details about it?
MW:Mythotopia is still being worked on by Asmodee at the moment. I cannot really comment on progress as that is up to them to decide when they want to release information. Hopefully it will be this year.
PS:What are your impression after SPIELE 2012 compared to previous years? Are you satisfied with the way that P.I. and Doctor Who was welcome?
MW:Spiel 2012 was a little quieter for us than 2011. Sales of Doctor Who have been disappointing in Europe but it has done very well in America. P.I. was an experiment to see how people would react to something simpler. So far the response has been muted. I’m not sure if it is an experiment I would choose to repeat.
PS:Congratulation on the successful funding of Moongha Invaders. Did you expect such a response and does it mean that You will realise more games this way?
MW:I was very please with the pledge level achieved by Moongha Invaders. Kickstarter is a very useful tool for helping with cashflow and gauging potential demand. I have plans to use it again in the very near future.
PS:Could you tell anything about you new titles which will be published in 2013 beyond the two mention above? Maybee You can say what You are preapering for Essen 2013?
MW:There are a number of projects that I am working on at the moment, most of which I cannot really talk about at the moment. However, I can mention the game we have lined up for Essen, and which will also be promoted on Kickstarter. The game is called ‘A Study in Emerald’ and is based on a short story by Neil Gaiman. The story mixes together Sherlock Holmes and H.P. Lovecraft. What I have done is taken this concept and broadened it out by adding historical elements as well. Players are engaged in a secret war, with some trying to free the world of their monstrous overlords, while others are attempting to maintain the status quo. The game builds on the deck building mechanic I used in Snow, but adds bidding to the mix. The game is not simple, there is a lot going on and you have to work out other people’s secret identities to ensure that you do not throw the game away at the end. I will be posting details on the Treefrog website soon.
PS:What are you impressions after moving to New Zealand? What was the main reasons for this step?
MW:The move to New Zealand has gone very well. The main reason for coming over was to escape the cold weather that seems to be a permanent feature in the UK at the moment. The lifestyle out here is much more relaxed and the scenery is simply stunning. We have found a lovely town to settle in and have no intentions of moving back to Europe.
PS: Thanks a lot for You answers and i hope that we will see more games of yours soon.
Part of this interview was originally published in Świat Gier Planszowych in 2012. The second part was update in the spring of 2013 and should be published on BGG NEWS, but after five months of waiting for approve i decided to publish here.
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- Pete K(pkufahl)United States
Thanks for posting this.
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