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Interviews by an Optimist # 20 - Andrea Angiolino

Andrea is a renowned Italian board game designer and has designed many games, from the popular Wings of War to several other titles. Besides board games, he has written a few role-playing games and books about games (a couple of them were even translated into English and Czech). If you are curious, Luding is the place to look at (http://luding.org/Skripte/AuthorData.py/ENauthorid/14 ). But for role-playing games Roliste.com is more detailed... if you can read French (http://www.roliste.com/bio.jsp?id=1289 ).


Tom: Andrea, I know you best because you've designed Wings of War, but a search on the internet shows that you've designed quite a few other games - most of which I've never heard of. Has Wings of War been the first game you've designed that is world-wide renown?

Andrea: Well, not really. But I'd say it's the fist real success. Outside Italy, there was a popular promotional game in Spain in 1991, but it wasn't international - just Spain.

There was a book about paper & pencil games (1993) that was translated into quite a few languages (English 1995 by Sterling, New York; then Czech; now Korean; next Chinese), but it is not a board game, of course. By the way, the USA edition has been cut a lot. Another couple of game books managed to be translated into Czech.

"Ulysses" by Winning Moves Germany has been around quite a lot since 2001, even if for several reasons the game did not come out as we wanted, and it had a cold start in Germany because of some editing and translation problems - reviews in other countries have been quite warmer than the first German ones. It has been released only in German, but it has been distributed in several countries with the rulebook's translation attached. Funagain and others had it in the USA, but I have seen it also in other English-speaking countries, in France, in Italy, in the Czech Republic, in Japan...

"Wings of War" has been studied by Nexus Editrice as a language-independent game to be released with just a different rulebook. After the Italian edition, several foreign ones started. At the moment it is in English for all the English-speaking countries (by Fantasy Flight Games), in Spanish for Spain and Portugal (and maybe some South American countries - I do not know the strength of the Spanish publisher/distributor), in French, in Greek, in German, in Dutch. It will probably be translated into Russian quite soon. There are some local shops in other countries that import the game in English but also translate it into their local language: I have found a Norwegian translation online in the site of a shop, for example. It is not so different from Ulysses' circulation, but all the material is international (Ulysses had German names on the cards and board, even if it was very easy to cope with them for non-German speaking people) and usually local editions have full color booklets with the rules in the local language and not just a Xeroxed translation as Ulysses. And WoW has been probably far more successful also - for a problem of local would-be publishers and contracts I never had a direct relationship with Winning Moves, so I don't have a real report of Ulysses' sales, I just had the money for the royalties.

For the rest I did many board games, game books, role-playing games, books about games, but all of them in Italy. The next two will appear in Italy too, but as "WoW" they have been studied as would-be international games with language-independent materials. One of them is even a game book for children that did not learn to read yet... More language-independent than this is hard to be conceived!

Tom: Andrea, how did you get started in board games? What board games first made a big impression on you?

Andrea: This is not an easy question. I grew up in Italy in the '70s; I was born in 1966. Boardgames were very popular then, so I really do not know with which I started. Not only some international producers were distributed fairly well, as Ravensburger and Jumbo, but we also had very good Italian ones. Clementoni was a very creative industry and Editrice Giochi did several nice games every year, invented or translated, besides milking great successes like Monopoly, Scarabeo (an Italian copy of Scrabble that was at the center of a very interesting trial for plagiarism at the end of the '50s), Risk! and later Clue. Several Parker and Milton Bradley games reached us via an EG Italian edition or - as Risk!, Diplomacy and Clue - entered the EG catalogue after being first released by other Italian publishers. I played them several times, and other famous international games like "Stratego", "Ludo”, "Master Mind" and even more.

There were several other Italian producers like Alma and Editoys that made very nice boxed games. There was no Christmas or birthday without a new game for me, and even visiting aunts could bring me one as a gift. I still have several games from then in my collection... A "Rischiatutto" about a very popular quiz show on TV. A nice "Pinocchio e il pesce parlante" with a speaking whale that used a record like the one for speaking dolls, for example, by the Italian authors Moc and Giamba. I still remember a very rich "Metropolis" by the same authors, published by Editoys, with a huge board, lots of plastic buildings and ruins and taxis and trees, where you had to develop a city building, your palaces, but keeping an eye on environmental problems - it was a very expensive item, and I never had one; but my schoolmate Emilio had it.

I used to read several boys magazines, and they had little board games as gifts, or paper ones printed in the pages of the magazines - even by famous Italian cartoonists. Mondadori was the main publisher in the world for Mickey Mouse comic stories (they were translated all over the world) and you could get a board game or a large book, when you subscribed to the weekly magazine "Topolino" - I almost always went for the board game, if it was a new one and not just a collection of well known games as sometimes happened. There was a financial game about stock exchanges that was called "Paperopoli" (as the town where Donald Duck lives) that was great indeed. There was a huge "Strategikon" war game about an imaginary sea, air and land war on a squared map... I do not know their designers (except for Moc & Giamba they were rarely credited in Italy until some new publishers came out in the '90s and the big ones tried to go on the German market where they had to), but they did a great job.

So, in short, my childhood was full not only of traditional card games, paper & pencil games, open-air games, but also of board games. And I also designed a couple of them, like a board game about traffic and road signals made on a large squared paper leaf as the one we used for math tests in class: nothing original as you see, but I played it quite a lot with my sister and cousins. With them, especially with Martino, we used the very popular Airfix and Atlantic plastic toy soldiers to design a war game, where you measured all movements and ranges in hand spans and fingers, and you tossed coins to calculate hits (one for rifles and pistols, three for hand-machineguns, five for heavy machineguns) - later on we converted it to centimeters and dice. I can say I never really stopped boardgaming and such, but I can't say exactly when or how I started.

Then instant games about TV shows and films became predominant on the Italian board game market. TV advertising became crucial and the medium-sized and small publishers vanished, maybe because they could not afford it. Quality of local designs became lousy since those games were planned to stay just one season in catalogue, to be replaced by other ones designed after new TV shows in the next autumn. Even very nice games like "Survive!" or "Pass the Pigs" were on sale for just a season, to disappear after a few months, while we were flooded by tournament Risk!, pocket Monopoly, Junior Clue, Luxury Scarabeo. And then tournament Scarabeo, pocket Clue, Junior Monopoly, Luxury Risk. Or maybe Football Monopoly, Video Clue, Card Risk!, Scrabeo imitations by other publishers... Then people in Italy got quite bored of board games, far before the great fashion of computer games that was blamed for making them shrink. Luckily in 1980 I started to play real miniature wargaming, simulation board games from SPI and Avalon Hill, role-playing games (with my friend Gregory Alegi I actually had the very first RPG column in Italy: it was on the monthly game magazine Pergioco, starting September 1982). So I went on with the hobby anyway. Fashions come and go - we had a great moment for board games with the party games' success in early '90s that ended a few years later, but I am always there playing and designing.

I am not the only one, luckily. Little Italian RPG publishers like Nexus Editrice survived and grew, and they are now international publishers of successful board games. Rose&Poison is following the same path, and it is not the only one. Some former Nexus Editrice's magazine contributors or authors of little local publishing houses became international authors - I am glad of having sometime contributed to that process, helping to bring out the games of Mirko Marchesi and Luigi Ferrini. Domenico Di Giorgio, with which I made the monthly game magazine GiocAreA for them, founded daVinci games... My generation has now some weight on the world gaming scene - more abroad than in Italy, where most of the best things are just in specialized shops and never reach the mass market.

Besides, in 1980 I also bought "Corteo": a simulation of a public demonstration in an imaginary city. A classical simulation on an hexgrid map, with police and protester units with movement and combat points, special rules for gas guns and vehicle charges, and so on. A couple of years later, when I started writing on the magazine Pergioco, I knew the designers: a Roman group called C.Un.S.A. "Corteo" had been very important because it showed me that a game designer’s career could be possible even in Italy. C.Un.S.A. was a group of professional designers that made board games, magazine games, TV and radio games, public events games, and games for advertising and for training. They did a few games for the game market because they liked it (and they have been quite successful in that anyway), but mostly games on demand out of which to make a living for several families. At first I started studying Economics because I thought that board games would make a nice hobby in the evenings and on the weekends: but in 1988, after a couple of games of mine had been published by small firms, I dared to propose C.UnS.A. to accept me. They did. I graduated a bit slowly... in 2000, after 16 years of university. But I became a professional designer 12 years before, with games paying for my first little house and my first second-hand car.

Tom: So you make a living from designing board games?

Andrea: Not at the moment, actually: Internet, children books and a huge history of the ballpoint pen are in these days the main things that pay my bills. But for more than 12 years games have been my only source of income.

In Italy you have to make a bit more than just designing games, to make a living out of them. Board games are perfect, especially when you make them for promotional purposes: you do not have to rely on sales to be sure they pay enough for your job since you bargain a fixed amount that you think it is worth your time and effort, and for the use they make of your ideas. I did several board games to be used as gadgets with other products, such as a "Elementare Watson!" to be attached to Sherlock Holmes videotapes and a "Warhammer Adventures" board game to be sold with a collection of issues with stories set in the Warhammer world (translated from English) and an encyclopedia about that world (that I wrote myself). I also did several of them to teach things to children, like one about Euro conversion and the level of prices before it that was given for free to 170,000 kids in my region: one about recycling plastics that went in a magazine for schools all over Italy, a simulation board game about WWI air combats over the Italian front for the Italian Air Force magazine, an "Auto Market" hat was a promotional item for the association of importers of foreign cars. But sometimes you need to do board games, sometimes CD-Roms, sometimes Internet games. Besides, for several years I did TV games and radio games that are quite well paid. I did game inserts on magazines, especially in summer time. I did games for teletext, for magazine advertising, for theater programs. I also did game books and role-playing games, but more for fun than for money: too much work and too little money to be really worth it. To make a full job out of that I also made books about games, taught the use of games to teachers and librarians, reviewed games on magazines, translated games, edited games and game translations... All this together was a true job that made a pretty good salary. Designing board games alone would not.

The reason why you have to broaden your activity is that the Italian game market is not so large. Especially the one you can reach with most of the publishers - the ones that usually don't advertise on TV but at the same time that are open to authors' proposals. Usually a publisher is happy if it sells 2,000/3,000 copies of a board game. This does not mean that you can do far better. The "Dinoland" board game about dinosaurs that I did with C.UnS.A. for Clementoni planned to sell 30,000 copies and actually sold 32,500 in the very first year, but it was the only time we could do anything with them - they usually have full time anonymous designers inside the publishing house. The Nexus Editrice board games about Dragonball cartoons that I designed were printed in 15,000 copies. My friend and co-author Elena Fyrogeni even managed to sell 16,500 copies of a self-produced board game called "Squek!", and that was a great success since she also runs her own company (now she closed it to become a full time author, but her board games are under contract by several publishers all over the world). Those are more interesting numbers than usual, but actually if you do not go abroad you cannot have a really good income out of the board game market. And most of the occasions I have for working on games started from Italy, my little far-off country.

Tom: What is your take on the state of boardgaming both in Italy, and in the world?

Andrea: I am an optimist, at least as you. I see Italy as a land with a lot of potential. The local niche market of Euro games is pretty interesting, even distribution is always a sad point and sales are very limited. But there are a lot of good artisans at work around here: authors, editors, illustrators, and publishers. So Italian games are not only selling to local gamers, but they are also going abroad and earning their place under the spotlights of the world scene. I am happy to make my little part in this process. We are even discussing an Italian style, as a specific section of the German games / Euro games trend.

In the meantime, Italian kids and families don't play with board games as much as they did in the past. But this means that we have a lot of potential. Many boys play with collectable card games, Warhammer, Heroclix... These are non-easy games to grasp and handle, so they are actually ready to understand and play some intriguing, Euro-style (or whatever you like to call them) board games. Most of those CCG and miniature wargames are spread by means of oral tradition between schoolmates, friends, and cousins. This, together with try-and-learn computer games and half-leaflet-rulebook party games, contribute to make these boys quite puzzled in front of the old system of taking a new game, studying it by yourself and then explaining it to your friends and playing it. But every time we bring games into schools, libraries, shows, pubs, shops to show them and to teach them I find that it's really worth the effort, and that people can go back to boardgaming with great pleasure. The Lucca Games Show and other similar meetings all over Italy are full of enthusiasts, but also of newbies and families. We have a lot to gain back of our hobby... and job.

The world scene is a bit more confused, seen from our little far-off province of the Empire. I see a very mature German market with a lot of gaming culture, interest toward authors, flourishing of new games. An interested and dynamic English-speaking market, a well-grown French one, a lot of other national markets that are now open to proposals from each other. A very lively situation.

And besides all this, there is the Internet scene: a funny mirror of the world one. I do not find Internet so useful to play: yes, I had my Blue Max moment in which I did several matches online, but I am not so fond of playing with a computer. I am more interested in Internet as a great players community, a place to exchange experiences and suggestions; dedicated sites, newsgroups and forums are essential for me. A place where I can find suggestions, additional rules, Norwegian rulebooks for my games. Where I can even peep into airplane enthusiast communities if I have to take inspiration for the setting up of my games; where I can find and buy the old games of my childhood and boyhood if I get a bit nostalgic; where I can find any kind of information that can be useful to my hobby (if I understand the rules of that game called Internet search, and how to guess what is precise information, what is approximation, what is false). And Internet is of course also a great shop window for new releases, even if people in the end often buy elsewhere. The first print run of "Wings of War" in English was sold out in 12 days: there is no explanation other than the effect of people reading about the game on Internet and eagerly going to buy it as soon as it was available, or even urging the shops to order it in advance before the first boxes managed to get across the Atlantic.

Tom: So, can you tell me a little bit about the games you're working on now?

Andrea: Well, at the moment I am checking the final layout of "Obscura Tempora", a simple card game with a Dark Ages setting. Drawings are by Valeria de Caterini: I like her style quite a lot. The game will be published in Italian, German and English by Rose&Poison. It should be out in April, but I am already working on an expansion set and maybe a few promo cards. This game was scheduled for 1992 by another Italian publisher: at that time there were not so many "special cards" games like "Grass" or "Family Business", but I liked them a lot and I thought that it could be a great idea. We hoped to sell maybe 1,500 copies all over Italy, but the two main Italian distributors of that time said that a medieval/fantasy card game would never sell a single copy since people enjoying that kind of setting would play RPGs instead and never, never a card game. We gave up. After a year the two distributors had a fierce struggle to get the rights of the Italian edition of "Magic - The Gathering". Seeing the amounts they sold, I am pretty sure that the 1,500 of my game would have sold out anyway. But that's only one example of the short-sightedness of the Italian market. Luckily, in the last 12 years or so it evolved quite a bit.

Next game after it will be "The Storymixer", a system to make choose-your-own-adventure game books for children that can't read yet. It is actually a set of tiles with a matching symbol system. The first episode, "Osvaldo and the Hunters", will appear in April by Edizioni Lapis. In Italian, but of course it is a very language-independent product! If any foreign publisher is interested, please give me a call. In these days I am checking the illustrations by Valeria and I am working on the packaging with the publisher. If this title is successful, I plan to make new ones with the same system and main character, so the kid can mix all the tiles and get richer and longer stories.

Then I have to finish a huge "Dictionary of Games" that I am making with a friend for a large Italian publisher. We have been working on it since last year, and we still have quite a lot to do. Luckily I can rely on more than 20 years of articles and books about games that I already did in the past, but it is a very time-consuming job.

Speaking about books, I am a bit sad that my book about paper&pencil games is available in several nations but not in Italy. I did a children’s book for Editioriale Scienza about card games that has a 52+3 cards deck attached. It is in the same collection of Sackson's "The Book of Classic Boardgames", a book about marble games with a little bag of marbles and so on. I plan to make a couple of books in this collection about paper&pencil games, adapting my previous book. And I'd also like to make another about card games with a traditional, Italian 40 card deck if the first one is successful enough. Last year I also made a book about how to write game books (I was the first Italian author of a game book, back in 1987), and also how to make public readings of them, how to make choose-your-own-adventure theatre and movies, and for creative writing in classrooms and libraries. I have plans for at least a new book with the same publisher, but I want to wait for the summer when the text of the dictionary will be finished. Besides, my co-author Luca Giuliano is a university professor and is starting a specialization course about "strategies in hypertextual narrative": I'll have to contribute a chapter to hist textbook, writing about the history of the choose-your-own-story gamebook. A book with a couple of lectures I gave at the University of Trieste about communicating by games should be checkproofed soon to appear later in the year.

Back to card games, I have a prototype that is now under final testing by daVinci Games. They are a great publisher and up to now I did not have anything that could suit their catalogue among my prototypes; but this one has been developed for them, and it seems to fit well. It could go into production quite soon. It is about ancient tombs and treasures... fits well with their catalogue too, if I think about "Tuchulcha".

Then I am preparing a new edition of "I Cavalieri del Tempio", a historic role-playing game that was pretty popular in early '90s here in Italy. It is inspired by Eco's novels: players are Templar knights travelling in space and time to pursue a Secret Plan that even they do not know. I did it with four friends, so the job is light and divided among us: Luca Giuliano again, Massimo Casa, Agostino Carocci and Giuliano Boschi. Release date is late October at the Lucca Games fair, if everything goes well.

Another RPG that I am going maybe to work on is "Mediterraneo", about Greek myth. It has been around since 1992 as a little 32 page, 14 x 10 centimeters, 1.03 euro booklet where you could find all the rules and an adventure. It is little introductory game, very successful in our activities in schools and libraries and even appreciated as a little distraction by fond players of full size RPGs. Last week Nexus Editrice released a PDF version on sale on the Internet, together with a collection of the adventures that appeared here and there on magazines, fanzines and web sites. There was a plan to release a little American edition, but maybe an Italian publisher will make a revised and enlarged version soon, both in Italian and English (my friend Demian Katz already translated it). Let's see what happens - I'd have to work a bit on the background and on the magic system.

There is an economic promotional game I am editing, and I am actually becoming a co-author. It is about starting new companies and entering business. Maybe it will be also released on the market, let's see how it comes out.

A huge amount of my time as an author is of course devoted to "Wings of War". The second set "Watch your back!" is shipping to local publishers around the world currently; in the meantime, Pier Giorgio Paglia and I are closing the playtesting of the third "Burning Drakens" set. Vincenzo Auletta is making his wonderful drawings, and we are feeding him info and historical documentation. In the meantime, we are preparing the first two boxes of a second collection, set in World War II. And also a couple of little blisters for WWI, with just two maneuver decks and a few airplanes that will allow to add new plane models and expand the number of players for any WoW owner without the cost of a new full box. If all goes well, that will make other three sets and two blisters in 2005. At least for us authors - production schedule is always uncertain, as we all know.

I also have a little classical, hex-grid board game simulation called "Bikes of War". It is a silly game about light Elven bikes, Dwarven mountain bikes and heavy Orchish tricycles fighting in a fantasy setting. There are two-seater bikes firing sideways and funny tricks like the Immeldwarf Turn. It was published on the Italian fanzine RiLL several years ago. Now I translated it into English, and it will probably be used as a promotional game or sold online, by daVinci.

This is for things that are planned more or less for release in this year, even if I have to feel very optimistic to say that most of them will actually be in shops and libraries before the 31st of December. Besides that, I have several prototypes that I did alone or together with friends: a couple with Elena Fyrogeni, a couple with Pier Giorgio Paglia, one with Paolo Corsini (with which I also wrote a short story that will be in a fiction anthology released in Italy this April). With Pier Giorgio I also made a new version of "Ulysses" that goes back to the philosophy of our first prototype: simpler and with less luck. I am going to the Nurenberg fair to show them around, and some are already on the tables of publishers all over the world... Let's cross the finger and hope the best. In the meantime, with all this work to do I am not actually inventing anything more. Maybe after the summer, when most of those projects will be settled.

Tom: What tips would you give to prospective game designers?

Andrea: Quite obvious things, actually, but some novices don't think about them...
First of all, play as much as you can. Keep yourself updated, and you'll reduce the risk of working on a project that matches some existing product. If it happens, bad luck - but bad luck can be justified, keeping eyes closed cannot.

If you design games for yourself everything is ok, but if you want to publish them try to aim to specific companies. Some of them like 2-player games, some not. Some make only, or mostly, language-independent games (especially in little nations), some not. Have a look to sizes and quantities of materials of their games, age target, level of difficulty, preferred settings and so on. You'll save time, and they'll do the same; so your chances of getting their interest on a likely product grow bigger.

Always make a good playtesting yourself, with gaming groups of different sizes if you want the game to scale well. Then do a wide blind play testing, giving the game with no explanation to groups of players and, if you are there while they play, without giving any hint or reaction until they finish the game. You'll learn a lot about clarity, completeness, easiness, spoiling tactics of your game, and you can quickly make it better.

Don't waste too much time on graphics and illustrations for your prototype. About this the opinion varies, since the prototype is after all a kind of visiting card for you; but a serious publisher is not influenced by aesthetics, as long as the game is not particularly ugly nor unclear. Anyway, the final publisher will maybe not be the one you intend, it will have its own style for graphics and illustrations, it may change format and even the setting and chrome of your game. Your artwork will almost never be used. When you submit a game, be patient. It takes a lot for a publisher to examine your game properly; don't harass the people you sent the prototype to, it's only irritating for them. A polite check every few months if they don't answer themselves is more than enough.

Never send unsolicited prototypes. Go in shows, meet publishers and ask them if they want to have a look to your proposals: if yes, show the prototype and explain your game being quick and direct. If they are interested, they'll ask you to send a copy (usually not to live it on the spot - luggage on the way to fairs and on the way back would become too heavy for everybody involved!). If you prefer to contact publishers by mail, ok; but just send a couple of lines of description and wait for a reply. Maybe they are working on something similar, or they are not just interested in that kind of stuff; so they'll ask you not to send anything, and you'll save time and money on the spot, besides avoiding a bad feeling of having been copied afterward if you see a similar product by them.

I personally avoid patents, registrations, protections of the games in general when I submit them to publishers. They are not useful in the Italian law system, after all, and they tend to be irritating. If there are publishers that I do not trust, well... I don't send anything to them.

Take game designing more as an artisan's craft than an artist's one. A game first of all has to work smoothly and be fun. If you want to sell it around it also has to be somehow unusual and "nice". But don't try to be original just for the sake of it; and if a publisher asks you to change something in your project, don't just refuse but seriously consider if it's worth it to do it.

Said that, everybody has his style. I prefer simple games, with rules that are very coherent with the setting. If I want to enrich a simple system, I prefer to go for optional rules. But this is more a matter of tastes, so do what you better feel.

If you want to self-produce your game, it's ok; but decide if you prefer to be a designer or a manager. Some great Italian publishing houses were born thanks to game designers that in the end stopped designing to manage their society: be ready to take this risk. If not, better to find a publisher that seriously believes in your project and frees you from all the production, financial, distribution, promotional problems for your game. You'll have more experienced people than you doing that, and you'll be fee to go on designing. After all Charles Darrow self-produced Monopoly only after Parker refused it, and it worked fine to convince them that they were wrong; but after the first Christmas of sales, he has been more than happy to sell the rights to them and become a millionaire (you can correctly point out that he was not the designer after all, but that's another matter).

By the way, avoid paying anything to a publisher to see your game published. No serious publisher would ask for that - it sometimes happens with books, I personally never saw it happen with games. We were saying that you need a publisher that seriously believes in your project: if he wants money to reduce his enterprise risks, he does not believe so deeply in your proposal after all.

Above everything, don't think that you'll become rich thanks to your games. Some designers managed to do it - I personally know a few, but I could name plenty of more rewarding ways to be sure that I was making more money for the same amount of work and time - from a part time job as a cashier in the grocery at the corner onward. It can be a honest and well paid job, but it seldom become a source of real richness - and even to become a job it takes time, effort and some luck. Begin a game designer career to gather a huge heap of banknotes is like starting to play a guitar with the idea that you'll become a billionaire rockstar, or to write stories thinking that you'll be the next J.K. Rowling, or to boil an egg for the first time convincing yourself that you'll soon be appointed the chef of the best restaurant in town. This way of thinking could somehow make your start a bit confusing and make you loose some more concrete, intermediate goals to reach between the start of your hopefully joyful career and filthy richness, worldwide popularity, and immortal fame. So grasp any serious occasion you can have to publish your ideas: magazines, promotional games, and small but competent publishers. This does not mean that you have to accept to be exploited by anybody: the first American publisher interested in publishing "Wings of War" offered us a forfeit of $500 of worldwide rights for the whole collection for 2 years, and we somehow felt that we could earn that just in our hometown with the first set in the first few months - we refused and FFG made a far more fair proposal afterward. But if you do not find a major publishing house don't be too sad to accept an honest percentage on sales from a smaller one, with a little advance on that just to have it involved from the very start. After all, if I am not wrong, Richard Garfield started that way with his "Magic - The Gathering". As most of us do with most of our games.

Tom: What board game companies are producing good, quality games right now, in your opinion (both in Italy and the world)?

Andrea: I think there are many great publishing houses around - the most famous being Euro games publishers, no need to name them. But when I try to state which ones are the best I am surprised to realize, all of a sudden, that this is a difficult question. First of all, because I actually play less than I'd like to, than I should, and than I suggest would-be designers to do. I mean, playing new games released on the market - I actually play a lot, but most of the time is taken by playtesting my little creatures, demonstrating them around or helping friends (designers and publishers) to playtest their own products.

Of course I need to be updated on new releases, and reading about games is quite useless compared to playing them. I lately have played several games for the first time, some of them very recently and some that have been on my playlist for quite a long time: things like "War of the Ring", "Word Jam", "Santiago", "Senator", "Ys", "Farfalia", and "Scream machine"... But I tend to be more aware of the authors than of the publishers. Some are personal friends of mine, some are famous guys that I never met, some are utterly unknown to me... but I tend to think about those games more as Obert's, Pelek's, and Carver's rather than Amigo's or daVinci's. Many authors publish with quite a lot of different publishing houses, as I try to do myself, and often their style is more relevant than the publishers' style. I know that if a game is from an author instead of a publisher I can expect a natural blend of mechanics and chrome, or a perfect abstract game with maybe a theme pasted on it, or a deep simulation of something, or a funny party game to laugh aloud, or whatever.

Then, of course, I am very aware of the specificities that every publishers has. I know that Nexus Editrice is stronger in games that have a "hobby shop" feeling, even if it is aimed to a more massive market, or that can be released as a collection of mixable independent sets: that's why I proposed "Wings of War" to them before anyone else. I know that daVinci is stronger especially in card games that have at least a little twist in them, and that's why I designed a card game with an archaeology setting especially for them. I am proud to cooperate with those publishers, since they made several games I like a lot and since they are so successful on the international market. I also like to work together with several other publishers too, because I design more games than a single publisher is willing to take from me and aim at very different targets that no average size publisher totally covers; but I tend to lean toward would-be publishers for my games from the point of view of what I can propose to them, than just in terms of "good" or "bad". The latter is a perfect way to summarize their relationships with your tastes, but at the moment I'm not so able to do that.

This is something I tend to do more with old publishing houses that I have known for many years. Nostalgia helps. In early '80s, simulation gamers were split as music fans: if the latter were either pro Verdi or pro Wagner, pro Beatles or pro Rolling Stones, the former were either pro Avalon Hill or pro SPI. I was utterly a SPI fan, even if I own and played quite a lot of Avalon Hill titles (not to speak of lesser publishers' products). I played a lot of games by Clementoni and Editrice Giochi (in the 70s they did great things), even if today I am more looking for little masterpieces by Alma Giochi, an Italian publisher that released 24 boardgames when I was a kid. I appreciated several Ravensburger games for kids even when I was older than their primary target. If you ask me who did good games in the last millennium, I could probably answer better...

Tom: So can you give us the answer why Wings of War: Watch Your Back
is taking so long to be produced?

Andrea: Here we have a Frequently Asked Question, if there is one!

First of all, I have to say that the game has finally been released. Yesterday evening I was at the GobCon, a convention in Rome organized by the "La Tana dei Goblin" site, and I have been invited to demonstrate it: we played with a real copy (my first game with one). A shop owner came with a little heap of real copies, and he sold them all - he would sell more of them if he brought them. So the game exists!

Then we could wonder why a game released in January 2005 has a cover drawing that's signed "Auletta 2003"... Actually, the idea of WoW came just after the 2002 Nuremberg Toy Fair, in early February. We had a playable prototype in one night, and one that could be showed around in a few weeks. We showed it to Nexus first because it could be marketed as a collection of independent but mixable sets (as their X-Bugs) and because their general manager Roberto Di Meglio was leaving for the USA so he could seek for partners abroad. Nexus liked it on the spot. Contacts and decisions took a bit, so we had to wait a few months before we had a confirmation that the project would start. Foreign publishers interested in "Wings of War" confirmed their will to make it in their language, but they did not really commit to it; Roberto decided not to wait for final replies and to start alone anyway... In early 2003 we began working on the product, and Nexus proudly announced the game.

In June 2003 all the playtesting, the rule writing and the artwork for both boxes was finished. The content was "frozen": images, text and so on were definitive. It was just a matter of layout; we had worked in Rome with Dario Calì that did the main job on the front of the airplane and maneuver cards; but working at distance was a slow process, and Nexus decided to finish the work in house. Fabio Maiorana in Viareggio finished his job and took care of the damage cards, of the back, of counters and rulebook and mats and the box. Nexus is a growing enterprise, but they are not really huge. Besides magazines, collectable card games and other running projects to be brought on, all of a sudden they were in the middle of the "War of the Ring" project. This had maximum priority, and I can really understand that it has been the most important project for any Italian publisher in recent years. But making so huge and complex a game in eight different languages has been an effort that took much energy from them. "Wings of War" slowed down because of that.

"WoW - Famous Aces" was released in March 2004. It was an immediate success, and then all the foreigner publishers started ordering it. Translations and new booklets took some energy. Anyway the artwork for the second box was already there, and then... it was again just a matter to put everything in the layout and send it to printers. There was a bit slowing us down because "WoW - Watch your back!" has cards by Carta Mundi instead of being produced in Italy, a plastic tray for the cards and some more little improvements. In the end, the first copies hit the shelves in January. It could have been produced more quickly, that's really true. But let's see what happens with "WoW - Burning Drachens" if it's out before the end of the spring. It means that Nexus is now a perfectly working machine, and that for the future we will not have to wait so much. I hope so, since other sets will follow soon.

Besides, the English version is sadly slower than any of the other versions. When the game is ready in Northern Italy, it has to be shipped around. It reaches Greece, Germany, Holland, France and Spain quite quickly. But it takes time to reach the Fantasy Flight Games warehouse in the USA, and more time to go from there to the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and other English speaking countries. Very sorry for that!

Tom: Can you tell us a little bit about "Burning Drachens", give us any details about the game?

Andrea: This will be the third set in the "Wings of War" collection. It will be an independent set, as the first two, that can be played by itself or mixed with the others for larger scenarios. The following two items for First World War, WoW, will be just blisters of cards, instead.

Balloons were tricky things to destroy, so balloon busters are a great part of the WWI aces epic. Some of them are already in our game with their planes, as Willy Coppens, William Barker, and Edward Rickenbacker. Some more will be found in this third set.
Their planes will be Nieuport 17s and 23s, Albatros D.IIIs, Pfalz D.IIIs and Pfalz D.IIIas. The mix of nationalities will grow, adding a Turkish and a Bulgarian Nieuport to the mix. We'll have a French plane of the Escadrille Lafayette, formed by American pilots - you'll find Lufbery's; it's even on the cover. You'll also find Brumowsky's very elegant Albatros: he has been the first Austrian ace, and he was very successful against balloons. He went to France to see the air war up there and met the Red Baron; they became friends, and he has been very impressed by him. When he was back on the Italian front, he painted his airplane red, but with huge skulls on it.

The balloons in our game will be nearly 20 cm long, in heavy cardboard. They will be huge still but hard to destroy targets. You'll have optional rules for air-to-air rockets, that are a kind of fireworks that you should fire from a close distance and from above. Keep going toward the balloon because the rockets that started a random few seconds after you pressed the button went in a very imprecise direction. If they pierce the balloon and keep on producing sparkles until the gas of the balloon would mix with the air, the whole blimp could start on fire and even explode. But before rejoicing of this success of yours, please remember that you are very close to the big burning sausage and that your are pointing directly at it... Our ace Giannino Ancillotto received a gold medal because he was so concentrated on this process, the 5th of December 1917, that his Nieuport actually hit the balloon! He switched off the engine and went across the burning drachen. Then he managed to fly back to an Italian airport and noticed that huge stripes of canvas from the Austrian balloon he destroyed were still hanging from the fire-damaged wings.

For later attacks to balloons, we also add incendiary bullet rules. Quite more handy for poor pilots...

Balloons will be defended by fighters, but also by anti-aircraft guns and machineguns. Gun batteries in our game will be quite deadly; it will not be easy to hit a plane with them; but if they manage, the damage will be a tough one. You'll put a token at two rulers maximum distance from the gun, to simulate aim; and after two maneuvers every plane overlapping the counter will take a C damage card. Every one of them, so it will be possible that a gun could hit a plane belonging to its own side! Not so an unrealistic possibility, after all. If you see Buzio's or Navarre's Nieuport Ni.11s in "Watch your back!" you'll notice huge Italian and French flags painted on the fuselage. The exact reason for this was to prevent these kinds of accidents with their own artillery. You'll find some more target cards, especially trenches, in the box. They will be good for trench strafing scenarios. Those, and anti-balloon ones, will also have rules to be played in solitaire. That could be useful for training and for a few half hours of enjoment when you have no people around, even if I find WoW most amusing with crowds of players.

There will be altitude rules too. People want them, here you have them. The playtesters seemed to enjoy them. I found them nice for ground attack or balloon scenarios, but I prefer to avoid them in dogfights. After all, in my opinion, the game is effective because it's so simple. We managed to design a simple system, but everything it had slowed down the game.

That's also why the rulebook will be organized in several optional sections. With WoW - BD you'll be able to play a duel between two fighters with basic rules or classical optional rules or a few more optional rules that appeared on the Internet in the meantime, and you can add one or more sections about balloons, AA fire, altitude and so on, or even optional rules for those sections. So if you want to stick to the core of the basic rules you can, and if you want more you can add just a little bit each time you play a new scenario.
The contents will be 2 maneuver decks, quite a lot of airplanes, 4 double-sided balloons (several models, 4 of them with German/Austrian and 4 of them with Allied colors), A and B ground firing machineguns, AA artillery, altitude cards for all the maneuver decks released up to now, A damage deck, C damage deck (for AA guns), D damage deck (for rockets), 85 counters, 2 double sided mats, rulers and rulebook. We tried to give the best playing value within the limits of the materials fixed by Nexus Editrice. A few ground machineguns and Nieuports fire at B and there is no B damage deck in Burning Drachens, but the rules will explain how to use them if you have an A deck so you will not need any other box to use those few cards.

Tom: Thanks for all this information! Do you have any final words for our readers?

Andrea: No, I already took so much of their time. I want just to thank them for having read up to there and you for this interview. Actually there are so many people to thank: my co-authors, my illustrators and my editors and translators first of all. Then my publishers that put trust (and money) into my games. The distributors and shop-owners that believed in them. The shows', shops', libraries', and schools' staffs that invited me to demonstrate and speak about my little creatures. The journalists and site contributors that reviewed them and promoted them and spread words about the little events that involved them. And above all, all the players that play, speak of (for good or bad), and create new rules and scenarios for my games.

This is a due thanking, but also a final comment for everybody: no matter which role you have in the gaming community, from gamer to professional, please enjoy it. Together with as many people as you can. It is very fine just to play at home with your friends, but the more you share your experiences, the more those experiences will be rich. You can maybe meet a "shark" every now and then, but I am so glad to have met so many people thanks to gaming. I forced some of my best friends to become gamers... but I found great new friends thanks to gaming. And that's far more important that anything else I got from this activity.

- Tom Vasel
March, 2005
“Real men play board games.”

 
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Bob
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Thanks Tom & Andrea, this was my favorite one yet...maybe because I'm such a big WoW fan. I'm chomping at the bit to get WoW: Watch Your Back!
 
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