The Art of Design: Interviews to game designers #1 – Leo Colovini

[Editor’s note – I was asked by Liga to go through this piece to translate from Liglish into proper English. I have attempted to not change any of the “meaning” but simply make it easier to read! –Dale]

Hi gamers! Here I am again with a new series of interviews. Since I really think designing a game is an art (if you could understand Italian I would recommend you to read “L’arte del gioco” from Emilano Sciarra, the designer of Bang! – published by Mursia), I will try to discover the style, the “sign”, of famous designers by talking with them about their games. Of course, since I’m quite patriotic, I’ll start with the Italians but soon I’ll move around the world. So, if you are a designer, behave! Someday you could find an email from Liga in your box!

I started with Leo Colovini, one of the greatest Italian designers with more than 50 games published in 25 years of work! This means that he designed games when I was just taking my first steps in the boardgaming world!

Leo Colovini

Leo Colovini was interviewed by me also in the “Cosa Bolle in Pentola?” series published on Boardgamenews. I really hope Eric could retrieve this interview from the ashes of his great web site!

I have uploaded it also on

During the interview we will discover Leo Colovini style/sign is “the most possible depth with the least rules“. Let us know if you agree …


Dear Leo

Here I am with an interview about your designing style. I would like to talk with you about it after looking through your endless list of published games.
From Drachenfels, designed with the great Alex Randolph in 1986, to the games listed for publishing in 2011, BoardGameGeek (BGG) lists more than 50 games, including expansions, over 25 years of designing games. I think you are in the right position to tell us something about the games market.
In the gamers community you developed your reputation with Carolus Magnus, Cartagena and Clans. But is there a game you are particularly proud of? Why?


I think there are some games that should have deserved more success, like for example Alexandros, Submarine, The Dutch Golden Age. I think they are at least at the same level of the three titles you mentioned and of other successful games of mine, like Inkognito and Atlantis.


Can you tell us something more about one or more of these games and why you think they are underestimated?


Alexandros and Submarine work with very original mechanisms. In Alexandros, the players influence the movement of Alexander and with the movement they cut off portions of the board. It’s really new and there are no previous games in which this system is applied.
Submarine has a very original structure of the turn. A similar one was used last year in Egizia. You can choose to accomplish all your possible actions, or you can choose to jump directly to the ones you like more, but in this case, you’ll have to wait until your opponents accomplish their actions first.
The Dutch Golden Age was not so original, but it has a mechanism full of interesting elements and I expected a better response.


So from this list: Carlous Magnus, Cartagena, Clans, Alexandros, Submarine, The Dutch Golden Age, Inkognito and Atlantis, select one or two titles and tell us how the idea was started and how was the design process. We would like to know how Leo Colovini creates a game: where do the ideas come from and how long is the process … how you play-test games and so on.


Carolus Magnus was born in a brewery in Nurnberg 1999.
Dario De Toffoli and I were eating, and we had a lot of beer coasters. Before leaving home, I had that idea of the double level of control: the warriors on the board and the ones on my court. But it was missing an element of irreversibility. Since that very moment we were thinking about a board, but we tried to move the coasters on the table and after a while we imagined the concept to merge the adjacent provinces.

Clans was born in a crowded bus. I was reflecting about the creation of the universe. Cosmic powder was assembled in stars and planets by the force of gravity. I’m always fascinated by irreversible elements. So I imagined a game in which the pieces are initially spread on the board, and then they get together in certain places. When I start developing the game, I immediately thought of the process of civilization that started when men got together forming the first villages.


You have designed a lot of games together with other designers. Do you like team-working on a design? What does it mean for you? Is there someone you particularly like as co-worker?


I love team working. Obviously, the partner who is still in my heart is Alex Randolph.


Often in team working designers have different roles: someone prefers to develop the mechanic, someone prefers to work on the theme, someone has a nice idea and someone else is really excellent in balancing the game and making it flow easy. Which is the preferred role of Leo Colovini in the team?


I never shared the roles in my past experiences.


What does that really mean? Which part of the game design are you more confident with?


That means me and my co-workers always take care of all the aspect of the design without any particular role. I like all the aspects, but obviously I’m particularly confident with the mechanisms, especially the simplest and most elegant.


Do you think is there something common in your designs? I think designing games is an art: what is Leo Colovini’s sign?


I learnt at a school, the one of Alex Randolph, and I’m proud to be the keeper of his professional legacy.


So, if you have to summarize your style (Alex’s style) in few sentences, what can you say?


The most depth possible with the least rules possible.


So, Leo Colovini style is “the most possible depth with the least rules“. You talked of rules and depth, with no mention about theme and setting. How important are theme and setting in your designs?


I think that themes and settings are very important because they bring you into the dimension of a dream, and I think they should be as suitable as possible with the mechanism, but the core of the game is still the mechanisms and the rules. Alex said “a game IS its rules“.

All the artists used to have a Master. Who is your Master ? The person who taught you the most about games and designing games ?


Alex Randolph.


You are Italian but used most to publish games for German companies: why? In the past, you also ran Venice-Connection, a small publisher from Italy. Was this experience good for you? How did this interact with your designing style?


I published most of my games with foreign publishers because they are stronger in the main markets. The Italian market is unfortunately one of the smallest.
We ran Venice Connection when there were no publishers for games in Italy. EG published only Risiko and Monopoly, and Clementoni just published educational games. Our mission was to introduce good German games in Italy with the only goal of not losing money. We were successful and I’m very proud of that experience.
By the way, we also invented and produced the board game catalogue for Selegiochi which was a great instrument for the growth of board games in the Città del Sole shops. Some years ago, we were among the founders of Giochi Uniti, with the purpose of creating a distribution branch for small companies like ours. Then, we preferred to sell the company to Giochi Uniti itself because the market, in the meantime, had completely changed – we no longer had the problem which induced us to start. Now there is no more a problem of lack of offers (probably we have now more games than players). Hundreds of new games are now produced or translated, so our historical role was depleted, and we are now more focused on other projects.


To conclude this interview, I’ll ask you some questions that I’ll ask of all the designers: is there a game designed by others you really would like to have designed yourself?


There a lot of games that I would have designed myself. For example Acquire, Twixt, Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Dominion…but the list could be very long.


If you have to describe Leo Colovini with just only 3 Leo Colovini games, which games would you use?


Only 3 games….it’s very difficult. Let’s choose one from the past (Cartagena), one from the present (Atlantis) and one from the future (Draco – Schmidt Spiele).


Thank you Leo and good play!


About Andrea "Liga" Ligabue

Andrea "Liga" Ligabue is a game expert contributing to many games related international projects including Gamers Alliance Report, WIN, ILSA Magazine and Boardgamenews. Member of the International Gamers Awards Committee is coordinator of Play - The Games Festival and founder of the project Ludoteca Ideale.
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4 Responses to The Art of Design: Interviews to game designers #1 – Leo Colovini

  1. Larry Levy says:

    Great idea for a series, Liga. Game design is absolutely an art form and each designer always has their own design style. It’ll really be interesting to see what the different designers have to say about the way they approach their craft.

    Senore Colovini’s style doesn’t match my preferences too closely, but I agree with him about The Dutch Golden Age. That game has a unique feel and is one that should have gotten more attention when it was released.

    It’s also interesting to note Colovini’s emphasis on irreversibility; I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a designer who focused on that aspect. Yet, in retrospect, it’s obviously a part of quite a few of his designs, particularly in a fine game like Carolus. Very good stuff.

  2. Chris says:

    Great interview. I found the idea that he is to some extent from the Alex Randolph “school” to be very interesting. I know that for baseball managers (if I may digress into something *else* I am a geek about) you can trace a history of what managers were influenced by who – the “John McGraw family”, etc. I wonder if something similar could be done for game design. If not now, perhaps in 50 years.

  3. Actually Leo Colovini is already creating a School: Carlo A. Rossi and Alessandro Zucchini (Cogito Studio), both getting KSDJ nomenee with ther games published by Selecta, are really following Leo’s style of design, of course with their particular sign … we will see what’s happen going on with this series …

    good play

  4. Anye Mercy says:

    Thanks for this interview! Leo Colovini is one of my favorite designers yet probably the one I knew the least about. “The most depth possible with the fewest rules possible” sums up why so many of his games work well for me.

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