The Art of Design: Interviews to game designers #2 – Andrea Angiolino

By: Andrea “Liga” Ligabue

[Editor’s Note – as with previous entries in this series, I have made small edits to Liga’s original writing in order to help it read better.   Dale]

Here is another interview about The Art of Design. Today I’m going to interview Andrea Angiolino, another of Italy’s big names. Looking on BGG, he has more than 40 games published starting from 1985 but, of course, Andrea is best known for his Wings of War series.

Angiolino told us “I love simplicity, clean games with steamlined mechanics that at the same time are very consistent with setting and chrome” — something we can call “The Italian Style”, that is between German and American games. Inside the “school” Andrea aims to use mechanics with “hidden complexity“. Let’s go!

Caricature of Andrea from his website

Dear Andrea

Here I am with an interview about your designing style. I would like to talk with you about it looking through your long list of published games. From a 1985 design (Cacciatori di Viverne) to Isla Dorada, published this year with Faidutti and Moon, BGG lists more than 40 games, including expansions: more than 25 years of games. I think you are in a good position to tell us something about the games market.

In the gamers community you got most of your reputation with the Wings of War series. But is there is a game that you are particulary proud of? Why?

Actually several. The most recent, is always the most beloved child – right now, Wings of War. And besides I am quite proud of how WoW lives beyond my personal effort in creating and expanding it: so many additonal materials, variants and such are made by players that also organize meetings, tournaments, campaigns, e-mail and web-based games. This is a game with a life of its own by now.

But luckily, more than one time, in these 25 years, I felt that I did something worthwhile. This is what pushed me to go on. Several games have been made on commission, as a part of my job, but many out of inspiration and those are the ones I like most. More than the games based on famed licenses such as a Warhammer and two Dragonball boardgames, even if those had more circulation and visibility.

Among the rest, I love “Il Mischiastorie”, a kind of a choose-your-own-path gamebook for children not yet able to read – probably the only one in the world for them. I also like the other gamebooks I did: One set in ancient Rome with many lively details of everyday life, thanks to my co-author Francesca Garello that’s also an archaeologist, and one where you pilot a torpedo bomber in 1941 around Malta, written with her husband Gregory Alegi, that is illustrated with one hundred of real WW2 pictures so that everything happening in the story has a fitting, “real” image to show it.

I like “Obscura Tempora”, a 1991 attempt to show that a card game could be full of chrome – even if the two main Italian distributors of that time said that no, somebody fond of that setting “would never, never play a Middle Ages or fantasy card game since they love RPGs”. My publisher planned to print 1,000 or 1,500 copies, but the project was stopped. Months later, the same distributors were struggling to get the rights of Magic – The Gathering that sold in Italy 160,000 basic decks in the first year: A proof that our much smaller print run had a chance, after all.

I am also quite proud of “Orlando Furioso”, a fantasy role-playing game published by the City Council of Rome to spread the hobby in schools and libraries – it has been distributed for free to teachers and librarians. Public boards in Modena and Ravenna later did RPGs for the same purpose. This was later useful to fight the attacks to the hobby by the media, when somebody tried (as abroad) to get some personal attention attacking this obscure and uncomprensible hobby done in secret by teenagers and adults: Quite hard to say that in a country where public bureaus spread the RPG as a teaching instrument.

Well, yes, in 25 years I did more than one thing that I am proud of.
You designed a lot of games together with other designers. Do you like team-working on a design? What does it mean for you?

I like to share game ideas with friends and work with them, because it is fun. It also requires organization and the feeling that everybody is giving all he can to the project, but in the end it gives a richer game.

I am really convinced that the more people work on a game, the better it gets. Nothing against self-produced games, but I feel that when I have professional editors, professional illustrators, professional graphic artists and a professonal publishing house working with me, the final product is far better. Working with a publisher, the selection of ideas and possibilities has a counterpart that helps to check my ideas from an outside, less involved point of view. In the end, this should result in a more solid game. A co-author contributes with more ideas and hints, and at the same time has the same effect of being a full time editor of my contributions, always checking everything with a different point of view.

Besides, being in two or more, we can push or replace each other when there is some difficulty, even simply the weight of everyday life. I just published a 1200 pages game dictionary written with Beniamino Sidoti, coming out of nearly 10 years of work: if it was made from one of us alone, probably it would have been abandoned much time ago. Or it would take far more than twice the time. But no matter if children arrived, jobs changed, people moved from one city to another – there was always a co-author going on when the other had problems, and showing the direction, and pushing both, and in the end it was done.

I also think that I am quite determined in finishing works. So sometime I have been called by colleagues that were giving up, abandoning projects that they started but they felt unable to bring to the end – and together we finished and published them.

Besides, with all the things I did, there are some that are liked by other designers. Wings of War openly inspired more than one boardgame and at least one web/iPad game, whose designers just went on on their own without contacting me. But Bruno Faidutti is a far more honest and pleasant person, so when he liked the basic mechanics of our Ulysses and he decided to make a new game out of them, he also proposed Pier Giorgio and me to somehow become co-authors. This is how Isla Dorada was born.

Is there someone you particulary like as co-worker ?

The designer with which I’d really like to publish something together is Andrea Mainini. He has several good products around and many interesting prototypes too.  But what’s most, he is the person who most deeply understood the spirit of Wings of War. He proposed a few variants, and all of them have the correct mix of fresh ideas, steamlined rules, low complexity and richness of settings. We are developing a few things together, I hope that something will be published soon.

Do you think is there something common in your design? I think designing games is an art: what is Andrea Angiolino’s sign?

I love simplicity, clean games with steamlined mechanics that at the same time are very consistent with setting and chrome. This is something like a third way between the abstract mechanichs with a pasted setting that’s typical of German games, or “Eurogames”, and the rich flourishing of rules and mechanics for a detailed simulation that’s typical of the American style.

Of course I am not the only one to follow this path, that I think it has been followed by several other designers too, expecially Italian, in the last 10 years or so. So that there have even been discussons, both in Italy and abroad, if this is a sign of an Italian style together with a few other factors: The presence of some original twists in the mechanics, the attention to the artwork and the visual impact, the tendency to make language-independent materials, the possibility of direct conflict between players and of warlike settings that the German game avoids. Well, this is the style that I feel is mine. Even if, of course, working with so many different publishers, my games are also marked by their styles. This is also because I tend to propose a certain game to the publisher that owns the most suitable catalogue for it, not just because I design games having a certain publisher in mind. Games on commission apart, I relally tried to follow a publisher’s style just once with Ulysses: It was aimed to Venice Connection and its international partners. And I must say that the trick worked – the contract was signed just a few weeks after I sent them my prototype.

Within this kind of “Italian style”, a personal mark that I would like to explore more in future projects is what I call “hidden complexity“. This is what I think I have acheived in “Wings of War”. In a traditional dogfight simulation where movement is planned in secret and then executed at the same time, such as Air Force, Aces High, Wings, Blue Max or many other titles from the ’70s and 80’s, you write down on paper what you want to do. And you must learn a range of restrictions that are explained by rules, charts of data and such, depending on the historical agility of the plane, the speed you are at, and so on. With Wings of War, the player’s life is simpler: he just gets a deck of cards depending on his plane model, and with very simple rules, he can compose his turn just choosing three cards with a couple of general restrictions. He must not study anything about turning radii, or learn about how to simulate the effect of a rotary engine. The designers did that job for him and engineered all that within the number of cards in his maneuvre deck, and the length and shape of the arrows on them. He just looks at his plane, sees a “C” maneuvrability, takes a C deck and plays. His plane will somehow fly different from the others to simulate a 185 km/h Sopwith Camel with a tendency to turn right, but without all the effort by him that it required in a simulation 20 or 30 years ago. As for maneuvres, combat is much simpler too: you draw and keep one or two cards depending on the range, from a deck depending from your firepower- that’s all. No charts, dice, modifiers, special rules and then paperwork to record it all as in older simulations. If there is a game with the same setting that inspired me in that is probably “Ace of Aces”. But WoW apart, I think that the same effect of “hidden complexity” can be acheived in other, totally different games. And it is a style that I’d like to make mine more often.

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

In the Renaissance, would-be artists were apprenticed to the workshop of some famed painter or sculptor. I did the same.

I started with my first column in a game magazine in 1982, then I published my first boardgame (about fantasy air combats), then my first gamebook (actually the first one ever by an Italian author). Little things I was experimenting with. But Antonello Lotronto, a great game designer himself, suggested me to contact C.UnS.A.: A Roman team of authors that made a life out of games. Not just boardgames but also TV and radio games, games for magazines and newspapers, games for shows and festivals,  promotional games, edutainment. They had already done famed boardgames as Corteo, the first Italian hex-based simulation game, about marches by demonstrators and riots in a city. They were Massimo and Fabrizio Casa, Luca Giuliano, Marco Bardella. They accepted me in the group and I then learned game design – not just boardgame design – as a profession. Later on, Stefano Giusti joined us. With them I learned how to make a good game, or at least a decent one, when a big publisher comes and asks for a boardgame for children, about dinosaurs, with a videotape, within a month, because Jurassic Park  is coming and his internal creatives failed. Or a game about Sherlock Holmes to be sold in newspaper kiosks as 10 issues, that can be played with the first one but meaningfully expanded by the others. This has been a real school of life. And also the proof that game design could be a real job and not just a hobby to be done late at night after a day in the office.

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

Several. Not out of envy nor for the royalties… But maybe Max J. Kobbert’s “The aMAZEing labyrinth” would be the one I’d choose to “steal” first. So beloved by players that when in early ’90s Ravensburger discontinued it to replace it with Master Labyrinth,
people revolted and they had to put it back in catalogue. “Survive” is another such game I admire much, as I write in my essay in “Family games – The 100 best” (Green Ronin Publishing).

If you have to describe Andrea Angiolino  with just only 3 Andrea Angiolino games, which games ?

  • “Wings of War” of course, the most seen around. Inspired and born by passion for games and airplanes.
  • “Mediterraneo”, the style we spoke of applied to role-playing games – 32 little pages for a complete game back in 1991. My love for inventing stories, for myth, for our cultural roots is all there.
  • “Fair play”, a boardgame about fair trade and the problems of globalization: it shows how a game can communicate notions and ideas, a thing that is an important part of my job. Showing opinions on the problems of our world. The fact that this game has been published in 5 langauges, but all of them not so common (Maltese, Portuguese, Czech, Greek and Italian) is also a portait of most of the things I did – alas in languages not fit for most of the world. For the moment at least.

Thank you


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.
This entry was posted in Interviews and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Art of Design: Interviews to game designers #2 – Andrea Angiolino

  1. Clay Blankenship says:

    Since it is for non-readers, can I assume “Il Mischiastorie” is a language-neutral book? It would be great if we could get some of these in the US. (Hint to online game stores…)

  2. Yes it is. Thanks a lot for your interest. Well, if anybody wants to import a few… Just be ready to pay some not-so-light postal fees.
    The publisher’s site explain how to contact them:

Leave a Reply