The Art of Design: Interviews to game designers #6 – Reiner Knizia

[As usual, I have tried to clean up the English from Liga!  Herr Doktor Knizia speaks English quite fluently, and I have not had to edit his words at all.  DY]

Today I’m going to interview Reiner Knizia, probably one of the most prolific game designers and one of the icons of “german style” design. Reiner, like Martin Wallace interviewed recently (insert the link to the interview) made of his art of design his full-time job. Now (actually from 4th of April), you can also follow Knizia also on Twitter. You will discover that for Reiner “designing games is an art, not a science” but later also says “I am certainly a scientist who reduces redundancy by condensing the game into a few fundamental core principles” that could really well identify the style of Knizia production. The interview will end with a really nice parallel with the Platonic ideas theory … here we are!


[Liga] Hi Reiner, it is really nice to have the possibility to interview you for Opinionated Gamers. Like Emiliano Sciarra wrote in the book “L’Arte del Gioco” (The Art of Game), designing a game is a form of art not less than writing books or casting movies. The ambitious aim of this series of interviews is to point out the “style” of each designer, going through his production, trying to find a sort of personal “sign”.

You designed really an huge amount of games: according to BGG your designer career start back in 1982 with Tor, a light soccer card games. That’s was fun since 1982 was the year that Italy won the World Championship against Germany!


[Reiner] Even though I have designed games all my life, as far as I can recollect my first publications started in 1985 (Complica, Tour de France, Turbo 2000, Roulette Bengurion). I have learned during my game designer career, that press reports and interviews are much more about an exciting story rather than the ‘truth’.  So if Tor and 1982 makes a nicer story, this is all fine with me.


[Liga] Yes, one of the nowdays problem is usually the possibility to test the sources of the news. So we can say more than 25 years of design that is not bad at all. Of course gamers know you most for designs like Modern Art, Tigris & Euphrates, Ra, Samurai, Blue Moon (actually one of the games I’m used to play most with my 10 years old daughter) but is there any game you are particularly proud of?


[Reiner] I am proud of those games which people like the most.  I am ultimately designing games to bring enjoyment to the people.


[Liga] You are used to designing a huge number of games every year. How do you create a game? Where do the ideas come from and how is the designing process?


[Reiner] I totally agree that designing games is an art, not a science.  Over the years, I have learned that having a fixed method of how to design games reflects a scientific approach, but does not help the creation of outstanding and innovative art: if you always start at the same spot, trample along the same path, you should not be surprised to always end up in the same corner.


It is important to me to start each game with a new entry point, be it a new theme or a new licence character, new components or new ways to use existing components, a new play mechanism or new technologies that have become accessible and affordable for the games.  Starting out with something new gives the best chance to end up with something new.


[Liga] I really like this sentence “designing games is an art, not a science” that really well encloses the central point of these interviews … designing games needs something more than simple “techniques” and “organization”, at least if you want to have a product that is something more than an “industrial work”. So, which usually the starting point?


[Reiner] The initial design process usually happens in the mind.  However, despite all the game development experience I have built up over many years, playtesting still is the lifeblood of game design and development.  Games are primarily about enjoyment and fun, and these aspects cannot be calculated, but must be experienced and felt.


[Liga] I totally agree with you: fun is not easy to predict by the rules and play-testing is a big part in the development of a good game.


[Reiner] My close circle of about a dozen very experienced playtesters play a fundamental role in my design process.  We play and we discuss.  We argue and we agree.  I ask many questions and eventually somebody will have a right answer.  Of course, game design and development is an incremental process.  It needs many, many right answers to arrive at a perfect game, usually after many detours.


[Liga] Well testing a game is something I’m used to suggesting to new designers/publishers. Do you think is there something common in your designs? A sort of “sign” common to all/most of the games?


[Reiner] I believe that every artist, and also every game designer, has their own handwriting and style.  Very often, the artists themselves are the persons most blind to their own style…


As you are asking me about my own style, I am certainly a scientist who reduces redundancy by condensing the game into a few fundamental core principles.  I am not an epic story teller who creates redundancy in the world by inventing ever more complexity through detailed rules.  I believe that my approach makes my games easy to access, but some players feel that my games appear somewhat abstract as a consequence of this reduction process.


[Liga] Yes, I agree with you. “Condensing the game into a few fundamental core principles” is a common tract in your design. So it seems that theme and settings are not really important during the designing process? And what about the final success of a game?


[Reiner] Having talked about the reduction process, the importance of the theme for many games should not be underestimated.  In a good game, the player actions feel in harmony with the theme and how he would behave in his player role.  A theme can give a lot of inspiration to the design process, and it is of course also a major aspect of marketing the game.  The title and the cover illustration communicate to the potential buyer what type of game he is getting.


For a game to become really successful, we need the initial sales that are mainly driven by factors other than the game design.  After the initial sales, the focus switches to the design.  If the players like the design and continue playing it, they act as multipliers, drawing many more new players – and buyers – into the game.


[Liga] It is really interesting what you have just said. In few words you have condensed one of the core aspect of the games market. You have designed a lot of games, I think many more games than any other designer. Is there a game designed by others you really would like to have designed yourself? Which and why?


[Reiner] I would like to answer this question in my own way:  I believe that there are many undiscovered games in the universe that are still waiting for me to design them.  This instills a great sense of urgency into me as I know that there are people out there who are trying to steal my ideas before I have even had them…


[Liga] Great! Games like Platone’s Ideas! Something that already exist and the designer has to catch and make concrete. Wonderful! To conlude this interview please try to describe Reiner Knizia with just 3 Reiner Kniza games: which and why?


[Reiner] I would like to mention the following 3 games:

  • Euphrates and Tigris, Through the Desert, Ra;
  • Ingenious, Lost Cities and Pickomino (the worm dice game);
  • The Lord of the Rings Board Game, Wer war’s? and iLabyrinth


[Liga] This is a really nice series of 3 related games. Since the huge number of games designed by you, Reiner, I think it could be right to describe you just with 9 games. Thank you for your time.


About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
This entry was posted in Interviews. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The Art of Design: Interviews to game designers #6 – Reiner Knizia

  1. Elephant in the room: Whats the deal with the drop-off of “gamers” games in the last 5-6 years? 2008’s Municipium had me thinking maybe he’s coming back, but it’s been quiet again the last few years since then.

  2. Surya says:

    Municipium is actually a 2004 (or earlier) design, not a 2008 one. It was scheduled for release by a different company with a different theme. So there was no sign of a comeback if you know that. Unfortunate.

  3. I assume many game releases are originally designed years before they’re released. That’s of little consequence to me as a consumer. Fact is I got a decent big box new-to-me Knizia game in 2008. I would be thrilled for a good big box Knizia game in 2011 that was designed in 2007.

  4. jeffinberlin says:

    Thank-you for the interview, Dr. Knizia. Your portfolio certainly earns the respect of every other game designer, and you are probably responsible for inspiring many of us to “steal your ideas before you even have them.”

    I would like to ask a follow-up question: If it is so important for you to always start from a new entry point, as you said, why do you make so many variations on the same game mechanism, as you have done with so many of your games? To your credit, some of these–though starting from the same point–DO end up differently, contrary to what you say here.

  5. Doug Adams says:

    I am not an epic story teller who creates redundancy in the world by inventing ever more complexity through detailed rules. I believe that my approach makes my games easy to access, but some players feel that my games appear somewhat abstract as a consequence of this reduction process.
    Wow, that’s RK in a nutshell, and why he works so well for me. Thanks for the interview, and the marvellous body of work.

  6. I don’t know if Reiner would be able to respond directly here on Opgamers … anyway I really would like now to take a little breack from my interview and try to write a sort of “recap”, opening a discussion … I think with Knizia, Schacht, Wallace, Porazzi, Angiolino and Colovini we have enough to start to think about “tha rta of design” … what do you think ?

  7. Aubrey W says:

    You forgot to go back and add the link in the 1st paragraph.

    “Reiner, like Martin Wallace interviewed recently (insert the link to the interview) made of his… “

Leave a Reply to jeffinberlin Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s