The Art of Design: Interviews to game designers #9 – Bruno Faidutti

Today I’m going to interview Bruno Faidutti, probably one of the best known designers outside Germany. Bruno says “I try to design games for people and not just for brains” and “I want my games to be unpredictable or chaotic enough to make impossible any attempts at finding a winning strategy”.  That is something common I can really find in all his designs. Talking about coworking, Bruno says that it is good because he is lazy, and coworking is efficient and fun. Bruno Faidutti is also a gamer and his web site is really a nice source of information. Now here we go with the interview …

Liga: Dear Bruno , I’m really happy to have the opportunity to interview you for this column on Opinionated Gamers web site. This series of interviews started from the idea that designing games is a form of art no more or less than writing books or casting movies. I think every designer has his own style and sign and we will try to find it together, going over your huge production. More than 60 games, according to BGG, from 1985 (Baston) to games still not published. More than 25 years of career. Is there any game in this production you are particularly proud of?

Bruno: 
It’s always difficult to state what are my favorites among my own games. I can be really enthralled with one game at some moment, often with one of the very last ones, and with another a few weeks later. Another and more important issue is that it also depends on what it means to be “proud of”. If the games I am proud of are the ones I most enjoy playing, my favorite among my own designs must be Citadels and Isla Dorada, may be also Fist of Dragonstones or Mission: Red Planet. If the games I am proud of are those which bring something new, or which have original concepts, the obvious choice is Knightmare Chess, and maybe Citadels. Anyway, at the moment, I mostly want to emphasize on Isla Dorada. I really think that, of all my games, it is the most fun to play, and it deserves more attention than it got so far.

Liga:

 I know you are not only a designer but you still invest part of your time playing games. I think it is really important to keep updated and informed. What do you think about it? Do you think it is important for a good designer to keep playing games?

Bruno: For me, it is – or at least, it was. I used to play as many games as possible, old and new, like these writers who read everything. I used to state that a game is partly synthesis of all what its author has played – not only this, there’s always some personal touch added, but it’s important. For a few months now, I spend less time playing, and don’t have such an extensive knowledge of the new games as I had. Of course, this is also due to the increase in game publication these last year. We’ll see if the result is that I can’t make new games any more, or that my games become less interesting. It could be.

Liga: You are also famous for your “ideal library” indeed, it is a really nice project. Going through the list of games it is evident how games very different in style and rules were able to attract your attention. 
How is usually your design process? Where do the ideas usually come from?

Bruno: This is a question I am very often asked, and I can’t answer. I don’t believe in processes and methods, and I don’t think I have two games designed the same way. It can be fast, it can be long. It can be with writing everything down from the beginning, it can be with thinking on it in a casual way for years. It can start from a theme idea or a mechanic, or both. I really think that the surest way to fail in game design, like in many other activities, is to try to apply a systematic method.

Liga: What are you saying is, of course, true for the first steps of designing “where the ideas come from”, where creativity is predominant. But, of course, to make a good game is also needed play-test and fine tuning “the design process”. Are you used to play-test your games alone before offering it to testers? Have you your personal tester group or it depends from game and publisher?

Bruno: I don’t think it’s even possible to playtest a game all by oneself. I sometimes try to play two or three fake turns, but without actual players ignoring what their opponents have in mind, it cannot work. I playtest my games with my friends, more or less the same two groups, a dozen gamer friends in Paris and a dozen gaming friends in the south of France. But I don’t playtest that much… I’m in the process of designing a game with Bruno Cathala – the only project I’m working on at the moment – and the last time I talked about it with him he told me that he wants to suggest a few tunings, since he had played about forty games since our last discussion. I was abashed, since I don’t think there is a single game of mine I have playtested forty times – except for games which have been in work for years, like Isla Dorada, but that’s not the case here.

Liga: Since you have told us you would like to emphasize on Isla Dorada, can we take this as example. Explain us where Isla Dorada comes from, how was the design process, the play-testing and why do you think it deserves more attention than it got so far?

Bruno: I think Isla Dorada is my best game design so far, and it’s the only “big” game of mine I still want to play. It’s my game of choice, together with Citadels, when asked by people to show them “what I do”. Its design process was very unusual, since it didn’t start with the theme or mechanisms, but with a component of which I later got rid of during the design. Alan Moon’s Elfenland/Elfenroads is one of my favorite game ever. I also really liked the Elfenland board as painted by Doris Matthaus, and wanted to design another game making use of this board, which means also of the different kinds of track in the different landscapes. I had the idea of using one single pawn for all players, and used for controlling it a bidding system similar to the one in Pier-Giorgio Paglia and Andrea Angiolino Ulysses. The game evolved a lot for that, changing setting from Mediaeval vaguely Tolkienian fantasy to Victorian Imperial fantasy, and at one time moving from the Elfenland board to a different one, an island with only three different track types.  Anyway, it’s the game of mine which stayed the longest in the making, something like ten years. Usually, when I don’t manage to make a satisfying game in a few months, I abandon the project and start something new, but I never lost hope in this one, and kept trying new versions. Even when it has still elements from Elfenland and Ulysses, the result is also a typical Faidutti, a nasty game in which one can try to control things, but is never really sure of success because of the luck of the draw and most of all the other players.

Liga: You have designed a lot of games with other designers. What do you think about team-working ?

Bruno: It’s a question I’m asked quite often. I think there are three main reasons for designing a game with another game designer.
First, it’s extremely efficient – it works, and it makes design faster and more dynamic. Quite often, when working on a game with another designer, the two designers have very different ideas, and where one alone would be blocked or would make do with some bad solution, the other can find the right answer to the problem. Also, when testing, testing groups are very different and can try different strategies, different ways of playing a game.
Second, I’m lazy. There are always parts of a design which are not of great interest to me. If they are of more interest to the other designer, it’s for the better. Quite often, a designer who has started working on a game but doesn’t find the result satisfactory asks me to evaluate it and to work with him in finalizing it if I think I can improve it. Nine times in ten, I just look at the rules and find out that it’s not the kind of game I’m interested in at the moment, but sometimes the game is really exciting and I have ideas to improve it – which may work or not.
Last, it’s fun. It’s a good opportunity to discuss with other game designers, sometimes to meet new ones, so it’s something I just enjoy.

Liga: Is there one of this co-workers you are particularly tied? Why ?

Bruno: Not really. I have designed more games with Bruno Cathala and Serge Laget than with any other game designer, and we meet quite often, but I have fun designing game with any nice and interesting game designer – and there are many.

Liga: We can easily say that Bruno Faidutti has founded the “French School” and we can find some common traits in many French designers. But who was Bruno Faidutti’s master?

Bruno: There are four of them – the Future Pastime group, who founded Eon in the late seventies and designed Cosmic Encounter, who was my real model when I started designing games. I’ve probably moved a bit from their style since, but they were the designers that inspired me, and I still think that Cosmic Encounter is the best game ever.
I’m not sure I am the founder of the “French School”. Serge Laget and I started designing games more or less at the same time, and Philippe des Pallières and Dominique Ehrhard were already around in these days. Anyway, if my style can be considered an inspiration for a “French school”, then it means the real inspiration is the Future Pastimes group, and I’m just an intermediary.

Liga: OK. Probably, as often in art, you were the one that made worldwide evident some traits already “in the air”. Is there something you think is common in your design? Something you think has to be in a Bruno Faidutti game?

Bruno: I try to design games for people and not just for brains. This means that I want my games to be unpredictable or chaotic enough to make impossible any attempts at finding a winning strategy. At the same time, I want them to be challenging, which means that players’ decisions must have a critical impact on the game and on winning odds. This means games with tactics or strategy, but not purely tactical or strategic, games with luck or chaos, but not totally unpredictable and uncontrollable.

Liga: Yes, I think that “games with luck or chaos, but not totally unpredictable and uncontrollable” could really well describe a typical Bruno Faidutti game.
Apart from Cosmic Encounter, is there any other game you would really like to have designed yourself?

Bruno: Ave Caesar. This is the best and the nastiest racing game ever.

Liga: Yes, I agree. I’m also an Ave Caesar fan and I think it is an excellent design! It seems you are much more interested in the creative part of the design: the main ideas, the concept of the game … much more than the details. How much is the theme important for you designing a game? Can you be enchanted enough by a mechanic to start designing a game around?

Bruno: Theme is critical, mechanisms are critical, and I always try to blend both together in a very consistent way. This means that I try to have game systems, or sometimes just card effects or action names, which make sense within the game setting, not in a simulation way but in a kind of light and humorous reference way. Sometimes such systems come from the theme, sometimes the game needs a balancing or an unbalancing system and I then fit it in the theme. So, there’s absolutely no rule as for what, theme or mechanisms, comes first.

Liga: If you can describe Bruno Faidutti with just 3 Bruno Faidutti games: which and why?

Bruno:

  1. Citadels : I don’t know what characters the other have, but I’m even not very sure of mine.
  2. Isla Dorada : OK, lets work together, but I have my agenda.
  3. Red November : In case of doubt, just have a drink.

Liga: Is there something you really can say/suggest to new designers about designing games?

Bruno: If you go into game design to have fun, you will – and you may even make some money. If you go into game design to make money, you won’t, and it won’t be fun.

Liga: Really nice. Finally, but I’m quite sure about the answer, why you started designing games and what is designing games for you?

Bruno: I started to design games because it’s fun and challenging in itself, and because I wanted to have the games I wanted to play. It’s a kind of game. Even when I make some real money with it now, I still consider this a hobby and don’t want to be considered a fully professional game designer.

Thank you for your time and the nice answers!
Good play!

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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.
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