The Art of Design: Interviews to Games Designers #11 – Ignacy Trzewiczek

Here my new post for The Art of Design series. This time I’m gone to interview Ignacy Trzewiczek. He is not yet a long-time designer like others I have interviewed before but he is one of the rapresentative of the new schools are coming from east europe and also a designer with a strong personal style and some innovative ideas. “It takes few months of gathering pictures, ideas and emotions.” told me Ignacy talking about the design process and also “In a future, I’d love to be known as this guy who makes games so strong and deep connected with theme.” … great! Here the interview:

[Liga] Dear Ignacy, I’m really happy to have the possibility to interview you for Opinionated Gamers Web site. Assuming that designing games is a form of art, no more or less than writing books or casting movies, we will try to find out Ignacy Trzewiczek style, going through your production. Assuming what BGG display, you designed more than 10 games/expansions starting from 2002 but you got the international attention with Stronghold, in 2009 and, before that, publishing with Portal Neuroshima Hex back in 2006. A real great score for something less than 10 years of career. Last year release, 51st State, was really well accepted and also Pret-a-Porter, that this year will get and English edition. Many different games: is there in your production a game you are particularly proud of ?

[Ignacy] “Which of your kids you love most?” kind of question, isn’t it? Stronghold was my biggest success in terms of sells and awards received. 51. State introduced rule that in my opinion is fresh and interesting (every single Location card you can invade or cooperate with etc) and I am really proud of it. Witchcraft on the other hand is the only one of my designs that I am not sick of after all test games and I still have a great time playing it. Witchcraft is my only game I still play! Pret-a-Porter is my first economy startegy game and I am extremely proud that I managed to design such a complex game…

OK, let’s face it. I love them all. There is no other way.

[Liga] Like most of designers you are not able to point put a single preferred game. Can you tell us how usually you design a game? Where the ideas come from? How much does it take? Which kind of play-test?

[Ignacy] I start with theme. Always. When I got theme, I start research. I watch movies connected with theme. I read books about the topic. I note down ideas. I note down what actions could players do, what is crucial for such theme, what elements I have to add into game. It takes few months of gathering pictures, ideas and emotions. Then, when I have a really big pile of notes, I start reading them, selecting, trying to shape them into rules. I start playing the prototype and put into prototype ideas from notes, one after another. And I work as long as it is needed to create a game that is addaptation of these all movies and books I read and watched. I play and play and play. I go to gaming conventions, I play at home with my wife, I play at Portal’s office, I play in our gaming club in my city… I play a lot. And at some point I see that players finally feel emotions like they’d read a book about this theme or topic. And this is it. This is when I am happy and done.

[Liga] Really great “It takes few months of gathering pictures, ideas and emotions” is a fantastic sentence. Something that really give me the idea that, for you, designing games is really producing arts! So, I’m courious, what are you reading now and which movies are you looking ?

[Ignacy] “The Mysterious Island” and “Two Years’ Vacation” by Julius Verne and “Robinson Crusoe” by Daniel Defoe and many other less famous books, TV shows (Bear Grylss!) and movies. Robinson Crusoe is my favoritue book ever, I read it so many times already and I always wanted to design game about it. Many years ago I designed small Role Playing Game called ‘Robinson’, which unfortunetelly never got published, and now, since few months I work on epic boardgame that will tell story of cast aways.

[Liga] It looks like your journey in the theme is something really personal and, indeed, you are used to design your games alone. Can you please tell us what do you think about team working ?

[Ignacy] I think this is very interesting. I haven’t design game with other designer except Witchcraft with Michał Oracz so I have no big experience with such a process. I think it may be very difficult to find ways that satisfy both designers. I am not sure if I can do that. But with no doubt, this brain storms that happen when two designers work are very good.

[Liga] Now, going deep into the art of design. Do you think is there something common in your designs?

[Ignacy] I care about merging theme with rules. In a future, I’d love to be known as this guy who makes games so strong and deep connected with theme. I put a lot of work in that part of design. You know, fundament of 51st State is theme – you have Location card in hand and you decide if you want to burn it down or negotiate with them and depending on your decision you get different profits. This is me, this is my signature. Look at Stronghold – for instance catapults rules. They are aiming during game and every single turn they are shooting with better precision and accurancy – because you remove miss cards from deck but you keep hit cards in deck. Like in real story. In Zombiaki, when you shoot Zombie, he step back like in movies…

These are small rules, perhaps players don’t even see them, but for me they are so important.

Something common in my designs? I create rules from theme. And when you play my game, you understand rule. You don’t need to remember it. You just know it by your heart. You look at rule and you think: “Yes, this is obvious. It is exactly how it should work.” You imagine what you are playing and you just play, I try to merge rules with theme as much as possible so it will be easier to understand.

[Liga] What are you trying to do is really great “I create rules from theme. And when you play my game, you understand rule. You don’t need to remember it. You just know it by your heart „ and I think it is true. The games I have played so far have rules that seems not simple reading but are easy playing.
Do you think really designing games could be considered an artistic affair like writing books or casting movies ?

[Ignacy] My perspective is not very wide, so I may be wrong, but if you look at me, your statement is one hundred percent true. I am the man who can not repair his car, who can not fix his desk or other furniture, who is unable to understand so many real life issues and on the other hand I am the man who can sit at my desk and create something out of nothing, something new, something I put my heart into and passion, and then people can enjoy it and have a great time, just like they would read a book. Yes, I think designing games is quite close to writing or casting. At least, for me!

Additionally, with no doubt I am a freak or – if you want to be polite – I am an artist! ;)

[Liga] For me an artist for sure! Portal brings to international attention Polish designs: do you think is there something we can call “Polish school” ? Something really particular in polish designers style or you think polish will follow one of the greatest designing school (American or German) ?

[Ignacy] I think not yet. Modern board games are known in Poland since just few years. We are very young market. We still learn, we still explore that hobby. During Polish gaming conventions you see many gamers that play heavy games. I think it may be direction for our designers, they will try to design such a complex games as TtA, Brass, Le Havre – here in Poland they are really popular. We will it see in 5 or 10 years how our market and our designers develop. It takes time to develop Polish school.

[Liga] I hope you and Portal could help this developing. I think gamers still need designers able to make good gamers games.
Most artist are used to have a master. Is there some one you can point out as a master ? Someone taught you most about the art of designing games ?

[Ignacy] I learn a lot from Eric M. Lang’s games. His designs are – in most cases – very very good. I learnt from his games how much important it is to give players choices. More choices he or she has, more satisfaction he or she has during game. When you analise designs of Eric M. Lang you see he cares about that so much.

Generally I try to learn from every designer. When I play a new game I – after game is finished – note down one thing I liked a lot and one thing I hated in that game. I got pile of such notes. I try to learn from every single game and every single designer.

[Liga] I also like a lot Eric designs … World of Warcraft, the LGCs and, obviously, Quarrios! I hope to be able to interview Eric someday. I also agree with you that every game and every designer have something to teach us. Now a question I’m used to make to all the designers: try to describe Ignacy Trzewiczek with just 3 Ignacy Trzewiczek games: which and why?

[Ignacy] Zombiaki – when I look at the mirror in the morning I see there someone that looks just like one of the cards from Zombiaki ;)
Witchcraft – this is game in which situation changes every turn very much, you may be almost lost and still you may win. Never give up, my friend, never give up – this is motto I belive very strongly.
Machina – this is game published only in Poland. It is party game in which players are crazy scientists in times of comunism in Poland and try to create revolutionary machine, but they have no money, no tools, no parts, no elements… They have to improvise, to merge some elements to get one different, to borrow stuff, to even steal stuff, to change stuff… I can improvise like these guys from Machina (except stealing! ;)). When something goes wrong I am happy to react and improvise!

[Liga] Strange choices: all your most famous designs are not in the list. That means we still have to learn a lot about Ignacy. Before concluding our interview a last question Wolfgang Kramer suggested me in his interview … why do you design games ?

[Ignacy] At some point in my life I discovered that I can design games. On one hand this is far less important than doing some serious things like healing people, building houses or inventing new technologies. On the other hand I think this is not as unimportant job as it may look. I make people happy for hour or two. I help them rest after hard work. I give them emotions, when they invade castle or develop their very own state. That’s how I see it. I sometimes go to BGG and look how many games of Stronghold or other my game was played this month and I am happy when I imagine that someone somewhere in the world have played the game and had good time that evening.

[Liga] Finally is there something you would like to suggest to to new designers trying the hard way to become “games artist” ? Especially from not really well known countries where designing games are not really yet a well known activity ?

[Ignacy] Everything is possible. I live in a small city in a small and not famous or rich country. What is more, modern games are known here for some about five or six years only, this is really something really new here. And still I was able to be part of Essen. And still I was able to design games that someone liked and published all over the world. And still I have this honor to be here, interviewed for Opinionatedgamers!
Everything is possible. Follow your dreams and passion, work hard and someday dreams come true.

[Liga] Thank you Ignacy for this nice interview and see you in Essen!

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 Games Designers #11 – Ignacy Trzewiczek

  1. I should say, youve got 1 with the greatest blogs Ive observed in a long time. What I wouldnt give to be able to produce a weblog thats as intriguing as this. I guess Ill just need to keep reading yours and hope that one day I can write on a subject with as considerably information as youve got on this one!

  2. Tom Rosen says:

    Fantastic interview with one of the most interesting designers out there! Thanks Liga and Ignacy for this insight into your design process.

  3. Thank you Tom. Was also a nice surprise for me discover the process behind the great Ignacy games!


  4. @daniel: thank you. I really think that designing games is an art and I was also really impressed by what this series is producing. I hope could be interesting for readers and useful for games designers. Actually I have already 4-5 interviews in preparation so you can expect some more interviews in the future! good play!

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