The art of Design: interviews to game designers #17 – Antoine Bauza

It was really a long time I was missing here on opinionatedgamers with interviews and reviews. The reason was that I was much busy in organizing PLAY: The Games Festival, the Italian greatest gamers event with more than 20,000 visitors in two days and really an huge amount of events, publishers, associations and things to manage.

In the meanwhile I was able to start some interview: here the one to Antoine Bauza, probably one of the new raising stars in the boardgames designing with really impressive releases in the last years like 7 Wonders, Takenoko, Mistery Express and Ghost Stories.

Antoine is part of a not yet well defined French School. He says “Theme always drive my work!” and also “I try to play as many games as I could,”, that unluckily it doesn’t happens so often. Talking about where the theme of his games came from he says “Inspiration could come from everywhere, that’s the magic of it!”.

I think there is enough to make you interested in reading the full interview. See you, I hope, in the next days.

[Liga] Hi Antoine, 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. In this series of interviews I’m trying to make evident the “style” of each designer, going through his production, trying to find a sort of personal “sign”. Of course you are a “young” designer, since your career, according to BGG, will started in 2007 but your games, I’m thinking 7 Wonders and Ghost Stories overall, are particular and “stylish”. Finally you are one of the designer “alla mode” and since arts and fashion are friends here I’m!

you designed more than 40 games starting from 2007 Chabyrinthe. Of course a lot of this release are actually expansion of 7 Wonders or Ghost Stories. Most of players will know you for the “all winning” 7 Wonders, close to reach the BGG top Is there any game you are particularly proud of ?

[Antoine] Well, first, the BGG database counts all the goodies and mini-expansions. That’s work too for sure, but 20 games is more accurate than 40 ! Then, it’s not a matter of pride but some of my games are special, yes : Chabyrinthe, because it was my first boardgame published, Ghost Stories (+White Moon + Black Secret + Goodies) because it was a huge work and the begin of a great collaboration between Repos Production and me; La Chasse aux monstres, because it’s my only children’s game, and of course 7 Wonders, because it’s a great success your readers knows already!

[Liga]: 7 Wonders really make a hoard of awards being the only one, after Tikal, to be able to collect all the 3 main awards: SDJ (actually KDJ), DSP and IGA. What do you think about this 3 awards and how do you think they could influence the career of a young designer like you ?

[Antoine] I never though about getting all those awards with 7 Wonders. It’s to soon to tell about about their influence on my career but I am not sure there is one. Each time you make a game, you have to start all over, from scratch. That’s make game design interesting! Winning the 3 main awards is great, winning a lot a “small” awards all around the globe is event better, meaning your game is really enjoyed everywhere. Basically, the main influence of this success is the money incomes that allow me to continue making games for living. And that’s precious for sure!

[Liga] 7 wonders also won a place in our Ludoteca Ideale, best 10 games released in Italian by Italian publishers in 2011. So you are now a professional designer ?

[Antoine] Yes, I am a professional game designer for 3 years, now. I haven’t waited after the 7 Wonders success to do so, in fact.
But this success allows me to continue to do the job I love, so I am an happy man right now !
I still managing to do other activities beside game design, I cannot stand with only one occupation, that’s not my nature…

[Liga] So, you are also start travelling around to fairs and festivals ? It will be possible to see you in Italy, at our greatest gamers festival (PLAY, Modena) one of this years ? Next edition will be 6-7 of April 2013.

[Antoine] I love to travel around in gaming gathering and fairs. It is always a pleasure to meet new players and to have my prototypes played by a lot of people. I plan to be make a long stay in Japan next spring so I not sure I will be around in April. But if it is not in 2013, I will try to attend the 2014 festival…

[Liga] That’s great! Almost all your games are really themed. You are from France and of course you style looks really close to the French school. How much really the theme is important for you in the design process ? Are you used to start from theme or from the mechanics ?

[Antoine] Theme always drive my work! I couldn’t be able to work on a mechanism without having my mind drove by a theme.
I agree with you when you are talking about a french school, somewhere between the german school and american school…

[Liga] Yes. American and German are two stereotype easy to catch … between there is the world. French school, at least what I’m used to identify with this name, is something in this middle world with strong theme and usually a sort of “irony” or a “desire to joke” somewhere hidden in the theme, in the graphic or in the mechanic. I’m not sure to be able to qualify what I’m talking about …

[Antoine] Hard to define, indeed. Maybe because it’s a young school… Keep this topic somewhere and let’s discuss it in 10 years !

[Liga] Yes, I’ll we. I’ll be again here to make a “10 years later” interview. You have designed great games both alone and with other designers. What do you think about team-working and how can you decide if work alone or in team ?

[Antoine] We never decide to work as a team, in fact. We just know each other, we met, we speak about a thousand different things and sometimes an idea pop up ! Then we continue to work it together…
I like to work with a co-designer time to time. It’s alway a rich experience, you learn a lot by doing so.

[Liga] What do you think are the best advantages of co-design and what are the problems ?

[Antoine] Advantages
– You learn a lot about game design by working with another designer (I think it’s true for almost every field !)
– Brainstorming are more efficient (and even more efficient if designers are sit at the same table but I usually use Skype to work)
– Co-design allow you to develop a game faster. You always depend on your playtester availability. So two designers, twice playtest in the same time window.
Problems :
– You have to meet the expectations of two (sometime more) designers and I could be hard, sometimes…
– You need to be physically at the same place to be efficient. Internet cannot replace the good old face to face…
– you have to give the other guy 50% of the royalties ;o)

[Liga] I really like the weight you give to play-testes. It looks me that too much often designers and publishers rush for the next Essen release without taking the time needed to full develop and test a game. How much time did it take to develop and playtest and fine-tuning a game ?

[Antoine] Development, playtest and tuning usually take me from 8 to 20 months, sometime 30. It mainly depend on the game weight.
There is not any rules beside that, the only thing I can tell for sure: experience matters! 7 Wonders only took 11 months to develop but I had nearly 20 designs on my track record before working on this one…

[Liga] I really like what you says. As just told before I’m used to see too many “not full developed” games in the market now and I think a good game, like a good balsamic, needs time to get the best. Do you think there is the common sign/trait in your games ?

[Antoine] I am not sure there is one, actually.
In my first years as a game designer, I tried to explore many leads, different mechanisms, several themes I like.
I have not any designing directions, rules or “dogma”, my game concepts are quite spontaneous!
Now I feel I master the basics of game design, so some common trait will certainly show up in my next designs…

[Liga] Yes, I agree. Actually I’m not sure to be able to classify a real Antoine sign. I see you are not really interested in too much complicated rules but you are not a purist of the mechanic. I really think the theme has a strong influence on your final design and you are looking for a good feeling with the theme much more than a crystalline mechanic: do you agree ?

[Antoine] I think your analysis is quite accurate, yes.
I am really into the theme, trying to find the playing experience who fit the best with it.
Certainly because I always wanted to be a storyteller… If I manage to tell a story with one of my game, I am very satisfied !
Mechanisms come after, there are just tools, designed to serve the wanted playing experience.

[Liga] Almost all the artist had a master: who is Antoine Master ? The person that taught you most about boardgame design ?

[Antoine] I have no master :) Mainly because I started designing boardgames at the same time I started playing boardgames…
All my games taught me a lot about game design. All the people I worked with (co-designers, publishers and sometime playtesters) taught me a lot about game design.
So I haven’t any individual in mind. But, there is a lot of designers that I have in my scope for their work…

[Liga] So, there is a designer you are looking for his next release to play ? Someone you like more than other as a player ?

[Antoine] There are many !
Vladaa Chvatil, Bruno Cathala, Richard Garfield, Wolfgang Kramer, Sébastien Pauchon and many others…
I think it’s great to follow the evolution in the work of others. So I am waiting to play the new games of many designers
You can learn a lot about your this way, because the work of others is simpler to analyze than your own…

[Liga] I think playing other designers games is really important. What do you think about ? How much time do you spend playing games ?

[Antoine] I try to play as many games as I could, yes. And not only boardgames. Videogames too… (on every platforms : iPhone, Facebook, PC and I own a Xbox 360, a PS3, a Wii, a 3DS and a PSVita…)
I also read a few tabletop roleplaying games each year. I don’t thane he time to play them anymore but I try to keep into the loop, to be aware of the new products, new concepts.
I usually play a boardgame one unique time because they are so many games released each year. And, as you can imagine, playing my own prototypes take me a lot of my playing time…
In my opinion, you have to play games to make games.

[Liga] Yes, I think so too. Do you think designing games could be considerated an art like writing books or casting movies ? Do you see your work closest to the work of an artist of the work of a good craftsman ?

[Antoine] Definitely in the book / movie category!
I used to write for a while (comic-book, short stories, roleplaying games) and the common points are obvious for me.
The big advantage of boardgames is the fact you have playtesters to go all the way. When you write, you are alone… That’s why I find the game design more easier…
It’s a complex question, but artist/craftsman work are closer than people usually think in my opinion (both are trying to make the better result in their line of work)!

[Liga] Of course. I think the second part of designing games, the tuning, testing, is really something much more close to craftsman but the initial part of the design, the most creative one, I really think is something close to writing book/casting movies. Can you tell us where you got the inspiration for your most successful games and how do you start to work to a new game ?

[Antoine] Inspiration could come from everywhere, that’s the magic of it!
In my first designs, I’ve just started with “let’s make a game on this theme, ’cause I like it”.
Now, I take time to think about the playing experience I wanted to put in the game.
So, to keep it simple, I take more time to think about what I want before I rush into the prototype.

[Liga] With 7 Wonders you have make evident/successful two great mechanism: the draft and the “neighbour influence”. From which games you took the inspiration ?

[Antoine] The influences were unconscious back when I designed 7 Wonders.
Today, with the (recul), I think that Magic: the gathering is the man inspiration (for the non-spend resource mechanism and for the draft).
For the neighbor influence, I cannot think of a game but I am sure it exist somewhere…

[Liga] Can you go in the details of your design process ? What do you do after the initial steps ?

[Antoine] When I have the playing experience I want well defined in my mind, I try to play a first prototype quickly
I make a quick (ugly) prototype. From there, it’s pretty binary : I feel there is a good game to make or not.
So, I drop the prototype and move on the next idea or I update it and play it over and over…

[Liga] Can you tell us the success/insuccess ratio ? Usually how many bad games you need before getting the right one ?

[Antoine] It is hard to speak in GOOD / BAD games. I usually speak about WORKING WELL / NO WORKING SO WELL prototypes.
Now, with about 20 published designs in my pocket, I think 1 game idea out 2 make a Working Well prototype. But if you going back in time, let’s say 5 years, I think it was something like 1/4 maybe 1/5…

[Liga] Now some questions I’m used to make to all designers. Is there a game from another designer you would have really liked to design?

[Antoine] Maybe Through the Ages. it’s a game I enjoy a lot and I am far to lazy to design such a rich game :)
Or Kakerlaken Poker, because it’s an amazing playing experience with just a bunch of “artwork-only” cards…
Well, that’s two :)

[Liga] If you have to describe Antoine with just 3 Antoine games, which and why ?

[Antoine] 7 Wonders, of course, because the game is such a great adventure for me!
Ghost Stories, because it was my first cooperative game, my first complex design and my first partnership with the publisher Repos Production
Hanabi, because it’s a quite experimental game who find a lot of fans (and it’s another coop game!)

[Liga] Why did you start designing games and why are you still designing?

[Antoine] I started designing because I always have to see to other side of the fence when I am into something : books, games…
I am still designing, well, because it’s like a virus. Once you get it, I am not sure you can get rid of it! I am trying to slow down, to save some time for doing something else, like writing. But there is alway a brand new idea to get inside your head and you have to process it, you cannot just ignore it…

[Liga] Is there something you would like to tell to new designers approaching this work?

[Antonie] Play a lot of games (video, tabletop, roleplaying), watch movies, read books, travel, feed your brain with a wide range of experiences…

[Liga] Thank you very much for your time. Good play and best wishes!

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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