The Art of Design: interviews to game designers #22 – Rudiger Dorn

Dear Gamers, after reaching the interview #20 I’m continuing the series: Eric Lang and today I’m gone to interview Rudiger Dorn, one of the greatest examples of the so called “German School”. Goa really impressed me (and gamers world) and this year, eight years from the release, it got a new edition.
Actually just in the beginning of the interview Rudiger told me how he is fascinated by Magic the Gathering but some question later he told a reassuring “It’s true that mechanics are the most important thing for me.” and also let us know how publishers like to impose/change themes. I’m not really been able to catch the real essence of Dorn style, since he is a versatile designers. It looks like Rudiger is walking on the road of simpler design “I don’t have the motivation anymore to dedicate so much time in complex games. Nowadays there are so many good gamey games, there’s no need of my contribution. But there’s always a lack of simple games which are anyhow different.”. I hope in the future Rudiger will make a back-step and we can see his talent again challenging gamers!

Now we can start with the interview:

[Liga] Dear Rudiger, as you know with this series of interviews I’m trying to explore the world of game designers with the idea that designing games is a form of art, no more ore less than writing books or casting movies. We will try to look through your production, to find your style, your special sign.
You are one of the best representative of the so called “German School”.
According to BGG you have designed more than 25 games starting back in the 1992 until this year success like Vegas and Waka Waka.
The two games gamers most appreciated are Goa (that is getting again the attention of the market with a new edition) and The Traders of Genoa. But you have several great games like The Baumeister Von Arkadia, Diamonds Club (for me your best release), Jambo or Louis XIV. Is there any game you are particularly proud of and why?

[Rudiger] I´m very proud of Jambo and its two expansions, because I love the “Magic The Gathering”-Feeling with a limited number of cards.

[Liga] Wow! I’m quite surprised since Jambo doesn’t seems to me a typical Dorn games.

[Dorn] What is a typical Dorn game?

[Liga] I can’t really say now (of course I have my personal opinion), but I hope to be able to answer to this question in the end of the interview: what we are actually trying to do is find a common sign/mark in your games. As told in the preamble I think you are one the spokesman of what we can call “The German Style” and it looks like the mechanic much more than the theme has really a deep impact in your design. Which is the weight of theme and mechanics in your designs? Donald X. Vaccarino point me out also that flavor (data) is another important part in the design. How data, that actually are all the small rules used to fix theme and mechanics, weight in your design ?

[Rudiger] It’s true that mechanics are the most important thing for me. Designing games on a theme is more difficult for me and infrequent successful. “Journey to the center of the Earth” and “Cartagena – Die Goldinsel” are two of the few games I designed on a theme.

[Liga] So actually you design the mechanics and then comes the theme. Are you used to “put” a theme before going to publishers or just presenting the game and let the publisher make the settings ?

[Rudiger] Usually I surround the games with a theme. But in the majority of cases the publishers want a different theme. Sometimes the publishers only want the game if a theme can be found which they like. Goa almost failed because the theme wasn’t logical enough in the beginning.

[Liga] Goa failed ? What do you really mean ? Actually is your best ranked game, in the top 50 in BGG. Of course it was not enough to get a Spiele des Jahres but it was in the International Gamers Awards nomination list.

[Rudiger] The game was too abstract for the publisher in the beginning, the mechanics didn’t really match to the theme in a logical way.

[Liga] Some designers consider an important part of their work play other designer’s games, others are used to spend all the playing time on their own designs. How much do you think playing games is important in designing games ? I see you have rated more than 600 games on BGG so it seems you are also an active gamers. I see you high ranked games like Dominion, Agricola. 7 Wonders, Magic, Puerto Rico and Steam, How much time do you spend designing games and how much playing other designers games ?

[Rudiger] There are times where I spend more time with designing games, often before the game fairs and other times where I play a lot of other designer games especially after the game fairs when new games are available or after Christmas, when I’ve got new games. Playing games of other designers can always be an inspiration, but most ideas appear in my mind without cause.

[Liga] So you are not fascinated by explosive new “mechanics” like was worker placement some years ago or deck-building in these days?

[Rudiger] But I am! Diamonds club is a kind of worker placement game, it was inspired by Maestro Leonardo. I also love the deck-building games Dominion and Thunderstone. But I haven’t the courage to make a deck-building game, because dominion is such a great game and hard to top. There’s no need for a worse deck-building game.

[Liga] I was really impressed by Diamonds Club acquisition phase (actually Diamonds Club Is probably the game I prefer in your huge production) and I’m sure it could be used with success as core mechanic in other games.Can you please select one or more of your games and show us the design process: where the idea came from? How it develops to final stage? How long does it take to play-test a game?

[Rudiger] As I said I often don’t know where the ideas come from.
I got the impulse to design Goa after a game of Age of Renaissance. And with Jambo I wanted to design a Magic-like-game for people who don´t want to spend too much money.
Games like Vegas or Space Walk were finished within some hours, for others it took me years (Il Vecchio, Goa, Jambo, Die Baumeister von Arkadia, Titania).

[Liga] OK. But after the first ideas you have a tested procedure?

[Rudiger] Yes of course, when I say it takes years to finish games, it’s because of the long test phases.

[Liga] Early prototype, test with family/friends, going to fairs?

[Rudiger] I first play with myself and my family, later sometimes with friends and acquaintances.

[Liga] You have developed almost all your games alone, why? What do you think about team-working in designing games?

[Rudiger] I think that’s a good thing, but I never had the opportunity to do this. There was only one card game I’ve designed with Marcel-Andre Casasola-Merkle when we lived in the same city about 10 years ago, but unfortunately it was never published.

[Liga] You have worked for most of the main German publishers including Ravensburger, Alea and Kosmos. How do the publishers influence the design process and the final results? Have you some positive and/or negative experience to show us? Designing a game you are also already thinking to specific publisher requests/style?

[Rudiger] Usually I first design games and afterwards I think about proper publishers.
The design process of the more complex games is always influenced by the publishers, there’s often a creative dialogue between us.
Some publishers allow me to make suggestions for the theme, the material, the title or the artwork. That’s why my favourite artist Michael Menzel has done the artwork of a lot of my games (“Waka Waka”, “Titania”, “Jambo”, “Die Baumeister von Arkadia”, “Drachenherz”, “Relikt”, “Raubritter”).
All in all my experiences with the publishers are very good.

[Liga] Apart from Friedemann Friese it’s the first time a designer tells me of a special connection with an artist. I would like to explore this. Do you think the way an artist “think” a game can influence the designer? Are you used to think your games “portrayed” by Michael Menzel also during the design process?

[Rudiger] Michael Menzel usually plays the games before drawing. He sometimes gives us good suggestions to make the game more playable.
I don’t think of Michael during the design process, but when I have done with the game and it has a theme that I especially like, I imagine how it could look like at the end.

[Liga] OK. You are a rather versatile game designer: among your games there are some gamers’ games, some more family oriented games, and even a dexterity/finger flicking game (Snapshot) and a children’s game (Los Mampfos). What are the hardest challenges when designing such kind of games?

[Rudiger] To make good games is always a hard challenge. Gamers´games need the most time, because the longer the game and the more complex it is, the more time is required for play-testing

[Liga] Yes, I agree. Gamers games need to be really fully tested otherwise someone soon will find something wrong and the community will say “OK, it is broken!”. Between 2001 and 2005 you had several complex and gamey games published (Traders of Genoa, Goa, Louis XIV and Jambo itself). More recently your designs are getting simpler and more streamlined: it’s a personal style choice or rather a consequence of publishers’ editorial choices?

[Rudiger] I don’t have the motivation anymore to dedicate so much time in complex games. Nowadays there are so many good gamey games, there’s no need of my contribution. But there’s always a lack of simple games which are anyhow different.

[Liga] I’m not sure to totally agree with you but I agree gamers could find a lot to do but there is always need of simple “best sellers”. Traders of Genoa is one of the very few negotiation games that are popular among gamers. And it even includes some degree of randomness (and ten sided dices)! It was reprinted in 2009 under the name of Genoa. You seem to not have touched the rules, did you felt that there was no room of improvement from the original design or was it the publisher’s choice?

[Rudiger] What should I have changed, I’m still satisfied with the original. The only change was to reduce the number of rounds for 5 players.

[Liga] Is there a single game from another designer you really like to have designed yourself?

[Rudiger] Magic the gathering – because it’s my all-time favourite game.
I would still love to create and design new abilities, sorceries and artefacts in a fantastic world.

[Liga] So, despite the fact you start designing mechanics, there are settings and themes able to excite your imagination. Which ones? If you will be able to perfectly design a game in a setting, which one?

[Rudiger] Exploration – intrigue – ?? I will tell you this, if I have designed the perfect game ;-)

[Liga] So, someday, I hope we will see an exploration and intrigue game from Rudiger Dorn and we will know we have not to miss it! Do you think designing games could be someway considered a sort of art? Or is something closer to good craftsmanship? Why?

[Rudiger] I think it’s mostly a kind of art, because you can’t force to get ideas. It’s like painting, writing or composing. In the end there’s a need of good craftsmanship, too.

[Liga] Yes. This is something several designers told me. More creative the first part of the design process and more craftsmanship in the second part. Almost all the artists are used to have a master. Who is Rudiger Dorn master? The person that taught you most about games ?

[Rudiger] In the early years I was fascinated of games by Reiner Knizia. Games by Klaus Teuber and Wolfgang Kramer impressed me, too. Nowadays I have a close look at Martin Wallace, who always has exciting new mechanics in his games.

[Liga] I agree with you about Martin Wallace design. They could be more or less great but there are often exciting new mechanics well connected with the theme. If you have to describe yourself with just 3 Rudiger Dorn’s games, which and why?

[Rudiger] Jambo – because I´m a fan of card games (e.g. dominion, 7 wonders, magic, tichu)
Goa – because I´m a fan of development board games (e.g. Agricola, stone age, Puerto Rico, Il Vecchio)
Vegas – because I´m a fan of fun games, where I get sweaty hands (e.g. Times Up, Bluff, Danger 13, Great Dalmuti)

[Liga] Why did you start designing games and why do you continue designing?

[Rudiger] In my younger days I changed games which were not good enough in my eyes. Some day I had ideas for own games ….
I can’t stop designing games, because games are always on my mind. It’s a wonderful feeling if your game is published, to see its professional graphics and to play with the new materials.

[Liga] Are there some suggestions you would like to offer to new designers?

[Rudiger] The most important thing is to know about games by playing, playing and again playing. What are the interesting mechanics, would I want to play it again – why?, are there ways to play better or to get more points? are there components which are needless – if not, is there a way to make them more playable, elegant?
If you have own ideas produce a playable prototype and test it with many different people. Friends often do not want to disappoint you, so their critics are too decent.

[Liga] Thank you 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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1 Response to The Art of Design: interviews to game designers #22 – Rudiger Dorn

  1. tonyboydell says:

    Goa is an astonishing game – such clean lines, interactive and tense! I hope the re-issue puts it back up where it belongs in the BGG Top 10.

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