I got in touch with a new Italian publisher that will attend in Essen presenting “The Producer”, a deep strategic game I’ll write about as soon as I’ll be able to play it. I decided to ask Manlio, the designer and owner of Apokalypseinc Games about the company.
Here my interview I’ll hope you will find iteresting.
[Liga] Dear Manlio, I’m happy to know about the birth of “Apokalypseinc games”. It is always happy to see new publishers trying this route in a world where self-publishing and kickstarter are ruling. We, as gamers, hope that a publishing house can offer more tested and selected product. Who is Manlio Zaninotti and who is Apokalypseinc Games?
[Manlio] I’m an old young player who started rolling dice with Dunegon & Dragons in ’82 and has never stopped yet. I exercised the most varied jobs, from journalism to management analysis. Gradually, I realized that the only constant in all this time was the passion for board games. Apokalypseinc was born from the awareness of sharing this condition with those who are now my business partners.
In the middle of last year I and my board mates decided to translate our passion into a profession. We stopped wasting our lives in gray offices and run after bureaucracies to make the most out of our skills.
Our first goal became to create a team of collaborators with specific skills. We were lucky enough to find ourselves immediately in tune with some great people that also happened to be great professionals.
[Liga] How many person are part of Apokalypseinc Games ?
[Manlio] We are three partners with different specializations. I take care of the production and logistics, Cristian Mungherli, an expert in artificial intelligence, deals with the development and balance of products, Sergio Tomat with the administrative and financial aspects.
We have several collaborators who assist us both on the economic and financial aspects, the graphics and the development of cognitive ergonomics, as well as on marketing and communication. We have manufacturers that are enthusiastic about the project in the industrial part.
All in all, we employ half a dozen direct collaborators and a variable number of game designers that is meant to grow.
[Liga] What about the name and the logo ? There is a story ?
[Manlio] We immediately started thinking of a fitting name. We set some options trying to find a summary of the concepts we wanted to convey. We chose the present form “Apokalypseinc games” (“Apk” from now on) because it doesn’t correspond to the correct spelling in any language, but reminds many. We found it funny and consistent to our reason for existence to integrate into the reality of our company the philosophy of gaming. As such, each of us adopted an avatar as corporate identity from one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse: I am Death and my color is green, my number is three and my task is to produce and distribute the games; Cristian is War and its color is red, his number is two and he creates new (conceptual) tools and balance products; Sergio is Famine, its color is black, his number is one and, of course, he deals with the administration and payments. The Fourth Horseman of the biblical tradition has the color white and some identify him with Christ or with a “bearer of justice”. In our meta-universe it is in some way the company as a whole and, therefore, white is our business color.
I hope that it is now clear why we then chose the name, and logo accordingly.
The skull-dice in the logo was a brilliant synthesis of our graphic designer, Maurizio Faleschini (author of the graphic design of The Producer) who, one morning a few months ago, came to me enthusiastic about the idea of a logo with a skull (not yet joined to the dice). When I pointed out that it recalled too much the logo of an existing competitor he fell into depression, only to reappear a few days later with this fantastic compromise between the remains of poor Yorick and a dice with the number four.
[Liga] The first game you are publishing is The Producer. I just got a copy and I hope to play it soon and write a first impression. What can you say us about this project ? When it started ? How much it was tested ? Why you decided to open a publishing company and not just send the game to other publishers ?
[Manlio] First of all I will perform a blatant captatio benevolentiae thanking you and saying that I hope you’ll have fun trying it.
The Producer was born as a direct and natural consequence of our editorial project. When we decided to start Apokalypseinc we set goals that included the edition of five titles in the first year and nine titles to year thereafter. On this basis we began to think about new ideas. The Producer is just the first project matured. The basic concept was born in July of 2014. An historically accurate simulative board game about the world of cinema was not there on the market and I immediately felt it was a interesting theme. At first, I worked hard to understand the limits of the copyright. When I understood where I had freedom over what to use in the game, I began working on the structure of the “narrative” of what I wanted to “tell” the player. I began to set the different steps of the production process, the economic and social dynamics of the cinema of the golden age of Hollywood. The process from writing the first notes in pencil on my diaries, to the collection of images and the selection of titles, the definition of the mechanics of the different stages of the game, to the home-made preparations of the first prototype took about four months. In November of 2014 the playtesting phase began, with multiple organized groups and with the help of toy libraries, game rooms, fans and friends. In the meanwhile, Maurizio started developing the graphic concept. Thus we come to March 2015, with ready and tuned mechanics and graphics. The manufacturing procedure took about two months, and in July the first copies came out of the typography.
Why did we chose to do all without asking other publishers? Simply because our project wasn’t born from a game, but our games are born according to an editorial project. We believe that there are many game concepts that are not American or German and that there is a great creative space that is ignored by publishing groups nowadays, who are currently narrow-mindedly focused on “trendy mechanics” and thus more easily saleable.
[Liga] Do you know the game Hollywood from Hobby World ? I know the game are different (Hollywood is a light-family game where The Producer is for games) but the theme are really close …
[Manlio] Yes, I know what has been published on Kickstarter about that title. I followed a conceptual line with The Producer that was totally different and very distant from Hollywood MYOB. A conceptually closer game is perhaps an old title that I was notified about on a blog the last few days: “Fabrik der Traume”. I did not know it and the basic philosophy seems similar. The mechanics and the depth of The Producer are markedly different from those in FdT. However, I will try to buy this old title to see if the author developed aspects of this theme that I may have underestimated , and treasure it for future expansions.
[Liga] You are the designer of The Producer. Does Apokalypseinc will publish your own games or you are also developing games from other designers ?
[Manlio] Half of the titles that Apk will develop will come from ourselves and by our team. For the remaining half, they need to come from other places and by other Italian designers, preferably currently unknown; will be basically “headhunters” for game designers. The two titles in print at this time come from two designer rookies.
Additionally, we would like to develop our own product philosophy. We are devoting a lot of our resources to lay the foundations of an artificial intelligence that can improve its performance while playing new games. It will serve as the engine for the electronic version of our products. It isn’t a random occurrence that we are settled in a Technological Pole and we are recognized as an innovative startup. In the meanwhile we are also trying to analyze in depth the psychological mechanisms that underlie gaming. We want to understand which are the “springs”, whether desires or needs, move a man or a woman to play, what are the different “types” of players and how do they differ in their approach to gaming and to our games. To this goal, we are taking advantage of the collaboration with Alan Mattiassi, a brilliant researcher ere The Producer is for games) but the theme are really close …
who I have come to know by being a “guinea pig” in a study he authored regarding the cognitive processes underlying the building of the mental model of board games dynamics that he presented at Tavola Esagonale this year. We believe that investing in these two aspects is the most important choice for the future of our editorial project.
[Liga] Which games you will bring in Essen ?
[Manlio] In Essen, where you will find us at the 7i112 area, we will bring three titles: besides the English edition of The Producer, we’ll bring Ophiucus, an abstract game inspired by the inclusion of a thirteenth constellation in the zodiac, and Sukkube, a logical challenge in which the capacity to see a long line of moves will prove important. Two more titles are in the works for Lucca Games (in italian).
[Liga] Have you already contacts/contracts with other publishing houses about foreign editions of your games ?
[Manlio] No. We will be in Essen to create some contacts with distributors outside Italy, now that we have a catalog of products that is consistent, cohesive and ready to be launched on the market.
[Liga] How many copies will be produced for Essen ? Do you plan to have special promos in Essen and/or on Lucca ?
[Manlio] We are preparing the materials for a thousand copies of each product. We set this quantity as our standard lot. The first 500 boxes of each published game are, and will be, numbered. At Essen and Lucca, we will bring a few hundred boxes for each game, while the remaining ones are intended for traditional distribution. We will also sell T-shirts, posters and banners with Graphic material with the most appeal from the three products (Frankenstein and King Kong’s hand from The Producer, The starry sky map from Ophiucus and the Strong Man and the Dancer from Sukkube). We are also preparing, as a promo for The Producer, some additional characters and movie scripts that won’t modify the game balance. Personally I do not like that much promo materials, in first place because often they change the balance of the game (and as such costumers that bought the game in store rather than during an event may feel cheated) and, in second place because I don’t like the secondary market around promo materials that are meant to be a “prize” for enthusiasts. For this reason, we choose as a business policy to never make promo material that may unbalance our games or make people feel cheated upon.
[Liga] That’s look nice but gamers like promos. Can you tell us something more about the upcoming titles after this first three ?
[Manlio] Of course! I’m enthusiastic to tell you about that. In Lucca will present “Tifosi”, a game regarding soccer fans with a very humorous style. The two players will control two adverse supporter groups in the path up to the stadium, during the game, and on the path leading out of the stadium, and will aim to tease the opposing supporters beyond their limits. There will be ultras and policemen, and of course the inevitable insults the referee. This game will be very politically INcorrect, but absolutely ironic and mocking. We think that the tournament mechanism will prove to be very interesting. The basic game is for two players, but if you bring together several boxes you can create a true championship.
In advanced playtesting phase we have “Bullet, bucks & flowers”, that simulates the struggle for territory between bands of gangsters in Chicago in the ’30s. In line with The Producer, historical research and people, places and events accuracy was a main focus. Players will embody different bosses and will manage their own gang, take control of bars, distilleries and brothels. They will fight to extend their influence in the different neighborhoods and defend the controlled ones, while avoiding the policeman trying to send them to jail. It will probably come out at the turn of the new year.
We are in advance development phase with “CiVi”, a card game in which the player is a young person looking for a job who will have to juggle absurd demands on their CV, unscrupulous careerists in the next desk and peculiar jobs requests such as “lion trainer”. Obviously, all the game will be spiced with much irony and a bit of healthy cynicism.
I am personally involved in the preparation, almost completed, of an expansion set of The Producer that allows you to play in the years 1935-1939, with masterpieces such as “Gone with the Wind”, “Captains Courageous”, “The Wizard of Oz” etc. The decks of the expansion will replace those in the default game. The mechanics are the same with the addition of the writers making you win ties during the Oscars phase and making it cheaper to buy their scripts.
Next year I will focus on writing a version based in the years of silent films with a number of different mechanical and a new scoreboard. But, above all, on a platform titled “Dante’s vol.1: Inferno”.
[Liga] There isn’t yet an official web site for the company. Why ? Which are your plan about online support for your games ? You will make rules, FAQ and extra materials available online ?
[Manlio] The site will be online very soon and, in addition to rules FAQ and previews of products in development, we plan to upload as soon as possible the free downloadable rulebook of a three-dimensional miniatures space battles game.
[Liga] Great Manlio. Thank you very much and good luck!