I had never really known about Wolfgang Warsch prior to the Gathering of Friends 2018. I mean, I had actually already played The Mind, but I never knew who designed it… During that week of gaming, I found that there were three of his games at the show, and a fourth one which had some pretty rave reviews from the Europeans at the Gathering. I decided to track down this new designer and see if he would like to chat a bit for an interview for our blog.
The following interview was done via email, over the course of about three weeks. The timing wasn’t awesome – between my job, his job, his nomination for Spiel des Jahres, his nomination for Kennerspiel des Jahres and the birth of his child – but I think the following conversation gives a good picture of Herr Warsch and his games…
Wolfgang, thank you so much for agreeing to participate in an interview for the Opinionated Gamers.
The reason that I’m asking you for an interview is that you have exploded onto the scene this year with four games that people can’t stop talking about or playing! I am aware that you also did Dream Team in 2015, but language issues prevented me from ever playing it.
So, maybe to start the interview – how did it come to pass that you had four designs all published in the same year? Most designers struggle to get a single game to the market at times!
Although I have been developing games since 2012 (mainly party games) it was not before 2015 that I got introduced to modern board games. It then took me 1-2 years to „learn“ about established mechanics and develop a „feeling“ for a good game. The short answer to your question why suddenly four games and all of them in the same year: I simple had the idea for all 4 games within a short period of time. They all have been designed between summer 2016 und spring 2017. You never know when you get hit by a good idea. Maybe you have the next great idea tomorrow maybe in 2 years or maybe never. For me this is one of the best and also worst things about designing games. I love long walks to get my head free for new gaming ideas and you never know, maybe TODAY I will have the next great idea. It is a bit like buying a lottery ticket . But not knowing for sure if you will have any good ideas at all within the next weeks/months/years can also be frustrating.
Although all four games were developed quite quickly, after I had the contract for the games, I spent about 6 moths further improving/fine-tuning Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg and Ganz Schön Clever. At the end, it was just coincidence that all four games came out in Nürnberg at the same time.
Oh very interesting. My game design ideas have also come up at most unexpected times – so I know what you mean by that.
While at the Gathering of Friends, I would often see The Mind in play. One question that I know many people have about The Mind is: whether or not The Game (designed by Steffen Benndorf, and published by the same company) inspired your design at all?
There is an assumption that The Game led to The Mind, and I am curious to know if that is true or not
No, I haven’t played The Game before I developed The Mind. I was aware of The Game and I new that it was a cooperative game published by NSV, but that was it. So I had no idea about it’s mechanics and rules. The reason why I send the rules for The Mind to NSV was simply because I knew that they are looking for fun card and dice games with very simple rules. Since both games are similar only at the surface, it was also never a topic to Reinhard Staupe (the editor of NSV who works and worked as an editor for card games for several companies since more than 20 years and has published close to 100 games).
So, I’ve gone on record as saying that The Mind is not my kind of game. I have seen many people who are enthralled by the game – carrying around a copy of it in their pockets just in case they can sneak in yet another game of The Mind. While it’s not for me, I can definitely see and respect the beautiful simplicity of the game. It’s one of those games that feels like an instant classic, and one of those games that you think to yourself, “Gee, why hadn’t someone published this before?!”
How did the idea for The Mind arise? Was it sudden inspiration with a finished game on the first try? Or was this something crafted over many iterations?
I had the idea for The Mind already for several months before I gave it a first try just because I thought that this will probably not work. Then in summer 2016 my brother of law was visiting me and since I had resently purchased a game with cards from 1-100, I asked if he would have some time for a quick test. So I dealed 15 cards to each of us and told him that we have to play the cards in ascending order without talking. And we actually played all 30 cards without a mistake (this happend never again after that ;). From there to the final version of the game took just a few days.
which game did you have with numbers from 1-100? The Game? 6 nimmt? Something else?
The funny thing is that I bought The Game for the prototype. I have never played The Game before nor did I know how it works. But I knew that it is a “just numbers” game like 6 nimmt (that I also have never played so far). So I bought The Game to develop The Mind but played The Game the first time several weeks after I had developed The Mind :)
Do you have a preference on the number of players with which to play The Mind with? Are there different tactics or nuances with different player counts?
The short and boring answer is: no, I don’t care about the number of players. I probabply have played it the most often with three players (together with my wife and my brother in law) but this isn’t necessarely the best number of players for me. I also haven’t found different tactics yet for different player counts but it is more easy to synchronize your feeeling of passing time with just a second person than within a group of players. But to make it not too easy for a 2-player game I like to mention that you haven’t beaten the game yet if you haven’t finished level 12 of the blind version!
I know many people have commented on the plain-ness of the NSV game names “The Game” and “The Mind”…
Did you come up with the name “The Mind”? If not, what was your working title?
My working title was “Kung-Fu Mind Ninjas”. We were Ninas that trained quietly in a dojo to expand their mind. I agree that the names are quite plain (especially “the game”). But Reinhard Staupe (the editor of NSV who works and worked as an editor for card games for several companies since more than 30 years and has published himself more than 100 games) is quite a genius when it comes to the right presentation/naming of games. He puts a lot of thoughts and time in this part. On the surface it maybe seems to be “just” as simple and plain name. But he knows exactly why this and no other name. My favorite name would still be “Kung-Fu Mind Ninjas” but I am not the target audience. The mainstream players and families are the audience of NSV. And these are the ones he thinks of when it comes to the presentation and naming of the game.
[Ed note – in the comments, a good followup question was posed by Jeff Allers – it has been added here as well]
With all the controversy surrounding The Mind and it’s rules, it would have been great to hear the author’s intent. Most of the acclaim the game has received in the U.S. seems to be due to playing in a way that is not allowed in the rules as they were written. If Warsch is reading this, can you comment on this? Have you seen W. Eric Martin’s articles and videos of playing The Mind, and is this what was intended by you (but not clear in the rules)?
[FYI, here is the link to Eric Martin’s video that was referred to in Jeffrey’s question:
I have seen its articles and videos and enjoyed them a lot 😊. I guess you are referring to the “no communication is allowed”-part of the rules and if I my intension was that people sit around the table stoically without any facial expression? No, it wasn’t 😊. I myself play the game with a lot of body language (lean back; take a sip of beer; move the card slowly forward on the table to the pile in the middle; even sometimes saying that it is DEFENITLY not me if everybody is looking at me like crazy since I am the only one left with all the cards 😉). So why not including this in the rules? This has several reasons:
1.) There are (a lot of) people who like to play without any communication except the passing of time.
2.) If people like to include some non-verbal hints (as I and most of my friends do) they will just start doing it after a few games. You don’t need a rule that tells them so.
3.) People like to bend rules with games like this. If you say “no communication is allowed” it will not take too long until people start to bend this rule (which leads to the kind of play we see most of the time and that is probably the most fun). But they will not bend it too much since they don’t want to feel like cheating.
If you now include a rule that definitely allows to use non-verbal communication (maybe with some limitations) people will bend this rule again which will (probably) lead to way more extreme forms of communication then we normally see (“Since non-verbal communication is officially allowed in the rules, how far can we go without cheating”?).
Well, enough about The Mind. You have three other games to talk about as well!
What was your inspiration for Illusion? How did you come up with the idea for the game? I have been amazed at the simplicity of the idea; yet, no one had made a game using this mechanism in the past…
After I have finished a game it is sometimes really hard to say where the inspiration/idea for a specific game was initially coming from. That is also the case for Illusion. Most oft he time I just play around with certain concepts/mechanics in my head and they are sometimes changing so quickly while thinking about them that a few minutes later I cannot tell anymore where the initial idea started. It can easily be that I had an idea for a cooperative worker-placement game that changed to the idea for Illusion.
Once I had designed the different cards (which was quite a pain. It took me about a month to have about 80 of them for a prototype. At least they made it into the final game) I just had to find the right „package“. The „time line“ idea (actually it was the German version called „Anno Domini“) came from another designer from Vienna (Johannes Krenner). The initial game was already very close to the time line version, but had a bit more “meat”. But I liked the simple and easy to understand concept oft the time line-version especially since I was planning to send it to NSV who is always looking for games with very simple rules.
Ha- you have pre-empted my next question (about how the graphics on the cards were done). I really like the way that you have four or five main themes of cards in Illusion, sometimes it helps to have two of the same style in succession – though the way the art and coloring is done, sometimes it doesn’t help at all!
But, the game is quite simple/elegant, and it has become a local favorite to start or end a game session around here.
So, let’s move on to another of your games… Ganz Schön Clever.
First – what does the title mean?
I’ve been doing some translation
Ganz = All
Schoen = beautiful
Clever = clever
Is this perhaps some local Viennese idiom that I’m not aware of?
No, no Viennese idiom :) “Ganz schön” simply means “pretty/quite” in German.
Well, the game is “quite clever” – it has found a good following here due to the suprising amount of strategy found in this roll-and-write game.
Any interesting stories about how this game came about? Is this inspired by an older game?
I have used the dice-mechanic (pick one and remove all dice with a lower number) in two (non roll and write) prototypes before, but I wasn’t happy with the final game. Then I met Thorsten Gimmler from Schmidt Spiele at the Toy Fair in Nürnberg 2017 where he showed me the roll and write game “Noch Mal” and he saied that he would be looking for a follow up game. A few weeks earlier I played “Imhotept” and I liked the idea to use the same item (cubes) to play several “mini-games” on different loactions on the board. Once at home from Nürnberg I thought about my old dice mechanics and felt that it would be a nice idea to combine it with an Imhotep-like game (use the dice on different locations to “win” different mini-games). The first prototype was already pretty close to the finished game. Within the next 2-3 weeks I added the bonuses, extra-actions and changed a bit the different “games” (colour areas). The final prototype (that I then showed to Thorsten) was a bit bigger and more complex than the published game. It had a theme (the name was Dice Farmers) and you had an additional scoring area for which you scored points depending on which dice you put on the silver platter after choosing your first die. You also had an additional action (take back a die from the silver platter). These additional parts made the game (in my opinion) more enjoyable but also more complex. So we decided to remove it to make it more accessible (but I already have an expansion for the game where these parts are included again together with another scoring area; but I don’t know yet if this will be published in the future). So the game was finished quite fast but then took some additional moths of playtesting to balance the game. (how much points you get for each area and where to get bonuses and extra-actions). Pleople who are interested to try the game can also play it for free at Brettspielwelt: https://m.brettspielwelt.de (inclusive English homepage).
That’s a really interesting story. And now that you mention it, I can see the Imhotep inspiration.
For what it’s worth, I think that much of the reason that many of my gaming friends love Ganz Schoen Clever is because of its complexity.
There is more “game” than many of the recent roll-and-write releases.
If this does well, maybe you’d be motivated to revive the more complex version of the game?
As for all expansions (what is basically the more complex version plus even more) it depends on how well the basic game is doing….
Now it’s time to talk about my favorite game of yours, Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg. As this one is currently available only in German, many of our readers will likely be unfamiliar with this one… I ordered one from Amazon.de after the Gathering (along with your other three games), because I figured that I had enjoyed the other three so much, that I would want to play the whole set!
And, I must say, this one really intrigues me. The game here is a bag-builder, where players add different colored tokens to a bag over the course of the game. I’ve always been partial to any sort of “builder” game whether it be deck-builders or bag-builders or whatever… As with the other games, I should start by asking how this great game came to life?
First of all: Great to read that you enjoy Quacksalber! The initial spark for the gaming idea came from Dominion. It was triggered when I realized what I liked the most about this game. It actually is the feeling you have, when you draw a value 3 coin (and maybe another one after that and maybe some more money….). I enjoy the rest oft he game too but this feels the most satisfaying to me. It gives you that „now I can go for a big shopping tour and I HAVE to spend all the money“ feeling. So I wanted to build a game around this „feeling“. From the initial idea on I new that I wanted to use coins/chips instead of cards (since it all should focus on the coins) and therefore I needed a bag to mix the coins and keep them secret. So I didn’t start the game with the intention to make a bag building game. I also quickly included special actions for the different coins to give the game depth and strategic decisions. I build the first prototype for the game on the same evening that I had the initial idea – something that doesn’t happen to me very often. But it took another 2-3 months until I had a finished prototype ready to show to publishers.
Well, I think that the game has turned out wonderfully. I agree that there is a certain sense of excitement when you pull out the “right” chip out of your bag… just when you need it! But, for me, that is because of the special actions.
For the readers who haven’t played the game, there are different color chips in your bag, and in each game, four of them will have varying special abilities. You can choose from four different options for each color at the start of the game, and those actions remain constant throughout the entire game. But, as you can probably see, each game can have a different choice for each color, and the different actions can create different synergies between the colors, and thus, cause the game to play differently each time.
When we worked on Dominion, we spent a lot of time working on the “First Ten” – that is the set of Kingdom cards that we recommended players use for the first game. In Quedlinburg, you have also given the players a recommended first set to try. Did you have specific strategies that you wanted to happen in a first game? And, of course, I must ask you… Do you have a favorite combination of color actions that you like to play with?
points for each individual set (e.g. low complexity for the first set but also enough „depth“ to keep the players engaged). And if you play one set after the other the game should give you a different “feeling”. It took some time until I finally had the finished all 4 sets. I even had to change the actions of some cards to fullfill all 10 points for all sets.
I actually don’t have a favorite set or combination of books. During most of my testing phase I randomly chose some books and then maybe swapt one or two books what works really well once you know all books.
Sounds like you play QvQ the same way that I play Dominion, I’m happy to just draw randomly and figure it out.
The game looks to be perfect for expansions – any hints as to what you have planned? more books for the existing colors? Maybe a new color? :)
Actually I didn’t have a lot of time yet to think about expansions. Since normally only a relative successful game gets expansions this is a relative new “task” for me (since the nominations are just 2 weeks ago). But I have already one or two thoughts on it. I would like to make “actions” for the chips that work on a separate board/area that would get attached to the main cauldron. And of course a new set of books. And maybe new chips with different (higher) values. And maybe additional black books that bring more interaction between the players (I had some in the prototype, which I then excluded due to complexity reasons). And maybe….
Also, since it’s likely that you can’t or won’t answer that question… Why Quedlinburg? Is it just because of the alliteration? I have looked up the town online, and I see that it does exist, and the half-timbered houses on the game cover match the reality. I could not find anything online about a historically important festival or a known quack doctor from the town though..
I indeed don’t really want to answer that question since Thorsten Gimmler came up with the name and I couldn’t really answer this question properly. Sorry.
So, if you don’t mind, a few questions about yourself? Is this you?
If so, are you still doing biomedical research? I have read through some of your abstracts. I do not miss my days doing bench research. I spent a few years working with IGF-1 peptide in neonatal rats…
You are kidding! You are/have been a researcher too? :))))) The world is quite small :)
And yes, that’s me. Although the picture is roughly 10 years old.
For awhile I toyed with the idea of an MD/PhD. But I just couldn’t handle the drudgery of bench research
So how did you end up in the world of game design?
I never really was into heavy or even modern board gaming until a few years ago ( and I wouldn’t call myself a heavy board gamer with less than 60 modern board games played so far and now playing roughly 5 new games per year). But when I was about 19 I bought an old billard-table to renovate it and on some point I just thought that it would be a fun idea to make a billard board game. I just liked the non-physical exercise to develop something completely in my head just by staring for some hours on a wall (and I still like it, but now I rather prefer to take a long walk ). The creation of a game combines mathematical skills, logic and abstract thinking as well as creativity, all four being things I would assume that I am good at and that I enjoy. Unfortunately, the first trial was a complete disaster so I quickly gave it up and focused on other things. About 6 years later a gave it another try and reworked my original billard-game again without success. I still haven’t played any modern board games till this point (with very few exceptions like Catan or Dominion) and just enjoyed the design-process. I had no game mechanics “background” or knowledge what is “important” for games.
Nevertheless in 2012 I gave it another try but now I tried to develop a party game since this was the only genre I was a bit familiar with. So I developed Dream Team which was published by Zoch in 2015. But since I had the contract already in 2012 I was motivated to keep going and not make another 5-year break. I wasn’t focusing on game development too much but tried to make another party- or family game every now and then (e.g. Shadow Master that appeared at Piatnik). When I moved to Cambridge I met a lot of board-game enthusiasts and I got introduced to a lot of modern board games. This completely changed my design-process. Since 2016 I am back again in Vienna where I met Alexander Pfister who is also from Vienna and he invited me to his weekly game designer meeting. This had a big impact on my game output since now I am “forced” to work/Improve my games within a week. This is one of the reasons why I could finish now four games in a short time period (but also because the two card games didn’t take too long to develop).
Wow. Impressive to hear that you have such good designs with your minimal experience. People will certainly be on the lookout for your new ideas though! I have a few friends who have a similar group in Berlin – a number of established designers who also meet on a weekly basis. I think that having a nexus of talented minds together spurs on the design process.
So, since you go to a weekly session, I assume that you are working on more new designs? Anything that you’re able to talk about or hint at?
Two (maybe a third) games should come out in Essen. One is a co-op dice-game called Fuji which will appear at Feuerland games and is in the low Kennerspiel level. The other game will be published by Schmidt Spiele but I can’t talk about the game yet. The third game is a speed card game with a brain-twisting mechanic that will be published by Piatnik (but could also come out in 2019). Planned for 2019 are also two other games but I can’t say too much about them either. Right now I am working on a new player-sheet for Ganz Schön Clever (5 new mini-games), another party game and a new roll & write game.
Holy cow! Can’t wait to see the new designs! If you need any advance play testers, just let me know ;)
Thanks for the interview. I wish you the best of luck with your games, and I will be rooting for you to bring home a giant wooden poeppel or two from Berlin!
Thanks! I really enjoyed the interview and hope that I will meet you some day in person!
If you have any other followup questions, feel free to post them in the comments, and I’ll try to get Wolfgang to come by and answer them!
Until your next appointment
The Gaming Doctor