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Interviews by an Optimist # 87 - Andreas Seyfarth

Andreas says this about himself…

I was born 06 November 1962 in Munich. I grew up in a village near Munich: Haar. I received my high school diploma in 1981. Community service was (in lieu of military service) in a hospital at Haar. I received professional training for being a civil servant in Cologne, Dieburg (near Frankfurt) and Munich from 1983 until 1986. Actually I am a financial controller at Deutsche Telekom AG.

I got in touch with my wife in 1979, we married in 1988.
The gaming virus came from my parents (with the classics Chess, Card Games) and improved with my wife’s family. They played stuff like Sagaland, Hase und Igel, the german Spiel des Jahres games. This led to ‘new’ games like Acquire (by the way still one of the best games ever) and really new games like Dodge City (from Hans im Glück) that made me go to Essen.

Together with Karen we published our first own game: Max & Moritz by Schmidt Spiele. It was a (very) little card game, but it was the first box we had been the most proud of. After that I designed some games by order with themes like Zorro, Harry, Game of Peace (Spiel des Friedens). The breakthrough came in 1994 with the game Manhattan (Hans im Glück) which won the contest Spiel des Jahres in 1994. In the same year followed Waldmeister, once again a ordered game. Then I took a little rest to show up with Puerto Rico in 2001. This game had a developing time of about 15 years (from the first ideas until production). Puerto Rico was followed by San Juan and more will come.


Tom: What do you think of the massive critical praise of Puerto Rico?

Andreas: I was very impressed by the reactions of the players and critics, as we (Stefan Brück and me) didn't expect this kind of reactions. We had been sure that we made a good, a solid game. What came next overwhelmed us/me completely.

For me it is very satisfying having made a game most people/gamers like. Perhaps the critical praise is too enthusiastic, and some gamers are disappointed when they play this game first, because it does not fulfill their expectations.

All in all, every single critique written bothers me, and I like it to read more good ones than bad ones.

Tom: Do you feel that Puerto Rico is your best game? Or is there another one that you designed which is better?

Andreas: What is my best game?

In terms of playing I like San Juan more than PR, because it's faster to play (and winning is easier for me).

In terms of designing PR it is still my best one, and for me it will be very hard to do a 'better' one.

In terms of earned money Manhattan is still the best, and this will not change so quickly.

Tom: Manhattan won the Spiel des Jahres, the biggest award in gaming. Are you surprised that Puerto Rico didn't win very many awards?

Andreas: PR won more awards than Manhattan. It placed first on boardgame Geek. I'm completely satisfied. ;-)

Tom: What do you think of the game Caylus, which appears ready to pass by Puerto Rico in the ratings?

Andreas: the mechanics of Caylus didn’t grab me first, neither did the illustrations and the graphics. The Setting is - compared to other games in the top 10 of Bordgamegeek - very artificial (example: the cubes remain cubes, I didn't feel them as food, cloth or what they are called by the rules).

All in all the game is working well, the balance of skill and luck (what your opponents are going to do) is fine, and the deeper need to play it again is now after 4 plays growing constantly.

I don’t know if Caylus is the game that will pass PR in the ratings. But I know this time is to come.

Tom: Are you working on a game now, and what details can you give us about it?

Andreas: Actually I'm working on 3 different games, one of them will be published in 2006.

Thurn und Taxis is the one to be published:
The amount of rules, the complexity and playing time are less than PR and little bit more than Manhattan. The playing board will show us Bavaria, some surrounding countries with their towns in the time between 1700 and 1800. There are no railroads, but something is rolling between the towns.

The one shown to some editor:
Building up an enterprise/ organisation on dice rolls.

The one still in progress:
A two player game, building up a civilization (no dice but lots of rules)

Tom: Do you feel pressure to make each upcoming game "the next Puerto Rico"? Do you feel like Puerto Rico is your pinnacle?

Andreas: In the time after Manhattan I wanted to do another "Manhattan" (not counting Waldmeister - this game was in progress at the time Manhattan was published). As everyone has noticed - nothing happened for a long time. Then I realized, I have to step out of the long shadows of this game, and I have to do something completely new for me. This lesson learned, after PR and San Juan the next games will follow in shorter terms - if the publishers want too. Maybe at any time there will be a game to compete with PR. In the meantime you'll get other games I like to play myself. When I'm looking back, PR is the pinnacle, but I want to look into the future.

Tom: What are your thoughts on those who analyze Puerto Rico down to the last detail, such as, "If John picks the Mayor on turn two, then Bob should do such and such". Can you beat such people at the game?

Andreas: As I don't like to play chess (I liked it more when I was young) I don't like to play other games in the way you play chess. Analyzing too much is like working (imo) - what I want is to have fun and the opportunity to go different ways in one game. I'm an average player in PR; there are lots of them to beat me.

Tom: What advice would you have for an aspiring game designer?

Andreas: First of all: be patient. If one of your ideas does not work actually, put it aside and let it grow without thinking about it.

second: Play your own prototypes again, again and again. And then play them again, again and again without changing the rules every playing time. If your game is working without changing the rules constantly, and you still have fun playing it, maybe time has come to show it to some publisher.

third: Try to design a game with a theme in mind. The feeling of the game will be much better when everything is put together.

fourth: Never give up, if you feel you like the designing process. What you are doing is enjoying your life.

fifth: Put some effort in the physical creation of your prototypes, especially if you show them to publishers. You and they are worth playing with nice components.

Tom: When first designing a game, do you start with the theme or the mechanics?

Andreas: I always start with the theme.

Tom: But where do you get the ideas for your themes?

Andreas: This one is a little bit more difficult.

0:0 (theme against mechanic)

I started with themes given for the merchandise games "Zorro", "Harry dreht alles um", "Spiel des Friedens" and "Max und Moritz". 4:0.

The setting of "Waldmeister" was also given. 5:0

Manhattan was basically built on the idea to rise a flat game in the third dimension. Flat skyscrapers? No way. 6:0

For Puerto Rico lots of development chains merged. One of them was the idea to do something in the new world and build up an economy. The way of dealing the phases (now: roles) came from another prototype with a setting in the prohibition time in the States (once again based on a theme). 7:0

San Juan? Theme! 8:0

Next one, still to be published: Theme (9:0 to be announced)

But where do the themes come from? All I know is: personal interest. If ever a theme grabs me, and I feel a potential for putting it into a box, I'll try my very best.

Tom: Can you tell us how you got your games accepted by publishers? Did you have to submit the games to many publishers? Was it a hard process?

Andreas: I was lucky enough to get in touch with Bernd Brunnhofer (Hans im Glück) long before I wanted to publish a game. The same is true for Stefan Brück (Schmidt Spiele, later Alea). Both of them encouraged me to proceed in developing games. My wife got a job at Schmidt Spiele, when Stefan Brück left the company - the next connection was born. Until now every game I have showed to another company other than HiG and Alea was not accepted. By the way, HiG and Alea do not accept every game I show to them. But both will do their very best when they like a prototype.

Tom: Do you have any games that you think are quite good but were not accepted by a publisher?

Andreas: There are still one or two games I'd like to see published, but they are not finished yet. The problem is that none of my games are really finished when I show them to a publisher...

Tom: How do you feel when the developers change aspects of your games?

Andreas: Talking about Manhattan, Puerto Rico etc.:

None of these games have been published as I showed them to the publisher. So the publishers / developers had to change, to add, to substract something of the prototype. But surely, we agreed upon about every change made. For me it's very important to work on a game together with the publisher. That's the reason why I'm looking for publishers I'm able to play with when I want to.

By the way, none of my games have changed in theme...

Tom: Why so long between the release of each of your new games?

Andreas: Time got longer with the release of my 6th game, Waldmeister, and the award "Spiel des Jahres" for Manhattan. Because the next game I wanted to do should have been even better than the last one....

The reason not to wait so long, now, after Puerto Rico and San Juan is I don't follow this intention any more. My next games don't have to be "better". The only reason to publish more games for me is that I like to play them. That's enough.

Tom: Can one make a living from designing board games?

Andreas: You know these guys: Knizia, Kramer, Teuber (and some more, I don't know). I'm not sure, if I'd like to go this way, because I don't want to feel a pressure to design games.

Tom: How much time a day do you spend on designing your games, and how much time do you spend playing other people's games?

Andreas: I don't count the time I spend on games. There are many periods I don't think about any game design, and sometimes I think about two or more games at the same time.

But I know, I'm spending more time playing other people's games than designing and playing my own games.

By the way, I played Caylus two times in the last weeks. I like this game more now than I did before. If it wouldn't have been announced as an overall sensation, my expectations wouldn't have been that high first.

Tom: What are your favorite games from other designers?

Andreas: These are my long time playing favorites (without considering my scoring at boardgamegeek), I played and play them constantly.

1. Acquire
2. St. Petersburg
3. Carcassonne
4. Lost Cities
5. Racko

Tom: Andreas, what can you tell us about any more expansions for Puerto Rico?

Andreas: The only problem is to make an expansion as good as the original game (I can’t ingnore this for an expansion) ...., so there are lots of ideas, but it's more difficult to get them into a new box.

As everyone had to wait 15 years for the original game (from the first ideas to publishing), I promise you the expansion will not take that long.

Tom: Can you give us any clues about what the expansion will do?

Andreas: The expansion should work for at least 6 players (perhaps 7). There should be some new features, not only new buildings. As I told you, there are lots of ideas, but they have to be tested if they will work with the original game. That's all I can say at this point.

Tom: What can you tell us more about Thurn and Taxis?

Andreas: Thurn und Taxis is a game about railroad building, no! It's about establishing coach companies in the 18th century in southern Germany and its surroundings. Select your destinations wisely, be the first to fill up all cities of a country with agencies and don't forget to use the abilities of some officials...

That's a little bit advertising...

The game is lighter than Puerto Rico, but more 'adult' than Manhattan. Production will be ready in February or March.

Tom: I see the designer credits list your wife as a designer? How did that work?

Andreas: Karen designed some games some years ago and she wants to design more games in the future. In Thurn und Taxis there are some ideas from Karen, so time has come again to put both of us on the top of the box. And what is more, she did work much on all of my games with playtesting, suggestions and critiques.

Tom: What are your thoughts on Puerto Rico: the Computer Game?

Andreas: Like every other computer game the Puerto Computer game proves that you can't replace a gamer by a computer. But if there is no gamer to be replaced - because you are alone - it's fun to beat the program.

Tom: Andreas, thanks so much for answering these questions! Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

Andreas: Keep on gaming! It was a great pleasure for me to answer your questions. If at any time you want to know more, just ask....

Edited by Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"
www.tomvasel.com
January 28, 2005
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