Piotr Siłka: How and why did you decide to be a publisher of board games?Bernd Brunnhofer with Spiel des Jahres winner Dominion (Image: Geert VG)
Bernd Brunnhofer: At the time I worked in the technical university in Munich as my main job. I had to decide whether to write a dissertation in sociology or to promote my little publishing house. I decided to take the second option.
PS: The questions which I have always had in my mind when looking at your company is what does the name Hans im Glück mean and how did you come up with the logo (and also with the name of the company)?
BB: The name of the company comes from an old German fairy tale. John (=Hans) started with a big gold nugget and after some adventures he had nothing left over. I tried to reverse the direction of this story (together with my companion at this time, Karl-Heinz Schmiel).
PS: Did you ever imagine that company which you founded with your friend would be in this place, where it is now?
BB: I hoped so, of course, but I didn't know just as nobody knew it at this time.
PS: How many people work in the company, and what's the structure of the firm? (Do you have, for example, a department of boardgame testing :-) ?
BB: We are only four employees including myself. Furthermore we have some freelancers. This structure works only because we outsourced important parts: distribution, production and PR.
PS: You've spent almost three decades in the boardgame industry. Have you seen any special periods of development in this hobby? Have you also found crises in the industry? (I am asking not only about finance, but more generally about board games.)
BB: This question is not easy to answer. At the start of my company the English and the U.S. market was very strong in developing and producing games – but at the same time the "Internationale Spieltage" in Essen took place for the first time and five years earlier the Spiel des Jahres jury had started its work. Both initiatives created a lot of subsequent actions, for example, the foundation of companies like HiG. In the following years, the interest in Germany and in German games outside of Germany increased very much, which again meant new companies and ideas, and so on. This situation stayed for a long time.
In the last few years, we've started to see some problems. The first is the dominance of games on the smartphones or similar tools, and as a consequence there is a danger that young parents do not know board games and therefore they cannot show them to their children. This is a serious problem, and we try to educate students about board games in kindergarten and schools. The second problem is the saturation of the market. But problems should be there to solve them!Hacienda (Image: Moritz Eggert)
PS: How many prototypes from designers do you play each year? Do you have time to play published games from other companies?
BB: HiG receives about 300-400 prototypes every year. We cannot test all games, but we have our test teams, and I am involved in 90% of all cases. We take a better look at 20% of all prototypes. Because I'm a gamer myself, I can play most of the new games of other companies every year.
PS: You meet many novice designers. What are the most common mistakes they make? Do you have any tips for such a beginners?
BB: First, they should try to send us clear rules together with their prototypes. Second, they should not send us children games (for these we are not the right address) and clones of classical games like chess or Monopoly or similar games. That's more or less what I can say. Because a game is a sum of ideas and no one really is equal to another, we must play a game to form a judgment. Additionally the designers who send us a game should know that we work with their game if we think about publishing it. That means we try this and that, and we change sometimes a lot of the original prototype. Designers who don't want this shouldn't send us their prototypes.
PS: You are a publisher, a game editor, and a game designer. How do you think about yourself first? Is it a problem for you to design games when you know so much about them from the publisher's point of view?
BB: At first I feel like a publisher and editor – those are the same for me – though I have much fun developing my own ideas from time to time. There is no problem or difference between my games and those of other designers because our test groups tear my ideas apart just as they do ideas from other designers if they don't like it.
PS: You have not published many of your own games. Is this a result of a lack of time, or do you just from time to time want to check yourself and feel how it is to be a author?
BB: As I said before, I like to develop some of my own ideas from time to time if I feel that I could create a useful game. But of course sometimes I will not find the necessary time to continue developing my own games. In this case the ideas land either on the edge of the writing table or in the garbage.
PS: After publishing a few of your own games in the 1990s, you had quite a long break and then in 2004 your Saint Petersburg came out. Why did you decide to publish the game under another name, and how was the theme (specifically that city) chosen?
BB: All the time between 1985 (Greyhounds) and 2004 (St. Petersburg) was principally filled with the development of the company. The Michael Tummelhofer synonym was born as a joke between Michael Bruinsma (999 Games, our partner in the Netherlands), Jay Tummelson (Rio Grande Games, our partner in the USA) and Bernd Brunnhofer (HiG) – just a joke, nothing more. I chose the theme of Saint Petersburg because I had been reading about Peter the Great at this time. I thought it would fit the development of a society, but of course other themes also would fit.
PS: Stone Age in my opinion (and not only mine) is a classic. Could you say something about what inspired you to create this game? And weren't you afraid to use dice, which in those years were not very popular in board games?
BB: I love the prehistorical times, knowing how people arranged their life with a few tools and developed civilizations. I was convinced that there had to be a good piece of luck in such a game, so while I tried to give the players these dice with which they can likely calculate the result, dice are dice and therefore some throws end with wild results. I think this gives the game a certain flavor.
PS: When and why did you decide to design an expansion for Stone Age? You did not like a fan expansion ;-) ? (And how is it related to the fan expansion?) And why did we have to wait so long for it???
BB: We got a prototype for an expansion to Stone Age with the theme decoration, but it was too "freaky" for my taste. Therefore my son Moritz – together with Michael, one of our freelancers, and me – developed the expansion as it is now. The designer of the original prototype will get some royalties, too. I think (and know from the numbers of sold copies of the basic game) that a lot of people play Stone Age, but there's a big difference between "a lot of people" and the really huge number of players of Carcassonne. It was not sure whether that first number was enough to justify an expansion, but now after it's done I see that the players like it and also a good number of our foreign partners coproduced it.
PS: In your most recent game, Pantheon, it seems that the mechanism came before the theme. Am I correct? Of which elements and ideas in this game are you the most proud?
BB: I think each designer has a favourite theme in his or her mind. One of my favorites is a time-travel game; Pantheon started as a time-travel game, but in the course of development it changed like all my trials before to create such a game. Doesn't matter – we tested it again and again, and finally it became the game that it is now.
For myself I like the element of the movement action mostly and the option for the other players to also make a movement. Often this creates strange or funny situations because some players don't want to benefit others and therefore each player is waiting for the others to start a movement round. But of course we know that a good number of players don't like this game because they prefer games in which they can follow an exact strategy – and this is exactly what you cannot do in Pantheon. Fortunately there exist also a good number of players who like this lack of a straight strategy, and also fortunately there exist both types of games and each player has a big number of options.
PS: Do we have wait another three years for your next game, or do you perhaps already have something in mind?
BB: I have some ideas in mind, of course, but I don't have any idea of when they might be developed and realized. One thing is clear, though: If there will be any new Tummelhofer design, it will not come in the next year.•••
(Editor's note: This interview originally appeared in Polish in Świat Gier Planszowych. —WEM)
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