Michael Schacht on His Modern Classic, Coloretto
Welcome, to the 1st in our 4 part series that highlights some "modern classic" card games. We are hopefully opening with a bang, as we talk with Michael Schacht about his "modern classic" game, Coloretto.
Michael, you don’t really need any introduction for those in the tabletop gaming hobby, as you have been designing games for over 20 years. That is quite a long time in the gaming world. Why do you still design games and what kind of games do you think are fun?
Michael: First, thank you for the interest in my games. I still have a lot of fun with creating games although most of the time the work is not that interesting as people think. Just a few moments are the powerful, inspiring moments. Sometimes it is hard today to find the full motivation as the personal wants have grown over the time. I sometimes think on other kind of projects and collect the ideas over the years and maybe there will be one that I will follow, as my interests were never focused just on games.
What do you think is the key to being able to last so long in the gaming industry and still be putting out games that gamers look forward to and love?
Michael: For releasing games over a long period of time, you must be able to accept all the bad experiences which are part of the deal. Over the time I received hundreds of prototype refusals. That can be really demotivating as well as the critics. You also have to accept that the designer always comes last. Nevertheless the game industry is quite small and so all know each other. There are a lot of nice people around, that is really one of the great things.
Are there any games in 2013/2014 that you haven’t designed, but really enjoy and find unique?
Michael: I like the new Kramer/Kiesling card game which is called in Germany "Abluxxen", not necessarily unique, but nicely done. Unique designs are quite rare, the latest I can remember is Love Letter.
What are some of your favorite games to play?
Michael: Cartagena, Love Letter and Cockroach Poker, which are good for all kind of gaming rounds, Carcassonne Discovery for two after breakfast, more or less complex: Saint Petersburg, Tribune, Brass, Le Havre for two and Tichu.
When you are buying new games, are there certain things you look for in a game before you buy it?
Michael: Most important for me is that it should fit to my gaming groups. And that i don't have already too many good games in that category.
What is your favorite part of designing games?
Michael: It is always very nice when the test group starts to be captured by a game and you know that the development found a good end.
What is your least favorite part?
Michael: Starting a project is always hard for me.
Do you have a favorite game designer?
Michael: I have several - again depending on the category. But I am mostly impressed by clever or unique implementations of concepts. For example the system of Dominion, I don't have to like the game, but it is very smart designed.
This year we see Coloretto turn 11 years old, not only that, but it is still in publication after all that time! Did you expect the success that Coloretto as received, that it still be popular after 11 years?
Michael: No, I didn't expected that, but at that time you had a better chance to establish a success like that, when you had a strong design. Looking back the success is a bit surprising for me especially as it is difficult to get the game idea when you describe it in only a few words. But happily the game was strong enough to compensate that.
If you can remember back to when Coloretto was first being created, can you tell us the story behind its creation?
Michael: The mechanism was first and the chameleon idea came later, quite spontaneous. Coloretto was a typical design process, started with a vague basic idea, worked over a long time with big breaks until I had found the twist that matched the concept of an ever-changing situation during a round that brought life into the game.
Where did the idea for the famous Coloretto chameleon come from?
Michael: The aim was to find a simple theme idea that should fit to colors. I think the function of the joker gave the inspiration as the joker can "change" to the color you prefer.
Do you remember why you chose the name Coloretto?
Michael: The name of the game resulted of a name finding contest at the Essen fair right before the release.
One of the things about Coloretto was that it doesn’t use a lot of specialty cards, it has few wilds and +2, but we don’t see a lot of other things outside that. Was this designed like that intentionally?
Michael: Mostly I prefer short and straight rules and to have the tension resulting of the game mechanism not out of added events like special cards. Sometimes these things are added if a game idea needs some meat. I try to not do that if possible.
The game ends when you reach a certain part of the deck and an “end of game card” is found. Do you remember how you came up with this idea and what it adds to the gameplay?
Michael: That is a part of a game I am not very happy about. I prefer simple preparations but sometimes you can't find a smooth solution. In this case for the need of having enough cards for the last round. Sometimes you find something that has the needed effect and adds something to the gameplay, but i think in that case it is not.
Another end game feature we see in Coloretto is that you can score negative points. Do you remember why you decide to add that in?
Michael: Again, I like the simple, spartaniac rules. Scoring the same way minus as for the plus was a good solution, especially as the total never can be minus. The Scoring was designed in one go including the max points for a color.
What are some of the changes that happened from the prototype to the Coloretto that was published?
Michael: There were no changes as the publisher knew all development steps and could have had the chance to give comments. But as far as I can remember there wasn't any important one.
A few years after the original Coloretto was released we saw the 2 player expansion. Do you remember how you came up with the idea to make the 2 player expansion and why you added it in?
Michael: In the original gameplay with two was too boring. So, it was no question to release it just for 3 players or more. When I had to design an expansion for the Abacusspiele catalogue edition I was experimenting, nevertheless, with a the later two player rules. I was a bit surprised that it worked fine.
Over the years, you have released a few Coloretto card expansions. Do you have a personal favorite one?
Michael: From the game designers perspective the different scoring cards are nice. With just different numbers you create a different drama in the gameplay. For players others may be more interesting.
The newest edition of Coloretto features a Golden Joker. Why did you decide to add that into the game?
Michael: That was an idea from the publisher. They wanted to add something special maybe with an additional cool color (gold).
In the newest anniversary edition Coloretto uses the Russian art for Coloretto. Do you have a favorite piece of art in that version?
I like the general look and the cover. Maybe it is better than the original one - more concrete. Sales will show the acceptance …
You mentioned that the publisher asked for you to add a new card (golden joker) to the anniversary edition. Do you think it adds to the gameplay or do you still prefer to play without the golden joker?
Michael: With most of my expansions i would suggest to play the basic game alone at first. And if you want to have variation or more then try expansions. Same for the golden card.
We can’t talk –oretto games without mentioning Zooloretto. Why did you decide to take the card game and expanded upon it to make a board game?
Michael: I had the feeling that the basic mechanism could offer more than "just" the use in a card game. It was funny that at that time the publisher thought the same. So we defined the "Coloretto Board game" as a project for Abacusspiele which lead to Zooloretto. Finally another lucky decision.
One –oretto games that is often overlooked is another card game for 2-players called, Coloretto Amazonas. Why do you think that one get a bad wrap? What would you tell gamers that are perhaps looking for a good 2-player card game as to why they should try Coloretto Amazonas?
Michael: On my website is Coloretto Amazonas is played very often. Maybe it was a fault to add the 4-player variant. In my eyes Coloretto Amazonas is still a good two player game, especially with the expansion. It is the only one in the series that has a different mechanism, so people maybe awaiting something different. I would recommend it as a two player game.
Even 11 years later, Coloretto is still recommended as a great card game/small game. Why do you think that it has struck a cord with gamers like it has?
Michael: Maybe it is the strong card mechanism that makes the on holding fascism.
Coloretto is a "modern classic" card game - it ages very well. Are there any card games released in the last 15 years or so that you consider "classic" games that you love you to play?
Michael: In the last 15 years not much of the style of card games has changed. There are a lot of very good games f. e. Parade or Love Letter, which you can name classic. For me classic card games are more like for example Category 5 or Raj.
What was the biggest challenge you faced when you were designing Coloretto?
Michael: Keeping the belief in the idea. All the versions before the final one were not good at all. But luckily I kept the basic concept always in mind.
When you look back at Coloretto, what makes you most proud of the game, as its designer?
Michael: We talked before so many times about the basic card mechanism, but it is the thing I am proud about. The same f. e. with the money mechanism in Mogul (you may know it from the later No Thanks): simple, but driving the whole game.
Out of all your game designs, do you have a favorite?
Michael: I have several depending on the category or game designing aspects. Rat Hot is a surely underrated two player game which I even still play sometimes with my wife (I play my old games rarely). I like the compactness and the advisors twist in Web of Power(China). I am very proud on Mogul and am happy to see the board game version finally will be released this year. The new Scotland Yard Junior (released just in Italy so far) is something I would like to be able to create more often: just a very few rules, but really thrilling, even for adults. In general I prefer all the ideas that can be told with just a few rules that pull the player into the game.
What are some of the differences between Scotland Yard and Scotland Yard Junior?
Michael: At first SYJ is a very reduced Scotland Yard. You play in a small area of London with just a few connections. The big difference is that you "score" each round. Therefore Mister X gets caught more often. But that's no problem as long he doesn't get caught three times. Mister X chooses secretly his turn as well as the ticket (!), he can even stay on the same place. The game is more about guessing and psychology: you know where Mister X is, and you know where he can go (3 or 4 places). With four players you have a second Mister X, called "Mister X junior". The game has a very own gameplay.
You mention that you often don't play your older designs. Do you still play Coloretto?
Michael: If people want to play a game by me Coloretto is a good choice. But usually I want to play the new games with my game groups so that they can see what became out of the prototypes. Beside playing prototypes i want the people to have the option to play also games form other designers :-) Therefore it is simply no time left for the old ones.
Earlier you mentioned that Love Letter is unique. It certainly has opened the way for microgames to be more fully accepted in the gaming hobby. Do you think you will ever design a microgame like Love Letter?
Michael: You never know :-), but I already do make some game ideas for games with thematic licenses, like let's say f. e. Disney. The small games should have to have very low production costs. There you have to try to create games with just a few components.
Are there any games coming from you in the near future(2014 – early 2015) that we should be go on the look out for?
Michael: The before mentioned Scotland Yard Junior and Mogul, additionally in late summer comes "London Markets," as a reworked Dschunke and a special personal project at Essen fair.
Is there anything you like to add, as we wrap up this interview?
Michael: This year I have my 25th game designer anniversary. I want to thank you all for the great time ...
Thank you Micheal for taking the time out to do this interview.
Note: Opening picture of Michael Schacht is by Henk Rolleman.
What's that you say? Inquiring meeples want to know more?You may want to check out these links:
• Michael Schacht's official website
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