[SIC] Interviews with designers (english)

In this blog I'll share interviews that I made to famous game designers and other personalities of the board gaming world. Bear in mind that english is not my native language and it isn't for most of the interviewed people either. So don't be afraid of the orthography or gramatical horrors you may find in the texts.
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[SIC] 05 - Bruno Cathala

Matias Saravia
Argentina
Ciudad Autonoma de Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires
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France is one of the countries where the boardgame industry grown the most in the last couple of years. A huge part of that growth was thanks to the great french designers. We had the chance to interview one of the most successful and prolific of them.

Puedes leerla en español en Geek Out o en la versión en español de este mismo blog.

Today: Bruno Cathala


Curriculum Vitae:
* Was born in France in 1963.
* In 2004 created Entrejeux (Between games) with the objective of offer his knowledge in games to advise, animate, communicate, train and produce corporate games, depending on the needs of his clients.
* Has a blog where he publish news about his games, interviews and info about his company Entrejeux.
* In 2006 his game Shadows over Camelot won a special award to "Fantasy game", awarded by the Spiel des Jahres (German game of the year) jury.

Prominent games: Shadows over Camelot, Cyclades, Jamaica, Mr. Jack, Mission: Red Planet, Abyss, Five Tribes, 7 Wonders Duel.



Matías: Let’s try to find your game design origin, which games did you played as a kid?
Bruno: I will not be original.
Like all children in France my first game experience was something like Monopoly, Clue, Risk.
Plus one game called Richesses du Monde (a Monopoly like, but much better).
And classic abstract games like Chess, Checkers, Go, Othello.

M: What brought you into modern games?
B: Someone offered me a french magazine that made reviews of modern games (Jeux & Strategy) when i was 20.
I suddenly discovered that there was life after Monopoly!! WAOW!!!
I bought my first modern game, Fief, because it had just won a game design contest.
So I discovered that there were people creating games!! (in never thought of that before).
And I promised myself that, one day, I would create my own game, and win that contest.
But at the time I had no idea what to do to create games.
So I just became a gamer, for years, before being able to try to do my own game much more later (I began to work on my first design when I was 36)

M: How did you manage to get that first design published?
B: When I finished to work on my first prototype, I tried to contact a new publisher, established in switzerland (I’m live close the the border).
They were really enthusiastic and decided immediately to publish it!
It was just incredible for me.
But they had not the money to produce it immediately and they asked me to wait until they get enough money from their first games to be able to produce mine.
During one year, I worked with them demonstrating the game on conventions and suddenly, no more news. They disappeared from the planet!!
Mails, phones, all returned the same answer: this doesn’t exist!!!
I went to their home, but… it was closed…
It seemed that they left swiss territory very fast… no idea why.
They had all my files and I feared that they would publish my game under their name, in another country.
So, I tried to contact Bruno Faidutti, by mail.
I never met him before but loved his games (mainly Citadels)
I explained him the situation and proposed him a collaboration on my game.
He accepted to have a look to my prototype, and liked it enough to push it to one of his main publishers; Jeux Descartes
But he didn’t accepted the collaboration, thinking that the game was finished enough.
So.. Bruno’s help, without any counterpart, has been a major opportunity for me.
I will never forget that
Thanks so much, Bruno


Bruno Faidutti and Bruno Cathala

M: Now you're a full time designer or do you have another job?
B: I’m a full time game designer since 2004
But since it’s really difficult to get sufficient incomes only with royalties, I have a lot of side activities connected with games, like working as developer for some publishers, or creating games for private companies for publicity or communication reasons.


M: How did you felt when you realized you could make a living by working on games?
B: Well.. Becoming full time game designer has not really been a choice.
I was designing games as a hobby, in parallel to my real job (research in material sciences - new Tungsten Alloys)
But in 2004, I was fired, for economical reasons.
To find a new job corresponding to my skills, I had to leave my area, to go… very far.. probably 500 kms far. or to another country.
This could have been a nice challenge, but I was divorced, with young childrens.
So I decided to try to create my activity around games just to be able to stay close to my children.
And.. it has not been easy at all.
From 2004 to 2010, each month, I was not sure I would be able to pay my rent. I always succeeded, but it was stressful.
From 2011 to 2013 it was a little easier due to a long term development contract with a publisher.
And 2104 and 2015 are my 2 first years with sufficient incomes to live without any stress due to Abyss and Five Tribes.
I just hope that this situation will go on for some years… but things could change so fast !!!

M: What are the differences of working as a developer for some publishers and working on your own games?
B: It’s very different. When I’m working as developer for a publisher, I first have to understand the creative process of the initial designer.
Then, I’m able to propose solutions which fits well with his process. And this can be really different from my own process.
It’s a schizophrenic way to work.

M: Back to your own games, how is your design process from the idea to publication?
B: Ideas come… when they come!
They come mostly when I’m doing something else not connected with games (riding my bike, driving, taking a shower, boring with my family…)
Then I first project the game connected to this idea in my head as far as possible.
When I’m convinced that it could lead to something interesting, I seat in front of my computer and begin to create files to print, cut, glow all the needed components to playtest it.
And then begins the long long long process of development. Testing - modifying - testing - modifying…. and so on.
At the end, when I’m satisfied, I write the rules and try to convince a publisher.

M: Do you have some defined process for testing your games?
B: I have a group of testers. I choose them because of their open mind, their knowledge in a wide range of games.
We meet each friday evening, have a dinner together, and then we playtest.
Process is easy; tests will go on as long as I’m not fully satisfied.
And this can take… years (For example, it took us quite 3 years for Cyclades)



M: What do you consider the best part of being a game designer?
B: The incredible success you get with women by being a game designer!
All these very cute ladies waiting you at your hotel and….
Euh… no.. sorry… I was just dreaming…
For me, the best part of the job is the sparkling of the idea.
That specific moment, when you are not working on any game, and suddenly an idea comes, and it begins to take life into your head.
It’s… fascinating.
Then, you have to work...

M: And what is the worst part of being a game designer?
B: That very unpleasant feeling, when you are in a party, and you see women laughing at you when you say you are a game designer, them preferring to talk with guys who have a “real” job (and a big car).
Euh.. no.. sorry.. just kidding.
The worst part is when you have to work on your prototype, you’re convinced that you have something really interesting, and... just have to wait, wait, wait for publishers to answer.
You don’t control anything at that time and that part of the job is (for me) really frustrating.

M: I suppose that now that you made so many successful games it's a lot easier to get publishers to pay attention to your pitches.
B: Good publishers only decide to publish games that they fall in love with and that is not connected to the name or the notoriety of the designer.
That means that each time I have to convince them.
The thing which is easier now, is that when I ask for a meeting, I’m quite sure I’ll have it.
But.. I also have to face the reverse side of the medal:
When you made games like, Abyss, Five Tribes, 7 Wonders Duel, and show a nice but smaller game to a publisher… it’s not that easy, because they are waiting for something more from you!



M: In your own opinion as a gamer, what makes a good game?
B: For me, a good game is a game you want to play again immediately after your first experience.
This is connected to the tension you have in the game. This tension has to increase slowly all along the game.
The best is when this leads to a spectacular conclusion.

M: You designed games that are very different from each other, do you find similarities between them, some kind of author signature?
B: Well.. This question should be answered by gamers.
My only rule, is that I only work on games that I’d want to play myself.
So, this is a quite selfish process: I’m designing games for my own taste.
But it’ true that I like 2 player games, I like direct interaction, dislike pure cooperative process.
So… maybe all my personal tastes lead to something that people can recognize.

M: There are eurojuegos, usually related to the german designers and ameritrash, related to designers from United States, I think that in the last couple of years a new wave of games came from french designers. Some kind of mixture between the euro mechanics and the ameritrash themes and interaction. What do you think that distinguish french games from the german and american games?
B: Well… in my opinion, analyzing games depending on the nationality of the designer is not far from being outdated, or will be outdated very soon.
You know, now, with all the medias (websites, fairs, etc..), we all evaluate in a global system, being influenced by tendencies coming from everywhere.
You will have europeans making games close to ameritrash, americans designing games close to eurogames, designers all around the world being influenced by japanese minimalist games and so on…
So.. at the end, you have to analyse games depending on the specific tastes of the designer, never mind his nationality.

M: What kind of experience do you try to generate to the players with your games?
B: It depends of the game! But I’m really satisfied when I see that players have completely forgotten all their problems during the game.
When all their attention is dedicated to the game. When I see them having special emotions during the game (smiling, being angry, negotiating...)
And I like when players can tell the story they lived during their game at the end.

M: You worked with a lot of designers co-designing games, how is the process different from working alone?
B: Creating means doubting. And doubting with a friend is much more comfortable than doubting alone. That’s one of the reason why I like co-designing games.
The process is different, because you have to be able to give up some ideas you really like to go in the direction of your co-designer. Not because this direction is the better one. Just because it’s different and he prefers it.
And this works well when he accepts to do the same for you sometimes.

M: Without giving names, did you had any bad experience when co-designing some game?
B: No. because I don’t accept every project.
To go on with a project, I need 3 things:
* Having a good feeling with the starting idea
* Having enough time
* Having a good feeling with the partner
If I don’t have this good feeling with the partner, even if the idea is really exciting, I prefer not to work. This avoids me bad experiences

M: What is your vision about the present of the games industry?
B: Well… the games market is growing. Not fast. But it’s growing. And this leads to attract some financial companies who just want to make money, without having any idea of what a game is.
They don’t like games, they like money. And I don’t feel very comfortable with this evolution.
I like people working for their passion.

M: It seems that each year is harder to design a game with enough staying power to become a classic, Do you think that the cult of the new is damaging the industry?
B: I’m not sure that it’s due to the cult of the new.. in my opinion, it’s more connected to a “zapping” way of life.
Now, people like to change their activities very often.. and it’s the same for games

M: How do you see the present of the french games industry, it seems to have evolved very quick in the last couple of years. Why is that?
B: I think that I am very lucky to have this connection with French publishers.
For me, the artwork is something very important in games. And most French publishers share this same passion for gorgeous illustrations.
And this has helped french games to seem “special” on the market, I like that!



M: What do you think the future of the industry would be like in a couple of years?
B: Well.. I’m not fortune teller. And it’s hard to imagine what will come.
For example, some years before, nobody could predict the fantastic success of Kickstarter
The only thing I know is that I will have to be able to adapt myself to all future evolutions or… I will disappear
I hope to be able to do that.

M: Is there some game in the making that you could tell us something about?
B: In a close future you will see:
* An expansion for 7 Wonders duel, with Antoine Bauza, to be published by Repos Production.
* Kingdomino, a family game I designed alone, to be published by Blue Orange. In it you will have to build a kingdom… with dominoes!!
* Kanagawa, with Charles Chevallier, to be published by Iello. In this game, you are a painter apprentice, learning your art from Hokusai master. And you will try the make the most harmonious artwork.

M: Five Tribes was inspired by Mancala, now Kingdomino is based on dominoes, are you exploring and trying to update old classic games or it was just a coincidence?
B: No it’s not a coincidence at all…
You could add SOS Titanic exploring Solitaire traditional card game,
Noah exploring Black Jack and so on..
I like to try to refresh solid old mechanisms to create something new.

M: Thank you very much for your time and your answers!
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