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In the Road To Canterbury I meet Alf Seegert!

Jaime "Jason Rider" Polo
Spain
S/C de Tenerife
Tenerife
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It was a long time since my last post, I hope you enjoy with this new interview to a new designer who made the games "The Road To Canterbury" and "Trollhalla".

Now you can find the answers to my questions.


* How do you start at the boardgames?

I grew up on board games like Which Witch?, Monopoly, Mousetrap and Stratego. Then I played RPG’s like Dungeons and Dragons and Tunnels & Trolls and many computer games. I loved the electronic board game Dark Tower and I programmed a version of it into the high-school mainframe computer, using ASCII characters for the players and for the Tomb, Ruin, Bazaar, etc. The only board game I played very much between high school and my 30’s was a little bit of Talisman. Talisman is brilliant and creative, but it’s like a big box of super sweet candy. You eat a lot at once, and then then don’t want to eat any more for a very…..long…..time.

* Which was your first game that you get as a gift or you bought?

We bought The Settlers of Catan right around the year 2000. El Grande and Tigris & Euphrates followed soon after, along with Lost Cities and Caesar & Cleopatra. We got hooked!

* How much time do you use in a week for boardgames?

I spend much more time designing than playing right now, and most of the playing I do is testing of my own prototypes. So the short answer is---I don’t get to play very often just to play!

* How much time do you spend to finish a game (idea, test...)?

It depends. But recently I’ve followed Elton John’s rule: if the song doesn’t write itself quickly, don’t bother. Development can take months (or even years) but if the basic idea doesn’t come together quickly, I move along. Often I return to an older game idea that wasn’t ready before, and the second time (or third, or…) it works!

* Did you get firs the mechanics or the themes when you design?

I almost always get struck by a theme first, and then the mechanics just magically appear.

Often I’m able to solve problems with an existing game by rethinking the theme, too.
For example, retheming helped improve Trollhalla a lot! Trollhalla was originally called TEMBO and was themed with elephants carrying fruit between villages in Africa. One of the problems I had was representing the players themselves (they were just “baskets”) and their collection of points (fruit!). It just didn’t work very well. By retheming the game to Troll-Vikings in Trollhalla, I was able to add player boards with individual player boats. Instead of generic “fruit,” I added a Panicked Princess, a Mortified Monk, etc. These all made the game fun and made keeping score a lot easier!

* What can you tell us abour your first games?

They were pretty fun to work on, but they were mostly just “essays in the craft.” I’ve improved a lot in the years since I began designing over ten years ago. Some of these early ideas came back later in my more recent designs. An early game of mine was called “Ancient Skywatchers” and it involved building monuments like Stonehenge. My more recent game Druid Stones came in 2nd place at Hippodice this year. It uses a very similar theme but totally different mechanics!

* What can you tell us about Road To Canterbuty? and about "Trollhalla"?

Together, along with my earlier game Bridge Troll, these games make up my “trilogy of villainy.” In each game you get to play the “bad guy.” In Trollhalla you play a Sea-Troll seeking pillage and plunder by sailing island-to-island. In The Road to Canterbury you play a corrupt medieval pardoner out to make money by selling indulgences to pilgrims along the Road to Canterbury. But to keep yourself in business, you must tempt the pilgrims to commit the very sins that you then forgive them for! That’s job security!

* How did you get the idea to make the game?

Actually, it’s rare that I ever “get an idea.” The idea gets me! I’m not the one in control of such things. Ideas come from everywhere: books, movies, teaching classes, walking the dog, hikes in nature….

* Can you tell us a bit more about the game?

Trollhalla is pretty much a board game version of this Muppet video here.
Oh, and the best way to learn about The Road to Canterbury is to watch this intro video at http://www.theroadtocanterbury.com

My designer diaries are probably the best way to learn more about Trollhalla and The Road to Canterbury.

* Do you play your own games?

As much as possible, yes! I play them much more before they are published than after, though.

* Do you play online? If you do it, what games do you play online?

No. I like playing board games face-to-face. (Though I do play some video games: Ico and Beyond Good & Evil are still my favorites, along with Katamari Damacy. The only online game I’ve ever enjoyed is Guild Wars.)

* Will have an App of any of your games? (Android or iPad)

Yes—I have high hopes that there will be an app for my upcoming game Fantastiqa.

* Will be published in Spanish any of your games?

The rules for The Road to Canterbury were recently translated into Spanish by J.L. San Miguel (Bicho on BoardGameGeek). I’m very happy about that. I don’t know if there are plans for a full version published in Spanish, but we’ll see….

* If you could design a game in the history of games... which one would be that one?

You mean an already existing game? Oh, that would be Magic: the Gathering! And not only for the money—it really is a brilliant and versatile game design.

* Which other desingers do you admire?

I like so many! To name a few: Wolfgang Kramer, Bruno Faidutti, Bruno Cathala, Serge Laget, Ludovic Maublanc, Richard Garfield, Klaus Teuber, Reiner Knizia…

* Can you tell us your top 5 games?

I don’t keep track! But some games I adore include classics like What’s My Word?, The Princes of Florence, The Traders of Genoa, Stone Age, Caesar & Cleopatra, Adel Verpflichtet, and Through the Desert....

* If you only could choose one game to play with 3 friends more, what game will you chose?

Hard to pick! For tonight, how about Adel Verpflichtet? If it’s the right three other players!

* And to play alone?

I rarely play games alone. But if I did, I would probably play Onirim. It’s strange and beautiful.

* Select a game for only 2 players

I enjoy Mister Jack and Caesar & Cleopatra. And Mystery Rummy.

* What was the last game that you played and you get addicted?

Fantastiqa. I have played my prototype version of this game more than I have any other game (by me or by anyone else). Other than that, it has been a while since a game has really “consumed” me. I do remember that when we first bought Through the Desert we played it many, many times in a row.

* Any future proyect?

Yes—my latest design, Fantastiqa. This game will be published by Gryphon Games later in 2012. I can’t say very much about it until it is formally announced in June, except that it combines deck building with a board game and a fantastical theme in unusual and fun ways…. I’m very excited about it. There will be a Kickstarter promotion in June. You can visit my website to receive notice when that starts!

I also just found out that my Hippodice contestant Druid Stones came in 2nd place this year,so I have high hopes that it will find a publisher soon!

* Nowadays there are a lot of new companies, more and more games, what do you think about this... the market can handle with all this new games or will collapse?

I do worry sometimes that there are too many games, too many companies. These create more opportunity for designers, but they also make me wonder how any publisher can bring in enough of a share to keep afloat!

* What do you think about the project Kick Started?

My own game The Road to Canterbury was Kickstarted by Gryphon Games and it did very well. I see other publishers I know—Dice Hate Me Games, 5th Street Games, Red Raven Games—and I think that Kickstarter is working well for them. As long as quality is kept high—as it is with these publishers, I’m not worried.

* Any advise for the new designers?

Well, one thing I’d say is this: don’t be afraid to find design influences OUTSIDE of board games. Often the best ideas do not come from games at all! I find mine in stories and in nature.

* What question have you never done and would like to answer?

What do you do for your “day job” and what other hobbies do you have outside board games?

I’m a college professor at the University of Utah. I teach literature and film in my classes. I am also a guitarist.


Now some questions with a short answer:

* Game of 2011

Castle Panic -- or was that 2010? It doesn’t really matter—this one still gets my vote.

* The best art in a game of 2011

Dixit

* Game with the craziest theme that you have played

It’s one that I have NOT yet played: Aargh!Tect. In the game you play cavemen trying to build things--and you hit each other on the head with an inflatable club when you do things wrong. What a great theme!

* Game with the newest mechanic that you have played

Probably 7 Wonders. Very clever design with the left-right interactions with fellow players.

Questions from our followers:

* Why do you design games? For work, to make money, because you like it, for vocation?

I design because I cannot help it! It is sometimes exhausting but it is also rewarding.

* After design this game, do you think to continue designing games or it is not worth to do it (economic/motivation)?

Oh, yes, I hope to design many, many more games! And I have several more already- completed games that I really want to share with players!

* When you design a game, you make it because you have the idea of a good theme, a novel mechanism or for pleasure?

All of these.

* What do you value for your games? That people likes them or that the game fill you?

Mostly, I trust my own feelings. The #1 thing I look for in one of my own games is whether or not *I* want to play it. If I do, then my hope is simply that others will feel the same way! If both my wife and I enjoy playing the game, this is a good sign. That being said, it matters to me that others enjoy my creations, so I show my games to many different types of gamers early on in order to get a sense of their responses, and then I fine-tune accordingly. I don’t expect that my games will appeal to *everyone*, but the purpose of games is to share time joyfully with other people: so they must appeal to someone! Hopefully, to many “someones.”

Thank you, Jaime!

--Alf
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