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Interviews by an Optimist # 24 - Friedemann Friese

Friedemann gave this bulleted account of his life...
Born 5th of June 1970 in Germany
13 years of school
Studied mathematics in Bremen
1992 found my company (old name Spie-Bau-Stelle, Bremen)
1992 first Spiel with Wucherer, Dimension and Raus aus dem Schneckenhaus
1993 Wucherer Exp.
1994 New name of company 2f-spiele: Falsche FuFfziger
1995 Foppen
1996 No game, because I was working for the government. The work you do if
you do not want to go into the army, social work
1997 FrischFisch
1998 Friesematenten
1999 Frischfleisch
2000 Flickwerk
2001 Funkenschlag
2002 Fische Fluppen Frikadellen, Fundstücke
2003 Finstere Flure
2004 Funkenschlag 2nd edition, Power Grid

Since 2002 I have been making a living from games. My hobbies are working as a DJ and selling games in a game shop.

I worked together with Wolfgang Panning on Paparazzo at Abacus, with Andrea Meyer on Schwarzarbeit at Bewitched and Thorsten Gimmler, Martina Hellmich, Hartmut Kommerell and Anrea Meyer on Ludoviel al Drübberholz.

In 2005 there will be Fiese Freunde Fette Feten working together with Marcel-André Casasola Merkle and the new Taxi (aka Flickwerk) at Queen-Games.

With Wolfgang Panning and Andrea Meyer we organize game designer workshops in Drübberholz to teach people to be game authors.


Tom: You've made a name for yourself in gaming circles with your unique personality and style. What's with the color green?

Friedemann: It’s my favorite color. I began dying my hair green in 1989. In 1991 I tried pink for about 2 weeks, it was not a good hair color, so I got back to green. I always choose green as my playing color. Wucherer wasn’t in a green box, but dimension was. It began with Falsche FuFFziger. We had a lot of people that were very fanatic about their playing color and bringing e.g. green(of yellow, blue) dice with to play with them and so on. So it began, and now it is much more of a corporate identity, so I will not change it.

Tom: What were some of the factors that caused you to start producing your own games?

Friedemann: The main factor was my visiting the Essen Fair in 1991. There were a lot of really small companies only selling one game there; and I thought, “Okay, this should be not too difficult for me to do the same.” I asked at the fair for a booth, and they said that if I answered within 7 days it would still be possible to get one. So I decided to do so. No mistake, I think ;-)

Tom: Where do you get the ideas for your games? Do they start with the mechanics, or the themes?

Friedemann: This is not so easy to answer; it is different. Some games start with the mechanics and others with the theme, but the most powerful thing is the moment when there is a mechanism fitting a theme or a theme fitting a mechanism. This is normally the beginning of a lot of work and ends in building up a prototype for testing.

Tom: Well then, let's discuss a particular game - Finstere Flure. It has a strong theme (in my opinion). Can you give us the background on this "escape from the monster" game?

Friedemann: Finstere Flure began as a gift for a friend of mine for his birthday. He was the monster (or better drunken on the dance floor), and the players wanted to escape from him. This was in about 1995. The game was changed, and for a long time I was not very happy with it. I always knew that this game could be changed into something good, but not how. In 2003 I worked again on this game, and then I had the idea with these letters on the walls; this changed the game, so it was possible to publish it.

The theme is indeed very strong, and it was one of the games where I had a mechanic and a theme at the same time. It was about a monster walking automatically and the players escaping from it. The elements on the floor came later, but they are so logical that they fit right into the game concept.

Tom: Some players tend to sit and overanalyze Finster Flure - kind of like a "light" Robo Rally. Is that the way you intended the game to be played?

Friedemann: This overanalyzation is not the way I intended to play Finstere Flure, but I have to say if you play this game as a 2-player game, you have to analyze it. I do think that with more than 4 people you can play it as a light game, because, you can’t imagine what will happen. Surely the last person moving a piece is always in a strong position. I do think that most people playing it now are not overanalyzing this game, because now there are so many games sold, that the majority of the owners of this game are no longer the "power-gamers."

Tom: Speaking of "power", it seems that Power Grid (Funkenschlag) is probably your most liked game. It currently ranks at #6 on Boardgamegeek, which is quite impressive. There are a lot of changes from Funkenschlag to Power Grid, however. Can you discuss the changes, and why you did them?

Friedemann: I decided to make a new version of Funkenschlag, and the old version was sold out; but I had a new quality in the production value, so I had to change it. But first of all, there was another company interested (not Rio Grande) that disliked the crayon thing, and the game was to long; so I worked on it. Then they thought about making the game later; so I decided to make it by myself, and Rio Grande wanted to have the English version. So there it is, and I am very happy making it by myself :-)

Tom: Is Power Grid an improvement, or do you see them as separate games?

Friedemann: Difficult to say. First of all, there are two games named Funkenschlag, but they have the same source. It was okay doing Funkenschlag in 2001; but now Funkenschlag is the other one, and the old one doesn’t exist any more, as a view from a publisher. I think I will never play this old version again and probably the new version will not be played by me again; because I have a special view on this, and I have to look what I am doing now, and what is now happening in the scene, and what kind of new games I will play.

Tom: How many games do you work on at one time? Are you working on several designs simultaneously, or do you work solely on one project from beginning to
completion?

Friedemann: I always have different projects in mind. But if I am sure what the next game will be, I solely work on that game.

Tom: Can you tell us anything about the project you are currently working on?

Friedemann: This is very easy to tell. I’m still working on Fiese Freunde Fette Feten, which I invented together with Marcel André Casasola Merkle, and this will be on the market in about 7 weeks.

Tom: But can you tell us any details about the game itself?

Friedemann: Sorry, but you can read it on Boardgamegeek or the new edition of "Fairplay".

Tom: How often do you play your own games after they've been published? Do you prefer playing your own games or the games of others?

Friedemann: The first time after publishing I play a game a lot, with a lot of different people, just to promote it. But 2 months later I normally don’t play my game. I prefer playing my games and then years later looking at them again. Normally, I like to play them again. There are, of course, games from other authors I like to play.

Tom: What game designers' games do you enjoy playing the most?

Friedemann: I like the work of Marcel-André Casasola Merkle, Andrea Meyer, Karl-Heinz Schmiel, Tom Wham, Tom Jolly, Bruno Faidutti, Alan R. Moon.

Tom: What games are your particular favorites?

Friedemann: I like Linie 1, Outpost, Symbioz, Cosmic Encounter, Tyranno Ex, Ursuppe but also Geschenkt, 6 nimmt, Diamant, 5 alive

Tom: Are there any particular mechanics that you like to see in a board game?

Friedemann: I really like mechanics that fit the theme: where you can play the game intuitively, where you can sit and think that that matches the theme 100%, when a mechanic lets you view a special theme in another way. I like games where the mechanics and the game are one.

Tom: What game (of another designer) do you think best merges theme with mechanics, and why?

Friedemann: I don’t have a special game in mind, which is doing it best. I played Niagara this week and found out that the mechanics work very well with the theme. Then I played Amazonas, and there were well-working mathematics; but you don’t have a feeling of adventure in this game. I often dislike games, when there are different victory points in different categories, because these points are often used to make the game as a working mathematical system, but mostly not fitting the theme.

Tom: What are your opinions on the growing American interest in the German world of board games?

Friedemann: It is very interesting, because in the 80s there were a lot of people very interested in American style games like Cosim and so on. The Germans built more and more games with complex game systems; the Americans only worked on simulations and for these simulations a lot of randomness was used. The Americans had more interest in the theme than in the game mechanic. There are a lot of American card games where the main point of the game is to draw up to n cards and then play as many as you like. With this structure you can invent a game for every theme. The Germans had more interest in game mechanics and mathematics. I do think this is the main problem for German gaming now; the theme is unimportant and simulation has a bad touch because of using die throwing charts in the past. I understand the interest in the German board game market, because in Germany we made more innovating games in the past year; and our games are well produced with high material quality. In the future I do think we will have a lot of interesting games from France, because the French people have indeed more humor in inventing games.

Tom: Are there any American games that are popular in Germany (besides Monopoly and its ilk)?

Friedemann: There are the big boxed games like Axis & Allies, Civilization the Board game (Eagle), A Game of Thrones, Doom, War of the Ring and also Steve Jackson’s games like Chez Geek, Munchkin and Cranium.

Tom: How have your games changed over the last thirteen years? What have you learned to do and not do when designing?

Friedemann: I do think the most important thing about my work is not that I changed it; it is more, that I know now why I am doing special things. With my first games I just invented it and found out that they were working, now I just know more about it and why they work and what I’m able to do just to let the games work. So now it is more a process of thinking; in the past it was more testing.

Tom: A few of your games have been produced in the American market, such as Fresh Fish and Power Grid. What is it like to license a game out to a foreign company? And what are the difficulties of such a thing?

Friedemann: With Fresh Fish it was very easy, because I made the game. The game was sold out, so another company had interest; they can do it, no problem. It will be the same with Taxi at Queen Games, because my old Flickwerk is sold out, and I haven’t planned a new edition. With the Power Grid and now Fearsome Floors it is a bit different because it is licensed as a company for a special market, and I have the same product for the German market; but it is okay to do so, and it is good working with Rio Grande. The main difficulty for me is realizing that I’m no longer the only person to judge the game before it is published. I have to get used to the fact that I no longer have all the strings in my hands.

Tom: Friedemann, thanks so much for your time! Do you have any final words for our readers?

Friedemann: Have good time gaming and buy all 2F-spiele games. ;-)

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games."
April, 2005

For more interviews, go to http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist.php3?action=view&listi...
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Damian Evans
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Thanks Tom!
Fearsom Foors & Power Grid are two of my favorites now. So getting to peek inside the mind of Friese was very entertaining.
I'll be using this interview as a reference for a good while now.

Looking forward to the next interview.
 
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Charles F.
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Just to nitpick... WOTR is an Italian game, not American.
 
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Nick Watt
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Thread necromancy - but great to see that someone in the know likes 5 alive XD fun game from my youth.
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giesinger Echo
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very inspirational answer...
 
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Laurentiu Cristofor
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Nice interview. It touches on a couple of classes of games that I was also wondering about these days.

Category 1: Point-salad systems

Friedemann Friese wrote:
I often dislike games, when there are different victory points in different categories, because these points are often used to make the game as a working mathematical system, but mostly not fitting the theme.


This was tied later with:

Friedemann Friese wrote:
The Germans had more interest in game mechanics and mathematics.


Point salad systems can easily generate complex optimization problems that certainly make the game deeper, but my issue with them is that the problem they create is generally artificial and is, in the best case, just of some theoretical interest. It rarely represents or maps to a real-life optimization problem. I may enjoy 1 such point-salad system, but I don't understand how so many can survive on the market. Why are people buying more than one such game?

Category 2: Card games

Friedemann Friese wrote:

The Americans had more interest in the theme than in the game mechanic. There are a lot of American card games where the main point of the game is to draw up to N cards and then play as many as you like. With this structure you can invent a game for every theme.


While this is not specifically about games using deck building as a main mechanic, it does seem to cover that as well. I realize that you can add some interesting twists to deck building, but again, how many deck building games is someone going to collect? The general problem - optimize the interaction of a deck of cards - is the same every time.

Yes, you can paste a lot of themes on this deck building mechanism and you can fit those themes better, but in the end, the problem is much the same. Is perhaps the goal to accumulate as many deck builders as you have favorite themes (I have an economy deck builder and a fantasy deck builder, all I'm missing is a sci-fi deck builder and maybe a horror deck builder)?
 
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