For those just tuning in, I am sitting with the amazingly eccentric Friedemann Friese, in a small gourmet restaurant in the Rüttenscheid region south of Essen. We are talking about the Friday Project, the development of Power Grid, and the origins of all those F’s. And we do shots of soup.
DTD: So tell me about—I hear stories about only working on Fridays.
FF: It was the project, the Friday project. I started someday, I don’t know. I cannot remember the date, it was just like—
DTD: Long time ago.
FF: Yeah. Yeah, in the 2000’s. It was the idea of self-limitation, to say, “Okay, if I—if it’s—I just want to see if it’s possible; Make a game project where I only work on Fridays, and only a time span that would start with an F.”
The waiter delivered the most delightful shot glass of pumpkin soup, decorated with roasted pumpkin seeds. Mine was gone in seconds. Friedemann looked unclear as to whether I just downed a shot of thick chunky liquor.
DTD: Oh, lovely. Danke.
FF: What is this?
DTD: That’s a little soup, like an “amuse bouche.” [reflecting on the fact that I used the words “amuse bouche”] …I think I like food. [laughter] Yeah, that’s a warm soup, but I didn’t hear what it was. It’s a nice squash or pumpkin. That’s what they do in winter.
DTD: So, do you think it worked? Setting yourself these strict—
FF: I think it worked out very well. It was just very interesting to—it was just like, to start with, I say, “Okay, whatever happens.” Yeah? And I started just to see Friday itself, with the main Friday itself.
DTD: By the way, one of my very favorite games.
FF: But this was, uh—the first idea was Black Friday.
DTD: Black Friday? Okay.
FF: It came about Fridays, and whatever, I’m kind of good at business games.
FF: So a stock speculation game for Black Friday would be, was a good idea I thought. Then I made this Black Friday, where you just go into… Everybody knows that Friday will come, but you don’t know when. Everybody knows the stock market will crash, but you don’t know when. And the prices for silver and gold will go up always, yeah? But, in the beginning, you can earn money with stocks, and in the end [you] should have silver and gold because the stocks are worthless.
FF: And that was the idea. It worked out. For me, it worked out very well, and that was the idea, okay? I wanted to make the game only working [on] Fridays, and it was very fast. I gave myself five years, because five starts with an F. In German, four does not start with an F, so I gave myself five.
See Mr. Lavalette, sechs years of German paid off.
FF: So it was ready after a year and I was saying, “What should I do?” Which was like, “Yeah, I worked on something else.” So for publishing, I worked for that and was a good game. I was saying, “Yeah, what could I do?” And then, this guy from Kosmos came and said, “Oh, we can publish that.” So we—I gave it to Kosmos. There was a message that it was completely misleading, and did not give a good feel for the game. We cannot really start the game with this rules. This is a problem, so I think one day this game will come back with a good rule set or something like that because a lot of people liked that game a lot, once they got over this hurdle of the rules.
DTD: I haven’t played it, but I have a friend who talks about it a lot. And I called him last night even though the time change was not good. Made him wake up and tell me about it.
FF: Okay. Yeah.
DTD: No, I find it very interesting. There’s—people always talk about, “How do you force creativity?” And a lot of people have written that you do it with structure. You say, “I’m going to give myself this much time every day for doing this.” I think it was John Cleese had a long article about how to be creative.
DTD: Sounds like it worked. It sounds great.
FF: It worked. And Friday came out later.
DTD: Friday came out. And Black Friday.
FF: Black Friday, Friday and, Copycat.
The waiter duly complimented our ingestion skills, and cleared space for more food, which arrived immediately. Salad with, well, foam. This was the fastest, most efficient multi-course meal I have ever had, as well as being supremely tasty.
DTD: Oh my. Danke.
FF: The Copycat thing was a Friday project too.
DTD: Okay. [laughing] Sorry. It’s [looking at the salad] I’m not a huge fan of this trend to have foam. It’s, um—
FF: I’ve not, not had it.
DTD: It’s a gourmet trend and, I don’t know. It looks a little too “biologic.” [tasting] It’s really good though!
Ok, I will say it. Gourmet chefs love to create a ‘foam’ and it looks like cat spittle. This was not enough to keep me from eating it; The food was magnificent. But, you know, …spittle.
FF: Yeah, it’s good.
DTD: That’s nice. Then I’m sure that things probably changed dramatically for you after Power Grid?
FF: Yeah, of course.
DTD: Was it popular right away?
DTD: Took a while?
FF: Yeah. First of all, it is a 2001 edition was with crayons.
DTD: Right. Funkenschlag. Tell me about that.
FF: Funkenschlag. Yeah, the German word is still “Funkenschlag.” For me it doesn’t matter. [laughs]
In the U.S. the original, crayon version of the game is referred to as “Funkenschlag”, whereas the newer version is called “Power Grid”. However, in Germany, both versions have the same name – “Funkenschlag”.
DTD: Wow, I knew the old game.
FF: I know. I know for the, for the math was most of these guys and this was 2001, and I made as usual whatever. There were 1600, 1900 copies, I don’t know. And it was sold, and it was just like good, and the people liked it. And it was absolutely clear, the game was great and very special interest because it was long, two and a half hours.
FF: Yeah, so just like, only for geeks I guess. I liked it a lot. Then I was heading forward. It was just like, “Hey, next game will be rolled out now.” And, I came up with the Fische Fluppen Frikadellen which was my first game.
DTD: Fresh fish?
FF: Not Fresh Fish. Fische Fluppen Frikadellen was made in 2002. Yeah, in 2002. It was my 10th anniversary. And this was the first game I really made in a good box, from a printer, and not hand made.
FF: It was once my try and, I just—it was a time where I lost my multimedia company because of the dot com bang up. Those were the times, not bad because I did not lose much money. It was just the company [stock]. No big money loss. So I had no job at that time. Beforehand I was a programmer, coding something with media stuff. I just wanted to go on with what I was doing, and then some retailers from Germany said, “No, we want to give you money because we want to have it for shops, because we believe in that game.” [Fische Fluppen Frickadellen]
Fische Fluppen Frikadellen was recommended by Spiel des Jahres in 2003
FF: And then I could produce another 5,000 more. So there’s 7 and a half thousand and so, therefore, it was just the first time I really think, “Oh, now it is—it is possible to make a living out of it if I can sell over 5,000 games a year.” It is possible to make this small living.
FF: And, okay, it’s fine, so I can keep on going. And went to Fearsome Floors for the next idea which was successful too. And then, Jay Tummelson from Rio Grande came up and said, “Okay. I heard about this Funkenschlag game, and a lot of people in America are interested. Can I publish it again? I want to join the publishing side…”
DTD: When America was really taking notice of the German games.
FF: And he said, “Just somebody told me that it’s good and I believe them and if you want to print it again, we’re gonna join.” Then, ALEA came to me and said, “Oh, I heard about this, the Funkenschlag thing. Maybe you can send it to us so that we can look at if it will be a good ALEA game.” You know? I said, okay, but Stefan Brück said, “But I don’t believe in the crayons.” I said, “Okay, we’ll make a version without the crayons,” because the fun part about Power Grid, I invented it because of—I wanted to make a crayon game.
FF: That was the reason. I said, “Why?” I made it as I wanted, so now I can change it. I already published it the way I wanted it, so I can change that.Then I sent it to him, and he said, “Yes. Okay, but I don’t believe in theme for power. Yeah?” And, he wants to have a medieval theme, as ALEA games always have.
FF: I don’t know. He wants that, and he said—and then there was some structures at ALEA, he said, “Okay, but we have to first of all, our program for the next three years would be other games because we want to make this, that and that and that. So you have to wait, and bla-bla-bla.” I just said, “Okay. I don’t want to change the theme. I don’t want to wait. I have worked on this game. I made a new version and I have a co-publisher, so let’s do it.” So I then asked my graphic artist if he can make me some artwork for that. So we just republished this with these rules I was kind of forced to do.
DTD: But you did the rules?
FF: Yeah, I did them. It’s all mine.
DTD: Do you find people coming back and wanting the crayon version and they miss the crayons?
FF: There’s still people saying the old one is better but they have it, so why should they—
DTD: They’re talking about it because they’ve played it?
DTD: Yeah. The only one I’ve played is the newer one. I don’t know if the crayon version ever made it to the United States.
FF: There’s some copies here.
DTD: A few, I’m sure.
FF: Of course. And, yeah, it was just like—and then Rio Grande said, “Yeah, let’s make 2,000 copies. I don’t know what the game is good for, so we’ll start with 2,000.” I said, “Okay, yeah. I make my 2,000. Look at it, oh, 5,000 already sold now.”
DTD: Sounds great.
FF: It came out in the middle of 2004.
DTD: Obviously, it did very well. It’s a fantastic game.
FF: Yeah, but in the beginning…
DTD: It was a slow rise.
FF: But it started, and then people played it and loved it, and then, Jay [Tummelson] said, “Okay, let’s make another 2,000 because it’s okay, it works.” And then later on he came and said, “You know, I think we should make 5,000 because I’m always short of the game.”
DTD: Well, it’s still selling. I assume it’s your best selling game.
FF: Yeah, it is.
DTD: That’s wonderful. And it gives you freedom to make other games.
FF: Yeah, totally.
The waiter snuck in to take the now empty, orange stained, tiny shot glasses, and I took advantage to extol the virtues of the miniature soup. I failed to notice that the waiter had a mischievous twinkle in his eye as he walked away.
DTD: So, that’s what I like about picking up your games, is that they’re all— they’re all different. I feel like you do creative things that other people wouldn’t try.
FF: Yeah. A lot of games of mine are experiments.
DTD: Yeah, I like that a lot.
FF: It was interesting because one day I read a review; I think it was a review for 504. Where the reviewer said, “Okay, fine. But, I don’t want to play an experiment. I want to play a game.”
DTD: 504, I think, is the extreme of that.
FF: Yeah, but in that moment, it was crystal clear to me that not everybody looking for games is like me looking for new things to see.
FF: That people just want to have a game. It was completely out of my mind—that people just looking for a game, just like people going to the movies and just want to look at the movie. And I am just, “No, I like experiment first but—”
DTD: —the bad ones and good ones from everything, you know. And I’ll be honest, there’s games of yours I love and games of yours I don’t like. And that tells me that they’re all so different, which is fun. That is wonderful.
DTD: So, 504. I have 504 and I am baffled that you could make that. The experiment of it. [laughs]
504 contains nine modules, and for each game, you select three of them. The first module gives you the game’s victory point and ending conditions, the second module defines how you’ll earn income, and the third module adds variety and gives new challenges. This setup can produce 504 semi-distinct games, hence the name. The mere feature that it actually works is beyond impressive.
Our waiter, like ninja, snuck up on me as I was talking and slipped a tiny shot glass of soup under my arm and in front of me. Friedemann thought this was great, and the waiter had a grin one could describe as “Cheshire Cat”.
Waiter: I heard you really like it. [laughs]
DTD: [to the waiter] Thank you, wow. I really did!
DTD: But playing it—so, most of the games that come out of 504 are good, but they’re not extraordinary. But the system that you can make those games, absolutely blows my mind. It’s the design work behind that. I have to give you just the highest credit for making that. And if you—nowadays, if you read about 504 or someone talks about it, they say, “The games are good, but critically, it’s amazing.”
FF: [laughs] Yeah.
DTD: So, I was wondering what your thoughts are on 504 today. Now that it’s been around for a long time. Now that you’ve experienced it.
I have to say here that Friedemann was an absolute delight to hang out with – he was so laid back and comfortable, it was like hanging out with a college buddy. At this point he dropped some food on the table, exclaimed the German equivalent of “5 second rule”, scooped it up and ate it.
FF: Okay, well, it will stay. [laughs]
DTD: I didn’t see anything.
FF: Its good, its good, you can eat it. [laughs]
DTD: I should have been faster. I should have taken a picture. [laughing] Now, I was wondering what you thought about 504 today.
FF: I still think it was—it was a good idea. I still think I should have, I would have made it—I would have make it now, if I had not made it then.
DTD: That’s a good thing.
FF: One day I wanted to make something like that because there is these—I had Copycat which is mixing up three games to one. I made Stich-Meister, which is a trick-taking modular game system. So, I already, I had these ideas of modular game systems.
DTD: Yep. I love that.
FF: And I still think 504 is—The problem is that a lot of people see that and say, “Okay,” they look at one game.
FF: And I cannot look at one game because it’s one out of 504 games. And when you play this you would never, probably, ever play this special game again. So, if in this game, there is a winning strategy. I don’t mind. Because you have to find it in the first play.
DTD: And you’re not going to play it again.
FF: There is not the same winning strategy in all of these 504 games.
FF: This, I’m really proud of because if this would be normally broken, but in that case, I’ll just say, like, “Yeah, okay.” It’s throwing some numbers, play this game. If you win because you found out the secret.
FF: Yeah, you found the strategy, fine.
FF: So we play another one. Maybe I find it.
DTD: It’s like Carl Chudyk games. A lot of them are broken but it’s about finding that break.
FF: Yeah, whatever it is. Yeah. So, therefore, I was a bit disappointed about the reviews, yeah. They say, “Oh, I’m searching for my favorite game, which would be one of the 504.” I said, “No, it was not, never ever, the purpose that you have one of those games to be your personal favorite game. It was the purpose that 504 is your favorite experience.”
DTD: Because every time you bring it, you play something different. I think nowadays it seems to be the trend to make a game with modules. And that is, there was a designed game, with modules to add. But 504 is only the modules. It starts from scratch, handing you a blank board, and saying, “Well, we can play Backgammon or we can play Chess or we can play Checkers or we can play, you know, anything you want on this board.”
FF: Yeah, yeah. I know. [laughs]
DTD: I was impressed.
FF: Some people would say, “Oh, yeah. Only take two modules and not three.” Then you’re left at 72. I said, “Yeah, but can I do that, because 72 does not start with an F though.” So, I have to do all 3.
2 modules = 9 * 8 = 72 games
3 modules = 9 * 8 * 7 = 504 games
DTD: That’s a good point.
DTD: When did the F’s start?
FF: With Landlord, it was not F. It was “Wucherer” in Germany. It’s in ‘92, so then I made an expansion, and then I made this kind of counterfeit money game in ’94.
DTD: And I can’t pronounce it. [laughs]
FF: Falsche FuFFziger?
DTD: Too many F’s.
FF: Four F’s in the word.
DTD: So, theoretically, it’s the best one.
FF: I still think it’s a very good one, but whatever. And therefore, we searched for a name of the game. And I was searching for a new name for my company. Because there was, I had “Spiel-Bau-Stelle” which is the working ground for games, kind of translated. And there was already a Spiel-Bau-Stelle started in Germany for—not for gaming design, but for the company but in the game for educational software. So it was just like, okay, Spiel-Bau-Stelle was a very good name for what I’m doing because it is like this experimenting, and stuff. So it worked. It would have worked very well. But then I had to find a new name. And it was just like—it was that 2F was the kind of first idea because, it was the days where a lot of collectors were looking for 3M games.
DTD: Oh, okay. [laughs]
FF: Yes. It was just like “Oh, a letter and a number, it works.” Yeah. And on the other hand it was just like, if you get…I don’t know if it works in English too, but if something is really good, you get a 1A…
FF: Yeah. It was fun because Falsche FuFFziger was really, really poor product, from product wise. We made a lot of mistakes because we, first of all, made really printing data poor and it doesn’t really work. So the orange and the red is very close to each other, so you cannot really separate them, and the material is not good, and the price was high, everything like that. So one reviewer said, “Okay. It’s 2F. It’s like 1A, then 2F is bad as this game, just like, okay.” [laughs]
DTD: I was thinking if you’re comparing the 1A then you’re going the wrong way. That’s, that’s pretty good.
FF: But it’s okay. It’s good for me now. And a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot of people use their name for their company which is just like stupid enough, but it is what it is.
DTD: No, it works and you’ve created a brand. People can never have met you and they’ll walk down the aisle. They know who you are.
FF: Yeah. Yeah.
DTD: There’s one other green guy walking around Essen, but…
FF: This guy, is one other green guy. And I can be named. [laughter]
DTD: This is Friedmann Friese…and then the other green guy.
FF: Yeah, yeah, yeah. [laughs]
DTD: That’s wonderful.
FF: I’m there for 27 years now so, it’s easy to be—
I really, really wanted Friedemann to say “It’s easy to be green”, but I’m pretty sure that’s not where he was going. Anyhow, next time, over the main course, we discuss the oxymoronic Fast Sloth, the Fast Forward series of games, and more designing decisions.