The Scene: A snooty restaurant in South Essen, Germany
The characters: Board game pioneer Friedemann Friese, and some weird hippy from California
Not unlike My Dinner with Andre, the protagonists discuss influential people, reprinting the past, and geek culture in general.
FF: No, just kidding. I know, I absolutely know from these over 100 games, 70% I will not have next year in my collection, they will be gone because I will one time, okay I think—
DTD: “That was interesting, I will never play it again.”
FF: Yeah. But even failures, so I cannot tell which is the certain games I really love from the fair.
DTD: Do you think playing all of them is important for designing? To know everything that’s going on?
FF: I’m so interested in what the others are doing, yes. But I don’t know if it’s really important for my design process. [Raspberry noise. Really.]
DTD: Do what you’d like to do.
FF: Maybe I make like a Friday project, stop playing any new games for one year.
DTD: It would be horrible. That sounds like torture.
FF: Yeah, yeah. [laughs]
DTD: Only on Fridays. No games on Fridays.
FF: Yeah. No new games on Fridays. I do not play on Fridays normally, so it’s good. [laughs] Then my kids will hate me if I say no new games for a year. Because they are really looking forward to the car full of games.
DTD: [laughs] I was gonna say, it sounds like you’re shopping for a group, and trust me, if I had a car here, there would be 120 games in my car.
FF: But yeah, I have regular gaming groups from Tuesday to Thursday and they’re just not buying new games anymore because they know everything will be there.
DTD: Yeah. I have the same.
FF: If it’s any good then they can buy it because they can test it with me. And then they can decide if they want to own this. So, it is very good for them, that there is this library of new games.
DTD: You have a library too!
FF: I have a library of new games.
DTD: Yeah, I know, I have one of those libraries and a lot of gaming groups. And we play them all.
DTD: Well, you have to.
FF: I think I have 350 new games. So, I’m about one game a day, which is new. So, a lot of people ask me “Why do you buy it?”
“Yeah, because it’s on my list.”
“Yeah, why is it on your list?”
“I don’t know, It’s on my list. I just put it on my list.”
DTD: I read about it, at the time I thought it sounded really interesting and now I need to try it.
FF: Yeah, yeah. And “Can you tell where you buy it?”
“Oh, Friede! Friede! Buy this. Is it any good?”
I said, “Ah, don’t trust me, please.”
FF: I have a bit more money to spend on games than you have probably, [nervous laugh] because it’s my business.
DTD: Yeah. And so I’m pretty sure that if Friedemann Friese called and said, you know, “I’d really like to try your game,” then one of them might show up.
FF: [laughs] It happens. [laughs]
DTD: That’s one of the benefits though.
FF: I could do that, but I do not do it very often. It is just like, I earn money from games and spend money on games.
DTD: I’ve always said I think that board game design is a passion project. I think you will not be successful at it unless you love it, and people don’t do it to get rich.
DTD: That’s what’s the old joke in America always is, how do you make a small fortune in board games? You start with a large fortune. Every board game designer says that.
FF: [laughs] But on the other hand I’ve seen so many people that make a living out of it, I think, yeah. If you look at some games—
DTD: People who are not Reiner Knizia?
DTD: I know, but Ignacy has the passion. He’s so fun to talk to, he’s so excited about everything.
DTD: Oh, I love them, they are—
FF: They’re nice guys, of course, they make a lot of fantastic stuff.
DTD: They haven’t written me back. [frowny face]
DTD: No, I always felt—
FF: Ohhh. I can, I will tell them this evening, I am going to see them.
DTD: Tell them that I am writing them.
DTD: Well, I’ve always said that Inka and Marcus, their games were always so much more interesting. They would take some idea that was preset, and flip it around.
FF: Yeah. They’re the designers. They have amazing number of things coming on.
Our favorite waiter returned, undaunted by Friedemann’s previous refusal to request a beverage. He, of course, brought my espresso, but also a mystery hot drink for my guest.
DTD: Oh, that’s good. What did you get?
FF: Fruit tea.
DTD: Oh, how nice. That’s wonderful.
FF: Yeah. So, I can ask them, maybe you can meet them at this fair?
DTD: I would love to if they have free time.
FF: I’m going to ask them this evening. I’m going to meet them.
DTD: Please, that would be wonderful.
FF: This evening at the Spiel des Jahres buffet.
DTD: I’m sorry?
FF: This evening there’s a Spiel des Jahres buffet thing, where we are all together.
DTD: Oh nice!
FF: I’ll probably meet them there so—
FF: I played The City of Kings, it was really interesting!
DTD: And Sunday is Uwe.
FF: This Uwe! [laughs]
DTD: How many Uwe’s are there?
FF: There are a lot of Uwe’s.
DTD: Yeah, well, really how many Uwe’s?
FF: I think, Inka and Markus, are, would be good.
DTD: Well, I am a fan of their games. You know, and for a long time I’ve had your games, and I am a fan.
FF: Is the interview of fandom? [laughing]
DTD: It is, I don’t get paid to do this. This is for fun, this is my passion project.
FF: Okay. Yeah. But I think even now you see that even projects like Dice Tower make, give people a living. Not a lot of people, but—
DTD: I’m glad it does.
FF: And BoardGameGeek is a platform where people make a living out of it. We have a lot of projects where people make a living out of board games. So, it is, I’m a bit annoyed about everybody’s telling you, “Oh, This is the business where you cannot get rich. Where you cannot get money.” I make a living out of it. I have two kids. We have enough food. We live there. We can afford whatever we need.
DTD: It just shows that it’s grown so much. I think we’re very close to having superstars in board games to the level of, you know, other entertainment.
FF: Could be.
DTD: It’s a good thing. A friend of mine is doing a television show for streaming media called AboveBoard. So, it’s definitely moving on.
DTD: So, are you still having fun with it?
FF: Yes, of course.
DTD: That’s really the most important thing, because I’ve met a few designers [who said] that it is becoming a bit of a drudge, and the conventions are there for business, and it’s difficult. It’s not fun anymore.
FF: Yeah. I think I avoided some mistakes. I’m here and I can sit here for lunch, and nobody’s missing me at my booth because the booth is running without me. So, I avoided the mistake to be too much tied to my booth. Some fans say, “Oh, he’s never there. I want to have an autograph. Why is the designer not here?”
DTD: You set up a time.
FF: Yeah, I set up a time. So, it’s easy. Yeah, but for me, it is just, I get rid of this stuff. I got rid of my colleague, their system, all the other stuff, and whatever—I have people, whenever a piece is missing in the game, somebody would take care of sending the piece to the customer.
FF: So, I don’t have to do it anymore. Something like that. I don’t have to put games in boxes then go to the post. I don’t have to do it anymore. So, I just got rid of all the stuff, which is not, in my opinion, part of my game designing work.
DTD: Right, you have people that can do the other thing, and you could come up with the ideas. You can make the games you want to make.
FF: And if I want to go to the convention, then I can do it.
DTD: Which is great.
FF: So, if I really wanted, because I think, “Oh, this is a good convention, I want to be there.” If I want to go to BGG Con someday or Dice Tower Cruise, or whatever, I can go there.
DTD: You should, yeah.
FF: On the other hand, I am, in whenever I want to, I might I ask and maybe there’s space for me. [laughs] This is the celebrity stuff. I know that! I know that! If I ever would ask, “Okay, hi, I know it’s full. Maybe you have space for me?” Maybe they would have a space for me, you know, because a lot of people would ask. Because it’s good for the people on the cruise, too. So, it is not that I’m taking away something, because I’m putting something on top.
DTD: You’re totally right.
FF: It is just like, so I can be there and the other people want to see me, and get their signatures, and can play games with me, or something like that.
DTD: Yeah, only make it better.
FF: Yeah. So, I went to Finland, it was great. I went to Italy for a convention.
DTD: That’s nice.
FF: So, I really love my job, and even I was invited by a New York university last year as a speaker. So, it’s good. Perfect.
DTD: Was that—you said it was NYU?
FF: It was NYU, yeah.
DTD: Yeah, was it Geoff Engelstein brought you over?
FF: No, It was the Game Center at NYU which is where you study game design. They have these lectures about board game and video games.
DTD: I think Geoff is associated with the game design at NYU.
FF: He was not there. Huh.
DTD: My son actually is going to college for game design right now at University of California in Santa Cruz.
Go Banana Slugs!
FF: Okay, they are geek educated, huh? [laughs]
DTD: Yeah. They’re honestly, I think, third-generation geeks at this point. Happy kids. [laughs]
FF: [laughs] Yeah. I only build the second generation of geekies. I don’t have geek parents. No geek parents.
DTD: Well, that’s okay. They get more geeky with each generation. So that’s a good thing. They broaden into different realms.
FF: [mocking] You think you are geeky?
DTD: No, let me tell you about—I remember back in the day when geeky was geeky, you know it’s…? [laughter]
FF: [sing song] I’m not a geek, no…
DTD: You’re fooling yourself.
FF: [laughing] I don’t mind. It’s okay to be a geek. I am free when I’m a geek.
DTD: Absolutely, it’s downright chic nowadays.
FF: Is it Geek Chic?
Geek Chic was the maker of very high end gaming tables until they sadly dissolved in June of 2017. The company, not the tables.
DTD: It is. Unfortunately, the company went under. So, now we have Rathskellers.
FF: [laughs] Now the problem is some nerds think they are geeks, but—
DTD: Now you’re just nitpicking. You’re just deciding which is which, hmm? No, I remember in the 1980s, when I was a teenager, a family in Germany asked my father if they could rent me to come live with them because they wanted to train their children how to be geeks. So, I went and lived in Hamburg for two months. Just so that their kids could learn how to be more of a geek.
FF: [laughs] The geeky way!
DTD: That’s actually who I’m staying with during this trip. It’s the same family up in Hamburg.
FF: That’s fine. Yes, I would like my kids to become geeky enough for this life. I feel that it makes life better. Geekiness makes life better.
DTD: It does. You become just more accepting of everything bizarre in the world. Everything is fun.
DTD: All right, I’m trying to think if there’s anything else. I asked you about cannibalism, and that was the most important thing. Do you think that’s coming back?
FF: Cannibalism. Did you ask me if cannibalism comes back, or the game about cannibalism?
DTD: I leave that open to you. You know there are new foods everywhere, and good restaurants. Are you thinking about bringing back any of your old titles?
FF: Yes, I did that.
DTD: I mean—Frischfleish, I mean it’s got this legendary status now. Everybody talks about it but I don’t think many actually own it.
FF: There are only 1,200 copies made. Not really a lot. This is very, very, very difficult to say because I did Fresh Fish again, which was a very high accepted collectors item, and it went out that it was not really well done or not sold well.
FF: Maybe because of the art, maybe because of the changes I made, maybe because of not geeky enough anymore. Yes, because not this—it was not a niche anymore.
DTD: Because it’s an older game.
FF: Maybe it worked as a handmade thing but not as a product, yeah? So, last year we made Foppen [Fool!] again and Foppen is in the row with Five Cucumbers and Fuji Flush, and Foppen is the weakest of the three, product-wise. So, just by now it’s, do I really, really, really want to make a reprint of an old game now because it’s—
DTD: Because it hasn’t worked out too well?
FF: Yeah, I’m not quite sure.
DTD: That’s a little sad.
FF: Because on the other hand I had this little strange game Funkenschlag that I made, revisited, it was kind of successful. [laughs]
DTD: Yeah, I was reading about Funkenschlag…
Friedemann’s joke is that technically, in the US, Power Grid is the reprint of Funkenschlag. In Germany, they are both called Funkenschlag.
FF: So, it’s just like, there was this big, big, big seller I made which is a reprint, yeah?
FF: I made, I worked again on that. Maybe Frisch Fleisch maybe something old could be—I really liked my Falsche FuFFziger game, which is counterfeit money thing, because of the business engine building in that game. It’s like a cool thing; I like this.
DTD: You can really see that math background, hmm?
FF: Yeah, yeah.
DTD: You don’t think that—you’ll probably have to get new art.
FF: Yes, of course. Now I don’t know if it’s worth doing it again. I don’t know, and as long as I have good new ideas.
Next time the interview dinner comes to its inevitable close, and we touch on such subjects as the ever-popular Kickstarter model, the general design process, solo modes in games, and whether one should play their own games.