Like a dream come true, I had the opportunity to speak with the master of classical crunchy euro madness, Uwe Rosenberg. In this segment, we finish our discussion of Nova Luna, and lead into the touchy subject of inspiration and crediting designers.

Uwe: After this, I had to make the tiles and the things I put on the tiles. This has to be done. Two weeks later, I finished the project, and I thought that the Corné mechanism is originally his mechanism, and so it was for me to ask him if he wants to be the co-author of the game.

DTD: Wonderful. That’s a good story. That’s nice to hear. There’s too often, somebody will take a piece of this, and take a piece of that. And sometimes people get upset. So, this is a good story to hear.

Uwe genuinely did not seem to understand my phrase “sometimes people get upset”, and had quite the discussion with my beloved translator du jour, Uli. I am inspired that Uwe would not even conceive of anyone borrowing pieces of games, without also crediting the creators.

Uwe: Yes, the game design was finished, all he had to do was say “yes”

Uwe: Ja, das Spiel war fertig, er musste nur noch “Ja” sagen.

Uwe: And since the 90’s I stand for this way of making games.

Uwe: It’s important for me, that when you encounter a good mechanism that you reuse it. So, an ordinary board game author might say “I cannot just steal”. The first thing that he does is, that he changes the mechanism a tiny bit, so that it’s his own. Then he continues. I prefer to keep what is already working in its original shape, build a game around that and then afterwards you can try to adjust it a little bit. But… so that you have a basis first, this “gaming impulse”, so that something good can arise out of it. The chances are bigger that it creates a good game that way. I want to bring a lot of good games to the market. That’s why I would appreciate if more designers would work like that. It’s very important that if you take the original mechanism, that you don’t adjust it - and this does not happen in reality - that you take the author you got it from, [andgive him credits], because stealing is of course not OK. But the problem is the feeling that you have “stolen” something, with which the designer has issues, and that’s why one immediately does adjustments. No, I want that he keeps it [the mechanism] “as is”. That might be hard for you to translate now.

Uwe: Mir ist es wichtig, dass wenn man gute Mechanismen entdeckt, dass man die übernimmt. So, ein normaler Spiele-Autor sagt, ich kann nicht einfach “klauen”. Das erste, das er macht ist, dass er den Mechanismus ein bisschen verändert, damit es sein eigener ist. Dann macht er weiter. Mir ist es lieber, man lässt das, das funktioniert, original so, wie es ist, baut danach was auf und kann danach noch versuchen, es ein bisschen zu ändern. Aber, dass man eine Basis erst einmal hat, so eine Spiele-Reiz, so dass was gutes daraus entstehen kann. Hat eine größere Chance, dass ein gutes Spiel entsteht dadurch. Ich möchte ja viele gute Spiele auf dem Markt. Deshalb würde ich mir auch wünschen, dass viele Autoren so sammeln – so arbeiten. Ganz wichtig ist dann, wenn man den Original-Mechanismus, den man genommen hat, eben auch nicht mehr verändert, was wirklich nicht geschieht, dass man dann auch wirklich den Autor, von dem man’s hat, nimmt, denn klauen ist natürlich nicht ok. Aber das Problem ist das Gefühl, geklaut zu haben, mit dem ein Autor nicht klar kommt, weswegen er sofort ändert. Nein ich möchte, dass er den so lässt, erst einmal lässt, wie er ist. Das ist glaube ich jetzt schwer zu übersetzen, oder?

As you can imagine, this little interchange took a lot of clarification. I am still not sure if Uwe and I were talking about exactly the same thing at the moment, but I like to think we were close. In retrospect, I see that I was emphasizing the refreshing quality of Uwe’s respect toward other people’s game contributions, more than just giving credit where credit was due. Uwe was focused on keeping the mechanisms pure and intact, rather than modifying them from pressure to retain “originality”.

DTD: That’s great. Because there have been lawsuits now that you cannot own a mechanism. The lawsuits show that you could steal other people’s mechanisms and get away with it. I think it’s wonderful, because every game is built off of someone else’s game. We are all standing on the shoulders of giants.

Uwe: Wobei ich’s dann abgestuft sehe, ne. Ich hab Civilication übernommen und – auch den Handelsmechanismus übernommen und zusammen mit Freight Train daraus Bohnanza entwickelt. Das hat sich so weit verändert, dass ich da den Autor, den Original Autor nicht nenne. Also in dem Moment… Da ist es ist eine Inspiration, der original Mechanismus und da sehe ich es dann anders. Aber da gibt’s ja auch noch die Grau-Phase dazwischen. Und für die Grau-Phase dazwischen, hab ich mich immer – Da müssen wir uns nicht darüber unterhalten, welche Regeln schneiden wir, weil das so individuell ist, das kriegen wir nie geregelt. Da sagen wir einfach, wenn wir es wirklich nicht so genau wissen, wir fragen 10 Leute aus der Szene. Und wenn wir Glück haben, dann meinen die alle 10 das Gleiche. Und dann haben wir auch eine Lösung.

Uwe: That would be my way, to deal with this grey area. But above all, that we can say afterwards, that we took this way, we asked the experts and we did not just judge on our own - the author name gets on it [the box], the author doesn’t get on it. Rather… Sometimes it is unambiguously sure, the mechanism has been taken. Sometimes everything clearly has been changed - but there is this grey area and this I find interesting.

Uwe: Das wäre mein Weg, mit der Grauzone umzugehen. Aber vor allen Dingen  auch, dass man im Nachhinein sagen kann, wir sind diesen Weg gegangen, wir haben die Experten gefragt und wir haben nicht einfach so entschieden – der Autor kommt nicht drauf – der Autor komm drauf. Sondern… Manchmal ist es eindeutig, klar, Mechanismus übernommen. Manchmal ist klar, alles verändert – aber es gibt die Grau-Phase, die finde ich noch interessant.

Uwe: Civilization, that is Francis Tresham. This is trade phase in the game. Plus Freight Train from White Wind Games, Alan Moon. These two games inspired Bohnanza. It’s completely new and won’t mention the old, original mechanism.

DTD: But that’s art.

At this point, my dear friend Uli started to translate backwards – into German for me, and into English for Uwe. I think our constant crosstalk broke something in Uli’s mind.

Uli: Very sorry, I have to tell to you in English not in German [laughs]

DTD: [laughs] Well, it would be a slower interview.

Uwe: I confuse; the reason is, I spoke English.

Uwe: I never done it, but I would like it to happen. [asking 10 experts] We are not able to regulate that. Each case is different.

Uwe: I never done it, but – ich möchte, dass es gemacht wird. Wir können das nicht regeln. Jeder Fall ist anders

Uwe: We cannot make rules of it. Every case is other.

DTD: Every case is different.

Uwe: So, you need experts for my reckoning.

DTD: Yes. Well, this is art. It’s… a lot of people believe there is no original art. We always take pieces from what we know and mix them up and make something new.

Uwe: Sometimes this was not, this is original.

DTD: Sometimes. That’s fantastic. I say that’s fantastic, because too many people would just take it and use it, and not say anything.

Uwe: So, I would be interested in the question, how the Dice Tower can support, to propagate my opinion. Ideally that would be the opinion of the scene one day, that the game designers handle it that way. But I, by myself, don’t have the opportunity to somehow… Dice Tower has the opportunity to spread the word. That would interest me. If he [gesturing to me] somehow can write “Uwe would be interested, if other publishers and designers see it like him.” I still don’t know if I’m alone with my opinion.

Uwe: Also mich würde die Frage interessieren, in wie fern Dice Tower dazu beitragen kann, diese Meinung von mir zu propagieren. Bestenfalls wäre das irgendwann die Meinung der Szene., dass wir Spieleerfinder so damit umgehen. Aber ich selber hab nicht die Möglichkeit, das irgendwo so… Dice Tower hat ja die Möglichkeit, das zu verbreiten. Das würde mich interessieren. Ob er irgendwie schreiben kann “Uwe würde interessieren, ob das viele andere Verlage und Autoren auch so sehen.” Ich weiß immer noch nicht, ob ich alleine bin mit dieser Meinung.

Here is the take home message: Uwe Rosenberg would be interested if other designers and publishers feel as he does. Should pieces of games be freely taken, “as is” and unchanged, with full credit given to the original authors? Should we refrain from the practice of modifying game elements, in order to avoid the feeling of stealing others’ work? Should committees of peers be given final say as to whether game elements are close enough to warrant credit in cases where it is not clear? Is it the role of the media to be these “peers”?

DTD: Of course. And a lot of what we do, is we say, “We played this game, and it was a lot like that that game, and it had elements of this game.” So we bring the games together, and make the connections. But while you were talking about this idea, I was thinking, “I will talk to Tom about it, and see…”

Uwe: It also is important for me, due to the royalties. If there would be more clarity, then… So, for me it was clear that Corné [van Moorsel] will have to get money for what I’m earning right now [on Nova Luna]. But I think it would be nice if all the others would see it like that as well. I mean, that there just would arise a common sense. However. Discussion… If we come to the result “that’s how we see it as the scene”, then we managed it.

Uwe: Wichtig ist das eben auch wegen der Tantiemen für mich, wenn da ein bisschen mehr Klarheit wäre, dann… Also für mich ist ganz klar, dass Corné [van Moorsel, the designer of Habitats] dafür Geld für kriegen muss, für das, was ich damit jetzt verdiene. Aber ich fänd’s schön, wenn das einfach alle so irgendwie sehen würden. Ich meine, dass einfach so eine gemeinschaftliche Meinung entsteht. Wie auch immer. Diskussion… Wenn wir irgendwie dazu kommen ‘so sehen wir das als Szene’, dann haben wir das geschafft.

DTD: Better.

Uwe: And publishers. Authors and Publishers. The publishers had also think this is a grey phase. Now we, what experts do you think we could ask, and we think we also ask these experts, and so we find the Ergebnis [result], the reason.

DTD: No, it is a grey zone. And I know that a lot of times, the reviewers will say, “You know, this game is very close to that one.” And they just say that’s a bad thing, and nothing happens about it. And sometimes they admire the relationship between games, and say, “This is an evolution of this. This is a better way of doing it.” And it is really interesting to decide, is there a right and a wrong to building off of other people’s ideas?

Uwe: It’s important for me to mention that it has to be a core mechanism, right. There are so many… karma bar for example, and so many other trivial mechanisms… no one has the rights for these. If we start there, it would be a catastrophe. It really has to be a core mechanism of a game.

Uwe: Wichtig ist mir noch zu sagen, dass es tragende Mechanismen sein müssen,ne. Es gibt so viele… Karma Leiste und so viele Schnick Schnack Mechanismen… da hat keiner ein Recht dran. Wenn wir damit anfangen, das wäre eine Katastrophe. Es müssen wirklich die tragenden Mechanismen eines Spiels sein.

DTD: There’s no rules, yeah. After Dominion, Donald X. Vaccarino was vocal about a lot of uses of deck building, and now deck building is in every game [hyperbole] as a little piece. So that’s a different kind of story. So what games are exciting you at Essen this year? Too many, huh?

Uwe: Every mechanism. Genau [exactly]. Every year is the same thing, I know nothing about the games. Nothing.

DTD: Oh, it’s been too busy.

Uwe: And 4 years ago I have had… I had scouts at this fair and they were checking for me. Because I was searching for new licenses for my own publishing house, so that we can do the German license. It’s of course convenient if you see it here at the fair directly, and if you directly… and if you could be the first one. I did this once but now I focus on my essential parts.

Uwe: And 4 years ago I have had… da hatte ich Scouts auf dieser Messe und die haben für  mich gekuckt. Denn ich war selber auf der Suche danach für meine Verlage Lizenzen zu bekommen, damit wir die Deutsche Lizenz machen können. Ist natürlich gut, wenn man auf der Messe das direkt mitkriegt und man direkt… und man der erste sein kann. Das hab ich mal mitgemacht, aber… ich konzentrier mich wieder jetzt auf meinen wesentlichen Teil.

DTD: Are you hiring..?

Uwe: Yes, these are friends.

Uwe: [laughing] Ja, das ist ein Freund [switching to English] Friends.

I think it is clear I will not be scouting for Uwe any time soon. At least I tried. Anyone else need a scout? Mr. Feld?

DTD: Right, I was going to ask about that, like Lowlands.

Uwe: Lowlands was a German author and I helped him to make the game.

Uwe: Yes, that is a new game published by “Feuerland

Ja es ist ein neues Spiel von Feuerland

Uwe: Crystal Palace was these other 2 games. And Terra Mystica. These are the 3 games where I helped the designer to make the game. That is another thing. But [Spirits of the] Rice Patty was a game [I] tweaked some years ago.

DTD: I remember that.

Uwe: I find this here on the show, and I saw it. I would like to have the license. But OK, I don’t like the game [laughs]. The other thing was Viticulture, backers from my home town loved Viticulture and they showed it [to] me and I liked it too. I wrote to Jamey Stegmaier if I can make the German version, and he said yes.

DTD: And you made the expansion cards.

Uwe: The special thing is that Jamey [Stegmaier] had a few modules for Viticulture and I only liked a few.

Uwe: Ja, the ideas of the expansion cards are from me. And …das besondere ist, dass Jamey [Stegmaier] verschiedene Viticulture Module hatte und ich nur ganz wenig mochte.

Uwe: And then I told him which ones I liked… right… actually I wanted to have it in a different way in Germany. And then I told him “we have to… then it seems that we can’t do it anyway, can’t we separate?” And then he said… right… that we do it the way I want to. Jamey… yes I told him “in that case we have to separate, ok, in that case it doesn’t work”. And then Jamey said “ok, then we do it the way, you want to do it”. And then we have...

Uwe: Und dann habe ich gesagt, welche ich mag… ne… eigentlich wollte ich es anders in Deutschland haben. Und dann habe ich gesagt, dann müssen wir… dann geht’s wohl doch nicht, können wir nicht auseinander gehen? Und dann hat er gesagt, ne, dann machen wir das so, wie ich will. Jamey… na, ich hab halt gesagt, dann müssen wir auseinander gehen, dann geht’s halt nicht. Und dann hat Jamey gesagt, na gut, dann machen wir’s, wie Du willst. Dann haben wir.

Uwe: This was the Essential version of Viticulture.

DTD: Which is one… And there were a few modules, I don’t know if anybody liked. The cheese module does not get a lot of love.

Uwe: Yeah, OK [laughs]

DTD: I am thrilled that there is cheese in the game, but I don’t like that module. So the Essential version came out of bringing the game to Germany?

Uwe: Yes, that is correct, Yes. and then he [published] it as “Essential Edition” on his own… Yes… Yes… Yes...

Uwe: ja, das ist richtig. Ja und dann hat er es ja wohl selber dann als Essential Version… Ja… ja… Yes

At this point, Uwe and Uli started furiously debating details of the Viticulture Essential Edition development. My limited German left me in the dust, and these two were speaking at length, so I made the only logical conclusion…

DTD: Man, the word for “yes” in German is so long…

Uwe: Ja? [laughs]

Uli: But I was translating what I didn’t understand, what was missing before. I’m sorry.

DTD: I understand. I know, I made a bad joke.

Uli: I am crying [laughing].

DTD: Which is wonderful. Terrific.

I get great pleasure out of Uli’s pain. One needs to continually inspire trusted helpers through intimidation and abuse. How else will they learn?

Uwe: We have much discussion of the four season, and one module of Viticulture that was not [just] winter or summer, but there was spring and autumn too. And in my opinion, the starting player is too wichtig [strong], too strong. So, this doesn’t work in my opinion with four.

DTD: Oh, I love the four season board.

Uwe: if you ignore the criticism, the story about the starting player, if you… if the whole group does not have the opinion “The starting player is the most important”, then it works, yes. But if the opinion is dominant, that it’s too important. Then there is too much uniformity in it… the game gets boring.

Uwe: Wenn man diese Kritik, diese Geschichte mit dem Startspieler ausblendet, wenn man das… wenn die ganze Runde nicht sagt “Der Startspieler ist das allerwichtigste”, dann funktioniert es, ja. Aber wenn die Meinung vorherrscht, das ist zu wichtig. Dann ist da zu viel Gleichförmigkeit drin… das Spiel wird langweilig.

Uwe: The whole thing.

Uwe: too much of the same shape, the same happens over and over again...

Uwe: zu gleichförmig, es passiert immer das gleiche…

DTD: Yeah, I can see that.

Next time, we discuss the invention of the “feed your people” mechanism, making games you don’t necessarily like, and deluxe reprints of games.

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