In this, the final installment of my lunch with Uwe [not to be confused with My Dinner with Andre], we talk about my favorite Uwe game, the underrated Bohnanza Duel, and have an existential discussion about the intelligence of Chess.
Uwe: I have… I once again take care about doing something for Bohnanza. But that’s in the… well… I guess it’s just time to do so.
Uwe: Ich hab… jetzt kümmere ich mich wieder darum, wieder was für Bohnanza mir auszudenken. Aber das liegt in… es ist halt wieder Zeit jetzt
Uwe: After the show. We need new board games. [laughs]
DTD: There’s a lot of very good Bohnanza. The 2-player version is great. I am so impressed. How can you do a 2-player trading game? You did it perfect.
Uwe: That’s one of my favorite games, the two-player version of Bohnanza. So… the new one. Actually, I don’t know what it’s called right now...
Uwe: Das ist eins meiner Lieblingsspiele, das Zwei-Personen Spiel von Bohnanza. Also das neue… ich weiß gar nicht, wie es heißt gerade…
Bohnanza The Duel. It’s fantastic – really. Consistently in my top 10.
DTD: Oh, it is beautiful.
Uwe: My opinion, too.
DTD: Making the leap, that instead of trading, it is a series of gifts. And, “Do you want this gift?” leading to “No, no, no, let me give you this gift.” … “No, no, no…” I love that. It’s beautiful. I’m thinking there could be a whole game about just trying to give away horrible gifts. That would be a wonderful game. The White Elephant game. You know about “White Elephant”? That translates?
In Bohnanza The Duel, the player must offer up one of their cards to the other player, usually because they do not want it and the other player cannot use it. The recipient can refuse this gift, but then they must offer up a different gift card, and so on, until someone graciously accepts the gift. Which they likely don’t want. I love it.
Uwe: There is a website, that says, it is one of the best games of all times [Referring to “the white Elephant”]
Uwe: Es gibt eine Internetseite, die sagen, es ist eins der besten Spiele aller Zeiten [Referring to “the white Elephant”]
DTD: The [original] story is that there was an Indian king who had a subject whom he hated, but he had to show him respect. So he gave him a white elephant. And the elephant ate all of his food and destroyed all of his land, but it was the best gift in the world, so he could not get rid of it, because the king gave it to him. So that’s the phrase, a “white elephant” gift…
Uwe: [laughing] I like it!
DTD: It is like, “Oh, Uwe, you are my best friend, have a goat.”
Uwe: [laughs] I understand.
DTD: So, a game around that would be wonderful.
Uwe: Yes, there are not that many mechanisms, of which I’m proud, where I really do have such strong feelings… Exactly that mechanism is one of very few where I say, “I’m proud of it!”
Uwe: Ja, es gibt nicht viele Mechanismen, auf die ich in dem Sinne stolz bin, wo ich wirklich etwas so stark empfinde… Genau dieser Mechanismus ist einer von ganz wenigen, wo ich sag “da bin ich stolz drauf”.
DTD: I love it. I absolutely love it. But more Bohnanza is always welcome. It is a fantastic game. [pause] I think I might be done. Is there anything else you wanted to talk about? I hope I didn’t keep you too long.
Uwe: I am fine. I enjoyed the time.
DTD: I am glad. I am sorry it wasn’t initially clear what I was trying to do.
Uwe: I will see the outcome. I enjoyed the conversation!
Uwe: Was dabei heraus kommt, werde ich ja sehen. Hat Spaß gemacht, das Gespräch zu führen.
DTD: I’m really glad! It was delightful to meet you, thank you very much! And I am a huge fan. As soon as I decided I was going to do these interviews, I made a list, a dream list of designers I wanted to interview, and Uwe was at the top. And I didn’t think I would ever come to Germany, so it was a little difficult to execute… [laughs]
Uwe: Because of your German? For sure [laughs].
DTD: Well… It is sooo perfect.
Uwe: You always want to sell things. [laughs] It is dangerous, yes.
A call back to my disasterous mixup of the German words for “buy” and “sell”. It involved tickets to Essen. And a guard. And my near arrest.
DTD: But now we need to panic about helping clean up the booth back at Dice Tower.
Uwe: And you are a part of Dice Tower, too? [to Uli]
DTD: He is essential. This [hugging Uli] is the essential addition of Dice Tower.
Essential addition! Like Uwe’s take on Viticulture! Look at my smart joke!
Uli: No, I’m ehm… I met Tom a few years ago, asked him, if he needs some German speaking support at the booth and then he said “of course, that would be great”... and now I’m here for a few years to support them in the preparations, managing the one thing or another for them. So, whenever there is something here in Germany, where it’s good to have a German contact, then I’m more or less the contact person and here [at the fair] I’m doing a lot for them as well.
Uli: Ne, ich bin äh… Ich hab Tom vor ein paar Jahren kennengelernt, hab gefragt, ob er deutschsprachige Unterstützung am Stand braucht und dann hat er gesagt “ja freilich, das wäre super”… und jetzt bin ich schon seit ein paar Jahren hier mit dabei und helf denen in der Vorbereitung, manage das ein und das andere für die. Also immer, wenn es in Deutschland irgend etwas gibt, wo es gut ist, wenn man einen deutschen Kontakt hat, dann bin ich halt quasi der Ansprechpartner und hier mach ich auch sehr viel für sie.
Uwe and Uli went off on a tangent in German, and it took all I could muster to completely not understand what they said. So I just robotically stated that I know German – the one fact they knew wasn’t true.
Ich kann 80% verstehen.’ I can understand 80%
Uli: We were talking about the weather…
DTD: Yeah, right… you’re a liar. [laughs] [Uwe cracking up]
DTD: It was actually supposed to rain today, but this is wonderful.
Uli: It rained this morning. It rained when I left my hotel.
happened, that I could process it so thoroughly in chronological order. I am not able to do that very often.‘]Uwe: Es war schön, dass Du Dich dafür interessiert hast, in welcher Reihenfolge das passiert ist, dass ich das mal so gründlich chronologisch abarbeiten konnte. Das hab ich noch nicht oft gedurft.
DTD: I was raised by mathematicians and computer programmers, so the algorithms and how they connect always goes through my mind. Especially with your games. I can see where one leads to another. Except when the small games turned into big games, that it seemed like was separate events.
Uwe: Yeah, maybe. Because of family time. Family game time and the years in between.
DTD: Oh, and I meant to say, the new game [Robin of Locksley] uses a chess puzzle, the knight’s tour. You know the puzzle? And was that an inspiration? There’s a famous puzzle that’s… You only move the knight, and you have to cover the whole board.
Uwe: No, that was a coincidence. The knight movement has an amazing interaction when you have two pawns. If you move there, you’re blocking yourself. If you move there, you block yourself in the next round… You won’t get that interaction if you move diagonally or a… only move one step to the side. I’m aware of that. I just used it. It’s as simple as that.
Uwe: Nö, das war Zufall. Die Springer Züge, die haben halt super Interaktionen, wenn Du zwei Figuren hast. Gehst Du dahin, blockierst Du Dich. Gehst Du dahin, dann blockierst Du Dich eine Runde später… Diese Interaktion kriegst Du nicht hin, wenn Du diagonal setzt oder einen… nur einen zur Seite gehst. Das ist mir bekannt. Das hab ich einfach nur eingesetzt. So einfach ist das.
It was here that I learned that the chess knight in german is called the “Springer”. I think that’s awesome. Just makes me happy.
Uwe: Here you block directly, and this happens, and this happens, and here you block again.
DTD: It’s a wonderful movement. I didn’t know if you were a chess fan.
Uwe: I was a chess player. I played first time chess when I was 4 years old, from my grandfather. And when I was in the fifth and sixth class I was a player in my school. After that, it got stolen…
DTD: Wonderful. I am very, very bad at it, but my father helped design the new scoring system.
DTD: For the chess federation.
DTD: I forget the name, I don’t follow it.
Uwe knows quite a bit more about chess than I do… He is asking all the right questions, and at the time I just didn’t know the right answers. All will become clear.
Uwe: First we have Ingo, then we have Elo.
DTD: But I believe there’s a new system now.
The new system, really a variant on Elo, lasted from 1993-2006. Then the old system came back.
Uwe: Really new, ok?
DTD: Ten years old, I think? Maybe 20. I’m old, I forget.
Uwe: Elo? The best person in the world has 2800? This is your father?
DTD: He did a lot of things.
OK, here’s the full explanation so that I don’t get a nasty letter from chess aficionados. International competitive chess currently uses a scoring system called Elo rating, named for Arpad Elo, who while absolutely extraordinary, was not my father. The organization governing professional chess competition has long been FIDE, but from 1993-2006 a second group split off, the PCA. This created two world chess championships, and two champions. The PCA used its own modified Elo rating system, which my father devised. The main difference was that it gave points to the black player, who by going second was at a disadvantage in tournaments.
Uwe: It is an honor for me to…
DTD: No, no. Do you know computers at all? Do you use computers at all?
Uwe: Yes, well I have to… but nothing more than that
Uwe: Ja, muss ich ja… aber nicht mehr als das…
DTD: My father likes computers very much and chess very much. So, he was the world computer chess champion, and he was a referee when Deep Blue played Kasparov. There’s a lot of stories.
Uli: You didn’t tell me! I didn’t ask, I know.
Uli got a little excited at this point.
DTD: So, I was curious about the knight movement, because I…
Uwe: It is a story for your father.
DTD: My father made me do that all the time; he loves those puzzles. Always loved those puzzles. Was just curious. No, I don’t like chess much at all. There was too much of it about. [laughs]
Uwe: Yes, well actually it’s not a game, it’s optimized somehow, yes, it is a “gaming emotion”... but it really is a hard fight. It is so strenuous, like we… we want to play something, it should not be that exhausting.
Uwe: Ja, es ist ja eigentlich kein Spiel, es ist irgendwo ja optimiert, ja, es ist ein Spielgefühl… aber es ist wirklich harter Kampf. also da muss man sich so anstrengen, wie wir es… wir möchten spielen, wir möchten uns nicht so anstrengen.
DTD: It really is. I’ve only really been able to play people who are very much better than me.
Uwe: So, you have no chance at all.
Uwe: I like 2 things. When you have 10 minutes to think, this is the time, this is the feeling like playing a game. After the optimizing thing. What I liked when I was young was to have 2 hours and a half to think, really much time. Because this time, after begin the game, I know everything of this match. I know the turn, I have thought about everything. So intensive that I…
Uwe: I’m glad, that I was able to experience that, that something like that exists. At least that’s how I understand the fascination for chess. So, I still remember, when we… the school is over. All the pupils were there. I got on the bus and played for the school team, overspent myself, I returned, got off the bus, the other pupils all were gone already and I… “Boah… I’m so exhausted”, well I’ve never been that exhausted from the classes. I can see my school and I’m empty, like I’ve never been before. Where did it come from? Chess. That is something… that I will never forget. Yes, I left and the school was filled with pupils, a plain ordinary day at school.
Ich bin froh, dass ich das mal erleben durfte, dass es sowas gibt. So versteh ich die Schach-Faszination wenigstens. Also ich weiß jetzt noch, wie wir dann… die Schule ist zu Ende. Alle Schüler waren da. Ich bin in den Bus gestiegen und hab dann für die Schulmannschaft gespielt, mich total verausgabt, bin wieder gekommen, aus dem Bus ausgestiegen, die anderen Kinder waren alle weg und ich… “boah bin ich fertig” also so erschöpft war ich noch nie vom Unterricht. Ich seh meine Schule und bin leer, wie ich es noch nie war. Woran lag es? an Schach. Das ist etwas… das werde ich nie vergessen. ich bin losgefahren, da war die Schule voll mit Schülern, ein ganz normaler Schultag.
Uwe: I’m empty, too. [laughs]
DTD: Yeah. Mentally exhausted.
Uwe: More than… school never made demands of me like that, like that chess game.
Uwe: More than… die Schule hat mich nie so beansprucht, wie diese Schachpartie.
DTD: I have always wondered… I have met a lot of people who are very, very good at chess, and they are not always [traditionally] smart, they are not… I don’t know what the common trait is that makes them good at chess. They are not always extremely intelligent, they are not always good with words, they are not always artistic, they’re not always creative. I don’t know why this group is good at this game. It fascinates me. Do you know?
Uwe: Well ok, I do have an answer to that. So, for me the significant thing... I might be wrong, and your father might know best... But based on my observation, young people play ordinary chess till the age of 14. They do have talent, or they don’t have talent. They like it, everything is fine. As a 15 year old you don’t have a chance to compete, if you don’t start memorizing. And maybe you feel so good as a 14 year old… “I want to become someone…” that you really, although you are in puberty, honestly you have other thoughts in your mind, that you say to yourself “I will do the memorization. I’m attacking!” And if you are able to last through this as a 16 year old, 17 year old, 18 year old, then you will become good and that… well you need a special kind of personality, and some luck is involved as well, like the… your life is in exactly that 3 years. There might not come any woman and might… something… that might be a coincidence… These 3 years, if you are able to withstand these then you do have a chance to become a good chess player.
Uwe: Na gut, ich hab da eine Antwort drauf. Also für mich das entscheidende. Ich kann mich natürlich versehen und Dein Vater wird das besser wissen. Aber meiner Beobachtung nach spielen Jugendliche bis zum 14. Lebensjahr ganz normal Schach. Sie sind talentiert oder sie sind nicht talentiert. Das macht Spaß, alles wunderbar. Du hast als 15-jähriger keine Chance mehr da mitzuhalten, wenn Du nicht anfängst auswendig zu lernen. Und eventuell fühlst Du Dich als 14-jähriger so gut… “Ich will was werden…” Dass Du wirklich, obwohl Du in der Pubertät bist, eigentlich ganz andere Sachen im Kopf hast, dass Du Dir sagst “ich lerne jetzt auswendig. Ich greif an”. Und wenn Du das dann als 16-jähriger, als 17-jähriger, als 18-jähriger immer noch aushältst, dann wirst Du gut und das… dazu brauchst Du halt eine gewisse Art von Persönlichkeit und das ist auch ein bisschen Zufall, wie das… Dein Leben gerade in diesen 3 Jahren ist. Da darf keine Frau irgendwie kommen und Dir da… irgendwas… das ist Zufall. Diese 3 Jahre, wenn die so überstanden werden, dann hast Du die Chance der gute Schachspieler zu werden.
Uwe: Learn everything, and practice.
DTD: Memorize. I think there’s more. There is that.
Uwe: So exceedingly few teens are willing to memorize things over and over again for three years and they have to have the personality, and a lot of people are lacking that.
Uwe: Also die wenigsten Jugendlichen sind bereit, 3 Jahre in Folge ständig auswendig zu lernen und die Persönlichkeit müssen sie haben und das fehlt halt schon mal einer ganzen Menge.
DTD: [laughs] I’ve seen grandmasters chase girls. Girls are more important than chess.[Uwe and Uli laugh]
DTD: You’re right. It’s a skill. It’s a learned, practiced skill. But it was interesting to me that the people with this skill are not necessarily traditionally smart. They’re good at chess, and that is different. Does that make sense?
Uwe: Well I don’t think that that’s the case. I think, they are in a certain… So here we have the people [is showing a scale with his fingers]. And here are the very intelligent ones [is showing round about the top 15% of the scale]. And here are the most intelligent ones [showing the top 5%]. But the thing is, that within this area all the ones were sorted out, that did not withstand these 3 years. Here these remain. And these are only at 85… because of that process… and… that’s how it can be explained. well, you can’t say, these are not the most intelligent ones. The most intelligent ones thankfully make more out of their lives.
Uwe: Also ich glaub nicht, dass das stimmt. Ich glaub, sie sind in gewissen… So wir haben hier die Menschen [is showing a scale with his fingers]. Wir sortieren alle Menschen mal nach Intelligenz. Und wir haben jetzt hier die guten Schachspieler, die haben diese Intelligenz hier [is showing round about the top 15% of the scale]. und hier sind die ganz intelligenten [showing the top 5%]. Aber das Thema ist, dass in diesem Bereich alle aussortiert wurden, die diese 3 Jahre nicht überstanden haben. Da bleiben hier solche übrig. Und die sind einfach nur bei 85… durch diesen Prozess… und… so ist das zu erklären. also, man kann nicht sagen, sie sind nicht die intelligentesten. Die intelligentesten machen zum Glück mehr aus ihrem Leben.
Uwe: In the scale from 0 to 100, they are 85. Then the most intelligent people make money from it.
DTD: Sure, its just something I wonder about. I think its more than just intelligence. There’s a pattern matching, strange ability.
DTD: There’s something else. There’s some magic. Discipline definitely; practice and discipline.
Uli: I know I’m just here to translate, but if I can say my opinion, I guess it is a matter of how you define intelligence. People that are smart, though.
DTD: You are probably right. You are probably right.
Uwe: Yes, we don’t have to talk about “language based intelligence”. This is more hidden.Uwe: Ja, über Sprachintelligenz müssen wir nicht reden. Die haben wir jetzt einfach mal ausgeblendet.
DTD: We had several friends. There was one friend in particular who could play 30 games at once, blind. And he couldn’t really tie his shoe. He couldn’t do anything else. He was an odd, wonderful person, who was not “smart”, but his brain could do chess, and could do it so well. That’s the magic.
Uwe: That is magic for sure.
DTD: I am rambling. It’s things I think about. Thank you so much. I have kept you much longer than the hour you had, so I hope it wasn’t too much torture.
Uwe: The publisher who was waiting for me has to do other things. For she it was no problem to wait. Other people I would not like to …
Uwe: ...normally I don’t like to let them wait… but this...
lass ich nicht gerne warten… aber das
DTD: But I cannot tell you how wonderful this was. This was amazing. Tell all your friends.
Uwe: Yes… and we somehow do have this “grey zone project”
Uwe: Ja… und wir haben dann irgendwie ein “Grauzone-Projekt”
Uwe: In the grey zone. You remember?
Uwe is referring to the relationship between borrowing mechanisms and citing authors in game design. He feels the media, including the Dice Tower, should have a more governing role in disputes about what is original and what is borrowed. We discussed it in part 3.
DTD: I do. I am going to talk to Tom. And Tom… Tom is a very, what is the word, Tom is a very ethical person. That’s the wrong word.
DTD: Yeah. He is a good person. He wants to do what is right.
And with that, Uwe Rosenberg and I part like ships in the night. Except it was day. And in the middle of Germany – no water. In retrospect, it was nothing like ships in the night.
I am so grateful was able to speak to another great in game design, a man who was truly influential in the industry, and one whose brain I would love to pick again. A tremendous amount of thanks go out to Uwe for being so good natured about an irreverent and unexpected type of interviews, and to Uli, without whom none of this would have happened.