Welcome back to my multi time zone, virtual meal with designer Andreas Odendahl, known affectionately as Ode. Ode has vast experience in board games: playing, developing, designing, and it is just a delight to talk games, mechanisms, and experience with such a master. So join me with my breakfast, and Ode with his late night coffee, as we dive right into board game creation.
DTD: I have had a lot of people tell me that the designer and the editor are almost at war with each other. That they have opposite goals. The designer wants to add more and more to their game, and the editor wants to take away everything from the game. So, there’s a back and forth there. So being able to see both sides of it I think is fantastic.
Ode: Yeah, but it’s always about egos. You’re not, you’re not wrong about this because this is everything. What I’m normally saying that each game, there’s only one name on the box. It’s most of the time, it’s a designer but to me personally, this is not true because you have an editor, you have an illustrator, you have a developer, and you have so many play testers, and all of all of them are giving for this game. And this is all, all the time is a team effort.
DTD: The best ones are.
Ode: But of course, of course, the designer and the editor they have maybe at some point different opinions on this. And if you’re a designer, you always, “Well, this is my game, so I designed it. So, what do you want to tell me?”
DTD: “What are you doing to my baby?”
Ode: My baby. Yeah, right, my baby. And there’s always is cause for conflict all the time, and you just have to be professional about it, and see through it. So, of course you, you argue, and you disagree on stuff, but in the end there will be a final game.
DTD: There’s a difference between good arguing and bad arguing.
Ode: Yeah, true, true.
DTD: And when you have an illustrator like Klemens Franz, I mean he’s so involved in not only the art, but also the flow of the game, of where things are placed, and… I have heard several people say that he does a lot of work as the editor as well. He has a lot of input on how the game is played. He knows his stuff.
Ode: Yes. There’s one story I’d love to tell when it comes to this.
DTD: Yeah, please. I’ve got my juice! [pomegranate juice]. Fresh pomegranate juice. My tree just made fruit.
The red one is the pomegranate. The orange one is a habanero pepper. Do not mix them up.
Ode: When we were transferring Luna into something that has real pictures illustrated by a guy who can actually paint, and not using clip art, we had this… I don’t know if, how good you know the game?
DTD: Oh, very well.
Ode: There are these candles that you flip over. And if all of the candles are flipped, and no flame is burning anymore, the game round is over. And we had this small Chapel attached to the temple where those candles were stacked. And at a certain point, we would flip the candles and place them outside of this small Chapel. And when Klemens painted this like this, I was saying, “But it’s illogical. Why should the candles be outside of the small Chapel after they are put out? Why don’t you just paint a bigger room and you can, you can put the flip tiles next to the other stack, and then it will still be in the same room. And then he just drew some trashed candles outside of the window, on the lawn outside of the Chapel so that [laughs]…
Ode: That the candles just got thrown through the window when they’re out, and everything was good. So, I had the critic, I criticized what he had done, and he said, “I’m not painting the whole Chapel again. Let’s paint some candles that are burned out and throw them on the lawn so it would be theme-wise OK to have them outside of the Chapel.
DTD: That’s great.
Ode: And that was something very, very cool I think.
DTD: They just did the remaster, the new edition of Luna. I was going through that today. That’s a very fun game. And placing the hex tiles in Luna does seem an awful lot like your market place in La Granja. The interaction between hex tiles in the middle.
Ode: It actually is. Yes, so Luna is a very personal game for me because it’s actually the first one I was really, really involved into. And like I said just a couple of minutes ago it’s the first one that I’m on the box, because I, Ralph [Bruhn] was kind enough to put me as an editor, because I had so much to do with the game. And we really worked on it very hard. And so, this is the first game I was there from, from when the publisher got the prototype, I play tested it with the publisher, and we developed the whole game in about 7 months I guess.
Ralph Bruhn is the head of H@ll Games.
Ode: And it was my first game to be really part of. So, this game was very special to me personally, and I really love this, this temple mechanism. Because what I normally don’t like in board games is if you play against someone like, “I’m kicking you out of something”, like area control mechanisms, where I hurt you to win more points, or something like this. But Luna has a very interactive… Because normally I will design a board game without interaction, so you don’t have this negative effects in in a game.
Ode: And Luna has accomplished that it has a take-that element, where you can kick out other players, but it’s not harming the other players because it’s just something that you get taken away, that you don’t already… not having. Because you would score points for the meeples in the temple, but in the future. So, if you if you get kicked out, there’s no difference. But because you [are] only losing something that you have not already, so this this element is both interactive, but not harmful, not frustrating. And that’s something I really like in a game.
Ode: That you can play it, and it’s totally understandable why you get kicked out. And it’s also, you get your meeple back, you can put it on an island again. So, there’s really no harm done, so no bad feelings, no frustration, caused by this very interactive element. And I like this really much and like I said, in the rule book I’m always getting, um… How do I say it? Inspired by games. I love games I played, and I like very much. And I single out certain elements, and I try to shape them into something new, something different.
DTD: Yeah, and that’s the nature of any creative job, is you are constantly getting input of things you love. And how can you do anything except use what you love to create something new? So, we are always building on things that we know in new and interesting ways.
Ode: Yeah, but you can also just copy something, and then it stays the same and you, you just take something that is, you know is working. But I think the difference here between stealing, and being inspired by something, is that you shape something new out of it. You don’t just take it, and you do the same stuff with it. But you honor the guy who’s behind the original idea by using his idea and transforming it into something new. And that’s what I really love. And that’s what the multi-use cards in La Granja is about, and that’s what the market in La Granja is about. So, it’s basically honoring those designers, and for me it’s very important also to put this in the rulebook.
DTD: “This was inspired by…”
DTD: I’m a huge Carl Chudyk fan as well.
Carl, call me. Let’s get together for pancakes.
Ode: That guy has some unique ideas.
DTD: His games are wonderfully broken. That’s how I describe it.
Ode: Yeah. Nothing works, it’s total chaos, but it’s beautiful.
DTD: The most perfectly broken games ever.
Ode: Yes. [laughs] That’s very true.
Carl Chudyk, designer of Glory to Rome, Innovation, Red7 and several others, is famous for two things. One, he is a master of multi use cards. Two, his games are insane, with mechanisms that ramp up to crazy levels.
DTD: So, it’s really interesting. Out of curiosity, have you spoken to Uwe [Rosenberg] at length about mechanisms and borrowing mechanisms and crediting mechanisms? Because when I interviewed him, he was very… That was very important to him. And he talked for a very long time about that.
Ode: Yeah. That’s actually exactly where I have it, where I got it from. Because this is what, what Uwe is all about.
DTD: I agree completely.
Ode: This is actually the same, he did the same thing with Antiquity, with the harvest mechanism from Antiquity.
DTD: Well, Nova Luna was the famous one. That’s what really brought it to the light, made people notice.
Uwe Rosenberg told the story that he played Habitats by Corné van Moorsel, and while playing was inspired to create the game Nova Luna, using some of the mechanics. Uwe called up Corné and asked him to be a co-designer on the new game.
Ode: Yeah, yeah. Oh yeah, but also, he was the one who told me to take old ideas or something that I like and shape it into something new. That was basically what he said. He said, “What’s your favorite game right now?” And I said, “My favorite game always was Puerto Rico.” And he said, “OK, take the mechanism from Puerto Rico and put it into a different game, and then you know you have something that works, that you can work on, that you don’t have to design it from scratch. You know that this mechanism with the role selection works. Just put it in another game and then you can design this game. Then you can shape it into something different. And this was actually what he told me, but also, he said, “You always have to be honest about where you get your ideas from.” Because this is how this thing works. It’s not… when it’s not your idea, then honor it by mentioning the guy who had the idea and then shape it into something different, and it’s even more honorable.
DTD: But it’s difficult because I’ve played so many board games now, that I’m not sure that… Well, it’s very difficult to find an original idea anymore. You can always say “This is kind of like that one, is kind of like that one.” So, are board games going to have too many credits, because there are so many ideas that were borrowed and brought together? Where is the line where you have to credit, whereas something that is so well known? Does every deck-builder need to credit [Donald X.] Vaccarino? Or does Vaccarino need to credit the things that were almost deck builders before him?
Donald X. Vaccarino’s Dominion is often cited as the first true deck building game.
Donald, call me. Let’s do lunch.
Ode: That’s a very interesting question, I think. I haven’t been thinking too much about deck-building mechanisms myself, because to me, this Dominion mechanism is so flawless and so pure. And ingenious in itself, that I personally don’t play other deck builders. Except for Star Realms.
DTD: I’m sorry, except for which?
Not a comment, I promise. I am just old and deaf. I love Star Realms.
Ode: Except for Star Realms. Because it’s a two-player game and it’s very, very good. But there’s almost no deck-builder that even comes close. I have the same issue with Carcassonne and tile-laying games. There’s no tile-laying game that comes even close to being as good as Carcassonne. And so, with deck-building.
DTD: They’re both very, very good games. I apologize, I’m going to eat my lunch.
I was sitting at the appropriate time for a late breakfast, and poor Ode was sitting smack dab in bedtime. Ode had brought some food, trying to make me feel better about eating, but it was really pretty late for him to have meal. I was being polite, in not eating in front of Ode, but also rude, in not allowing Ode to eat by making him talk all the time. I could not take it anymore, and started my breakfast.
Ode: Yeah, I have my fruit salad as well here, but since I’m talking always.
As I stated, I didn’t give the poor guy a break.
DTD: No, that’s great!
Ode: You have to take over soon, so I can have some.
DTD: [laughs] Well, I like… I think Dominion was very foundational. I think it’s a very good game, it’s very pure. But I think that the age of deck builders is really coming into its own now, where people use the deck building as a mechanism instead of as the whole game. It’s a piece of something else. Clank!, I think is a very good game, using deck building. Things like that.
Ode: Yeah, I remember talking to my friend Matthias Cramer once about the issue, and he designed a game together with the Malz’s. Stefan and his son, whose name I forgot. [Louis] I’m sorry, I apologize, but I forgot the forgot the name of the son. They designed Rococo.
DTD: Which is wonderful!
Ode: And it’s also because Matthias said to me back then, that this game is his approach on deck-building.
DTD: I was unclear which came first, Rococo or Dominion. But I guess Dominion was well known when Rococo came out.
Dominion came out in 2008. Rococo was much later, in 2013. I should have known this. I blame hunger. At this moment, I was snarfing my brown rice with poached egg and quick pickled habaneros.
Ode: No, no, no. Dominion was out then. Matthias was playing Ascension back then very much, so this this was. So that’s so Rococo was his take on…
DTD: Another very early deck-builder. But Rococo took that deck building aspect and really did it differently.
Ode: Yeah, because it’s only one element in the game. It’s still the driving mechanism, but it’s only, it’s not the whole game. The mechanism is not the game, so it’s only the engine for the game.
Ode: And that that was very cool, but I was always thinking about having this… I was looking for a game that has this deck-building mechanism, like something similar… like in Dominion. So a very pure deck-building mechanism, and then controlling a board game with it. And the first one who came close to this was Martin Wallace, with A Few Acres of Snow .
I am acting very smart, but I have not played it. I have heard about it, so I am calling this a win.
Ode: But that’s a war game, and something I don’t like so much playing with my wife. So, this was not in our vein, but yeah, actually I’m not…
DTD: How about Great Western Trail?
Ode: Yeah, yeah! Alex [Pfister] designed some very good card mechanisms in his games.
DTD: And there’s definitely… deck-building is in there. It’s not as pure, but deck-building is an inspiration, a mechanism in Great Western Trail. And then of course in Maracaibo, which is very similar.
Alexander Pfister’s games, more than other designers, seem to follow an evolution to me. Each one calls back mechanisms and strategies from the earlier ones, but brings them to a new level. Maracaibo certainly has elements from the earlier Great Western Trail, while still making its own mark as a great game.
Alexander – call me. Dinner.
Ode: Yeah, yeah. Very true.
DTD: I love the idea of a new idea comes out in board games, like deck-building, and it is so bizarre… I remember when Dominion first came out, the instructions were quite long for what the game did. Because the ideas, they weren’t complicated, they were just so different from anything we’d ever played before. It didn’t make sense to do. And now, deck building has become so commonplace, you almost don’t even describe it in the rulebook.
Ode: Everybody knows.
DTD: You just say, “Yeah, you get a new card, you put it in your deck. And when your deck runs out, you shuffle your discards. Done.”
Corey explains deck-building in 21 words. Game publishers, hire me to write rules. I’m a natural.
DTD: And so, it’s become such an… It’s like worker placement. The first worker placement games were inspirational.
Ode: Very unique.
DTD: Caylus was hard to describe. And now, everything is worker placement. I think deck building is also running that timeline. And it’s becoming a piece of other, very interesting games. Which is wonderful.
William Attia‘s Caylus, published by Ystari Games in 2005, is generally considered the first influential worker placement game. The actual first worker placement game is most likely 1998’s Keydom by Richard Breese, later reimagined as Aladdin’s Dragons.
Ode: Yes, true. Yeah, but you said something very true. I realized this when I was working on Cooper Island, because I personally… I think this mechanism I’m using with the with the victory point track… Place something on the victory point track, and the victory point track becomes part of the game. This was very unique, at least to me, and also, I realized that I have to explain before playing the game, how you score in this game, because it’s so much different from other games.
The take home message is difficulty in teaching a game can come from true complexity, or from very simple design choices that are just delightfully unexpected.
DTD: I remember, I remember when that actually clicked into my head at Essen, I stood up in the middle of the game, and said, “OH! Moving your boat is points. They are completely equal!”
In Cooper Island, players earn the ability to move their boats around the board, gaining bonuses from reaching ports. But at the end of the game, the points are equal to how far the player has moved each of their boats. It was so fun and unique to move the boats and explore, that it never occurred to me that I was counting points as well!
Ode: Yes, yes, totally. So, I when I realized that there’s two elements in the game that are quite unique also. I have to say that the puzzling of the landscapes, the 3D puzzle, that’s not actually new. But you haven’t seen it in such a complex euro, resource building, type of game. So, before you describe the core mechanisms of Cooper Island, you always have to explain to the players how to puzzle, how to gain resources, and how to collect victory points. Because you cannot, you cannot explain this on the fly while explaining an action, or something like this. Or going through the going through the round structure. You have to explain it before you even start explaining how the game works because this is so unique, in a way. Or so unusual, I rather think.
Resource collection in Cooper Island is equally unique. Players build up layers of hex tiles, and a resource cube placed on top of a pile is equal to the height of the pile. A wood cube on top of 4 hex tiles equals 4 wood.
DTD: Yes, unusual.
Ode: So that you have to explain it before, and then you can start explaining the structure of the game.
DTD: Yes, it’s not complicated, it’s just so different.
Ode: And actually, that’s completely opposite of La Granja, where you can have the player aid, and you have each and every step on the player aid. And you can do it in the sequence that is given to you by the player aid. And you don’t have to know…
DTD: Yes, La Granja is more mechanical. Very “Do step one. Then step two. Then step three.” And going through that several times, then you feel the flow of the game.
Ode: Yes, excellent, and actually that’s the reason, because… For the game, if you, if you haven’t played the game in a couple of months, and you put it out of… take it out of the shelf again, and set it up. And then you start playing, normally you don’t remember all the rules. But La Granja has this player aid you can perform one step after the other, and after round one you remember all of it.
Ode: So, it’s very easy to re-learn the game because of its structure, and that’s something that is beneficial to the game. I personally think that this is one of the reasons why many people still play it today, because it’s so easy to… to play it again after, even after year maybe.
2014’s La Granja is still Ode’s highest ranked game in BGG, currently sitting at an impressive #162.
Ode, call me. We will… oh, nevermind.
DTD: I think it’s a positive and a negative. It makes the game somewhat mechanical. And I know a lot of the times when I teach La Granja, I start by saying, “Just go through the list. Just do step one, then do step two.” And that’s the best way to learn it. And once you have gone through it, then you understand why each piece matters, and what interacts with what. But it does move it a little towards just a mechanical game. Cooper [Island] I think has more thought ahead of time, and more explaining, and you have to say this will allow you to do that. This is why you have a cartographer track, and this is the free actions that you have. But that extra effort in the beginning makes the game flow really freely during play.
Ode: Yeah, also it’s very important with Cooper Island that you know everything right from the start, because even the preparation of the game is part of the strategy you are going to choose, so it’s almost like there’s chess-like openings in the game
Ode: Because you need this island, so you can perform, you can get the first ruin. And then you can build the first statue, and you cannot do it in round one if you don’t play this island at first. So, this is almost… You need to know this because you won’t get a chance to do this later, and this is completely different from La Granja, which you can learn by playing it.
Ode: And that’s one of the reasons why La Granja has such easy access. And Cooper Island is so, so hard to learn at the beginning, even though it has very simple rules.
DTD: Well Cooper [Island], though, is still very elegant. It just works. I think you put a little bit of magic in Cooper [Island] that I do not understand. Because sometimes I will play, and after one round I have gotten nothing done, and I don’t know why. And sometimes after one round, I have done so well, and I have so many things, and I cannot for the life of me figure out what makes that first round work for me, and what makes that first round fail for me. I think it’s magic. I think there’s some sort of curse in there. But I keep going back to it. It’s delightful. Is there more coming from Cooper Island? Are there plans for sequels and things of that sort?
Ode: This point, where I have to make this for the publisher so I can send it to him. I already sent it to him on PDF so he can play test it. But I am so much, working on so many projects at the same time right now, that I haven’t found the time to print it all out and send it to him in a physical form. So, there are plans to do some expansion stuff with Cooper Island, but it’s a very early stage, and it’s not a prior project so…
DTD: Well it’s still exciting to hear!
Next time we dive deep into design and development, as Ode relates the changes, conflicts and compromises he experienced during the development of Cooper Island. Plus we touch on that rumor of La Granja 2. Well, the announcement of the rumor at Spielworxx online. Put that breakfast in the fridge for a bit, then join us for part 3.