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« Jeffrey D. Allers »
How did you come up with the idea to create “Alea Iacta Est” and “Eine Frage der Ähre”?
Alea Iacta Est: It started with a design competition for two-player dice games. I challenged my friend Bernd Eisenstein to compete with me, and we tested our ideas together. Later, I decided to make my game the basis of a board game, first called “Feudal Dice.” I shopped it around to several publishers, and showed it to Stefan Brueck of alea in Nuremberg. He wanted to publish it, but wanted me to make some major changes and test it with him. Since I was in the United States for several months at that time, I decided to ask Bernd if he would help with the development as co-designer, since he had already tested and contributed to the game since its beginning. He was able to meet with Stefan and bring in a fresh perspective, and his own creativity. We have worked together on projects before which have not yet been published, so I knew we would work well together, and it’s exciting to finally have something published together!
Eine Frage der Ähre: Looking at my home in the Midwestern United States from an airplane, the perfectly 1-square-mile fields of different crops looks like a game board. I developed a game around placing tiles with the different crops, adding tiles 3-dimensionally to simulate crop rotation, and then adding another dimension with placing barns and winning livestock points. I showed it at the annual Game Designer’s Meeting in Goettingen, and several publishers were interested right away, with Pegasus offering me my first game contract. Production issues and my desire to tweak the design while I waited delayed the release until this year.
“Alea Iacta Est” was a game designed in conjunction with someone else. What is it like to work with another person when designing a game? What are the advantages and disadvantages to working with another person when designing a board game?
Two heads are better than one, if you know how to work together. It’s not always easy working with someone else, as each designer wants freedom for their own creativity, but at the same time needs the input of the other to bring the design further. Once you find that balance with another designer, however, it can be very fun to work together. That’s probably why several well-known gaming partnerships remain together for multiple games!
Where do you get the ideas for your games? Do they start with the mechanics, or the themes?
It really depends. I am a visual person, so I usually think of theme first. Now that I’ve been playing and designing games for years, however, I am also impressed by creative mechanics in other games, and often want to try to take them further, or even try to come up with the elusive “original mechanic.”
Which level of luck is acceptable for you in a game?
I like a good balance of strategy and luck. I do not enjoy games that rely entirely on luck, but try to build in ways to mitigate bad luck (or good luck by opponents) with clever play.
How many games do you work on at one time? Are you working on several designs simultaneously, or do you work solely on one project?
When it comes to game design, I think I have “Attention Deficit Disorder.” I have ideas all the time, scribble them down on odd scraps of paper wherever I am at the time, and later develop some of them. I have much less time these days, though, now that I am the father of twins. So I try to focus on less than half a dozen game prototypes which I bring to my playtesting group. And, of course, if a publisher is interested on a particular prototype, I focus most of my energy on developing that idea. This past year has been mostly focuses on the four games that were released in the past 6 months. Only now do I finally have time to work on some new projects again!
Can you tell me anything about the project you are currently working on? Can you tell me any details about the game itself?
I’m working on my “heaviest” game yet, about the history of the founding of Nieuw Amsterdam (which became New York) by the Dutch West India Company. At the same time, I’m also working on a much lighter 3-dimensional dexterity/dice game that includes more tactical elements than most dexterity games. My two-year-old sons enjoy playing with the pieces and are my only playtesters for that one to date. It’s nice to be working at two opposite ends of the spectrum. I like variety (or am just A.D.D.:-)
Your family and friends participate in your adventure to create a new game?
My wife is more of a social gamer, and contributes some good feedback that I do not receive from “hard-core” gamers. I have friends that test the games, and they are all at different levels, some more social gamers, and some are game designers themselves (such as Bernd, Peer Sylvester, Guenter Cornett, and Hartmut Kommerell). They all are part of making a game, so that it really is a “group project.”
The creation of a game, have several moments? Creation, editing, testing and publishing? Which is the most pleasant for you? Why?
I enjoy the first phases of game design the most, when the ideas and mechanics seem to pour out and I put all of them into my “first draft.” Refining and making a game ready for playtesting is also very rewarding. The fine-tuning at the end of the process is the most work, but I enjoy the personal contact with publishers.
How often do you play test a board game before publication?
It varies according to complexity. Let’s just say that I can’t look at the game for awhile afterwards because I’ve played it so much!
What game that you've designed took the longest and had the most changes?
The card game “Circus Maximus” was one of my first ideas, and I changed it many times over the years before ever playtesting it in my group. I also changed it from a board game to a pure card game, which helped me focus the design and streamline it.
Once you give a game to a publisher do they ever develop the game past your original design? Are you always happy with such development?
They bring fresh eyes and insight to the game, including a knowledge of how to produce it cost-effectively. I usually trust their judgement, since they are the ones investing their money in the game, but I am not afraid to share my opinion either. They are very easy and fun to work with, however, and I enjoy the process and am happy with the results.
How does the internet affect your designs? Do you read the feedback about your games online?
Yes, I like to get feedback from the people who play my games. I’m not sure it affects what I will design next, however, as I will always design what is fun for me to design and play.
What do you think about playing board games online?
I think it’s great, if you have the time. I don’t, so I’ve never been able to, and I prefer playing face-to-face with friends.
How often do you play your own games after they've been published?
Quite often, as everyone I know wants to learn “my game.”
Do you prefer playing your own games or the games of others?
I enjoy playing most games, but I do enjoy the design process, so playing prototypes (mine and other designers’) takes at least half of my game-playing time.
You play games time to time, or the games are part of your daily life?
I usually have the opportunity to play 1-2 times each week, sometimes more.
Can you tell me the game you enjoy playing the most? Why?
There are too many games that I enjoy, and I never have time to play them often enough! I like variety, though, so it is impossible to name a favorite game.
Do you think sales are a determining factor of whether a game is good or not?
Not necessarily. It can be an indicator, but what I consider a “good” game is not necessarily what is mass-marketed. My audience is more hobby gamers and families in the German game market, and what a German publisher considers successful sales is much different than a giant corporation like Hasbro.
When did you realize that create games were your dream?
Whenever I enjoy doing something, it does not take long before I want to create it myself. I have now read so many children’s books to my sons, for example, that I have my own ideas for children’s stories I want to publish! So after discovering German games, it did not take long for me to begin having my own ideas.
Do you have another job, or you are a full time game designer?
I am co-director of a Christian community center that provides programs for children, youth and families. I first worked as an architect for several years in Berlin and in the United States.
Do you normally follow any particular game designer with especial attention?
I enjoy seeing the “styles” of different designers, and am inspired by Alan Moon in particular, although he has not been as prolific since the Ticket to Ride success.
Do you think that board games can be use for an education purpose?
What you think about the economic crisis? It will affect the games sales?
It’s difficult to tell, but I enjoy game design regardless of how many games I sell.
What you know about Portugal? Have you ever visited Portugal? The “Age of Empires III” and “Goa” board games retract the glorious days of Portugal history. Do you think that Portugal history can be a theme for a game made be you?
I have never visited Portugal, although I would love to come sometime. The history is also fascinating to me, and I would love to design an original game inspired by it.
Thank very much for the interview.
Thanks for your interest in my games. I hope you enjoy playing them as much as I enjoy making them!
For more information on my games and the games of my designer’s group in Berlin, see my blog:Berlin Game Design
I also write a series of articles for Boardgamenews.com on my life as an American gamer in Berlin, called Postcards From Berlin.
|Alea Iacta Est||Berlin Game Design|
|BoardGameGeek||Postcards From Berlin|
|Eine Frage der Ähre|