Interview with Alf Seegert

em português

Alf Seegert

How did you come up with the idea to create “Bridge Troll”?
Several years ago I noticed a statue in downtown Salt Lake City that depicted a woman leading sheep across a bridge. I thought it might be funny if somebody put one of those crazy-haired naked “Troll Dolls” underneath the bridge, who would of course demand a toll be paid to cross over its bridge! I was just beginning to design games at that time, so I began to wonder what it might feel like to BE a troll and how living like a troll might be turned into a game. How does a bridge troll survive under such an uncomfortable bridge? How does it get travelers to cross its bridge? Who do you eat, and who do you extort? What do you use your money for? And before long I had the basics for the prototype version of the game.

Where do you get the ideas for your games? Do they start with the mechanics, or the themes?
I almost always start with themes. Or more accurately, themes start with me! Often strange ideas grab me by the collar and insist that games be made out of them! I try to pay attention to my everyday life, stories in books, etc., and try to imagine “what would it be like to make this into a game?” So games have come to me from studying literature, from working at the Hansen Planetarium, from following slickrock trails in Southern Utah, from playing with my friend’s dog Mia, and watching my fat cats waddle around the house.

What kind of mechanics do you prefer to focus on the development process of your games?
Whenever possible, I like mechanics to involve all the players at once instead of just one at a time. I want everyone to feel involved for as much of the game as possible. I like there to be hard decisions to make that force players to choose only one thing when they really want two things or more! I also like for mechanics and themes to be tightly integrated; in my own designs, I try as hard as I can to make the themes create the mechanics instead of the other way around.

Which level of luck is acceptable for you in a game?
It depends on the theme and the length of the game. For a relatively short, medium-light game like Bridge Troll, I think that some luck and chaos are OK. If this game were too “serious” I don’t think it would fit the troll theme very well! In Bridge Troll most of the results of one’s actions depend on what the other players do, so it keeps everybody involved most of the time. A lot of players have pointed out to me that the first time they play Bridge Troll, it feels fairly chaotic, but that on second and third plays it starts to became more strategic for them as they learn how the different cards and interactions all come into play. For sure, it’s good to treat the first game purely as a learning game!

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?
I sometimes wish I could work on only one game at a time, but I always seem to have several game ideas begging for attention all at once!

Can you tell me anything about the project you are currently working on? Can you tell me any details about the game itself?
Bridge Troll is my first published game, but I have had several titles under consideration by different publishers for some time now (most of these were finalists in the annual Hippodice design competition in Germany). Last week, one of my newer games was picked up for publication by FRED Distribution (home of Gryphon and Eagle Games-- ), which was good news for me! All I can say for now is that that game, like Bridge Troll, is a little bit “twisted” and I hope funny – and it is based on the medieval “Canterbury Tales” by Chaucer. I also have two other designs right now with publishers for which I am crossing my fingers in hopes of publication.

Your family and friends participate in your adventure to create a new game?
Oh, yes—whether they like it or not! :) My wife and I play boardgames all the time, and we have been gaming regularly with friends for ten years now. I am also part of the Board Game Designer’s Guild of Utah, which is a group of aspiring designers who meet twice a month in Salt Lake City, Utah to test each others’ designs. It is very helpful being part of this group! (See here for information about the group: )

The creation of a game, have several moments? Creation, editing, testing and publishing? Which is the most pleasant for you? Why?
Great question. Of these, I find creation and publication the most fun. As for the former, the endorphins kick in to make all new creative ideas pleasurable, and one can feel exhilarated by the feeling of new ideas becoming a new game. And with respect to the latter, actual publication is certainly a treat! But all the editing and testing in between? That is a bit of a different story. It is good work and can sometimes be fun, but it is definitely work!

How often do you play test a board game before publication?
As much as possible, both with friends, family, and whenever I can, with people who I do not personally know (they give the most honest feedback!). Also, the publishers usually hand off their games to playtesters to evaluate and polish prototypes before publication.

What game that you've designed took the longest and had the most changes?
Bridge Troll was first prototyped back in 2002, so it took seven years to finally get published! (We played it while waiting in line for The Two Towers!) It was a finalist at Hippodice in 2005, which gave me a strong vote of confidence in favor of its being publishable. Only the mechanics have changed since then, not the theme—and I can thank people like Dave Bailey and Mike Compton of the Board Game Designer’s Guild for suggestions on some of the biggest changes which have improved the game.

I also have a two-player game called Ziggurat that was also designed in 2002 and which is in my mind my most interesting and strategic design (it was also finalist at Hippodice in 2005). It will probably need some re-theming before it is published, but the mechanics are solid so I have high hopes that the publisher currently holding it will in fact decide to produce it. Two-player games have a narrower market than multiplayer games, and my game has many pieces and a board, so that makes marketability tricky. But with the arrival of such excellent and higher-end two player games on the scene like Mister Jack, I am hopeful.

One of my games dating from 2007, TEMBO, did very well at the Hippodice design competition last year (it came in 3rd place), but after coming very close to publication with a prominent game company, it was dropped. I think this might be because my theme was too similar to an upcoming title. TEMBO was about elephants carrying goods around a board—imagine my shock when I saw Bombay come out! This was, of course, just a coincidence. As far as I can tell, such coincidences happen a lot in the industry, but at the time it was difficult and somewhat frustrating. The goal now is to re-theme TEMBO and hope that the company presently considering it actually picks it up! My other game that was just picked up by FRED I designed in 2008, so that was much quicker!

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?
Some publishers want a game to be mostly finished and ready to publish as-is. Others are happy to develop or even re-theme a game that is good but which still needs work. I’ve worked with both kinds of publishers and each has its advantages: the former kind of publisher will give you a lot of freedom—but this also means that you must be accountable and do a lot of work yourself to further develop the game! The second kind of company, one that wants to help thoroughly develop a game, is very useful in sharing the work required to polish a prototype into a published title.

How does the internet affect your designs? Do you read the feedback about your games online?
Oh, yes—I check Boardgamegeek and other reviews regularly. What a wonderful website! It is helpful to read feedback, especially as a guide for putting together lists of rule clarifications, Frequently Asked Questions, etc. It also gives you a sense of whether or not people actually like your game!

What do you think about playing board games online?
I sometimes like playing certain games online and against the computer, but I have to admit that one of the biggest reasons I enjoy board games is playing with my friends face-to-face. If I play games on the computer, I honestly prefer just playing regular video games instead—and I do have my favorites!—though I have less time for that right now than I used to.

How often do you play your own games after they've been published? Do you prefer playing your own games or the games of others?
Like many of my designer friends, I get a little sick of my own designs after a while! By the time the game is released, we are already ready to move on to something else. But it is still fun to get to play one’s own game with publication-quality pieces and artwork!

You play games time to time, or the games are part of your daily life?
My wife and I started a game night about ten years ago with The Settlers of Catan, and have met roughly once a week ever since to play board games with friends. My wife and I also enjoy playing two-player games like Mister Jack, Caesar & Cleopatra, Mystery Rummy, Lost Cities, Odin’s Ravens, etc.

Can you tell me the game you enjoy playing the most? Why?
This is difficult to answer—there are so many games I enjoy. One of my favorites is still The Princes of Florence. I love the beauty and intricacy of placing buildings around my Palazzo, and the game is so well-designed that I can’t help but admire it. The Traders of Genoa is one of the finest trading games I’ve ever played, and Mystery of the Abbey is also one of the more enjoyable, funny, and clever games on my shelf. I also enjoy more recent designs like Stone Age and Mister Jack. Dominion is of course fun, too.

Can you tell me your favorite game? And your favorite type of game?
It is interesting that you distinguish this question of my *favorite* game from the games I *enjoy* most. I guess it is kind of like evaluating literature—that there are some authors whom one “admires” rather than enjoys? Everyone admires Henry James but I don’t know a lot of people who enjoy him. Likewise, I greatly admire many games out there like Agricola, but personally I find it too much trouble to set up and play with friends very often. The same goes even for Puerto Rico. War of the Ring is also a lot of work to set up, but what an amazing game!

Overall, I like games that create the agonizing feeling of hard decisions in the pit of one’s stomach! Taj Mahal is especially good for that. I also enjoy games that make everybody laugh a lot. So Adel Verpflichtet/Hoity Toity is one I still really like after many years, as well as party word-games like Balderdash.

Do you prefer play the games or create them?
I enjoy both. But the more I work on creating games the less time I have to play them, unfortunately! I wish sometimes I could turn my “designing brain” off and just enjoy playing games more often!

Do you think sales are a determining factor of whether a game is good or not?
No—many of the top selling games leave me cold.

When did you realize that create games were your dream?
“Dream” is right. Game designing makes it hard to sleep! I guess it was about eight years ago when it hit me that all these great new games I was playing were designed by real people like me. I had some ideas for games and decided to give it a shot to see if I had any abilities as a designer.

How do you define yourself as a game designer?
Now with the release of my first published game Bridge Troll, I am happy just to be able to define myself as a published game designer in the first place! People treat you *very* differently when they see a shrink-wrapped, purchasable item on the shelf at a game store. They no longer dismiss you as a “dreamer.” You have magically become a “game designer!” As far as what *kind* of designer I am—well, we will have to see because I only have one game published so far. So far, most of my prototypes are a little quirky and strange, so I would not be surprised to see myself defined that way.

Do you have another job, or you are a full time game designer?
(*Smiles*) If only! As you know, very few designers make enough money to make game designing into a full-time paying job! I am a PhD student in English (British and American Literature) at the University of Utah. I enjoy teaching, so ideally I will be able to both design games and to teach courses in the future, as well as write.

Do you normally follow any particular game designer with especial attention?
I like Bruno Faidutti a lot, and follow Wolfgang Kramer and Rudiger Dorn a bit. Knizia puts so many games out that it is hard to keep track of him, but he does make many excellent games. I try to pay attention to strong new designers like Matt Leacock, whose games impress me with their clever interfaces and mechanics. And I do of course follow the progress of my fellow designers in the Board Game Designer’s Guild of Utah! My fellow member Mike Compton will have his game “The Heavens of Olympus” published later this year by Rio Grande Games (see prototype images here: ). Sean MacDonald will have his game about painting masterpieces published by FRED Distribution in 2010. And other Guild members will have publications out soon also, including Scott Nelson's Diver Down and Mike Drysdale's Hagoth: Builder of Ships. Guild member Ryan Laukat has done artwork not just for Bridge Troll, but also for Reiner Knizia's Strozzi and for Dominion and its expansions."

Do you think that board games can be use for an education purpose?
Absolutely. Giles Pritchard has a whole website dedicated to the use of games in education here ( My fellow Guild member Steve Poelzing also runs a company called Games for the Mind that caters to education-oriented gamers:

But I think that just *playing* board games is more important than playing specifically *educational* board games. I myself rarely enjoy games that are actually labeled “educational.” But just by playing games, reading rules, and interacting with others I think a lot of “education” happens, no matter what game is played. Studies show that playing games activates the brain and stimulates the building of new connections—and of course they build relationships and help ritualize conflict and thereby reduce tensions.

What you think about the economic crisis? It will affect the games sales?
I am hoping that with more “staycations” and the increased expense of traveling, etc., board games will be played more often by friends and families together. A fifty-dollar game might seem expensive at the time, but if you calculate how many hours can be spent in that game-world together, it is a bargain!

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?
Years ago I designed a game based on the Spice Trade, which involved Portugal as one of the major powers out to trade with and colonize the East. Unfortunately, that game never quite “worked.” I also devised a Buccaneer/pirate game that involved several major maritime powers and Portugal was one of these. Portugal has a fascinating history and would seem a great inspiration for games. Do you have some suggestions for what you would like to see in a future game design about Portugal? I am all ears!

What you know about Portugal? Have you ever visited Portugal?
The closest I have been to Portugal is the edge of the game board of El Grande, which is set in Spain! So I have not visited, but I am curious to learn more about it. As embarrassing as this might be to say, my main exposure to the Portuguese has come from reading Orson Scott Card’s science fiction novel Speaker for the Dead, which is set on a Portuguese space colony! My wife spent part of college in Spain, but that is as close as we have come.

Thank very much for the interview.
Thank you, Paulo. It has been a pleasure!

Bridge Troll Game Rules
Alf Seegert Site
Alf Seegert BGG

1 comentário:

Anónimo disse...

Thanks again--your gaming blog is very nice!