Interview with Maciej Sabat and Michal Stachyra

Maciej Sabat
Michal Stachyra

How did you come up with the idea to create “Wolsung”?
Maciej: the original idea is like 10 years old, and was born as Role Playing Game (tabletop) conception. We have been developing the game and someone came up with an side-project idea – which is Wolsung: the Boardgame.

Where do you get the ideas for your games? Do they start with the mechanics, or the themes?
Michal: I try to focus on making a good game, I can't just say we start with mechanics, subject or a theme. As a co-owner of the publishing company our priority is selling the games, hence this hollistic approach. Game design is a process, a part of which is inventing the game.

Maciej: for me it's a bit different – I start with a mechanical widget, a gizmo which would be nice to use in game mechanics – and in most cases it's connected with the theme. Than the developement phase, which I find boring – all those numbers, writing mathematical models to find out if it would work, really tiring work.

What kind of mechanics do you prefer to focus on the development process of your games?
Maciej: I really like Reiner Knizia for his attitude and approach to board games – probably as much, as I dislike so called "Euro Games" or "German-Style". Personally, I prefer family-level games, not to complex, easy to introduce to beginners – I have eight year old niece and playing GoT with her would be like conquering Himalayas. The other thing are cards – I do like cards in boardgames.

Michal: Kuznia tries to invent games with different mechanic solutions, it's hard not to be repetitive. We seek new ideas, new intriguing solutions. Our goal is to have a portfolio of very different games for different players.

When did you realize that create games were your dream?
Maciej: in first grade! My teacher asked us to do a quiz-game, I've spent like three whole days drawing complex mazes, writing questions on cards and so on.. It was before the Berlin Wall fell down, back in 1987 – and I had a real problem with getting five six-sided dice, which my 'game mechanics' used.

Michal: as every single fan of literature dreams about writing own stories, every single gamer wants to create games. We started to make our own designs ten, maybe fifteen years ago, than we sold some ideas to the other people and finally we started our own company.

Which level of luck is acceptable for you in a game?
Maciej: not to much, thinking and some knack is essential. However, some god's favors are always needed to win ;-)

Michal: I don't like randomness either, but sometimes I consider it helpfull to enrich the gameplay.

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?
Maciej: as for now, I am working on the Wolsung: Role Playing Game which is my main assignment, also there is one game in pre-print phase (funny: a port from browser based MMO), one in 'playable prototype' phase. The last one is in 'I think I got a good idea, yes I thought it over five times and it still seems to be a good idea' phase.

Michal: my job as a publisher requires me to work on several projects at once. I'm the executive producer of the Wolsung Project, recently we've bought the biggest CCG in Poland called Veto! (it's a fast paced collectible card game set in seventeenth century, full of action, fencing duels, black magick and backstabbing).

Can you tell us anything about the project you are currently working on?
Maciej: the themes or the mechanics? One game is about Dragons, the other would be resource management card-slash-board game loosely based on Dilbert crossed over with Jungle Speed.

Michal: In the couple of days we will publish the Kung-Fu – real-time card game, and – Kingpin, very challenging mafia themed game in a neo-noir theme with brilliant ilustrations by Robert Adler. And we have several prototypes in developement stage.

Can you tell us any details about the game itself?
Maciej: nay! I hate talking about my projects before playable prototype stage! Michal and Maciek often mocked me for this, but I'll prevail!

Michal: check out our website: – you'll find every piece of info you need.

How often do you play test a board game before publication?
Michal: we try to test our games as much, as possible. Than we put it aside, do other stuff and test it again. Also, every game is being tested by a selected group of gamers – including both geeks and casual gamers like Maciej's parents :-)

Maciej: I remember couple of nigthmareous sixteen-hour long sessions of testing various rules. But not with my old folks, I wouldn't bear it...

What game that you've designed took the longest and had the most changes?
Michal: Rice Wars – the very first game we invented, published like after ten years. Not much left from the original design but concept and title.

Maciej: it always depends on who ordered the game – if we are prepairing it as our own project – we try to make it the best possible. Other thing is working for an external customer – like media company, toy producer and so on – they often force changes in good and working projects – and introducing it could mean complete re-thinking of the game mechanics.

How do you define yourself as a game designer?
Michal: the guy with the whip, beating up others and shouting on them! And sometimes I fed them with stale bread and spoiled water. You can call me the Boss.

Maciej: I'm definitely the one saying stuff like "maybe we should introduce Ninjas and Pirates in this game?!". In other words – the Clown ;-)

Your family and friends participate in your adventure to create a new game?
Maciej: My parents were forced to play every single game I brought them, now they consider it to be fun. And for the friends – most of the close ones are from the gaming society. I'm not a zealot type, trying to convert everyone to one and only religion – board games.

Michal: most of my friends is in the market somehow – as publishers, journalists, event organisers or gamers. My fiancee, Ewa, became a board game geek under my influence. She combines the fresh look of a newbie with some deep insight of person who played a lot of different games.

The creation of a game, have several moments? Creation, editing, testing and publishing? Which is the most pleasant for you? Why?
Maciej: Definitely lying in the bathtube, thinking about the concept. Warm water, good tea, a comic or good book and game idea somewhere at the back of the head. Also packing brand new components into packages, fun with thermoshrinking foil (evil grin).

Michal: for me it's the moment when on a gaming event, convention or something like that I see people playing my games, having good fun. And one more thing – first sessions with a fresh prototype.

You play games time to time, or the games are part of your daily life?
Maciej: I don't have that much time for playing games I would like to, but I manage to get a gaming session once in while. Life is challenging, all this adult things you have to do ;-)

Michal: I run the company, so it's my job to play as often, as possible. Still, it's not that often as I would wish to.

How often do you play your own games after they've been published?
Maciej: mostly on conventions, shows and game fairs – but it happened couple of times I played Wolsung with friends, just for fun. You should understand it – in the process of game designing and developing you have to play it on and on – twenty, fifty, maybe hundred gaming sessions. And eventually you will have too much.

Michal: I fully agree with Maciej. As with the couple of first titles we had the will to sit down and play now it's completely gone. Our final prototypes are almost that nice and colorfull as the final product, they not differ much from the shelf version.

Do you prefer playing your own games or the games of others?
Michal: Others. No chance I play my own game with my free will.

Maciej: Others! Self-made games are like grown-up kids – you are proud, you love them and you will do simply anything to kick them out of your house (or warehouse). And maybe read good thigns about them in newspapers or teh Internets.

Can you tell me the game you enjoy playing the most? Why?
Michal: Carcassone! So much fun, simple rules, easy to introduce to non-gamers. Good design, very nice relation price-quality. This game has no disadvantages.

Maciej: Currently – Antoine Bauza's "Ghost Stories" by Repos Production. It's fun, it's Kung-Fu, it's a co-op! This game has everything I need – great theme, nice art, good figures, decent mechanics. It's a 10 out of 10 for me.

Can you tell me your favourite game?
Maciej: All time favourites are "Arkham Horror" and "Carcassone". First one for it's connection to Cthulhu Mythos, Role Playing Games and simply awesome scenario. And the latter – because it's pure fun, great for beginners, balances skill and luck in a very competitive game.

Michal: Game of Thrones, which unfortunatelly I haven't got a chance to play in couple of months. I must say, one time I've got a record – 31 consecutive wins with a variety of players. Besides GoT it's quite rare for me to come back to the game after some time.

And your favourite type of game?
Maciej: Good family games or co-operatives. I also fancy a Trivial Pursuit once in a year (there is a special occasion I have to prove who's da boss). And vintage CCG like Shadowrun or Kult.

Michal: I play to win, so I really dislike co-op. Party games are my kind of genre, but the best games are strategic ones (without hexes) – waging wars, managing resources, diplomacy and backstabbing is great.

Do you prefer play the games or create them?
Michal: Both have their advantages – playing is fun and relaxing, creating lets you vent out imaginative element. And you can also make the ideal game – the one you always wanted to play.

Maciej: it's like asking which of your parents you like better. I refuse to categorize myself on such an essential issue! ;-)

Do you think sales are a determining factor of whether a game is good or not?
Maciej: Not necessarily determinig, but definitely important. There's almost no place for artistic values in board game (I mean artistic like the Art, not nice picture on the cards or the box), so making work-of-art games, that noone buys and plays is a miss-fire. We create entertainment, this factor is most important. If the game is fun to play – it's good. And will sell out, eventually.

Michal: there's a lot of great games, that got crapy sales figures, because they're niche. And, on the other side, there are games sold by the title (Harry Potter) or a theme (Harry Potter), or a fact it's a computer game adaptation (Harry Potter in the World of Warcraft).

Do you normally follow any particular game designer with especial attention?
Maciej: Look carefuly to the course of majors, but don't follow the exact footsteps. I think Kuznia has it's own way, me freelancing for them – my own path. We've gathered some knowledge about the game design, shared some joys and falls – but we did it our style – and I think it's best way.

Michal: I try to keep the track of the branch aces, but as Maciej said, we are looking for our own paths – for example we are the only publishing company running a series of games commenting our political and social situation. Inwigilacja (Invigillation) is a game about politicians throwing dirt on themselves, Wiochman Rejser (Villageman Racer) is a homage to moonshine-consuming peasantry culture and Na Sygnale (Emergency) focuses on a Polish bizzare healthcare system.

Do you think that board games can be use for an education purpose?
Maciej: Oh my, of course! Starting with some basic life-emulating games for kids, through economic games teaching how to govern money and how does local/global economy works, ending with such titles as Pandemic or Mare Nostrum – good for hauling passive pupils into some interesting subjects. And there's always the benefit from learning foreing languages, comunicating with other people, cooperating and competing with them. It's far far more than mindless fun.

Do you have another job, or you are a full time game designer?
Michal: I run games publishing company, it's a full time position and my bread and butter.

Maciej: I am a freelance, I do some musical journalism, used to be a hostel manager, bartender, database analyst. Game design is a romance, I do it for fun and pleasure.

What you think about the economic crisis? It will affect the games sales?
Michal: I'm aware of the crysis but I hope we can keep the current rate of growth. Yes, selling games is harder in recent days, but we have only the best games :-)

Maciej: I don't believe in Crysis, Counter Strike is better ;-)

What you know about Portugal?
Maciej: Fernando Ribeiro and his band – Moonspell are from Portugal. Also Blasphemer from Mayhem moved to Almada and started new project – gothic band Ava Inferi. Fun fact – Poland and Portugal are almost always next to each other in any language. You almost won the 2004 Euro Cup and in St. John Order Portugal was in Langue Castile.

Michal: you have good wine, great football players and beautiful women. In 80's Portugalian club FC Porto was triumphying with the help of a Polish goalkeeper – Jozef Mlynarczyk.

Have you ever visited Portugal?
Maciej: Unfortunatelly not, but moving to Madeira is one of my dreams.

Michal: The furthest I've been is Katalonia, maybe some day I can get to Portugal!

Kuznia GierWolsung

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