During essen 2013, Ignacy trzewiczek told me that he was writing a book named « boardgames that tell stories ». A compilation of anecdotes about the game design process of his games. And he asked me if i would agree to write a chapter about one anecdote about my own games, specially for his book.
Ignacy is not only a clever game designer. He is a friendly and funny guy, and i accepted with pleasure.
You will find my text hereafter. I hope you’ll like it but you should really have a look at Ignacy’s book.
It’s a lot of fun… and really interesting for all people who like games.
Here is the link: Boardgames that tell stories
Now let’s go for my story.. First Time
We all know that, never mind the topic, « first time » remains always something special, something unforgettable. So, i’ve choosed to share with you some of my first times !
First modern game experience:
I discovered modern games quite late. I was 18 years old and i bought « Fief », just because it was recommended by a french paper specialized in games (Jeux & Strategie – It doesn’t exist anymore now). This game just had won an award : the « pion d’or » jeux & Strategie. (Designers had to propose their prototypes to a jury, and the winner was published).
My first contact with the game was to read the rules.. and this gave me immediatly a big smile. The turn sequence included something i was not experimented with : a secrete negociation phase. It seemed really exciting. And the most fun : it was clearly said that doing what you promised was not mandatory. WAOW !!! Definitively a game for me !!!
With my friends, we played Fief a lot. Each time, it was a lot of tension, including spectaculary treasons, and sometimes grudge bearing for weeks… Each time some friends promising they would never play again such a game.. and each time coming back around the table some times later.
This incredible gaming experience led me to two conclusions :
1- Yes, there was a life after monopoly !!
2- I had one day to create my own game
First game design experience :
After this first revelation, even if i kept in mind to create my own game one day, i did’nt worked on that way. For many reasons :
First, it’s impossible to create an interesting game if you have not feeded yourself by a ot of different gaming experiences. So for years, i’ve just been a player. Reading all what i could find concerning games (on papers or internet sources), playing a lot of different style of games.
Secondly, i had no time to really think about game creation : I was working in Research & Development on Tungsten Alloys (Don’t go away, it’s not contagious), i was involved deeply in my local rugby team, and if you add two small childrens, you will understand that 24 hours a day is still not enough !
And in 1999 things changed : i broke my knee, and had to stop rugby. I divorced. And one november week-end, for the first time for years, i was alone at home. No rugby, no wife, no chidrens, no friends. Strange feeling.It seemed i had to choose fast between suicide or doing something else more exciting. And i immediatly choosed the second solution !
So, direction town to buy a clipart library. After downloading it on my computer i began to think…
First, components… let’s go on a card game. It’s my first experience, cards are easy to create.
Then , the story.. well.. Let’s go on Western.
Farwest seemed perfect to me. It’s wild, cruel, with a lot of high-coloured characters. You don’t have to be realistic, you can include humour, and it remained me a lot of evenings with my dad watching classical westens on the TV.
At that point, i had no idea what concerning game mechanisms. So i began just to select pictures which could fit with my western idea.
Farwest means Ranch. Ranch means cows. So i need a cow pictures but… on my clipart linrary there was hundreds of cows… i selected 3 of them, thinking i would choose one of them later. Now i had to feed the cows : looking for western landscapes, same problem.. i selected 3 of them.. and now to survey cows, i needed cowboys.. and selected 3 of them…
Now, on my virtal sheet, i had 3 cows : a fat one, a normal one and a very slim one. I had 3 lanscapes : one with rich grass, one standard, and a desertic one. And i had 3 cowboys : an exerimented one, a standard one and a rookie.
What was not expected is that looking at this quite random choice, suddenly, all the mechanisms i needed came as an evidence :
Depending on the quality of the grass, a land could receive from 1 to 3 Cow cards.
Depending of the quality of cows, it would be able to sell the mat different prices
Depending on how long they could stay on fields, their quility could be improved.
And depending on the quality of cowboys, it would more or less eays not to waste cows !
I just needed to add some special cards to include interaction and fun..
This leaded me to create some cards like « indian raid », « railways station », « panic », « sheriff »,..
At the end of the week-end, the first prototype of « Sans Foi Ni Loi » (lawless) was finished.
110 cards, just printed and cutted, waiting for a first testing session !
3 days later, my friends came home and we played the first game. The very good surprise was that the game worked really well without any bug from the beginning to the end. Game length was ok, we had a lot of fun, and everybody wanted to play immediatly a second game, even if some cards were at this point not balanced enough…
First contact with a publisher:
After this first very positive test session, i spent december 1999 to improve my prototype. In early january 2000, this work seemed to be finished for me. I never thought i had design the best game of the world, but i was convicted that i could find some worst one in all gaming shops. So, it was time to contact publishers, just to know if my feeling was the good one or if i had to give up the idea to become game designer.
I’m living in french Alps, far from paris and all the french game companies. And at this time i had absolutly no contact in the gaming industry. I was thinking that the wellknown publishers were big companies, and if i wrote them, my mail would have a big chance not to reach the good guys. So, i decided to focus on smaller companies.
Some month eralier, i noticed the creation of a new game company, who published two games at the same time :
– A really nice Role Playing Game based on Jack Vance’s stories : Lyonesse
– A small card game, with nice and homoristic artwork : Dirty Christmas
It was clear that my game could fit the same line of this cardgame : same numer of cards (110), fast and fun to play, humour inside…
The name of the company was « Men in Cheese »… this name made me thinking that they should come from swizerland. On internet, i launched some researches and found a phone and an adress in Geneva…. 25 km far from home !
I took my phone and let’s try !
Me : Allo ! Men in cheese ?
Them : yes ?
Me : Happy to speak with you.. I’ve seen your two new games and just noticed that you were based very close to me. On my side, I’m game designer and i just would know if you are looking for new games in the future.
Them : yes for sure.. well.. what are you doing tomorrow evening ? If you have some prototypes we would be happy to test them !
Me : OK.. with pleasure ! See you tomorrow…
Incredible !! i got a meeting !!
The day after, i went to Geneva to meet them.
First surpise, at the adress, the name of the publisher, « Men in cheese » was just noticed on the mail. The adress was belonging to a advertising company.
They explained me that this adverstising company was their real job, and that game publishing was just their passion, and that they were working on games as a hobby.
Second suprise : the team was composed by.. 2 guys ! and nobody else…
The evening was very friendly. We played my game 3 times and all had great fun.
At the end, they let me alone 10 minutes to speak together, and the came back to me.
And gave their conclusion :
« We like your game a lot. And we have decided to publish it. The only thing is that to produce it, we need money. And now, we just have launched 2 games. So, we just need to wait some months, to get back money from the saled of these two games, and as soon as it is OK, we produce yours ! If you agree, during this waiting time, you could come with us on some Role Playing Games conventions. That way, you will demonstrate your prototype to create some buzz, improving the fine tuning. Is it ok for you ? »
For sure it was OK for me !! one month earlier i had never worked on game design, and now someone was offering me to publish my first game… This evening, caming back home, i was the king of the world.. and just wondering if i was not dreaming…
At this time begins the most frustrating thing for a game designer : waiting !!!!
During mor than one year, i just waited..
Well, to be honest, it was not only waiting : As they promised, i folloed them on 2 RPG conventions. An interesting experience, because on that kind of convention, people come for RPG, not for « boardgames » or « cardgames ». Each time, i had some difficulties to convict people to come and play the first game. But then, the great atmosphere created by the prototype was contagious enough and my table was never empty.
During all this time, i shared all my ideas with Men in cheese, and gave them all the up to date prototype files (definitive rules, all what is needed to print prototypes, and work with an illustrator). I stayed in contact by mail or phone more or less one time a week during all this long year.
And then suddenly, no more news : something really strange and disturbing happened . From the time, i had personnal and professional phone af the two guys. Same for mails. And the same day, trying to contact them, all these sources gave me the same answer : « this phone number (or mail adress) doesn’t exist anymore ».
I took my car and went in Geneva… the advertising company was… definitively closed !
I had no real contract for my game. And they had all my sources. And as far as it’s not possible to protect game ideas, i began to fear that they could produce my game under without me elsewhere.
My dream seemed to become a nightmare !!!
First contact with an experimented game designer:
You can imagine that this situation stressed me. No news… and this fear to be spoiled .. this leaded to an emergency feeling. I had nothing more to loose so, why not trying something « crazy » !!!
Like as explained at the beginning, before creating my own game, i tried to feed me about games with all what i could find on papers or internet sources. One of this sources was Bruno Faidutti’s website (and the famous ideal game library).
As gamer, i liked his game design (Knighmare chess, Citadels and Murder at the Abbey, mostly). And i also liked the way he was speking about games on his website.
On this website, there was this little sentence :
« from 10 years, i’ve been designing games, alone or in collaboration »
So.. why not trying to propose him a collaboration ??
I sent him a mail saying, explaining shortly (less than 10 lines) the story of my game.
And i proposed him to become co-designer of my game if he thinks he can find a publisher.
Frankly speaking, i thought that he would never answer to me.
Two hours later, i had a mail from him.
I will allways remember this very concise mail :
Send me your prototype :
I see 3 solutions :
– I don’t like it i’ll sen dit back to you
– I like it and i help you to finish it : if we find a publisher, we co-sign it
– I like it but there is really nothing to do : if i find a publisher for you, i just would like you to give me 10 amples of the game for the price table of my game event i organise each year. »
One more time it was quite hard to believe that someone i did’nt know personnaly could offer to help me this way…
So, i sent my prototype. And 2 weeks later received a new mail from bruno (the real one… in game industry, i’m just the other bruno ;-)) :
« we played your game and liked it a lot. There is nothing more to do. I will do my best to convict « JEUX DESCARTES » to publish it ».
And he did !!!
Bruno, one more time, you have to know that i will never forget the incredible chance you gave to me…
First real contract:
Some months later, as promised by bruno, Jeux Descartes contacted me for the contract. They invited me to join them in Lyon, in a game shop belonging to the company. They were orginizing a small meeting there, with local designers, to see if some prototypes could fit with their production line. They explained me that it would be a good opportunity to meet me « in real life » and sign definitively the contract.
So. I took my car. 2 hours of driving, direction Lyon.
You have to know that for me, being late to a rendez-vous is impossible. That means that i was there 15 mn before the good time.
The Publication director was still there. He wanted to play my « Sans Foi Ni Loi » with me. But as far as the game was not designed for 2 players, we had to wait for the other people.
And i asked him if he was interested to try an other prototype. A specific 2 player game.
(During the long year waiting for being published by Men in cheese, i spent some hours to design a small 2 player game. A pirate game called « No Mercy » at this time)
He answered that it would be nice, because he was looking to create a specific 2 players game line but had nothing interesting to begin this work…
So we played a first game of « No Mercy ». And i won. An overwhelming defeat for him…
He looked at me, smiling and said :
« well.. it’s not really intelligent from your side to humiliate someone who could publish you »
I answered :
« well, i think that a conscientious publiher, with this 1st experience, would understand that this small game is not connected with lick, but with strategy. And that he would like to test the lurning curve.
He said : « we play again immediatly »
Second game, same result. I won. His score was better but still far from mine.
And he said : we play an other one.
At this time, all the other people we were waiting for were there. Just being spectators to our amical confrontation.
And i won this third game. This time final score was closer.
He said nothing more, and the real meeting began.
All other designers showing ther prototypes. And we played my Sans Foi Ni loi.
At the end of afternoon, i stayed alon with him to sign the contract of Sans Foi Ni loi.
After that, before leaving, i said :
Me : « and my small two player game ? do you think you could be interested ? »
Him : « ys, for sure. It’s exactly what i’m looking for. But to launch a 2 player game line, i need at least 3 games. Here, i have only one. »
He smiled and add : « now, you know what you have to do ! »
Me : « are you serious ? if i come to you with 2 other 2 player games, you’ll publish all of them ???? »
Him : « as far as they have the same quality level as this one, yes !!! »
One more time, i had to face an incredible situation… proving that definitively i’m a lucky guy !
I went back home, wondering if i would be able to create these new games.
3 months later, i had them. And Jeux Descartes picked them.
And they finally decided to publish these 2 player games before Sans Foi Ni Loi.
And this is the reason why, coming from nowhere, my 3 first games where published at the same time on Essen’s fair in 2012 : these game were named
– Guerre & Bêêêh (Warsheep)
– Tony & Tino
– Drake and Drake
Sans Foi Ni Loi (Lawless) was released some months later in april 2013