Monday, June 13, 2011

10+4 BG Questions with Antoine Bauza about '7 Wonders'

This is only my second 10+4 interview with a game designer about a specific game they have designed - I've been hoping to do more but haven't been on the ball about pursuing more. My first one was with Sean Ross about his game 'Haggis' and I got some really great responses from him

The concept of the 10+4 interview is to ask 10 questions, then after receiving the responses, ask 4 follow-up questions.

For this 'interview' I asked Antoine Bauza if he would answer some questions about his game '7 Wonders' and he graciously agreed to do it - well, he said he'd try to when he had a bit of time. My initial timing of asking him was just a couple of days before the Spiel de Jahres announcements. And, once I saw that 7 Wonders had been nominated I knew the chances were low that he would have the time to get back to me - surely he would be swamped with more important inquiries.

Much to my surprise I got responses back - first asking me to send my questions to his email address (rather than via BGG) then he let me know what timeframe he would respond in.

Now, my 'method' for the 10+4 interview is to send 10 questions then 4 follow-up questions after receiving the responses. However, it seemed to me that based on his schedule, getting a response for the 4 follow-up questions might be inconvenient to expect those back anytime in the near future - completely understandable considering the circumstances. So, a week after I sent the 10 questions I sent the +4 in hopes he might be able to respond to them all at once.

And, yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised to get his response! With all 10+4 questions answered! Well, I didn't get DIRECT answers on the first 4 questions (see below for details) but I was still very happy to have gotten his response at all. I was truly impressed that he made the effort for little ol' me and my blog.

Anyhow, here's are the questions and answers with some of my commentary interjected for explanation and more detail.

1. What was your initial inspiration for 7 Wonders? Was it the specific idea of the 7 Wonders themselves or was it more the mechanics, with the theme growing from that?
2. Can you describe what your initial game design/prototype was like compared to what the final game is like now? In other words, how much evolution occurred from beginning to published version?
3. In the development and testing of 7 Wonders, what would say was the most significant change/idea that really made the game come together?
4. Was there anything specific in the game development that you had to change or remove that you regret having to do? Or, is there something you wish you could change or make different in the version that has been published?
For detailed answers to those questions, you can read the making-of I wrote at the end of the development on 7 wonders : it's a seven parts (of course !) article you can find on my website (http://www.antoinebauza.frIt's written in French but the first parts were translated by Eric Martin from Boardgame News and can be found on the web…Everything you wanna know about the game without asking it!

[ Note that I looked around his website and found installments 4-7 but couldn't find installments 1-3 anywhere. And, not being able to read French didn't make it any easier. Yes, I was using Google translate to convert the pages on-the-fly, but it didn't always translate automatically and I just couldn't find those first 3 installments. Also, Boardgame News has moved to being a blog on BGG and the first 3 installments hadn't been transferred over. 

However, I did manage to find them on the Asmodee website. My plan was to read through and provide a summary here, but I found I don't have the time to parse it out completely due to a very busy week for me personally, so I have published the links here for your perusal. Note that Part IV is listed twice - the first is in English and the 2nd is in French on Antoine's personal site - it is essentially the same article.

To read the French versions, if you use Google Chrome you can translate it automatically in-line using the toolbar that comes up. Otherwise, try using babelfish.

Part I:
Part II:
Part III:
Part IV:

Part IV:
Part V:
Part VI:
Part VI:


5. What is your favorite aspect of 7 Wonders?
Hum, many aspects : easy learning, replayability, fun, number of players, duration =)  All those aspects built the success of the game, I think…

[Drat, I need to consider the wording of my questions a bit more carefully...I should have perhaps used the word 'feature' instead of 'aspect' here perhaps. Although, maybe I still would have gotten the same answer. However, one cannot argue with his answer - that is certainly all true and definitely contributed to it's success - it's an ideal game in those ways, plus it looks terrific and has a great theme to boot.]

6. When developing a game, what methods do you use to evaluate the game and how do you track any changes that you make?

I keep notes of all the games I play (and watch) in a file (which I call "Roadmap") : version, date, number of players, scores, remarks, etc. I used to keep all the old versions of my prototypes but it took a lot of space, so now I make pictures and trash them…

Besides those formal tools, game design is much about feeling the playing experience. I watch and listen carefully the players : what they said, where they look (the cards, the others players, a board, elsewhere), what they feel at the end of a game. Do they want to replay it ? Right Now ?

[ Antoine - maybe you should auction off your prototypes for charity/raising money instead of DESTROYING THEM ! Just kidding, I'm sure a lot of prototypes get destroyed - taking pics is a great way to document things. ]

7. You discuss the need for play testers quite a bit in regards to game design. I have observed that Phil Ecklund makes extensive use of an email group and sends prototypes/provides files to testers. Do you always playtest face-to-face and get immediate reactions, do you send prototypes to specific people/groups for testing, or do you use some other method?
Well, It depends how the development is advanced. In the early stages, I play all the playtest games. Later, I stop playing and watch the players handle the game : what rules do they make me explain twice, how they handle the components, how they interpret the iconography. At the very end, I send a prototype to a few trusty friends to have an indirect feedback. I rarely ask groups to make their own prototypes : print, cut and paste is the boring part :)

8. Do you ever get tired of playing your own game during development? How do you keep from losing interest in the game during the development process?
Almost everytime, yes. The last steps of the development, when it's all about tuning, it's not the part I prefer for sure ! When it's not about creativity but about mathematics, it can become boring :p

It's part of the job, though, so I try to give all the time it deserved. To prevent that, I work on several projects at the same time, so I do not have to play the same game over and over.

Once the game is published, I rarely play it again though (unless I have to work on a expansion).

[ I've thought about developing my own game design - and actually started on it - but one of the things I've always been 'afraid' of was spending ALL my time on a particular game design, playing it over and over again and doing nothing else. This confirms my fear to some extent, but I suspect the experience is different for every game designer and also depends on the game itself. The idea of working on multiple things at the same time seems like the best route and makes me think if I want to keep working on my game that maybe I should expand to getting more going. ]

9. You have mentioned several times elsewhere that you are a teacher. What grade level do you teach and do you incorporate games in your classroom? If so, what games and why?
I used to be a school teacher. I keep one hour/week to help kids discover boardgames and play several games. There is so much to learn...Once, I made my 5 and 6 years old children design a game (Croque-mouton) in a class project. It was a really nice experiment.

I am not teaching in elementary school anymore but in video-game school, about game design. We talk about boardgames and how they can be helpful in the videogame industry.

[Ok, I'm intrigued now - I want to know more about Croque-mouton! And, does that translate to Crunchy Sheep? Really? See, this is why I want my +4 questions - there's always something more interesting you have to ask about! But I hate to bug Monsieur Bauza again...

I think it's great Antoine ensures he spends time working with kids. I think this also reflects his ability to stay in touch with all levels of gamers and make sure his designs remain accessible to as many levels of players as possible. 

This shows in some of his game designs which are geared towards kids such as Bakong (looking for jewels in the Cambodian forest), Chabyrinthe (moving cats around a maze), Hurry'Cup (a reflex/dexterity racing game), and Witty Pong (newly released for 2011 in collaboration with Bruno Cathala - encapsulates the essence of playing ping-pong by using cards, board game elements and timing)]

10. For all those budding game designers out there, what is the best advice can you give to help them be successful? What are the top 3 books/references that you would recommended and why do you recommend them?

  • Like other creative activities, you have to open your mind to the world around you. Be curious : travel, read, watch, listen, play.
  • Don't spend ten years to one single prototype, make gameS, with a big "S"
  • Read all the books available about game design : there are just a few. They will not make the game for you but they definitively help to be a better game designer...

My favorites are :

+1. Do you get to play games very much other than ones you are working on? If so, what games are some of your favorites and how often do you get to play them?
I try to play as many games I can, yes. It's not so easy because there is too many released last years and most of my time is dedicated to prototypes. Usually I play a game only one time, even if I like it (sad, isn't it ?) 

My personal collection is only 80 games and only a bunch are regularly played. I just played my first game of Olympos (Ystari Games) and I liked it very much :) 

[ Olympos was designed by Philippe Keyaerts, designer of Evo, Small World, and Vinci. Also, Olympos is not to be confused with Olympus which is another great game but by a different designer and publisher. ]

+2. I love the art for 7 Wonders and it seems to be well received in that regard alone. For the artwork, did you have much say in it? Were there any specific issues with the artwork that had to be overcome? Was there anything in particular that you really wanted to ensure was included in the art?
I spotted the work of Miguel Coimbra on his previous work (Giants, Smallworld). When Repos Production came to me with a contract offer for 7W, I tell them "It's OK for me if it's OK with Miguel !"  It may seem a bold move but Repos guys and I know each other very well...

Miguel did a fantastic work on the game, I didn't have to tell him anything. He's so talented !

[Wow, that's a great way to get the artist you want! ]

+3. It must have been very exciting for you to find out you were nominated for the Kennerspiel de Jahres! Congrats! So, how did you find out and what kind of reception have you been getting since then? What do your students think?
Thanks ! Frankly it has not be so exciting for me, because my mind it's trapped in my new projects. 7 Wonders is certainly my best success but it's behind me, now, and my eyes are alway turned in the future. A SdJ nomination is still a great achievement for a game designer and I glad for my publisher which was one of the first to trust and publish me.

[ Hmmm, I suspect it was exciting just the same....even if Antoine stopped working on the game so long ago ;) ]

+4. Is there anything about the background of 7 Wonders that people might find of particular interest that they might not know about otherwise?
Well, in the rulebook, I didn't write any history about the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. But in the expansion, there is some information about the Leaders. 2 historians help me, so be sure to read this, you may learn something while playing !

[ Looks like I'll have to get the 7 Wonders: Leaders expansion soon! ]

Well, as you can imagine it was fun and exciting to get my questions answered by Antoine. I have been enjoying this game quite a bit and look forward to introducing it more to family and friends. It's great to have a game like this that scales so well with a wide range of players. I have yet to play it 2-player but anticipate even that will work terrific.

Thanks to Antoine for humoring in my request for this interview! I love getting more background on games and it helps me to appreciate it that much more when I play!

Now, go give 7 Wonders a go! BTW, here's a link to my review if you're interested.

Or, try out some of his other popular and less popular games such as those mentioned previously (many of which I need to try myself), Ghost Stories (co-op ghost fighting game), Hanabi & Ikebana (co-op fireworks making game), Mystery Express (deduction/mystery game), or even Takenoko (worker placement game where you grow bamboo for pandas) which is soon to be released...

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