A who’s who of board gaming: Two Brunos are better than one

I’ve covered several of my favorite designers in previous Who’s whos, but today I want to talk about one of my favorite designing duos. While the hobby is filled with prolific one man shows, some designers seem to prefer pairing up to create a board game. That’s not to say either of these designers is not capable of designing a game on their own, and in fact some of their most well-known games are solo designs. But something magical happens when they design together, a certain best of both worlds combination arises. The two designers I’d like to cover are the two Brunos of board gaming: Bruno Cathala and Bruno Faidutti.

Bruno Faidutti

Bruno Faidutti is most well known for his game Citadels, which was a revelation when it came out in 2000 and pioneered the role selection style game. Each round players choose from a selection of role cards that represent medieval trades such as Merchant, Thief, Assassin, Warlord, Wizard etc… These roles then interact with each other in fun and chaotic ways. The Assassin kills another character, the Thief steals all of another character’s money, and the Warlord destroys another player’s building. The result is a cacophony of

The 2016 edition of Citadels, a hobby game classic.

interacting effects that makes for a great time. It has a lot of the double guessing, and trying to outthink your opponents like a game of poker. A player who is ahead for example is very worried about getting killed by the Assassin or having all of his/her money taken away by the Thief, but since these actions are carried out upon another character, vs the player themselves it becomes critical to choose a character the other players would not expect. The doublethink then comes back around as the other players try to outguess each other’s outguessing  such that when the roles are finally revealed and executed in numerical order it can feel like a complex poker flop.

Bruno Cathala’s most recent solo hit is the wonderful Five Tribes. This game takes the classic

Bruno Cathala, modeling the cover of his game Abyss

mechanism from Mancala, picking up a group of objects and then distributing them out one at a time, and adds a whole other dimension of gameplay. Players pick up groups of different colored “meeples” (wooden people tokens) from a tile, and drop one off on each tile, with the caveat that the last meeple must match the color of a meeple at the destination tile. The color of this final pair then determines what action the player carries out, with one action assigned to each of the five meeple colors. Red meeples assassinate other meeples on the tile, white meeples help you buy special powered

Five Tribes’s mancala madness in play

Djinn cards, green meeples help you buy goods from the market etc… There’s something oddly compelling about that age old mancala gameplay, and when it’s combined with a more complex combination of rewards and actions for HOW you carry out the action, the result is fantastic.

So while each designer is successful when flying solo, when they come together it is like a peanut butter cup of board game design. Bruno Faidutti’s more chaotic fun combines with Bruno Cathala’s complex gameplay from simple systems. In a way they balance each other out to make a better whole. The best example of this is Mission Red Planet. This game combines the fun chaos of Citadels with the more balanced and clean approach of a game like Five Tribes. So both Brunos’ strong side comes through in the resulting design. In the game players are trying to colonize Mars and each turn they attempt to board one of several rocket ships headed to different locations on the planet. This is driven through a familiar mechanism from Citadels; role selection, except in this case each

A rocket head for mars in Mission Red Planet 2nd edition.

player has their own deck of the same 9 roles to choose from. Here the roles are not so medieval, but are fun things like the saboteur who jumps in a rocket AND blows up another one waiting to launch, or the femme fatale who converts a colonist planet side their player’s side. The separate decks solve one of my chief complaints about Citadels, which is that in that game you often spent a lot of time watching other players make their decision from the single deck of roles. It is never a good time to watch other players think, and this can slow down a game, or cause folks to lose interest, so the separate decks and simultaneous selection of Mission Red Planet is much improved. There’s also a lot more going on based on this role selection than there was in Citadels., with the points of the game coming down to an area majority contest on the different part of Mars. Players who have the most colonists in a given sector get the resource reward for that sector, but each sector gives one of three different resources worth one to three points respectively. Claiming a sector with the crappy ice resource that’s only worth one point is much less appealing than the holding on to a majority in a section that has resources that are worth three points each. And so naturally the areas that are more lucrative become a bit of a bloodbath as players vie to hold onto control. The game really is a blast, and is a stellar accomplishment made possible by two designing minds coming together.

In fact, both Brunos seem to prefer designing in pairs. When they are not designing together they are working with other fantastic designers. Bruno Faiduitti has designed the wonderful push your luck game Incan Gold with Ticket to Ride’s designer Alan Moon, among some other well known designs with Serge Leget. Bruno Cathala has also designed with Serge Leget including the well known Cooperative game with a possible traitor Shadows over Camelot. He most commonly designs with Ludovic Maublanc with the Greek myth inspired Cyclades and the poker and dice mash up Dice Town. Across the hobby it is not uncommon to see two names on the box of a designer board game, and many games are certainly better for it. What are some of your favorite designer duos?

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