The board game hobby is full of eclectic designers, each with their own style of design, and preference for different themes. While I couldn’t possibly cover them all, I thought it might be fun to cover a few at a time and delve into what makes each one tick based on their previous designs.
Friedeman Friese is certainly the easiest one to pick out of a crowd. In fact, when I visited Essen I saw him and his green hair bobbing through the crowds. His company is called 2F Spiele, inspired by his name, and most of his designs have two F’s in the game name, and the signature green feature prominently. Some of these F F games include:
504 (that one is a bit hidden)
Fabled Fruit is coming this fall.
However, his most famous game at all, Power Grid, seems to be missing the F’s… Until you realize it’s original German name Funkenshlag.
Friedemann also borrowed Obama’s Hope style poster look for his game Copycat featuring his own mug on the cover, and also borrowed all of the elements of the game design. It was a grand experiment in putting elements from other games he loved in a blender and seeing what board game smoothie came out on the other side.
If nothing else, he is an eclectic designer who is not afraid of crazy ideas. His most recent experiment was sending out a game anonymously to various other designers and publishers and surreptitiously tracking their views on it given that it was not tied to him in any way. The result? People pay a lot more attention to your game when you are a known designer.
Another legendary name in board games is Dr. Reiner Knizia. This designer has a doctorate in math, and it shows in the scoring systems for his games, which are always very playful with how you count. In one of his more famous designs Tigris and Euphrates, your lowest score in any of the three categories is the only one that counts. In one of his many famous auction games, High Society, the highest score wins, but whoever has the least money is immediately eliminated.
Dr. Knizia has designed over 600 games and they are well known for being very abstract and a bit mathy. He is a prolific designer of auction games, and has found more ways to add a twist to the auction format than any other designer I know. However, because of the number based deterministic nature of his games, the theme often feels secondary at best, and while people will discuss strategy and how a game played out after the fact, there aren’t really narrative stories that emerge from many of his designs. One of his recent designers re implemented an older game of his to be about a revolution… between Ducks and Robots. Finally answering the age old question we have all been asking!
Antoine Bauza’s most famous design is the civilization themed 7 Wonders, however thematically his true passion seems to be Japan. From the very simple firework themed Hanabi, to the challenging co-ops Ghost Stories and Samurai Spirit, Japanese art and history ooze from his designs. Tokaido is an artistic love letter to travel in ancient Japan along the famous road between Kyoto and Edo, Takenoko take a more anime approach with farmers and a meddlesome panda, and even Terror in Meeple City (formerly Rampage) has Japan’s Kaiju influences.
Martin Wallace made a name for himself with deep economic games that capture the spirit of industrialism. Brass tracks the growth of industry and transportation in Great Britain from the canal era through to railways. Age of Steam has players playing rail barons trying to build rail networks without losing a fortune in debt. He has a whole transportation trilogy Automobile, Aeroplanes: Aviation Ascendant, and Ships that all deal with the growth and development of each form of transportation throughout the different eras. That is not to say he is a one note designer, as he does have other less serious games like Moongha Invaders: Mad Scientists and Atomic Monsters Invade the Earth, and the Cthulhu themed A Study in Emerald. But even in these different themes, you can sense many of the same design sensibilities.
Just like your favorite author, board game designers really put their mark on the games that they design. And it’s no wonder. While the production, playtesting and publication of a game takes a team of very talented people, the core design is the blood sweat and tears of one person. To spend so much time with a game, it inevitably becomes an extension of your passions and sensibilities as a designer. When players connect with a designer they will often give another game by that designer a second look. They may not all be surefire hits if you’ve liked a previous design, but chances are good that some of the same elements might be found in their next design.