Bruno Faidutti is a French historian and sociologist known for designing highly entertaining boardgames such as Knightmare Chess , Mystery of the Abbey and Citadels. His popular bilingual website features his ‘Ideal Games Library’, and his personal ‘Game of the Year’.
Faidutti often collaborates with other designers—for example with Serge Laget on Mystery of the Abbey and Ad Astra, or Bruno Cathala on Queen’s Necklace and Mission: Red Planet. A number of his games are simple to learn, but very fast and fun to play; games like Incan Gold and Letter of Marque.
Monsieur Faidutti very kindly agreed to be the first subject in this new series of Game Designer Interviews, when we’ll try to get an insight into the people and the processes behind the design of some of your favourite games. Over to you sir!
What excites you the most about boardgames?
As a designer, the most exciting part is when, after having had an idea for a few days or weeks and having thought about it, I start writing it down, drawing a board, cutting out cards, etc… It’s sometimes more exciting than actually playing the game for the first time, maybe because one time in two the game doesn’t work satisfactorily when I play it.
What interests you the least about boardgames?
The technical aspects of boardgame production, the graphic issues and all that stuff. I like when publishers ask for my opinion, and I usually give it, but I’m not very interested in discussing all the technical details of boardgame production. That’s probably why I didn’t end up working for a boardgame publisher.
What inspires you to start a new game design?
Usually playing another game, or reading its rules, or just a short description. I move from this and, step by step, often end up thinking of something completely different, with a different theme and different mechanisms.
What are some of the difficulties and challenges involved in designing boardgames?
I think the main challenge is coming up with something new, and something different from what other designers are working on at this time. With more and more games published, I more and more often find out that the game I was thinking about already exists, or that one of my friends is working on a very similar idea.
Are there any game mechanics you’ve created that you’re particularly proud of? Why?
I’d say the basic idea of Knightmare Chess—just add chaotic cards in the chess game. It’s a simple idea, but one simply had to have it. In more recent designs, I’m quite proud of the bidding system in Isla Dorada, with the different types of tracks working as different money which can be used in the same auction, but not to pay for the same stuff. Also the ‘programming line’ in Ad Astra, where actions are placed face down by the players in a common timeline, and then revealed in order—this makes for very interesting double guessing.
What is your favourite game of your own design? What makes it special?
It’s probably Isla Dorada. I like the fact that every game feels like unfolding a story, that there are lots of zany chaotic events, lots of ‘take that’ elements, and also lots of meaningful decisions and both tactical and strategic choices—though never too deep. It’s a game I always have fun playing, both with casual and hardcore gamers, and everyone around me enjoys it. I’m just surprised it doesn’t sell as well as other of my games that I don’t think are as good as this one !
What is your favourite game by another designer? What makes it special?
My two favorite games by other designers are Ave Caesar, because it’s a very simple and nasty race game. It was one of the first modern boardgame I played, and I still play it regularly.
My other favorite design is Cosmic Encounter, even whan I’ve not played it for quite a long time, because it’s so zany, chaotic, and exhuberant. It’s the game with everything in it, and lots of my game ideas in these twenty years came from one alien or moon effect in Cosmic Encounter.
Do you have an influence in the illustration and graphic design of your games?
Not much. I have a few artist friends—Pierô, Julien Delval, Gérard Mathieu—and always try to get a job for them when I can, but the final decision is always made by the publisher. Sometimes, I really regret the graphic decisions made by the publisher, but since I’m not the one to put money in publishing the game, it’s hard to insist.
A good example is the new upcoming edition of Dragon’s Gold. The new graphics are not bad at all, but I really think the old ones were better suited to the game. I tried to convince the publisher that it would be cheaper to reuse the old graphics and just order a few more illustrations for the new cards, but they wanted to make it all anew. I can understand their point—make the game look new—but I know I will regret losing the old graphics by Emmanuel Roudier.
What’s next on the drawing board?
Not much. I’ve not much inspiration these last months, and I’m spending more times reading than designing games. Anyway, I have one really interesting finalized prototype, a fun and nasty family race game, in the style of my old favorite Ave Caesar designed together with Brazilian designers André Zatz and Sergio Halaban, which is looking for a publisher. I also have two or three unfinalized prototypes, but I don’t know where they are going to.
Where would you like to see the boardgaming industry in ten years? What is still left to explore in boardgaming?
I’d like it to become more adult and cultured—especially in France. Boardgame designers have a hard time being recognized as real ‘authors’, and I think publishers are not always helping. Especially in France, game rules are often written in a very unelegant French, if not really faulty. I would like everybody in the game publishing business to show more respect for the gamers in taking some care with the rules’s literary style. As long as this is not the case, boardgames will continue to be considered childish or geeky activities.
What quality in yourself do you most admire?
I think I’m quite smart and have a good memory, or may be I have a good enough memory to pretend to be smart, but I’m not sure it’s something that can be admired.
What quality in yourself do you like the least?
Patience—I’m sometimes too patient.
What is your idea of happiness?
Being able to jump from a book to another—like in Jasper Fforde’s novels.
Many thanks indeed to Monsieur Faidutti for taking part in this interview! If you haven’t yet played the excellent games mentioned in this article, you’re missing out on some of the most enjoyable boardgames of modern times—they’re all highly recommended.
Keep an eye out for future interviews in the Game Designer Interview series.