10 Questions

Each month in the Inventor Newsletter I ask 10 Questions of an established inventor or game company. The results are posted below and will be updated monthly.

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Spartaco Albertarelli (May '09)
Q - # of years in the industry, # of years as a game inventor?
A: I began working in the games industry in 1984, translating and editing games like Dungeons & Dragons. I used to work with a friend who had an import company and after few years Editrice Giochi hired me. My very first game was published in 1988.

Q - About how many games have you had published? Which is/are your favorite(s)?
A: I've published around 120 games. I think it's almost impossible to choose which of your "children" is the best one. "Coyote" (now published by Ravensburger as "Pow Wow") is very likely one of my best "light" games and I really love the way I've designed it. "Magnifico-DaVinci's Art of War" (published last year in Italy and now by Asmodee in USA and France) is an idea I had in mind for years: try to imagine Europe at the beginning of 1500 but with all the incredible machines of Leonardo actually working. After many years of development I finally came up with a "risk-like" game, with a lot of plastic tanks, planes and castles "Leonardo's-style". "Kaleidos" is my game that went closer to the Spiel des Jahres (in 1995), and last year has been reprinted in France in a really gorgeous tin box. The new edition has been nominated for the As d'Or in France this year and this was a real a surprise, because it won the same award in 1995! All these are games which gave me good satisfaction on the market, but I've published games even more successful. The reason why I listed this 3 titles is because, as a game designer, my favorites are not necessarily the best sellers, but the ones that gave me most satisfaction during the design process.

Q - Favorite game that is not yours?
A: Too many to write a list! "Cluedo", because it's still modern after so many years. "Diplomacy", in my opinion one of the best game ideas ever. "Settlers of Catan", because it's a "German game" that anybody can enjoy playing. "Cosmic Encounter", because it's the game I have played the most times, although I haven't played it in years. "Pit" because it is very likely the best "starter" for a gaming evening. But besides my personal feeling, my most favorite game is the game that will make my guests happy. Trying to convince someone to love your favorite game is one of the greatest faults of "gamers". When you invite someone at home, the goal is to have fun with your guests, not to promote your passion.

Q - What did you do before this? And how did you make the transition?
A: I've started working in the board game industry so young that I really didn't do anything important before. My father was a journalist and I became a journalist as well, but it wasn't a full time job. When I found myself in front of the crossroads and I had the chance to choose between the easier journalist career and the more difficult and challenging board game market I simply followed my heart and not my brain. I have no regrets.

Q - In a typical year... how many game ideas do you prototype? how many presentations do you make? how many get licensed?
A: This is a difficult question to answer. As many game designers, I have an everyday job. I'm in charge as the main designer of the most important Italian board game publisher, so my everyday job is... designing board games. This is the reason why I've published so many titles, but the company I'm working for doesn't sell abroad, so I have a lot of opportunities to design for the international market, and this Is exactly what I do. Being a professional game designer means working on many projects every year, but most of them are by demand. As a "traditional" game designer I can prototype 5/6 games yearly, but I don't like to make too many presentation. Normally, when I design a game I have in mind a specific publisher, but this is because of my job. I know how a publisher thinks about his catalog, what he needs, what is looking for, what kind of game will fit his line of product. For this reason I have a very high percentage of prototypes that get licensed. If one doesn't get licensed, well I can wait until the next game exhibition to show it to someone else. I never show the same prototype to different publishers at the same time.

Q - What is your process for getting games seen?
A: I think I've already replied to this question with my previous answer. I focus on the publisher's needs and I try to present prototypes that are as close as possible to the final product. I take advantage to my everyday job: I know perfectly well how someone, who is in charge for choosing new product, reacts to a prototype or a game idea that needs a lot of work to be transformed into something "real". If a game is complex and needs a lot of gaming pieces (like Magnifico), I don't use too much time for the prototype. I simply show the basic idea, the background of the game and than I see if there is a real interest on it. This kind of game needs someone who can understand the potential at the very early stage of development.

Q - What is your favorite thing about the game/toy industry? Least favorite?
A: I really love working everyday on something different. It really doesn't matter if it's the "new great idea" I had while having a shave or a new board game on demand based on a TV show. The design process is always a challenge and despite your experience you always learn something. I'm designing board game since I was a kid and I'm still having a lot of fun. I think you know perfectly well what I mean. My least favorite thing about the game industry is watching many salesmen who sell games like selling a ham. They seem interested only on prices and discounts.

Q - Do you see any current trends in the industry?
A: Not really, but I see the people who are afraid about the economic crisis spending more time at home and this is a good opportunity for the game industry.

Q - What one thing that you know now, do you wish you had known when you were starting out?
A: The ability to evaluate how the play testers react. At the very beginning you think that your friends are the best play testers because they will be honest with you, but you soon realize that this is absolutely wrong. "They love you and everything you do, so why wouldn't they love your game?" Where did I read this? :-)

Q - If you were to give beginning inventors one bit of advice, what would it be?
A: To read "Paid to Play: The Business of Game Design". I'm serious, it's the perfect reading for a newbie in the game industry. Of course a European designer must think about the differences between Europe and America, but the basic concepts are good for anybody. When I read it the first time I thought I had written it.


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