Spotlight on Games > Interviews
Günter Cornett Creates and Plays Board Games in Berlin, Germany
In part 2 of our talk with game inventor and publisher Günter Cornett we learn more about some of his most inspired designs as well as his thoughts on controversial themes and what he does when he's not thinking about games.
August 28, 2004

Note: all links cited are repeated at the end of the interview for handy reference.

13. Probably your biggest seller to date started life as your self-published Arabana-Ikibiti, was first licensed by Funagain, then by Kosmos (as Kahuna) and must have sold tens of thousands of copies. This game, and several of them since then, are generally in the mathematical field called "graph theory". Is there any particular reason for that? Maybe you played with a model train set as a child? :)

Guenter Cornett head shot
Günter Cornett
Interesting question. No, I never had a train. But I often thought about the black and white square tiles on our bathroom floor. In school I liked set theory (Mengenlehre) and algebra. And it was a repetitive joke for my friend and me to blame our lazy mathematics teacher when we're 10-12 years old. This was a big opportunity for creative thinking, a big encouragement for learning mathematics by ourselves, hehe.

I always like(d) mathematics if not abstract. So I avoid abstract scoring systems, especially majorities here, majorities there. In Kahuna you can see the effect of a majority directly on the board. And I like assymetric boards (Capt'n W. Kidd), because they're alive.

 

14. You tell a marvelous joke on yourself that with Kahuna you had a co-designer with the initials T.E., i.e. Translation Error. I'm reminded of the Italian adage "Traduttore, traditore" – translator, traitor. :) Do you care to discuss this story and how you see the rules of the game now?

monochrome box cover showing native and huts
Arabana-Ikibiti
[later to become Kahuna]
Yes, at our website there is a rules specification referring to that. In one section there is a 'rule-question from the designer' and 'the players answer'. ;-)

Arabana-Ikibiti was our only game which had published rules long before Essen. Without my knowledge Ken Tidwell translated it and published the translation at the Game Cabinet. Even though it was a copyright violation, it was good advertising (and absolutely okay with me). At Essen my 40 copies were sold out Thursday at 13 o'clock [1 PM for Americans not in the military :) –ed.] and I went through the fair to buy pieces and other material to produce nearly more 100 games during the fair.

Later I got a rules question I couldn't answer until I noticed that their rules were different. The character of the 'American rules' is a conflict between 'guerilla armies', the 'German game' is more like a conflict between 'regular armies'. Sometimes I liked more the 'American rules', sometimes I prefered the 'German rules'. Kosmos published the 'American rules' as the main rules and my 'German rules' as a variant. I agreed. And for Arabana-Opodopo/Kanaloa by Tilsit I used the 'American rules'. So this seems to be a final decision.

Today I'd change something else: No more pairs of bridges. It's a variation to have 3, 4, 5 and 6 bridges at an island, but it's harder to get a majority on a 4- or 6-bridge-island than on a 3- or 5-bridge-island. Maybe I would also change the numbers of cards to 3 per island and reduce the scoring rounds as in Arabana-Opodopo to 2. There are many possibilities for changing the rules of Kahuna without destroying the game. It depends merely on taste. There are also a few Kahuna variants, mainly in German.

 

15. Your game Nanuuk! has been criticized because it is supposedly about "the clubbing of innocent baby seals". How many actual
photo: Guenter Cornett in kayak amid rushing waters
Günter goes kayaking
baby seals harmed in the making or playing of this game?

I didn't count them. ;-)

[No doubt because zero is so hard to count.]

Sometimes I get a bit of protest when I explain the game in the following way:

'The fish is to feed the dog' – player is listening.
'The walrus is used to make a sledge' – player is listening.
'The seal is used to make a kayak' – the player becomes upset.

'Player! Why don't you care about the fish and the walrus?! Do you know how many fish are eaten by one seal in its life? Isn't that a reason to kill the seal, when it's young to save fish lives?' ;-)

No, of course, I understand such a player. It's not rational, but a good sympathetic reason to dislike a game. It's a bit crazy that you find this attitude even among war gamers.

 

16. What do you feel about the wider question of the handling of possibly sensitive game topics?

box cover showing native with sledge and polar bear
Nanuuk!
There are many hunting games, war games, games with other 'bad' themes. Is it honourable to make somebody bankrupt with high house rents as in Monopoly? How many games will be left if you avoid sensitive themes?

And would you become a better human, if you avoid playing, for example, war games? I don't think so. Gaming is connected with reality, but you can play without consequences as in reality. Gaming can make you think about a theme, but you also may have fun without thinking. That's good.

At Bambus we use games to feature themes. Nanuuk! is a game of arctic hunting with a good theme-to-system linkage. And we added a leaflet about arctic and Inuit life, with statements from the Canadian goverment as well as from an Inuit woman, the 'Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker' [Foundation for Threatened Peoples] and Greenpeace about arctic life, colonialism, animal protection and so on. The text is written for children, linked to many educational pages and therefore one of the main entry pages to our website. This is a good success even it doesn't lead to sales.

I guess every theme can be used for a game. I only would have a problem if a game would support racism or militarism or another kind of intolerance. But this doesn't mean that these themes have to be avoided.

I just played a game in which two opponents attack a fort. The rule said they're tourists trying to get the best rooms in the tourist hotel fort. But I prefer to call armies 'armies' and nothing else.
box cover showing native with sledge and polar bear
Autoscooter fans at http://jeuxsoc.free.fr/a/autsc.htm
create a version with a high haptic factor.

 

17. Although you had created it in 1991, it was 1999 before you published Autoscooter. What inspired the creation of this game (second edition 2003)?

I don't remember why. First there was just a thought – later it became a game.

 

18. I understand that in a previous life you were a trucker? I’ve worked with several truckers during summer jobs as a youth, but none of these rough characters ever seemed much like a game designer. Are truckers in Germany rather different from their American counterparts or was this a dramatic career change for you?

The truckers in Germany are very different from other truckers in Germany. I guess it's the same in the USA. When I delivered meat and other food within Berlin many of my colleagues were students doing half-time jobs. Three or four times I was away from home for more than one day. Maybe there is one difference: the distances in Germany are smaller (you're back within a day or a few days), the trucks are smaller (up to 40,000 kg total, at most 5 axles), the streets are smaller (up to three lanes in one direction). So as a 'truck driver' your work is not so different from the work of a parcel service.

 

19. I find it an interesting coincidence that you were born in Flensburg and also a trucker since that city is so important in the trucking game Auf Achse.

Flensburg isn't so important for trucking. What it is known for:

 

20. Sticking with motorized vehicles, you also created Fleet Board, a game commissioned by the automotive industry. Did your previous career help you in this? Will we ever see this game in a general release?

Maybe a little. But it's more about organizing trucks than driving. It's Auf Achse, but more thematic. It's a kind of simulation without being boring. I'm also a bit proud of it because I started as one of 8 competitiors and won mainly because of good theming. And I worked together with 'Scholz&Friends' a well known agency. More about this at http://www.auftragsspiele.de/

I don't know if it will be released. I made a few games I want to see published, but it depends not only on me.

 

21. Q. Can you talk more about the competition? Was it a general or specific invitation?

It was announced in Spielbox-Forum:
ich bin dringend auf der Suche nach einem erfahrenen Spieleautor für die Entwicklung eines anspruchsvollen strategischen Brettspieles im Auftrag eines großen Deutschen Unternehmens.
[I am urgently searching for an experienced game designer to develop a sophisticated strategy board game on behalf of a large German enterprise.]
First we eight competitors were reduced step by step. The steps are described in German at http://www.bambusspiele.de/FleetBoard/auftragsspiel2.htm

 

22. How detailed was the specification you were given?

box cover
FleetBoard
I got information about the topic: FleetBoard (= file transfer between truck and management and organizing delivering, repairing and information about traffic situation).

They wanted a game 'a bit like Settlers': variable board, strategy, tactic and luck. The topic has to be involved. The players should have fun, but also have the experience that FleetBoard is a big help.

As a game designer I was rather free to work out my ideas. The difficulty was to involve the theme into the system. Transporting goods from A to B is the basic system, but not a fresh idea. I added changing situations of traffic, use of spirit, controlling the brakes and repairing trucks at the right time (too early is too expensive, too late is bad for the trucks). [Advertisment: Here FleetBoard helps. ;-)]

I found a solution to simulate this without boring the players [if they got FleetBoard!].

 

23. Did you know any of the other competitors and/or see their submissions?

Of course the agency Scholz&Friends never informed me about other competiors or submissions. I know three competitors because they're colleagues. But I never saw their submissions.

 

24. Who does the requesting company see as the audience for the game and how did that affect your design?

We had a few meetings at Scholz&Friends where a man from Mercedes-Benz joined. We discussed a few alternatives and I worked it out. So theme and system were close at every time.

There was only one point I'd change from my view as a gamer: The rule says, you start the game without FleetBoard. After you earned enough money you can buy FleetBoard. That's a big difference of having influence and I hardly recommend every gamer to start with FleetBoard. But for advertising it's good to play first without and then with FleetBoard.

Part 3 of the interview with Günter Cornett
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