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Q1. Can you share with the readers a little bit about yourself, in which corner of the world you live, how you like to spend your time and also how you got started in games?I live in Munich, in the south of Germany, a beautiful and even slightly Mediterranean city (as Mediterranean as you can get when there is no sea), close to Austria and Italy. But I'm not a real Bavarian – I was born in Heidelberg and grew up in Heidelberg and Mannheim, later in Frankfurt am Main. I came to Munich for my studies and – after many longer stays in foreign countries – always returned there. I would now consider it home. Of course gaming is one of the things I like to do most in my free time, although I tend to have less and less of the rare commodity card (a nod to Civilization players) called "Leisure". But I also enjoy watching sports (especially soccer and baseball), probably because I am so bad at it myself. My job as a composer and pianist involves a lot of traveling around, giving/listening to concerts, talking to many different people, staying up all night, etc., so when I have free time I tend to do the opposite: simply stay home!
My family always enjoyed playing games, I remember growing up with my aunts, grandmother and mother practically continuously playing games (the Eggerts are very emotional and tempestuous, so I think gaming was always a kind of therapy). I think I moved wood and cardboard objects on boards before I could speak. The first games I can remember were the usual standard German family games of Malefiz, Fang den Hut and of course Mensch ärgere Dich nicht [Pachisi]. But my family was also into card games heavily, and even exotic fare like Mahjongg (my grandmother owned a beautiful set). I also got deep into Chess at a very early age, completely abandoning it later on (strange that so many gamers I know had a similar experience). I began getting interested in collecting games from the age of 5, I think. I could read pretty early, so I always ended up explaining rules to everybody (I was a feared rules lawyer, actually). I remember looking through game catalogues, looking at the pictures and imagining the rules of these games. The dominant companies in my collection were games by "Parker" and "MB" (at that time in the 70's US imports were much more dominant than now), because they usually had more interesting components like plastic figures and 3D-boards. But I also owned some games by the interestingly named company "Ass" (Stralsunder Spielkartenfabrik – "Ass" is "Ace" in German, no vulgar connotation whatsoever). When I think back I remember that German games were usually pretty lame in presentation then: this was the time of the classic "Poeppels" – a board, some cards and a few tokens – that was the maximum!
Now it is the other way round...German games are the lushest! After we moved to Frankfurt I got involved in a fantasy fan society called "FOLLOW" (Fellowship of the Lords of the Lands of Wonder), which was modelled after the US "Society of Creative Anachronism", but much more involved. This was the time when many "pulp"-fantasy/SF series like "Mythor" and "Perry Rhodan" were very popular in Germany, and I was a big fan.
"FOLLOW" was based on a game called the "Ewige Spiel" (the eternal game), basically a set of very abstract fantasy battle rules called Armageddon. The game was played on a huge board depicting several fantasy continents with dozens of countries. Each country existed as a real life sub-group of "FOLLOW", each with a unique culture and history. All of these subgroups met often regionally, but once a year there was a big meeting where the leaders of each culture would play the "Eternal game" on a huge board (and I mean huge – it took several tables to set it up) for days on end, deciding the fate of their people for the year to come. This event was called the "Fantasy Fest", and was also a convention with lots of other games and "Fantasymärsche" (Fantasy trips), the roots of Live Role Playing games, basically a moderated trip through the woods with everybody dressed up in full costume. I was part of the "Drachenorden" (Dragon's order), a culture loosely based on M.A.R. Barker's world of "Tekumel", and one of the largest subgroups of "Magira", the world of "FOLLOW". The "Drachenorden" was one of the first groups to introduce Role Playing to their members, at that time still a very new concept, and I remember that I was totally blown away by it. The gaming sessions at the "Drachenorden" were enormous affairs – I remember that we once played a scenario based on the Seven Samurai which took place on a huge board depicting the village we had to defend, and one continuous battle that took virtually days to play out. In fact this particular battle took us 4 sessions to finish (each session taking 2-3 days), I remember that my magician managed to move from one end of the board to the other in this time, that was basically it. But this shouldn't be a surprise when you consider that there were usually around 20-30 players involved!
Through the "Drachenorden" I met several like-minded friends in Frankfurt, where we met regularly in a Chess club to play role playing games like D&D, Traveller, Runequest, Gamma World in smaller groups ... practically everything that was published in these days. All these games had to be ordered from the US with great effort, usually through the legendary Walter Luc Haas, who ran a famous mail-order shop in Switzerland. When I look at the cheap prices that these games had back then, I start to weep ... Frankfurt was also the home of many US-Americans, and we would meet often in the army barracks to play with soldiers who were hobby gamers, this is where I was introduced to the early monster games by Avalon Hill and SPI.
During my height of role playing activity I sort of noticed that something was happening in the German games market, but I was not actively playing a lot of German games, really, I was too busy learning English to understand the hyper-complicated American games (there were no German versions of these games back then, so learning English was a must)!
The first time that I really noticed that German games became more ambitious was with games like Hase und Igel (Hare and Tortoise) and Scotland Yard, which both won the then-new "Game of the Year" award. These were games that were relatively simple to learn but not dumb like Monopoly, and a good alternative to fantasy games, which were not always in demand when playing with your friends from school, especially when playing with the girls. Scotland Yard really was a common household item at one point – I knew no family who didn't own a copy and didn't play it from time to time... This concludes my early years, more about my development as a gamer later ... So in short I can say that my fascination with gaming was always there, and that I did play a lot of games from early on.Q2. Where do you play your games? In homes or in public places? How many conventions do you attend in a year?
When I was younger (in the "golden" days, sigh) I attended a lot of gaming conventions, but I think that today there are even more happening. I already told you about the gaming meetings of the "Drachenorden". I also regularly visited a convention in Darmstadt, which was organized by the founders of the legendary and now sadly defunct Pöppelrevue (an important gaming magazine which started out as a play-by-mail fanzine). They began playing Diplomacy and then moved on to other games, mostly American stuff in those days, but then more and more German games. These were nice smaller conventions, with about 50-100 people attending. On the grounds it was possible to game through all night, which I very often did!
We can see what a dangerous gamer Moritz is.
Here with Thomas, another of the Westpark-Gamers
Another place I went to regularly was a game store in Frankfurt owned by my friend Guido, the "Spieleck" (also doesn't exist anymore) – there were weekly sessions with around 10-15 people, very often for monster games like Civilization.
Since those days the convention scene has really continuously grown, catering for all gaming tastes. You could probably go to a convention (or several conventions) every weekend somewhere in Germany, some larger, some very small familiar affairs. Germany is a haven for Live-Role-Players – lots of medieval castles that can be rented for a weekend, forests to roam in, etc. There are also war gaming conventions, role-playing conventions, "ordinary" board game conventions ... Close to Munich there is even a "Kindercon", where gamers with families can bring their kids to a hotel where they can combine gaming and a holiday for the whole family, which I think is a very sensible idea.
I can already see the mouths of some gamers drooling when reading this :-) And even better: when nothing is on in Germany you can still go across the border to Austria, Switzerland or the Netherlands – all countries with active and lively gaming scenes.
Of course the event is the gaming fair in Essen ("Spiel"), but this is usually more a buying binge than a gaming occasion. But of course many German gamers go there, from all over the country. As my job rarely allows me to spend a weekend somewhere I really try to go at least to Essen every year, so in fact my personal answer to the question is: One "convention" per year (and Essen is not really a convention in the common sense). But I could visit many, many more if I wanted.
Of course there is also Nuremberg (mostly for German language games), but this even less a convention than Essen, and you need to have a press or company ID to get in (which many people forget when going there – it's not that easy to get in, actually...).
About where I play games: I think mostly at home like everybody, but there are several places in the Munich area where people meet in public places. Gaming in what we call "gaststätten" (not quite a restaurant, more like a pub) is not frowned upon as long as you order your beer. In fact there is an ancient tradition for "Stammtische" (difficult to translate, something like "regular table") where mostly male friends would meet for playing cards...seriously! In traditional restaurants there are even little plaques on the table which warn you of which group is going to appear when for gaming. You better move to another table when 4 burly Bavarians in Lederhosen come in to play their weekly rounds of Schafkopf (Sheepshead, a traditional Bavarian card game) at their very "own" table!!!
My main gaming group is The Westpark-Gamers, who meet very regularly (at least once a week) in one of the member's houses, also at our place. We try to keep the groups small (4-6 players) so we can try out most new games. If I can I also like to go to the "Spuiratzn", which is a bigger group meeting in a kind of restaurant/café/theatre (they have a large room reserved for them every 2 weeks). This is a real "club" with members and a yearly (very small) club fee, which is used to buy new games (the Spuiratzn – translates roughly to "little gaming rats" – have a pretty impressive mutual collection of games, actually, including, for example, a copy of the ultra rare Outpost). There is also a yearly assembly (with free food) and an auction, both of which are very nice informal affairs. People play several games at several tables. Jo Weigand, who leads the "Spuiratzn", is one of the most important gaming critics in Germany. He owns practically every game published in Germany in the last 30 years, literally thousands of games – a very popular guy, as you can imagine!
More of the Westpark-Gamers
Everybody is welcome at these meetings, but you will most certainly find other good gaming clubs close by if you search, at least in the bigger cities. The very good web site of Knut Michael Wolf (Spielbox magazine) lists many of these clubs if you're interested.This is a good question. Of course not everybody in Germany is a gamer, even if you think the whole country is obsessed with it. I have had very different personal experiences regarding this matter, but in general I would say that playing board games (not computer games, there is a certain stigma with them) is generally considered as a good, healthy, communicative and worthy pastime by most people. If we had a couple over for dinner proposing and playing a game would not be totally outré, quite the opposite! Most people we know who aren't regular games players would actually be very happy if we proposed playing a game (although of course this might not be the perfect occasion for Advanced Squad Leader, to be honest). I even have some non-gamer friends who constantly nag me about getting together to play a game. I know only very few people who would resist a good evening of games.Q3. One imagines that in Germany every last soul knows about games and is playing them all the time? But is it so? When you make a new acquaintance in Germany, is it expected that they know about and play games or is it something comes up only after knowing them for months, years or maybe never? If you were to have another couple over for dinner, would it be weird to suddenly bring out a game or would they not be surprised?
Many families see gaming as a good activity to do with their kids (instead of hanging around and watching TV), this is why good family games are always in demand in Germany. It is also seen as an easy social activity which brings together different ages, grandma, mother, dad and son for example. Most families I know own a certain "canon" of games, and even people who are not really "geeks" know about the "game of the year" for example (and some will simply buy it because it says "game of the year" on the box, even if they otherwise don't buy games). As it is a personal hobby of mine I usually know very quickly if people are interested in gaming or not. And frankly: most of them are at least "interested", but only very few are "fanatics"!
But there is one big difference to other countries, and in fact it is interesting to note it: Germans hate rules (at least in gaming), and they hate to have rules explained to them. And this also applies even to geeks: If the effort to prepare or play a game passes a certain mark, they will never play it. I would put a game like Puerto Rico at the upper limit of this mark, if it goes beyond that, the game has little chance to be really loved in a big way. Actually Settlers of Catan (which was an incredible success in Germany – virtually every person on the street knows the game) raised the accepted complexity bar a little in comparison to what came before. And before that it was raised succesfully by El Grande. The usually more complicated games that come from the Anglo-American or even sometimes French or Italian cultures have only a very, very small audience here (i.e.: me). The ideal is clearly that a game should be as much fun as possible with as little hassle as possible. The Germans just want to get to the point (gaming) as quickly as possible!
This extreme restriction led to very clever game designs which in a way overcame the problem by being simple ruleswise but rich and complex regarding the options for the player. This is also why elegantly simple designs like the ones by Sid Sackson have been so succesful here. You can see this principle at work in the voting for the "Spiel des Jahres": A game of the complexity of let's say Goa would never win the "Spiel des Jahres" – the "Spiel des Jahres" must be a game for the whole family. Usually the more complicated games get the "Deutsche Spielepreis" instead, which is more of a real fan-prize.
It is also noteworthy that there is a genre which does not exist at all in Germany, and that is the genre of the "simulation game" (very often also a "war game"). I know for example not one German game about sports which tries to tackle the theme with statistics or any attempt at realism, but I could cite countless examples which approach the theme in a totally abstract way. "Realism" is simply not a factor that interests people in a game. It is also not liked very much if a game is very luck-driven (dice-rolls, etc.); people are attracted to the possible use of "skill" in games. I should also note that quiz/knowledge games like Trivial Pursuit are very popular here, but usually not with "real" gamers.The game store situation in Germany is very unique. Of course it is a dream for anybody interested in "German-style" games. Alone in Munich I could think of literally several dozens of places where you could buy games by Knizia, Kramer and co., from small stores to large department stores, and also for very reasonable prices. A good place to shop for gamers coming to Munich would be the huge storeQ4. We get the impression here that in Germany games may be found just about everywhere. Certainly I remember seeing some in large department stores and it seemed like every large city had at least one serious game shop. Can you give some idea of the availability of games and relative importances of on-line vs. bricks-and-mortar shops?
Obletter at the Karlsplatz, for example, a non-corporate business selling anything toy and game related. They have most current German board games, also more obscure ones. In every department store chain like Kaufhof or Hertie (or even Toys'r'Us which slowly tries to conquer Germany) there are usually large board game departments which offer a pretty good selection of up-to-date games, usually trying to undercut the prices of the poor independent stores. You can even find good board games in small, local "Schreibwarenläden", the closest that Germany comes to American "drug stores". And of course there are also flea markets and the like.
True freaks very often order through on-line/mail-order stores, though. Our own Aaron Haag (from The Westpark-Gamers) buys most of his games through Adam spielt, a very popular mail-order store for the educated gamer, which always sends out a beautiful and in-depth catalogue. Sometimes new games can be bought quicker via Adam spielt, as the publishers take some time to diffuse their new games through the bricks-and-mortar shops. But most bricks-and-mortar shops like Obletter take a certain pride to have knowledgeable people sell their games. It is not unusual to see fathers and mothers asking for good family games recommended by the staff who then go to great lengths to explain all the current games to them.
Sometimes you can even go to the producers themselves – Hans-im-Glück for example is not far from my apartment. They have a little store where you can try out and buy their own (very good) games.
Ebay is also very popular and succesful in Germany, and many people buy their games used to save some bucks. "The Spielbox"-site runs a pretty good "ad"-section which also seems to be used a lot.
If this sounds like paradise one has to mention that the situation is very different for the gamer who is interested in international games (like me). In my opinion the situation for the gamer looking for "exotic" games from other countries has worsened over the years. In fact there used to be many more shops selling RPG and board games from the US 20 years ago, most of them had to close down because of bad business. When I remember my Frankfurt days I can think of many shops that don't exist anymore, in Munich – third largest city in Germany – there is basically only one shop left (Games In), which has a pretty small selection of games that they never seem to sell. For some reason prices have also risen immensely, although one would think that the strong Euro would make US games cheaper.
When I buy foreign games I use practically exclusively on-line stores, if possible British ones, because they seem to have relatively reasonable prices and there is no hefty customs charge like with orders from the US. The largest and most professional German on-line store for "specialty" games is probably Fantasy En'counter, but if you look at their incredibly high prices you'll also see that they know this very well :-)
The CCG scene (Magic and the like) forms its own sub-scene, with pretty shady stores centered around the train station (Hauptbahnhof) in Munich, for example, that almost exclusively sell miniatures or CCG's. When I see the young kids dealing cards in the back alleys next to topless bars, I cannot deny that it looks like they could as well deal something else. Most popular CCG's have been translated into German, but the trend seems to die down slowly. And of course you often stumble upon the scourge of game stores, the "Games Workshop"-store which exclusively sells the drivel that Games Workshop now produces, often having dislocated the formerly good allround-store that used to be at the same place.
But this problem applies only to gamers like me. Most German gamers are of course pretty happy with their own and immense produce of games and never mourn the fact that they can't get that particular obscure game by Avalon Hill anymore, especially when the most succesful international games also appear in German editions after a while. And of course there is always Essen, where you see freaks who pile up games on their offspring sitting in baby carts. :-)I personally used to be very much into abstract strategy games, but that was before I knew more about other possibilities in gaming. I remember a time in the 70's when abstract games suddenly became very "chic" and one saw a lot of them at others' houses. The German branch of Parker games, for example, threw a lot of nicely produced games on the market in this category, usually helped by ads showing trendy couples sitting in their living room with a glass of red wine while playing strategy games. With the advent of new gaming concepts like RPG's and game books the interest in purely abstract games waned a little – I remember that the people who used to play Twixt suddenly played Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, the latter being a more entertaining brain teaser (at least for a while). A second renaissance of strategy games seemed to happen in the last years. It is interesting to note that it always seems to be very important that strategy games look "classy" or "expensive" as a sales argument, whereas many board games work through theme and atmosphere rather than stylish looks.Q5. Do you have any ideas how many people in your country are playing new strategy games? Any idea what the demographics are like? What's the overlap with RPG, CCG, war games, computer games, video games, comic books, anime? What do you think are the special reasons why gaming is popular there?
Demographically, I would say that most RPG-players are not very interested in strategy games – although I know many players who went from Chess to RPG's, I know very few who went back again. CCG-players are a group unto themselves – sadly very few play other games than the one, two or three CCG's in which they have chosen to invest – they are the new Advanced Squad Leader-generation: playing a game so obsessively that others are completely ignored. It must be said though that some CCG players move on to other games after being bored by their hobby, so I guess it works as a first gaming "fix".
Many war gamers I know are also interested in strategy games. Usually they are open to abstract mechanics like in Diplomacy, and there are aspects of war gaming that converge with the way of thinking in strategy games. I know very few computer gamers who play board games and vice versa – it seems that you are either the one or the other type. If board gamers play computer games it is usually computer versions of board games or on-line games of existing board games (like on Brettspielwelt).
Hardcore computer gamers usually play in clans, for first person shooters, or do on-line role playing. If there are good computer conversions of board games reviewed in computer game magazines (like recently Carcassonne) the review usually goes like "Well, it's technically competent and sort of fun, but what's the point?". The general idea for computer gamers seems to be that board games are way too limited and that computer games should go beyond these limits if they really want to be interesting. They don't know what they are missing! On the other hand I know many people who have to work with computers on their jobs and absolutely abhor the idea of spending free time in front of those things as well. You wouldn't believe how many board gamers in Munich are programmers for Siemens!
The typical American games store which has one side for comics and the other for games is rarer in Germany, although it has been tried. The main problem is that comics have a very bad reputation in Germany – there are people who would rather be shot dead than be seen on the street with a comic book in their hand. Comic books are considered to be absolutely for children only; very few people understand that they can be an art form or "serious". This is very different from our neighbours in France and the Netherlands, where comics have a good public reputation. The only comic book that somehow is publicly accepted in Germany is "Asterix" (Uderzo/Goscinny), but only because it is seen as an "educational" comic teaching history (it is used in Latin versions at schools, actually!). Selling comic books in Germany is really a niche market. Manga/anime has changed that a little, but still not in a big way. And I also have the feeling that comic book purists are rarely also interested in games, less than in the US. So combining these two is like having a ball chained to your feet, because games go much better than comics. You will find this combination only in specialty games stores who have imported games, never in "German" stores like the aforementioned Obletter.
Why do Germans like games? I think there are several factors at work here. One is the German concept of Gemütlichkeit [difficult to translate, but roughly, "hospitality, coziness"], which means that being invited over and spending an evening with your neighbours or your friends is seen as a socially desireable. We all know that this kind of life is basically non-existent in the large metropolises like New York or Tokyo, because you need hours to actually get to your friends. Germany has only one real metropolis (Berlin); all other cities are of a size that makes it easy to commute or meet friends. There is a strong regional culture rather than "the one" city (like London is for Great Britain), but several cities which compete for this status. Gaming is seen as something that "bonds" people and helps communication between the generations. I already mentioned the many "Stammtisch" groups who meet regularly to play cards/games (and drink copious amounts of beer). A game can be a medium to overcome shyness in a party (this is why party games like Activity are also very popular); it is basically seen as quality time. I think that working with a set of rules also helps, because it appeals to the German love of "orderliness", which is so often lampooned, but this is a wild guess only ... But there is also what I would call the "North/South"-factor at work. If you walk through a small German town on a weekend you will see very few people on the street. Most either stay home, spend time in their "Schrebergarten" (a little private garden that you can rent in colonies) or do a specific activity like sports or washing their car. But the "home" is the center of your life. Therefore it makes sense to make your time spent at home as varied and interesting as possible, for which games are very good. If you go to Italy (for example) instead, you will find that on any given weekend most people will be on the streets, which makes even very small villages seem very crowded. This has mainly to do with the better weather, but also because the "southern" temperament is more "outward" going – the "outer" life, how you dress, how you act publicly is seen as much more important as the "homey" life. I've known modern Romans who lived in the worst imaginable appartments, without central heating, the wallpaper coming off the walls... who spent a great deal of their money on the finest clothes and great dinners and lunches instead. The typical German rather stays home in his ugly jogging suit (I'm exaggerating here, folks) and spends money on a big TV, a big freezer, on his Hobbykeller (hobby cellar) and ... on games! But I think that having great game designers living and working here is the biggest factor in the end!
Activity (1994)I also remember the time when every newspaper had a board games column. This has lessened a little, but not because the general interest in games has waned, but because there is such a profusion of media that people interested in the genre can use, especially the Internet. Games are still relatively present, on the radio (there are several stations doing regular game reviews), on tv (game designer are invited to shows like Frühstücksfernsehen (breakfast TV) where they show their creations) and in the print media (most newspapers have kept their games column, mostly in the Sunday "Leisure" issue).Q6. How would you characterize the mass media presence for board games there? When I was at the Essen press conference, I almost stumbled right into the middle of an interview Wolfgang Kramer was doing for a radio program right there in the aisle. How visible are board games in television and radio? I know that at one time every major German newspaper had a board games column in their weekend Leisure section. Does this continue? Is there any television advertising for board games?
The Internet is now the place to research reviews of new games – there is such an abundance of free and good reviews that professional and paid reviewers increasingly have a hard time, I guess.
TV ads have become very uncommon. From time to time the big players like Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro try to promote something like Magic, but to see a board game advertised on TV is practically unknown, while computer games even have full-scale cinema trailers now. Back in the 70's/80's it was very common to see MB (German Miton Bradley) ads on TV for tosh like The Game of Life. I still remember the cheeky red-haired boy striking a big gong at the beginning of these extremely annoying but visible ads! But these times (before the advent of computer games) are forever gone now. One should not forget that electronic games are more dominant when it comes to sales, and although board gaming has a very good standing in Germany, it still can't compete with the sales of Sony Playstation and the like. This means that the major board game companies in Germany don't risk their hard earned money on extremely expensive TV ads (or even printed magazine ads). They rather rely on the professional staff at the games store who can advise customers about new games. Even in professional gaming magazines like Spielbox it is relatively rare to see ads for board game companies (which is very different when I compare it to US magazines). They nearly completely rely on the blurbs on the game box and word of mouth.
My personal prophecy is that sales of board games might change in the future when the demographics predict that the average German will be much older. The biggest sales for computer games are in the age range 15-25, whereas older computer gamers very often switch to the more social board games at a later age. So who knows, the sales of board games might actually increase in the future. The golden years might still be ahead!Actually the connection between games and music is pretty common in history. There is of course the famous "Musikalische Würfelspiel" by Mozart, where you decide the outcome of a waltz with the throw of dice. Mozart was also known to be a fanatic card player, as was also Richard Strauss (in fact he had a daily (!) "Stammtisch" in his later years). In more modern times composers like John Cage have used aleatoric procedures for compositions, György Ligeti (most known for his music used in Kubrick's 2001) has often shown his fascination with game theory and a "playful" approach to composition. There are also game authors who are musicians, like Martin Kastenmann ("Schwimmende Inseln"). Dvorak was obsessed with trains and toy trains, which would also count as a related obsession. Just recently the German composer Mark André wrote a huge opera about the Chess games series of Kasparov and Deep Blue, although you wouldn't have known that inspiration if you hadn't read the program notes ...Q7. As a creator of music, do you ever encounter any parallels between games creation/appreciation and your own field?
I could cite many more examples, but it is clear that there is a connection. Musical notation could be described as a set of rules which leaves room for interpretation, as is a set of game rules. This is especially true of improvisation, which is basically playing around in a set framework. The American avant garde composer John Zorn arranged his improvised pieces like games for a while, even going so far as giving his fellow band musicians cards with unexpected rules instructions while playing live on stage!
My composition teacher has an interesting theory about the changing role of the composer in history. For him somebody like Mozart would symbolise the composer who has to "represent" something, which was the main role of music at that time, when it was still very much part of court or church ritual. With Beethoven, the "explorer" comes into fashion – the idea of the composer as somebody who breaks the boundaries, who enters unexplored territory. With Stravinsky (for example) a new type of composer appears: the "player", who transcends and creatively reinvents the sets of rules that the style of the time forces onto him (incidentally Stravinsky wrote a ballet called Jeu des Cartes (A Game of Cards)). I would very much identify with the latter type!
As to my own music I wouldn't say that I constantly invent gamey structures in my music – music has to have a dramatic and overwhelming appeal for the listener, whereas a game works by giving players the power of freedom and choice in a constantly changing dynamic environment. Music is more like speech in that matter. If I speak to an audience I have to hold their attention, of course. But nevertheless there are moments where I use a playful approach in composing, simply to overcome rigid procedures often imposed by your own mind and experience. Great music very often works through the element of surprise, by not repeating what is expected. Great melodies often have that one "special" moment of unexpectedness that makes them memorable.
The process of creativity is close to "playing" with different toys, as a child does. Through the playful combination of unexpected things interesting musical events can take place. This doesn't mean that I as a composer constantly throw dice (in fact I do this extremely rarely), but it is more like a "way" of thinking. Each composition creates its own set of rules while it is written. After beginning a piece of music in a certain way, many of these rules are already set, and not all of them can be broken anymore. But part of the fun in composing contemporary music lies in the fact that you can break certain rules (in fact all great composers in the past constantly broke "the rules", or brought new ones into play). Being a gamer I am perhaps more aware of this aspect of music, and this helps me composing in a way.
Ultimately I have to stress that music is also about a lot of other things as well, but games are not that far apart!Here is a good implementation of Mozart's famous (at least in the music world) "Musical Dice Game" (you can actually have the computer play the piece for you!).Q8. I had never heard of Mozart's "Musical Dice Game". When it comes to Mozart, I suspect that if it wasn't in the movie Amadeus, we don't know about it. :) Could you maybe tell us more? Also, your answer reminds me that you won an award for your composition "Pong". Have games inspired any of your other compositions?
Basically it is a short minuet and trio for piano solo which the player has to compose him/herself beforehand through the throw of dice. Mozart has provided several short bits which are composed in a way that they can link to any other short bit, much like the little landscape card games that were popular in the 18th/19th century where you build an imaginary landscape out of cards that can be put in any order. Not all these bits are used, and the permutations of the combinations are virtually endless, although the actual process of rolling the piece up is very simple (this was way before the infamous Avalon Hill combat result tables!).
One should note that the resulting "composition" is not really exciting or inspired (as one would imagine), but it always sounds "right". I find it interesting that Mozart in a way has a very post-modern approach here – by creating a set of clichés that can be combined in any way you want, he, in a way, also makes fun of these very clichés. I find this a very "playful" approach!
Mozart continued in this vein in another piece, the "Dorfmusikantensextett" [Village Musicians Sextet], where he lets the musicians play constantly wrong on purpose to imitate the sound of "Dorfmusikanten", rather unrefined "village musicians". Of course you don't learn these things by watching the (surely excellent) Amadeus film, but by going to concerts, which I can only heartily recommend to all reading this!
Coming to my own works: My piece "Pong" is of course based on the first ever computer game. The idea of something being reflected back and forth is something that translates wonderfully to music (although I would like to stress that my piece has a more dramatic and varied approach than the rather tedious original "Pong" :-).
My chamber opera Wir sind Daheim (Home Sweet Home) has a family in a cellar (after a possible nuclear war) play a strange clapping game to avoid being eaten by a huge machine. In another, larger opera, Helle Nächte ("White Nights", based on some of the "Tales of the Arabian Nights"), Sheherazade plays another game based on survival, with basically one rule only: If the stories she tells suck, she will be killed!
"Haemmerklavier IX: Jerusalem", a piece for piano solo, is based on the parlour game Musical Chairs, which in German, much more creepily, is called Voyage to Jerusalem, probably referring to the crusades (and possibly also coming from that time!). The pianist has to constantly run around the full grand piano (continuously playing!) while the music becomes shorter and faster. This piece is perhaps the best example of a piece which clearly is a game in itself!
For a big Internet composition that I created with 19 other composers from all around the world ("Variations IV.01"), I created a set of rules that made it possible for the participating composers to intervene or change the piece at certain points during the live performance. Then there is my film music for the short film Puzzled, in which a man suddenly finds puzzle pieces everywhere in the city, which carry a sinister message.
If I really think about it, many of my pieces have a strong connection to the principles of gaming, so I was probably wrong denying it a little a few questions back!I think the main difference is that board game players are not regarded as "geeks" (in fact there are not even German words for "Geek" or "Nerd" – which either means we don't have 'em or we all are!). As I described before, playing board games is considered an accepted and "healthy" hobby, because it involves people getting together around a table, usually talking and laughing. Children learn to cope with losing and to think ahead, so most parents encourage their kids to play board games with them. Playstation and computer Games are rather looked on critically by society, as they usually are played alone and also involve a lot of violence, and they are constantly cited, together with horror films and heavy metal music, as a possible inspiration for tragedies like the recent school shooting in Erfurt.Q9. You touched on it earlier so we may have a good idea already, but given the larger role that board games play in Germany as compared to elsewhere, what is the societal view of board games and their players?
Board games are "harmless" and perhaps even educational, so that's fine with most folks. In fact I've never heard a negative comment about my hobby from anyone, although some people might simply not like gaming per se as much. People might raise an eyebrow if I tell them I own hundreds of games, but this usually creates interest and not derisive laughter. Of course it depends on what games you play. The "German style" games are usually well known, sometimes to the extent that they are confused with other games. When we play any game with large hexes at the open gaming night at the "Spuiratzn"-club, there will invariably be some people coming up and ask knowingly "This seems to be an interesting variant of Settlers ...
A genre of board games that is looked at very critically (or is basically unknown to the public) is war games, especially when the theme is World War II (I think Napoleon or ancient age would be ok, but there are also nearly no German games about this theme). Playing games like Ostfront or Stalingrad won't get you many friends. I actually had a girlfriend quit with me once because she saw me playing the (excellent) Ambush solitaire game by Victory Games. Well, there were other reasons as well ...
As a funny sidenote: The original Risk was deemed too militaristic when it was published in Germany in the '70's, so the blurb on the cover said "Liberate the world" instead of "Conquer the world". The rules actually said that the armies wouldn't fight each other for territories, but instead "liberated" them. I still find that hilariously funny :-)
So: War game, no, any other board or card game, yes, full acceptance societywise...Q10. I understand you have participated in the World Boardgaming Championships. Can you give us an overview of this competition and your experiences with it? Do you recommend it?Oooh, please don't tell anybody, as my participation results have been awfully bad!
Well, it is a relatively informal affair, not like Magic [Magic: the Gathering] tournaments. I can't tell you really about the final rounds, because my team never made it there, but Günther from our Westpark Gamers is a very successful participant, having been in the finals pretty often.
The "Deutsche Brettspielmeisterschaft" is a team competition. A team has to have 4 players and each of these players has to play 4 different games in each round. These games can vary wildly in quality and content. For example the 4 games 2 years ago were Sticheln, Puerto Rico, Medina and ... Emerald! The first two games reward good play reasonably, the third is a "bash the leader" game that can have varying results even for players good at it, the last is a pure no-brainer dice/luckfest. So you can imagine that one should take the team results with a pinch of salt!
The "Vorausscheidung" (preliminary round) is held throughout Germany (at different games clubs, but also on Brettspielwelt), with the same 4 games. The teams whose members had the best total score move on to the German finals, which are usually held in Herne (where the idea for the Brettspiel-DM came from). The three best teams from there (they play 4 different games from the ones in the preliminary round, so they have to train anew) then have a go at the "European Board Game Championship", held in Essen, but I heard from Günther's experience that the latter tends to be disastrously organized, so the "DM" in Germany is probably more important.
Ther are no big prizes, but still some people take it very seriously, especially in the later rounds. But as I said – it is difficult to find a game selection that doesn't involve games with potentially unfair elements. One of last year's preliminary games was Tichu for example, which is a certainly a tactical card game, but also certainly a partner game, so you can imagine how good your results will be if you play with people that you have never played with before. Your playing style might just not mesh right, and it's not really your fault. I actually refused to participate for that very reason.
I would certainly participate again if I find time, but it is not something that I would take too seriously. I still remember well when I introduced a kind of ELO rating in our gaming group. Suddenly every game "counted" and everybody became very ambitious. Horrible fights at the table were the result, but as soon as I let it be peace returned. As somebody who works in a communicative field, music, I find that board games biggest strengths are the communication, the immersion in ideas and strange worlds, but not winning or losing. I know, we all are annoyed about a loss at some point or another, but we should never really forget that it doesn't really matter who's winning or losing. There is always the next game where the cards are dealt anew, and that's the nice thing about it. But a little competitiveness here and there, in good fun, doesn't hurt of course.Q11. Several German games enjoy something which American games are not permitted: titles like Shit!, Hit oder Shit, Pferdemist, Ein Arsch Kommt Selten Allein, Zicke Zacke Hühnerkacke, Zicke Zacke Entenkacke, which are considered too offensive here for a general consumer audience. I think the provocative "Cheapass" proves the rule. Any ideas on why it goes over there, but not in the United States? Makes one wonder, what would it take to offend a German consumer?
I have to stress that the German word for "shit", "scheisse", is widely used and considered relatively harmless in normal language (much like the French "merde"), so most Germans think they can simply translate it to "shit" in English ... but it ain't the same! I know Americans who find "f***" less offensive than "shit", actually ... Each country has it's own obsessions and taboos, and the German ones are simply unique as well.
duck caca from Zicke Zacke Entenkacke
The average US-American is considered pretty prudish by Germans. The whole Clinton/Lewinsky affair seemed totally laughable for Germans, as they couldn't understand why anyone would bother with accusing the president at all! Helmut Kohl, German chancellor (=same role as US president) was known to have a long ongoing secret affair with his secretary, and nobody bothered at all about it. Even his enemies wouldn't have used it against him!
I think there is a generally relaxed attitude towards anything to do with fecal humour or sex, so Busenmemo or raunchy ads on TV with totally nude men and women are not considered problematic. The famous Jack Nicholson saying that "if I kiss a woman's breast it's X-rated; if I bite it off it's PG" is certainly not the case in Germany, quite the opposite! Violence in films or TV is always a big controversial theme and heavily discussed, I still remember the outrage over US films like Rambo II or Texas Chainsaw Massacre which now seem relatively harmless compared to newer productions.
So to offend in Germany you would have to make a really violent game with lots of bloody graphics, something like Ultra Vilelence would be unmarketeable on the German market, at least the mainstream one. But I hear they changed that game's look even in the US!
But really offensive territory would be anything relating to Nazi Germany. Axis & Allies is really a border case, here. There is a German version, but it never sold well, and of course all the Swastikas have been removed (the depiction of Swastikas on an entertainment product is forbidden by law and heavily prosecuted). Eastfront, The Streets of Stalingrad, Advanced Third Reich ... these are all titles that would offend most people if translated to German. And I already told you about the different version of Risk where one has to "liberate" the countries instead of "conquering" them...
Ein Arsch kommt selten allein
But give us all the Ein Arsch kommt selten allein [An Ass Seldom Travels Alone] or Busenmemos or sexy party games you want ... they won't cause an outrage at all here ... and I think that's a good thing ... why bother?Q12. So what makes the games fun and interesting for you? What are some of your favorites? Is there a favorite game that few, or at least few around you, seem to like? Do you have a favorite type or a type that you are best at, e.g. abstract, auction, bluff, business, tile placement, heavy, light, fantasy, war game, etc.?
I have to admit that I'm a sucker for most types of games. Actually I couldn't even name a clear least favourite genre, although train and business games come very close. Some players of our Westpark-Gamers group, most notably the "infamous" Walter, have a strong aversion to any games with a simulation or fantasy ("orc") element. I personally understand that Puerto Rico is probably a superior game to, let's say, Divine Right, but as a gaming experience I can enjoy them both. I think it is all a matter of balance of different elements. Divine Right is an extremely luck oriented game, but it just oozes flavour, atmosphere and attention to detail. I just love to push counters depicting dragons and wizards over a huge board with hexes – I don't mind if I win or lose, it is the story aspect of the game that drives it forward. This would also be the case with Tales of the Arabian Nights, which I equally love, but which is not exactly a "strategy" game. If the story or simulation aspect is weak, but the luck element frustratingly high, the game does not work as well for me, that's for sure.
And even although I hate trains as a theme, I have to admit that I enjoy playing Age of Steam or 1830, simply because these games have beautiful designs. McMulti on the other hand turns me off , because of the heavy dice element (high luck factor plus – for me, boring – business theme a good game doth not make). Acquire, on the other hand, works beautifully for me. I even once played – reluctantly – a game with an incredibly boring theme, Ad Acta, which still was fun as a game and convinced me. So the balance between different elements makes a game work for me or not. Luck can be overcome by story, and unattractiveness of a theme can be overcome by design.
If I had to name the games that I love the most, I would mention a list of games that I basically never have time to play nowadays, monsters like Advanced Civilization (I love historical themes), Magic Realm (did I already say that I love Fantasy and SF? I'm a big fan of Richard Hamblen's games by the way, also Gunslinger), Dragon Pass (ditto) and Titan (ditto). Historical games like Britannia and Hispania hold a big place in my heart, but I'm also always lured by hex-and-counter war games, if they are good. Simulation games (like Source of the Nile, or, more perversely, Junta) fascinate me, as do empire building games. German games are usually weaker in the story department, but big in all "gamey" aspects, decision making, planning, etc.. I love them especially if they have auction, risk management or bluff mechanics, which I personally find very exciting – games like Adel verpflichtet or, of course, Puerto Rico for example.
I even like games with weirdo elements, like Darkover by Eon , which everybody except me hates (I'm pretty good at looking other people in the eyes without laughing). Cosmic Encounter always was a favourite of mine ... As I said, I love most good games, except perhaps Settlers of Catan, which is, in my opinion, overrated. I am also not completely convinced by Knizia – I think that he sometimes spreads his immense talent very thinly on sometimes mediocre games. But then from time to time his designs are brilliant, like in Amun-Re, which I love!
I could name games I hate, of course, and among these would be everybody's least favorite Monopoly, of course, and also Chess, simply because it has become such a science. But I also absolutely loathe Outpost, which many seem to adore, simply because if you fall back you simply fall back forever, and it is not necessarily your fault! I am also repeatedly astonished about the fact that people actually seem to like the absolutely horrid miscreation called Kingmaker – I never got that, to be honest, the rules simply don't work!
Oh, and I forgot: Dune! Dune! Dune (and, of course, the AH version, not Parker!). I just love this game ...
And Talisman! And... And... And...
Q13. (smile) Speaking of theme, if we look at the history of American games from 1900, we see a relentless self-interest. Games of American business (Monopoly, Pit, Acquire), American travel (The Game of Life, Touring, games on Lindbergh's flight and rocket trips) or American sports (All-Star Baseball), with a few exceptions, seem to be the rule. On the other hand, some of the first German games to come to mind are Puerto Rico, Java, Tikal, Samurai. There is also exoticism by time such as Pfeffersäecke/Medieval Merchant, Die Händler, Ohne Furcht und Adel, etc. ("The past is a foreign country.") In musical terms it's as if all Germans like to listen to Albert Ketèlbey (English composer (1875-1959) who wrote exotic things like "In a Persian Market" and "In a Chinese Temple Garden"). I'm also reminded of the Tang Dynasty and Britain's Victorian Age, when people were in love with collecting exotic objects from afar. But I wonder how you would explain the German market's fascination with games on exotic topics?An interesting question – to answer it one has to have a close look at German history. Germany is a pretty young country (a trait that it shares with modern Italy), with a recent history of 150 years that is equally grandiose and horrifying. Germany had to re-define itself after the war, and in fact most popular movements tried to distance themselves completely from what was formerly perceived as "German". The hippie movement in Germany was mostly a student movement, who (rightfully) opposed the fact that after the fall of Nazi Germany many officials, politicians and professors still in office were former members of the Nazi party ("Unter den Talaren der Muff von tausend Jahren" [Under the professorial robe a thousand years of mold]). I grew up in a generation which was very much a result of this movement and its failures and successes. At school we were bombarded by horrible pictures from concentration camps and constantly talked about how the Third Reich came about and how it was all our fault. Therefore my generation felt that anything even remotely having to do with being "German" was the most uncool thing imaginable – we rather oriented ourselves to foreign values, mostly US-American ones (something similar happened in Japan after the war, actually). Well, baseball didn't really catch on, but that's an exception. Still today you will find few people who know the words of the national anthem ["Deutschland Über Alles"], and you can still see the national soccer team squirm when they have to sing it. Anybody who hangs a flag in their window is immediately suspected as a nationalist and universally shunned, something that is inconceivable for French or Italians and especially US-Americans I guess ... Of course, all this was a necessary development, but now many people feel that there has to be a new "innocent" (as much as this is possible for the new generations) sense of national pride, because most Germans have a very low opinion of themselves and their country, which seems to drag everything down ... But this seems to be the curse of German history – either they are depressed and spiteful about their country (already the classic poet Heinrich Heine said the famous line "Denk ich an Deutschland in der Nacht, bin ich um den Schlaf gebracht" – "When I think of Germany in the night, no sleep I'll ever find), or they are overly proud of it, to the point of violence. There seems to be no healthy line in between! But I still can't see the kind of national pride here that most US-Americans seem to have in decades to come – perhaps this is a good thing!
To get away from all this brooding, Germans love to travel, probably picking up a fascination that began way back in the "Kaiserreich" [the German Empire of the Kaisers prior to 1918], when Germany tentatively established some colonies. And I mean: love to travel. Since the days of the "Wirtschaftswunder" [name given to the miraculous German recovery following World War II], when people could actually afford to get away, the travel business grew and grew, and with the addition of East Germany, whose people couldn't travel for political reasons and who are now starved to see other places, it grew even more. There is a deep yearning for all things exotic, also for topological reasons – Germany has always been pretty populated and crowded, and things like the immense empty freeways in the US hold an eternal fascination for Germans. All this is clearly reflected in the selection of gaming themes. This is why games themed after foreign cities and places are so popular. In fact I know very few games with specifically "German" themes, and they have never been extremely successful (like Die Macher or the card game 1848 for example). Even as kids we would rather play Risk or Monopoly than the dreadfully boring Deutschlandreise [a roll-and-move game of traveling through Germany]. I think a large part of the success of Settlers of Catan has to do with the fact, that it takes place on an island which pretends to be a real place, not a fantasy universe, but which is not Germany :-)
Deutschlandreise (1977)Q14. Funny that you end on Settlers of Catan ... When I first saw it, I was reminded of the history of the famous German Black Forest, a region developed much later than those around it because of its thick woods and uneven terrain. Even then most of the work had to be done by selfless monks. This kind of development is what happens in Settlers also. Perhaps the game succeeds at being both non-German and German at the same time.
A lot of the other interviews have talked about how most of the game players are men. When I visited Germany and Essen, this concept seemed completely out the window. Maybe you can talk about whether you agree, why Germany is different, and what effect this distinction may have had on the games and their playing?
Because of the role that board games play in German family life (and which I have tried to describe before) there is no real distinction between gaming with boys or girls. And I think that part of the success of the German game industry lies in the fact that at a certain point they began to produce high quality games like Hare and Tortoise or Scotland Yard which neither have a particular male or female theme, but appeal to both genders. It is clear that there are typical "boy" themes in board gaming, I would say war gaming in particular (there are very few female grognards, in fact I would say that my wife is the only woman I know who enjoys the odd war game, but also she is turned off by titles like Eastfront or Stalingrad). And I have often noted that women I game with are turned off by particularly aggressive game concepts that involve the simulation of armed conflict. This changes completely on the abstract level – we all know that there are fantastic female Chess players out there, and Chess is a very aggressive and evil game, if you think about it.
Moritz & Andrea
Everybody can easily see that war gaming is an extremely minor market in Germany, and that the popular game industry strives to find themes that avoid any conflict that pits pawn against pawn. Instead they try to create situations in which bluffing, careful planning, betting or especially bidding play a role, so the players mainly compete through resource/action management instead of fighting directly. There is also a relative absence of the typical unfair "take that" event card (which Mike Siggins constantly criticizes when it is present in a game) in German games, which also has a certain aggression potential. All this makes games attractive for both men and women. In fact I know many women who play games obsessively. And they come in all types!
Another genre that women seem to like less is everything to do with "collecting". CCG's also have few women players, and I don't know any women who "collect" games in a big way, like the aforementioned Jo Weigand. But they certainly enjoy playing games, and you are right to observe that the gender distribution is pretty equal concerning gaming. Again, the hobby is not perceived as being "geekish" or "uncool", so women, with their instinct which uncannily senses the "unstylish", are not turned off.
In fact I see this as a potential for growth in other countries – in the USA for example "German-style" games have just relatively recently been introduced in translated and accessible versions. This means that there are still a lot of women out there who can be converted to gamers, in fact the market can still grow if it loses its nerdy image!
May the golden age of gaming go on forever!It is always difficult to predict future trends ... I think that the lack of growth in the German game industry mainly has to do with the fact that the economy in Europe is stagnant, which affects the sales of practically everything. People tend to worry a little more about their future income, especially their pension, and save money instead of spending it. I don't think that there is a trend of less interest in games in Germany, rather the opposite. It is very interesting to look at the impact of computer games, which everybody originally thought would completely replace traditional board games. In fact the rise of the golden age of board games in Germany nearly exactly mirrors the rise of computer games, from the 80's to now. Both markets grew in this time span, that's obvious. One should also note that computer game sales are pretty stagnant as well today, mostly through illegal copying, a problem to which board games are practically immune. It is also interesting that it is actually cheaper to buy a huge, well-produced German board game (around 30,-EUR) as opposed to a brand-new computer game (around 50,-EUR). Being a board game geek is actually much cheaper than being a computer game geek – the latter constantly has to upgrade his computer and probably has horrendous on-line costs, buying 2-4 new board games per month is much cheaper.Q15. Speaking of the golden age, I go back and forth on this, but am tending to think we are in golden age right now, it having begun in the early 90's. I see the period of c. 1900-1960 as a Precursors period with an upturn between 1960-1980. The 80's themselves seemed a dark age for board games, even back then. But how do you see the future? Will the current age improve, decline or simply endure? One important factor is sales growth which I understand to have been flat for several years now, at least in Germany, with most growth coming from foreign markets. The last big development seems to have been the CCG. Perhaps the industry needs something similarly revolutionary to bring in more players?
A big part of the success of Settlers is its "haptic" factor – the neatness of the hexagon tiles, the snazzy cards, the wooden game pieces. There are even countless fan attempts to increase the haptic factor, with an enlarged board, painted pieces, etc. One shouldn't underestimate this "hapticness" as a big plus for board games, and it is also notable that the new Hasbro AH now exclusively concentrates on "big" well produced games with lots of nice plastic miniatures. One should also note that physical presentation of games was always something that was deemed very important in Germany – perhaps part of the secret recipe of success? But one should also see that this trend towards beautiful games is based on a very shaky ground, namely cheap labour force in Asia. Practically all tradeable pre-painted miniatures games (which is the biggest trend after CCG's recently) and many German games are produced in Asia. The game prices would soar upwards if this cheap production was not available anymore, and most economists predict growth and increasing wealth for Asia. Perhaps in 100 years there will be a golden age of board games in China, with cheaply produced game parts done in a much poorer Germany?
As long as there are good new ideas I don't think the golden age is over just yet ... The number of visitors to Essen is rising every year, so the interest in gaming is not waning at all. But there will probably be a decline in the number of new games produced, which is – to be honest – much too high even in Germany, anyway. But this doesn't necessary mean a decline in quality, at least I don't hope so. If I look at the young game designers of today I see lots of talent, brilliant ideas and imagination. I don't see any new ideas to grow the business, though, the "collectible" principle is pretty much the only idea I can think of that increases sales easily. Anything else – "speaking" games with computer chips, or games involving the use of DVD's or video – have been tried and never been really successful. But there is no denying the fact that the basic principle of board gaming, getting together with some friends around a table and playing a game, to enter a little world apart of the normal world, is its most appealing attribute, and will never be out of fashion.Just a big thank you for this interview and your challenging questions. I learned a lot myself by answering them, and hope that we haven't bored the socks off any reader who followed us this far!Q16. On that happy thought, I think I will rest my questioning. Is there anything I forgot to ask which you would like to add?Hope not either! Certainly I've been constantly fascinated by your insights – the debt of thanks is what we all owe to you!
Links Cited in this Interview:
- Moritz Eggert web site
- Spielbox magazine
- Adam spielt
- Obletter, German game store
- Fantasy En'counter
- The Westpark-Gamers
- Stravinsky's Jeu des Cartes (Game of Cards)
- "Musical Dice Game"
- Amadeus film
- Albert Ketèlbey
- Web Grognards
- Mike Siggins on "take that!" cards (Game Cabinet)