Spotlight on Games > Interviews
Walter Müller designs and plays games in Kempten, Bavaria. Part 2.
In part 2 of this interview with game inventor and publisher Walter Müller 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.
October 2, 2006

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

9. Entenrallye is a game of automobile outfitting and racing I have wanted to play for a long time, but have never had the chance. I even came close once – it was on the table – but then someone had to leave or something so it never happened. Right now it is certainly in my top 10 "most want to play" list. It has been described as an experience game, i.e. that part of the fun is in its strong sense of story. (Mike Siggins has written about this at The Game Cabinet). How important is this element in a game?

I distinguish between fun and joy. For example, if I have a snowball fight or splash with my friends in the sea, it is fun. But if I pass an important test in school or if I achieve something I worked some years for, it is joy. There are games for fun – Entenrallye – and games for joy – Strato Football.

Entenrallye is like life. At the beginning of the game every player has an old, broken car. He wants to show this car at some auto exhibitions. The winner of the game is whoever brings the most beautiful car to the exhibitions. So every player decorates his car, but this takes time. The more beautiful your car, the more time it takes to decorate it. But the cars must be driven. If a car is too late to the exhibition, the player gets no points. At the same time you have to repair your car, because there is a technical requirement and a broken car may not be driven.
Entenrallye boxtop

Whatever you do (driving the car, repairing the car or decorating the car), you have to pay with dice-points:

  • So if you drive quickly, your car stays ugly and you receive a low number of points at the exhibition.
  • If you decorate your car very well, you are too late at the exhibition and you will get no points.
  • If you decorate well and drive quickly, you lose the technical requirement and you cannot drive on.
  • If you repair the car, you have no time to decorate it.
So whatever you do, mostly it is wrong.

Time passes every time a player rols a 6.

If you want to win the game, you have to roll high numbers, but no 6, because then time goes too quickly.

Sometimes, when we play Entenrallye in a pub, we have trouble with other people, because we laugh and cry very loudly. Entenrallye is a game for a happy, funny game evening. It is not so important to win, in this game; the loser also has fun.

I cannot say whether the element of fun is important in a game. Sometimes I like to play fun games such as Entenrallye, Bluff, Formel Fun and sometimes I prefer to play anspruchsvoll [demanding] games like El Grande, Twixt, Chess or Strato Football.

BoardGameGeek Rankings snapshot:
TitleRankingAvg. RatingNo. Raters
Rette sich wer kann5566.95316
Turmbau zu Babelunranked7.00002
Strato Footballunranked6.63013

10. You're whetting my appetite to play even more now! :) Even though this is the one I most want to try, your highest ranked game at this moment, and the one with the most ratings is Rette sich wer kann. This is also the only one you have published and not designed, so it seems unusual. Can you tell us something about how you came to publish this one?

Rette sich wer kann is not the only outside game I have published. Sensationen (Sensations) is by Helmut Huber. Unfortunately I had bad luck with this game.

It is an easy question, to tell you, how I got Rette sich wer kann. Sometimes inventors come to little companies to show games that they have designed. Unfortunately most of these games are so bad that no normal person will ever publish it. Rette sich wer kann was different. I was at the International Toy Fair in Nürnberg. One day Ronald Wettering came and asked if I publish games. I didn't knew him at this moment. At the toy fair I had no time to have a look on the game, so I visited Ronald Wettering in the evening in his house. (He lived in Nürnberg). We played the game, and I decided at once, this game is very good. After some tests at my game-evening-group, we changed some rules a little bit. Then I decided to publish the game.

Sometimes is it very hard to test games from inventors, because mostly they are so bad, complicated, boring, horrible. So I am glad, that I had a look at Rette sich wer kann after the hard day at the toy fair.

Entenrallye board, components and boxtop
Sensationen (photo by Nello Cozzolino)

11. In Rette sich wer kann (in the English world sometimes called "The Leaky Lifeboat Game"), bullying and revenge can take center stage and players often find it's best to throw a fellow player out of the boat immediately after assuring them they won't. What is your response to those who criticize this game saying that it brings out the worst human qualities and can even threatens friendships?

This is really a difficult question. Of course, this is not an easy, funny game like Entenrallye or Favoriten. So I think, it is better, to decide exactly, before the game starts, if it is reasonable for all the people at the table. The game only works if the players take it only as game, and stop forcing, after the game is over. If you have players who take everything too seriously, it could be better to play another game. But I found out, mostly people, who play very hard and aggressive, will lose the game. The winners are often the quiet, friendly people. If someone wants to take the game as lesson for his life, he should think about this element. But it is easier to take the game for what it is: only a game, not real life. If someone can distinguish this difference, he can have fun with Rette sich wer kann.

12. Stepping away from games for just a moment, in which part of Germany do you live and what are you doing when not playing games? Do your children also enjoy playing board games? Do you have a regular game night?

I live in the far south of Germany, near the border with Austria. If I look out my window, I can see the Alps. Most people from USA know about King Ludwig's Neuschwanstein Castle [the inspiration for Disney's –Rick]. This castle is about 20 minutes away from my hometown of Kempten.

At the moment my wife works full time in a kindergarten. I drive a car for the parcel service three days a week. The rest of my time I spend with home work. I am the housewife for our family. When the children are at school, I have time to create and sell games.

In my free time I like to play soccer with friends on the green grass (not on the game-board).

I have three children. Simon, the oldest, is 14 and loves to play games. This year he participates for the second time in the Strato Football championship. Tomorrow, I try to help him to enter the second round. If I win my game , he is in the second round, if I lose, he is out of the championship. Simon also likes Siedler von Catan, Risiko [Risk] and many other board games.

My second son Jonas, 11, sometimes also like to play games, but not as much as Simon. He prefers easier games like Carcassonne or memory games (Zicke Zacke Hühnerkacke, Pharao etc.).

My daughter Aliena, 7, often plays games with her own rules. She likes to sit at the same table when we play, and she plays her own game with her own rules alone. Sometimes, we play together some games for little children.

We have had a regular game night every Monday since 1986. We are about 15 people every week, and we laugh very much, but mostly to gloat over the other players.

Alpenexpress board, components and boxtop
Alpenexpress (photo by Nello Cozzolino)

13. After publishing several hits – Entenrallye, Favoriten, Flußpiraten, Rette sich wer kann – your company took a break and didn't publish anything for several years, leaving us only to enjoy only these rare treasures. How large was your typical print run by the way? Now you have resumed with Alpenexpress. Are you back to stay now? Can we expect any reprints of these earlier rare treasures?

This is a very private question. There are three reasons, why I published no games in the last few years:

  1. My toy-shop: In the beginning (1988 - 1994) I had this shop together with a woman. In 1994 my partner left the shop, so I was the only owner of the shop. This was so much to do that I had not enough time to publish new games.

  2. My family: If I have a new idea for a game, there are two possibilities: either I sit down at once and fix the idea on paper, play it, test it, make it real. If I do that, nobody should speak to me for three days. I need absolutely quiet, no telephone, no music, no people in my area. If I had this quiet, sometimes I am able to make a good game. But if something disturbs me, maybe I forgot the idea and the game is lost. It is not possible to start making a game, wait some days and do the rest later. This is like a great chance in a soccer game. I cannot say: please leave the ball on this place, 'till I come back in ten minutes and then I score the goal. If I don't get the chance at once, it is lost.

    My family is so important for me that it is not possible to concentrate on such work for a few days with no disruption.

  3. The money. To publish a game, takes some thousands of Euros. There is a high risk of losing a lot of money. Fifteen years ago, without children that doesn't matter for me. I don't needed much money and the games were my life. But now I have responsibilities toward my family.

    Two years ago, my toy-shop was closed. With the game Alpenexpress I try, to come back to the game scene. The risk is not so high, because I produced only a low number of copies. From my older games I produced between 6000 and 12000 copies. I think it is not wise, to produce the old games again in the same manner. If I want to make a reprint, I have to change some things on the box and on the rules.

My greatest problem always was selling the games. So I wish to find a partner, who can do the promotion and the selling of the games. So I can design and produce the games.

14. Thanks Walter, for this very forthright answer. I hope that someone reading this will be inspired to work with you. Do you ever create a game without first thinking of its theme? Do you ever change the theme later? Which of the games that you have created is your favorite, and why?
Up to now, I always had a theme before I started to create a game. I always try to convey a situation from reality to a game board. In the game Flußpiraten (River Pirates) I changed the theme later. At first it was a game, where every player walked with his figures to an election for the municipal council. I changed very much of this game. Flußpiraten was a co-production with Klaus Zoch. We both had a bad game so we mixed the two games, Klaus Zoch and I. We took the best parts of our games and the result was Flußpiraten. So I also changed the theme.

My very favorite of my games is Strato Football. I like this game, because the rules are so simple, but it is very difficult to win. It is the same as in in real soccer: (it is said that in Germany there are forty million coaches of the national team since everyone thinks of himself as having at least the same amount of knowledge of the game as a Jürgen Klinsmann or a Franz Beckenbauer). It is the same in Strato Football. Everybody thinks he knows the game, because it is so easy to play, but really you need some years of hard training to understand the game and its possibilities. If you play Strato Football in a championship, it is not a game, it is a real sport! Of my games, I also like Entenrallye and Turmbau zu Babel.

15. Speaking of Flußpiraten, which I have not had a chance to play, the comments of those who have, seem to be that the game is dramatic, but also sometimes too mean and, if so, also too long. Perhaps this means it is something like an American game. But I wonder what you would say in response? Also, do you ever play any American games and if so, have you enjoyed them?
home made Rette Sich Wer Kann board, components and boxtop
Such is the love of fans for Rette
Sich Wer Kann
that many colorful
homemade editions are created.
This one is set in outer space
(because there no one can hear
you scream?)
(click for larger version;
thanks to Charles Reiman)

Flußpiraten is an evil game, but also a fun one. Two players are sitting together in a boat and try to row against the river to get a treasure. A short way before the treasure, sometimes a player throws his friend out of the boat and he tries to get the treasure alone. This is evil, but dangerous too. If you throw the other players out very often, at the end of the game nobody wants to sit in a boat together with you and so you will lose the game. If you want to win the game, you have to keep most of your promises.

So, if you want, this game is a lesson for life for evil players; almost always the friendlier players win. And note: as I told you about Rette sich wer kann, it is allowed to be a bad guy in a game, if you remember to stop being bad when the game is over!

I never played American games.

16. How do you see the state of the German board games industry today? Do you have any predictions for its future? And what are your predictions for Walter Müller Spielwerkstatt?

As a result of the game producers' long experience, today it is easier to produce games. The technical possibilities are better, the prices lower. But I'm referring only to the material, not the idea of the game. The game market has become less clear because there are so many new games every year. In the future, the quality of the ideas will be not improve; only some small publishers will make complex, demanding games for a few game freaks.

Walter Müller Spielewerkstatt will try to produce new games again, maybe also from other authors, if I get good ideas from them.

But one thing is certain. As long, as Walter Müller Spielewerkstatt shall live, so long will I produce Strato Football, because this is my favorite game for all time.

Many thanks for your time and thoughts! We look forward to many more great games!

Missed part 1 of this interview? Savor it here.

Links cited in this interview:

  • From Norman Petry:
    Hi Rick,

    I just came across your interview(s) with Walter Mueller, and wanted to thank you for doing this one – great job!

    I always wondered what happened to Walter Mueller's Games Workshop, and now I know. I hope he finds time in the future to get back into producing more games. The release of Alpenexpress is a good sign; now all I have to do is try to track down a copy!


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