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DESIGNER TALK: AL NEWMAN ON WINDS OF PLUNDER

[Al Newman has had a varied career as a game designer since he entered this arena in 1973. His work has appeared in early issues of GAMES Magazine, for example, and his considerable design credits include Super 3 (Milton Bradley), Babuschka (Ravensburger), Match 3 (Nathan), Wacky Wizard (Western) as well as many early computer designs such as Domination (which won the first First prize ever awarded in the Atari Star competition), Tutti Frutti (Adventure International), and Hotel Alien (Artworx). His Tin Soldiers (R&R Games), an original and delightful card game, was featured in the Summer 2002 GA REPORT. In this brief essay, Al shares his thoughts and tracks the progress of one of his newest designs, Winds of Plunder.]

The process of designing a game can be nearly endless. As Reiner Knizia has shown on many occasions, a game can even be reinvented and published in a slightly different form, improved if you will, from an earlier version. Battle Line, (Winter 2001 GA REPORT) published by GMT, was such an effort, a remake of Schotten Totten, a game published by Amigo just a few years earlier.

Just how long can the process take? Too long! An interesting mechanic that I used last in a game submitted to Parker Bros. more than 25 years ago (and was rejected), sat around on a shelf for year after year as I sought without success just how to place it in a Euro style setting. I waited and waited and waited. In the meantime, Bruno Faidutti and Bruno Cathala used the basic mechanic and improved on it, creating Boomtown, a game that is a lot of fun to play (and featured this issue). In the immortal words of Homer Simpson, “Doh!”windplunderbox

Winds of Plunder, another design of mine now sits in the P500 queue at GMT games, patiently awaiting the point at which GMT has sufficient orders to begin production. But how long has this idea actually been around? Since 1998!

Early that year, I was interested in developing a game with an economic theme, with trading and traveling being elements of the contest. I settled on the period when the Phoenicians were a great power in the Mediterranean from approximately 1200 to 800 BC. They traveled from one end of Europe to the other end, trading all sorts of goods, including wine, cloth, spices and even dyes. As I progressed with the design, the economics became the major mechanic, utilizing four different “markets” in four commodities. The game seemed to work well, but was not simple enough for the family. It was more in line with what we have come to call a “gamer’s game.” Off it went to Europe and by March 1999, it was in the hands of testers at Germany’s Schmidt-Spiele. The game languished there for almost a year, when I finally demanded an answer. Although they had praised the game, saying it had “tested well,” they returned the game.

I was satisfied to have the game back, since I had already decided that the secondary sailing mechanic used in the game should really be the principal mechanic, not the economics. As well, I was hoping to create something that might attract more interest in a family setting. So The Phoenicians became Ports of Call, set in the Caribbean, where 3 to 5 players ran their own cruise line and attempted to set up shop in as many of the twelve ports as possible. I set about to improve the basic mechanic by having players vote for the direction the winds would blow each turn, using the wind cubes they had at their disposal. Just to show you how important the testing process is, an 11-year-old girl completely broke the mechanic by her continued collecting of wind cubes, entirely depleting the bank. Her “strategy” as such was totally flawed but in the end, it doesn’t matter – if the game can be “broken” by even the weirdest set of circumstances, it must be fixed. Once fixed and thoroughly retested, the game then went to Ravensburger, where competition for a place in their vaunted line is fierce. Ports of Call lost out, but Alea’s Stefan Brueck, suggested that if the theme and mechanics were somewhat more complex, the game might “fit” his product line.windsplunder

Thus began another effort, which turned Ports of Call into Blackbeard. It was now 2002 and repeated testing served to prove that I was on the right track. In April at Alan Moon’s Gathering of Friends game convention, a few minutes of observation of one playtest was all GMT’s Andy Lewis needed. He asked for the rights to publish the game on the spot and I said yes.

From there, it was September before I met Tony Nardo online. Tony had been selected to “develop” the game for GMT. The developer’s role is extremely important – crucial. It is up to the developer to ensure that the final version of the game is without errors or omissions and plays as well as possible. Developers in Europe include Alea’s Brueck, Hans Im Gluck’s Bernd Brunnhoffer and Kosmos’ Wolfgang Ludtke. In certain cases, the developer himself is a designer. Ludtke is best known for his design of Caesar & Cleopatra (Summer 1998 GA REPORT), a 2-player card game that is as good as any out there. Brunnhoffer created last year’s sensation St. Petersburg (Summer 2004 GA REPORT). Even though the name on the box is Michael Tummelhoffer, rest assured it is Bernd’s design and only his modesty that prevented him from putting his own name on the box. Herr Brunnhoffer owns Hans Im Gluck!

Tony and I corresponded regularly by email about various tweakings and minor rules changes for many months in order to perfect Blackbeard. One lingering problem was the name of the game. Frankly, piracy has been done so many times and there are just so many possible titles one can come up with. However, one day, Tony idly tossed off a few names via email and his Winds of Plunder jumped off the monitor – a perfect title! The title was a 100% accurate rendition of what the game was all about, maneuvering the winds to your advantage and plunder on the high seas.

After more than two years of development in its present form, I can say with satisfaction that Winds of Plunder is one of the most thoroughly tested games ever, It plays well and I’m thrilled to be the author and to have had so many folks enjoy the testing process along with me. Tony Nardo was instrumental to the development of this product and I know GMT is anxious to see it on the market. Given the predicament of the U.S. dollar versus the Euro, pricing for components placed Winds out of most people’s budgets. But to their credit, GMT was determined and went the extra 1000 miles and were able to find the components that priced the game quite reasonably.

All in all, it’s probably now six-and-a-half years and the game is not yet published. Perhaps soon. It doesn’t matter. I know at some point, that light bulb will go off and I’ll know there’s another way I can use or improve the basic mechanic. Like I said, the process of designing a game can be nearly endless!

– Alan Newman, history of published game designs

http://sunsite.informatik.rwth-aachen.de/cgi-bin/luding/AuthorName.py?f=00Q%5EE4W&authorname=newman

For those who would like a closer look at GMT’s Winds of Plunder, please visit http://www.gmtgames.com/nnwp/main.html and ordering information can be found at: http://www.gmtgames.com/p500/gmtp50.asp.


 

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