On Dinosaurs, Dilemmas, and Unicorns
A Conversation with Game Designer Bruno Faidutti
Recently, Asmodee had the chance to sit down with game designer Bruno Faidutti and chat about his newer releases, recent collaborations, and, of course, unicorns.
Asmodee: So, let’s start with Raptor. How did this game come to be? It’s culturally well-timed, but what fascinated you about it from the beginning?
Bruno: This game actually began something like six or seven years ago, when the new movies of The Hobbit were being made. I was contacted by an English publisher who had the rights to make a board game to go with the movie. I discussed it with Bruno Cathala, and we made a game set in Mirkwood about giant spiders trying to capture the dwarves, and the hobbit, with his little dagger, trying to free them. We were quite satisfied with the idea, but it ended up not going forward. And then, about two or three years later, I got a phone call from Bruno and he said he had an idea for the game. The hobbit would become a mother dinosaur, the dwarves would be her babies, and the spiders would turn into scientists. When you play it, Raptor is very thematic, but it started with a completely different setting.
As for the good timing, it's pure coincidence. I've not seen any of the Jurassic Park movies, and didn't know another one was in the pipe. Maybe the other Bruno knew, but I'm not sure.
Asmodee: I know you worked with Bruno Cathala on Raptor and Mission: Red Planet, among other games, and are now working with Eric Lang on a couple projects. Do you almost always now work with another designer or developer?
Bruno: Very often. I think there are three main reasons why. One is that I’m not very good at finalizing things, but Bruno Cathala, for example, is. He’s very straightforward, technical, an engineer. He complements me. Second, I prefer to work with someone else. It’s fun, suggesting things and discussing them, and it goes much faster than when you are by yourself. The third reason is that people know that I am open to collaborations, so people contact me and ask me if I want to work on a game with them.
Asmodee: With HMS Dolores, did Eric contact you?
Bruno: We met one morning over breakfast at Essen and, as we talked, we somehow got into the idea of this prisoner’s dilemma, and found out that we both wanted to make a game out of it, and so we did.
Asmodee: For people who haven’t heard of it, what is the prisoner’s dilemma?
Bruno: You have two people who have been arrested for stealing, kept in two different cells. Each is asked if he is guilty. And the deal is that if neither confesses, they both get a minimal sentence, say six months in jail. If one confesses, he goes free but the other is kept in jail for ten years. If they both confess, they have a medium sentence, perhaps five years. The best result is that no one confesses, but that is not what actually happens. Because you do not trust the other person, you’re compelled to confess since, whatever he does, it's your best choice.
So, we toyed with this idea. It started as a very abstract game. Eventually I made a prototype with things I found on the internet. Cute pictures of animals. It was cats, tigers, lions, etc. It was quite nice, but it made absolutely no sense. Then I played the game at the gathering that I hold in France, and Lui-Même decided to publish it even before they knew the what the eventual theme would be.
Asmodee: I would never have suspected that the prisoner’s dilemma was in there. HMS Dolores feels very thematic. Of course, we are these pirates who are after the loot and performing these mistrusting negotiations. But at the core of the game is this dark principle.
Bruno: It's not dark, it's just maths. We considered other settings. At one time, it was about collecting vintage items, and then it was to be called War and Peace and have a Napoleonic setting. I don’t remember who came up with the idea of shipwreckers, but it works very well.
Asmodee: So I know you did a PhD on Renaissance history, involving unicorns…
Bruno: It’s long term history, from late middle ages to the nineteeth century, but the core is sixteenth and seventeenth century literature about the unicorn—medical books, travel accounts…
Asmodee: Do you ever find that anything from your PhD experience and research enters into the games you create?
Bruno: I have never used my research or my day job in my games. I think I like to keep things separate. Like, I am a teacher, but I never use games when I teach. Once or twice I had an idea to make games about unicorns, but it never worked. Sometimes, when I make a game with a more or less medieval setting, I ask if there can be one or two unicorns somewhere.
Asmodee: Well, Citadels is as much fantasy as it is the real middle ages.
Bruno: The new Citadels has three unicorns, but I think that’s all. My PhD was already about fantasy more than reality. It was not about finding actual unicorns, so its difficult to make it into a game. My conception of implementing a theme has always been as much about winks and fun references as about simulation.
Asmodee: So, let’s talk a little about the new Citadels then. What is your favorite new character and new district?
Bruno: I think I like the Statue . It's very simple, but it adds something to the end-game, which is interesting. You have to be holding the crown at the end of the game. As for the favorite new character… The Blackmailer , because she can be played in subtle ways. She’s an interesting twist on the Thief .
Asmodee: I think, for districts, mine is the Theater . It looks so innocent, but once that card is on the table, it changes everything.
Bruno: The Theater! Of course, I should have said the Theater. Because when it is in play, you really do start playing a different game, one that is both Citadels and Mascarade at once.
We would like to thank Bruno Faidutti for sharing with us his thoughts, his time, and above all, his delightful games. You can find Raptor at retailers throughout North America right now. HMS Dolores and the new version of Citadels become available this fall. Mascarade will be back in stores in November.