So after playing Mombasa, which is an awesome game, I wanted to chat with the designer, Alexander Pfister because he also designed other games that I really liked, for example Broom Service. I wanted to find out more about his design process and specifically how Mombasa was "born". We initially tried an audio interview but due to technical issues, we had to follow up with a written interview instead. Here are the questions and answers:
1) As far as you know, what was the overall reaction to the choice of the theme?Some liked the theme, some didn't. Many of those, who were skeptical but nevertheless gave it a try, afterwards said that they never had the feeling of a colonization game. Mombasa is not a historical simulation, it's about investing in 4 fictional companies in Africa. The cover may be misleading.
2) There is a small paragraph about the history of Africa at the first page of the rulebook. Who made the decision to include it there and why?The developer of Mombasa, Viktor Kobilke, and me. I think a discussion about the ugly history of colonization can never be wrong. The worst thing we can do is to try to forget and repress.
[Eric] I find it interesting that they decided to include the paragraph. From what I can tell, the game could even be set in space on Mars and it will still work fine but choosing to tackle this topic provides some insight into both the designer and developer.
3) What was it like to revisit your game again after 30 years and where did you start from?I designed the predecessor of Mombasa as a teenager, 30 years ago, and enjoyed it very much at this time. When I found the hand drawn game board of Africa, I wanted to make a modern game out of it. The card mechanism was the beginning of this change. And many more followed over the years.
4) What is your most recent favorite game, not including your own?The Voyages of Marco Polo.
[Eric] This I concur too! Voyages is a very fun game. I play it quite a bit on yucata.de!
5) There are so many mechanisms in Mombasa so at which point did you think "Okay, that is it. I am done" ?After implementing the bookkeeping track. I wanted to give players a strategy, which they can play without too much interference from other players.
[Eric] One of the tricky thing for designers is to decide when they have completed a game and there isn't a need to add any more mechanisms. There are two ways to go about doing this and one is to add everything but the kitchen sink and then trim away the fats and another is to start from a basic mechanism and slowly add until you are satisfied.
6) How was playtesting like? Did you do it module by module or as a whole?I playtested the game as a whole. And the publisher too. The developer Viktor Kobilke invested a lot of time into the game, he had many great ideas.
7) Were there any big changes that you made to the game after playtesting?Yes, Mombasa changed a lot over time. Interestingly, it was much easier at the beginning but the publisher wanted a heavy game. It could have worked as a middle weight game, but I prefer it as it is now.
8) In terms of designing a game, which comes first? Theme or mechanism?It depends, but mostly the core mechanism. Then I try to find an appropriate theme very fast. A theme gives you further ideas what to do in a game and in which direction to develop it.
[Eric] This I agree as well. Sometimes though the theme can give inspiration to create a mechanism. Most euro games though I believe it is mechanism first and theme later.
9) How long usually does it take for you to design and finish designing a game?I work on several games parallel, so it's difficult to say. Mombasa took 5 years, other games 3 months. Both are exceptions, mostly it is 1 to 2 years. Even if the game is finished, the publisher will give feedback and you have to change the game again.
10) Are you currently a full time designer or part time?Part time. Unfortunately designers aren't payed that well.
[Eric] Sigh the woes of a tabletop designer. As I am graduating soon from my Game Design graduate program, I am also faced with this situation. Unless I have designed the next Ticket to Ride, being a full time designer is going to be difficult!
11) What kind of things do you draw inspiration from, for your games?Actually, ideas are not the bottleneck in my designing process. I have many ideas written down, but exploring them, making a game out of them, this is what takes a lot of time. I have to force myself not to start a new game when I have an interesting idea but finish my older games.
[Eric] I believe many designers can tell you this is mostly the norm. I myself have a lot of ideas that I start to note them down but to fully develop them requires a lot of time, playtesting and iterations!
12) What's next for you?Broom Service had a great brave/cowardly mechanic. The publisher asked Andreas Pelikan an me to make an easy card game out of it. At first I was skeptical if this makes sense, but we achieved it and in 3 months "Broom Service - The Card Game" will be on the market. It is a very short and fast game - only about 20 minutes - with lots of laughter and fun.
I'm also finishing on my next big game which hopefully will be released in Essen this year. But it's still in development so can't say much about this.
Then I have a dice game being evaluated by a publisher. We'll see if he likes it.
[Eric] I can't wait for Broom Service the card game! I loved Broom Service and I can't wait to see how different the card game will be!