Friday, April 11, 2008

Klutz & Konsulting

So, I came home for lunch Wednesday to hang out with Shari & our worship/youth pastor's wife, Margaret - and to "impart Disney wisdom" to her, as they are getting ready to go see the Mouse in a couple of weeks. (Yes, I realize I haven't finished my series on our visit to DLR... of course, I'll get right on it... no, I wouldn't hold your breath.) Meanwhile, Collin & Margaret's daughter, Eve, were busy dumping out all the toys they could find.

After we picked up the messterpiece they'd created, Margaret & Eve headed home - but Margaret noticed an oddly shaped box waiting at our front gate - from Klutz Press. I gleefully opened it and beheld 6 copies of The 15 Greatest Boardgames in the World.

But how did I end up getting six copies of a brand-spankin' new book? That, my friends, is the story that brings us together today...


Back in January of 2007, I got an e-mail from my friend, Scott Alden (known better to the boardgaming world as Aldie, the head honcho & chief bottle washer for - which, btw, is a site you should know if you have any interest in board or card games). He'd been approached by an editor at Klutz Press who was looking for someone who could take on a consultant role as they were updating The Book of Classic Board Games.

It's not like I'm really into the flow of my story (or anything close to it), so let's take a time-out to notice whose name is on the cover of the 1991 book: Sid Sackson. For those of you who aren't in the gaming community, the name may not mean much to you, but he was the grand old man of designer gaming here in the U.S. - his classic game, Acquire, was the inspiration for a number games (and game ideas). The idea of consulting on a reboot of something he had touched was both intriguing & intimidating.

But that initial e-mail said they were looking for someone who could evaluate games for kids age 7-10 and could suggest other games for the book - so I told Aldie to let 'em know I was interested.

About a week later, Pat Murphy (the editor), e-mailed me and offered me the job. (Etiquette keeps me from revealing the actual sum I was paid - but the total payment for my work on the book went a long way to making our Disneyland vacation possible.)

So, what does a consultant do? This wasn't my first consulting job - I worked for Tennessee Baptist Convention back in 2002-2003, helping them connect with "innovative" churches. (I did a chunk of data crunching & web surfing that time around.) But in this case, most of the work consisted of e-mailing Pat with ideas & opinions... and spending some pretty major chunks of time on the phone with her, explaining various gaming ideas & concepts.

And, although we never met, the other consultant on this project was the editor of Games Magazine, Wayne Schmittberger. He'd consulted on the earlier book and brought a lot to the table in regards to abstract games (which I have less interest/experience with.)

I don't want to go into details about our conversations - that seems unfair both to Pat & Wayne to share their thoughts without their O.K. - but the whole process of choosing the games was a lot of fun. I think one of my strongest suggestions was for us to think in gaming categories as we chose games:
  • race games
  • co-operative games
  • dexterity games
  • think-y (abstract) games
  • pick up & deliver games
  • collecting games
  • bluffing games
  • and so on...
At one point in the process, we asked for input from the BGG users (you can read what they had to say on this thread.) Their suggestions were helpful... and I need to make a special mention of Jonathan N. (BGG: quozl) who suggested China Moon - which actually ended up in the book!

In fact, we did approach a number of designers about either designing a game for the book (with little success) or licensing one of their previous games for the book (more success here). Bruno Faidutti & Wolfgang Kramer both contributed OOP games - China Moon & Corsaro.

Part of the process was suggesting games - and Braeden (my son) and I suggested a lot of oddball little games that didn't make the cut... along with some other good ideas that just didn't work out:
  • Igel Argern (which Pat thought enough of my description to purchase, but really probably didn't have a chance, what with needing 24 pieces that could stack.)
  • Choice (this Sid Sackson dice game is a solitaire favorite - but it's a little complicated for what we were doing - if you'd like to play it online, you can do so right here.)
  • Kangi Cup (this really is an oddball suggestion... it's a press your luck/race game featuring kangaroos... and also some of the crappiest production in a German game by a semi-major publisher. I'm still glad I own it - it's fun with 3 or 4 players - but don't knock yourself out trying to find a copy. I am, btw, the only person on the Geek who is willing to admit they own it. Having a custom die - complete with boomerang symbol - is one of the things that kept it out of the book.)
  • Ticket to Ride/Transamerica (I tried to figure out - in vain - how to do "trial versions" of each of these games for the book. Ah, well. If you haven't played 'em, you should. There are a couple of connection games in the book - Surround & The Game of Y - but not in the same family as these.)
  • Barricade/Malefiz (we did a lot of research, trying to figure out who did/didn't hold some kind of claim on this game... and Pat decided in the end that it wasn't worth it.)
The one suggestion Braeden & I made that "made it through" was Kramer's Corsaro - Irrfahrt im Piratenmeer (English translation: Corsaro - Stranded in Pirate Waters). It won the Kinderspiel des Jahres (game of the year for children in Germany) in 1991. I really like the game, so it's exciting to see it available to a whole new generation.

By summer, the game list had been finalized and we spent the next couple of months checking rules & artwork. I consider one of the wisest things to come out of my mouth was my diatribe on spinners & children's games:
  1. Spinners are, in general, a way to generate a fight - did you spin hard enough? did you lean on it to get to go one way or the other? is it on the line or not?
  2. If you are going to use a spinner, get the graphics guy to make the lines between the areas as THIN as possible, thus lessening the chance of a liner.
  3. Big areas are preferable to small areas - easier to see & less likely to cause "liner" problems.
  4. If there's another way to do it, it's almost always more elegant.
So, while a spinner was considered to play The Royal Game of Ur (which originally used 4 odd-shaped rocks to generate a number from 0-4), the final version simply has players tossing 4 coins in the air & counting heads... which actually feels more like the original Sumerian game.

And then, in late August, the final pages started coming across my e-mail. While I've been published before in magazines & journals (yes, I have a copy of each one, thank you) and even in one book (without credits - I wrote the teaching materials for one of Jay Strack's books), this is the first time I'd seen my name in an actual book... and it's in there twice! The second time, Pat was kind enough to call Wayne & myself "Game Gurus" in the credits - which my wife has found very, very funny. Sigh.


Which brings us, some months later, back to the box of books, which was part of my contract.

It was a great experience all the way around - Pat was wonderful to work with/for & I'd be happy to do stuff for Klutz again (hint, hint!). I'm pretty positive about the book (I'll review it in a separate blog post) and it was really a lot of fun to sit down with Braeden & play some of the games. I'm still a bit nervous that some of the hardcore "abstract" fans will be less pleased with the games that were chosen... or that Sid Sackson fans will be irritated at us re-doing his work - but I'll attempt to explain those choices (from MY perspective) in my review.

But all in all, a very good thing.


Mikko said...

Congratulations! I just yesterday read your comment on my blog about this project and I was wondering what was going on with this book. Nice to hear it's done and you got your copies! It's always fun to get a box of books with your name on them =)

Melissa said...

Congratulations! What fun for you :)

Anonymous said...

Very cool! I'll keep an eye out for it at the bookstore.


Jonathan said...

Hey, cool! I'm glad my suggestion made it in.

Jonathan said...

BTW, is this the new book?

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

That's it, Jon... I'm trying to finish a review to post later today.

Anonymous said...

Congrats, Mark!

Anonymous said...

All that's great and all, but what ARE the 15 greatest games??? Neither this blog nor the Amazon page list them. Enquiring minds want to know, you know.

aka pastor guy said...

I'm working on a review that will include that... and soon the Geek entry will go live with the list.

ketchum said...

I just found your blog through eric arneson's email newsletter and was thrilled to see another stonehenge-ish project with multiple games to play. There's really no better way to introduce new and old gamers alike to different types of games than to include as many as possible under one price tag. As one who has spent countless dollars just to check out games that look interesting on a shelf I can't wait.