Io adoro i giochi e sono interessato anche alle persone che sono collegate al mondo dei giochi, disegnatori, produttori, venditori o altri entusiasti. Questo articolo e' il primo di una serie di interviste che io, un giocatore ottimista, faro'. Sono sicuro che vi piaceranno!
Interviste di un ottimista #1 - Silvano Sorrentino
DaVinci Games e' composta da 8 persone, tra cui Silvano Sorrentino ed Emiliano Sciarra.
Silvano lavora principalmente come autore: Dancing Dice, Ostrakon, molti dei giochi gratuiti sul sito web, i giochi di GiocAreA OnLine, ed alcuni giochi promozionali. Silvano insieme a Domenico Di Giorgio gestisce i contenuti del sito web e risponde alle mail che vengono mandate alla DaVinci con idee e proposte di giochi nuovi.
Tom: Silvano, just recently (in the past couple of years), the Italian gaming scene has become more and more recognizable. One of the main games that has been at the forefront of this is Bang!, produced by your company, daVinci games. Bang! is based heavily on theme, which seems to be a staple of Italian games. How important is theme when you are choosing to produce a game?
Silvano: Hi, Tom! Well, the very strong theme is a peculiarity of the "Gioco Italiano" ("Italian Game") style since the '60’s. For example, the games from Alma (Commander, La Conquista del West...) and International Team (Zargo's Lord, VII Legio...) were often strong-themed games. In its column on GiocAreA OnLine #11, Domenico Di Giorgio notes that "Gioco Italiano has a strong bond between the theme and the mechanics, simple rules and short gameplay (with respect to similar non-Italian games), 'artistic' graphics and a very good appeal for people of any age and gender", and I think this is true. BANG! was the first game we chose for publication: all of us at DaVinci thought it was a great game, and the theme was absolutely brilliant and coherent with the mechanics. Most of the other daVinci games (like Tuchulcha, Viva il Re!, Lupus in Tabula...) have a very strong theme, or a good selection of characters. We think that this makes the games more "realistic" and fun in some way. You see, saying, "You cannot beat my Sheriff Slab the Killer" or "My aruspexes have entered the temple, so Tuchulcha must vanish!" is more fun than saying, "You cannot beat my yellow card with values 2-4-7" or "I've thrown 5-6, so you lose your pawns". Am I right? So, I think that a good theme is not only there for "chrome", but it really makes a game better. That's why BANG! is our bestseller: its theme is great, with good characters and easy-to-remember rules (because they are very "obvious" once you learn them). Another thing I really like about strong-themed games is that you can easily add a variant or create an expansion for them, so you don't have to throw away all the ideas you haven't put in the box. For example, the Dodge City expansion for BANG! introduces many characters and cards that were there in the first prototype. Or, in our free Bonsai game line we've got a card of El Diablo for Lupus in Tabula, and everybody on our forum can come up with *his* rules to use it. So, to answer your question: a good theme is important when choosing a game,
but a great theme with too simple rules is not a game yet!
Tom: So you believe that theme is more important than mechanics? Do most Italians feel this way? Are games such as Tigris and Euphrates, San Marco, and others with mostly pasted-on themes not popular in Italy?
Silvano: Oh, well, I'm not saying that theme is more important than mechanics; I was just telling you about daVinci's preferences. "German" games are very popular in Italy right now, and I've played many games of Tigris and Euphrates, El Grande, Saint Petersburg and so on. My ideal game is one with good mechanics and a good theme, and - most important - where the mechanics "come from" the theme. See Puerto Rico, for example, is a great game with brilliant mechanics; but when you play it, it all flows naturally, because it looks "real" (you need to buy goods, to work them, to put them on ships and to sell them while waiting for new workers to arrive). But, speaking as an Italian player, and for Italian players, a game *must* have good rules first. A game *is* its rules! I know many games with a strong theme that are bad (don't ask for titles, please!), and many games with a pasted-on theme that are great...
Tom: Speaking of daVinci, can you give us some history as to how the company came together?
Silvano: Let's do the time warp again! In 1998, Andrea Angiolino, Domenico Di Giorgio, Roberta Barletta and other gamers founded a games magazine called "GiocAreA". That was the only Italian games magazine in those years, so many enthusiast players start reading it. Eventually, during an important Italian game convention, Domenico Di Giorgio met Roberto Corbelli; and after a few months they started talking about founding a new company. The main idea of Domenico is to create a sort of "Italian Cheapass Games"
(you know, the American company by James Ernest that sells very affordable games; but you need to find your own dice, pawns, tokens, etc.). The main idea of Roberto, instead, is to be inspired by "Doris and Frank" - I mean a small company where everything (games, illustrations...) is done "in the house". Some other gamers from the GiocAreA experience started thinking about it, so in a year or so the project was ready to get real. The name "daVinci" was chosen after a very long brainstorming session, to reinforce the fact that it's an Italian company. Then, daVinci started choosing some people like they probably did on Star Trek's Enterprise: there was need for some authors, for a game-analyst, for an art director, etc. So, there were nine people in summer 2001 that founded daVinci, and everyone had his own peculiar role. I was "recruited" as a game designer and as a web content editor. Then we decided to make a great entrance in the gaming world by starting with a deluxe game (110 color cards in a color box), abandoning the "Cheapass" idea. That game was obviously BANG!; it became almost an instant hit, winning many prizes (Lucca Games Best of Show 2002, Acqui 2002, and later two Origins awards). Then we kept choosing very good games from famous designers (like Derek Carver's Farfalia, or Marco Donadoni's Tuchulcha), or new ideas that worked very well (like Viva il Re!, Oriente or our Werewolf-esque Lupus in Tabula).
Our website is a good "portal" to the daVinci world for people all around the globe, so a couple of years later we started to collaborate with other companies (Mayfair, Abacus...), and the rest is history!
Tom: The rest is history... Just what are the future plans of daVinci? Are there any new games in the pipeline?
Silvano: Well, of course there are. There is a huge pipeline right in front of me, with a great "TOP SECRET" written with red paint all over it, but I'll see what can I tell you. Our next game will be out in a few weeks, and it's called ORIENTE by Luca Coppola. It's a very good card game for 4-12 players that won our first contest for game designers. I think it's very original; you don't play in turns, but you've got your character and you can "claim your destiny" when you like by making your action. I really don't know any game that resembles it, maybe it's a bit like Citadels mixed with Lupus in Tabula; but you really have to try this one. Then, we already have planned and/or have in production some of the new games for 2005. I really cannot give many hints, but... whoa! I've just wiped out by mistake that red "TOP SECRET", so I can tell you something more, just keep it to yourself, okay? Some of our new games, in no particular order, will be:
- PALATINUM: a tile-laying game that's easy to play but with many strategic choices (like Carcassonne or Samurai, for example.)
- FREDERICUS: a very original game about chasing medieval beasts in Castel Del Monte.
- BEETLEZ: a quick game of reflexes, speed and a bit of memory for all the family that is very, very fun to play.
- LUCCA CITTA': the winner of our latest contest for game designers, held in the city (and during the game convention) of Lucca.
- and... a new, little expansion for BANG! in the style of the much wanted (and totally sold out) High Noon.
We'll keep following our ideal of "Gioco Italiano" with themed games that have simple rules and short gameplay, but we'll try to get more close to the "hardcore gamers", who will certainly like Palatinum and Fredericus above all. And, of course, we will come up with a new bunch of free Bonsai games on one card ("rules on one side, board on the other") like the ones we had in Essen. And we still have more surprises cooking, so you just have to wait. You won't be disappointed!
Tom: Rarely am I disappointed by a game. I've noticed that most of your games, with a few exceptions, handle a lot of people. Bang! with expansions goes up to eight, your new game you just mentioned goes up to twelve, Mr. Bill handles eight, etc. Is this something you look for when designing/accepting a game?
Silvano: Well, you may have noticed that we have three different lines of products. "Gioconda" games (like Ostrakon and Lupus in Tabula) handle up to 12 players (or 25, with Lupus in Tabula). "Allegro" games (like Mr. Bill or Moby Pick) usually handle up to 6 or 8 players. The "Maestro" line is more varied; for example: Tuchulcha is for 2-4 players, while BANG! + Dodge City, as you noticed, can be played in eight. Our unwritten rule is that a game must be able to be played by at least three different numbers of players (example 2-4 players; not 2-3 players). For example, we thought Tuchulcha was a really good game, but the original rules were for 2 or 3 players. We worked hard to create a new character (Lasa Vecuvia) and a new board to let a fourth player in. This is not only for commercial reasons, but also mostly because - as gamers - we have mixed feelings about games for a specific number of players. I mean; games like San Marco or Basari are really a blast to play, but only with three players. Even the original Settlers of Catan, in my opinion, really works well with just four players. You see, speaking as a player, I think that buying a game that can be played with different numbers of players is a better investment for me, because I'm sure I will play it more, and with different people too. Just another thing: sometimes I feel that some games have been play tested with 4 players then sold as a "2-6 player game". I know many games that are too slow, less fun, or simply broken with a specific number of players. Here in daVinci we think that, for example, "2 players Tuchulcha" and "4 players Tuchulcha" are like *different* games, and we ask our play testers to try them separately. So, we are totally honest with the "number of players" label on the box. The game really works with that number of players! Obviously, different numbers mean different strategies - you know BANG! is different with four or eight players, but the game still works very well in my opinion. A final note: as you can see by our website, we try to publish the variants for different numbers of players, so you can try them: see the "13-24 players" variant for Ostrakon or the "2 players variant" for BANG! In some cases, these variants become successful (and play tested) enough, and eventually they make it in a new edition of a game (like "3 players BANG!").
Tom: You've designed a number of games yourself, including the recent Dancing Dice. How do you come up with a game? Do you get you ideas from other games?
Silvano: Well, there are many different ways to start creating a game: starting from a theme (like in my little swimming game Freestyle on our website), starting from a good mechanic (like the scoring system of Ostrakon), starting from the observation of another game (the first idea of Dancing Dice is a Poker Dice game where the lowest combination beats the strongest one), or simply discovering an idea somewhere in your mind that is fully working and looks to be there since forever (like Wordfinger). Of course, it’s not that simple; some games start with two or more of those ways together - you can read the "designer's notes" for Ostrakon on our website to know its full story. And sometimes a game changes completely from the very first idea to the full game. I have created games since I was a child, and I remember that my first games were very derivative, like a poor man's Dungeonquest or some uninspired gamebooks. So, I think that the best way to start a game designer career is to observe a couple of good games and to think "what if...", like "what if...the Settlers miss Catan and sail to Atlantis?" or "what if... Villa Paletti was a card game?". Of course you don't have to copy someone else's game just to start your own creative process in some way. That was the long answer. The short answer to your "How do you come up with a game?" question is "I really cannot explain", and it's far more honest!
Tom: Can you tell us which of your games is your favorite, and what game by another designer do you like most?
Silvano: Well, I've published only a few games yet, so I love them all like children. I'm very proud of the little games I wrote with great restrictions, like Wordfinger (the first Bonsai game on one card, that needs nothing else but your fingers to play), or Tuskland, a game I wrote for a set of elaborate cards that already existed, for the 10th year of Lucca Games convention. I still enjoy very much a quick game of Dancing Dice or an evening playing Ostrakon with some friends. Let me publish another 50 games or so, then I can choose properly! Choosing a favorite game by someone else is difficult too, but I'm a big Knizia fan; so I'll stick to his classics (Samurai, Modern Art, Lord of the Rings). Sid Sackson's games are great, too (Can't Stop, Focus, and the ones in the book "A Gamut of Games"). If you want to stay in Italy, my choices would be Wings of War by Andrea Angiolino, the huge War of the Ring by Di Meglio-Maggi-Nepitello, or daVinci's Viva il Re! by Stefano Luperto (great idea for an original quick filler). You asked me for one title; I gave you nine, sorry! So let's make ten, by adding the emperor of all abstract games: Go - a perfect game.
Tom: It's certainly obvious that you enjoy games! Well, both in the Italian and world-wide boardgaming community, daVinci is certainly making its mark. I certainly wish your company well in the future. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview!
Silvano: Well, we at daVinci are *all* hardcore gamers, maybe this can explain our success. Thank you for this nice conversation, Tom, and for your wishes. Now, all you readers, go out and buy a Gioco Italiano!