The Game of Gaming

Interview: Emanuele Ornella (Part 2)

Posted by Eisley on 5th January 2010

This is the second part of our interview with games designer Emanuele Ornella whose games include:  Assyria (2009), Martinique(2009), Byzanz (2008), Hermagor (2006), Il Principe (2005), Oltre Mare (2004), and Fantasy Pub (2003).

[This is a follow-on from the first part of our interview with Emanuele Ornella.]

What influenced you to design Assyria?  Did Assyria start with theme or mechanics?  How do you create a board with so many different icons and know it’s the best layout?
Ema: As I mentioned, Assyria started from Evo. In Evo you have a board with hexagons in different colors. These colors are the possible terrains where dinos can survive in a specific round. I started with a similar approach but tried to have separated hexagon tiles, as in Catan. That element was removed when I discovered that some combinations of hexagons (with similar symbols close to one another) would be too powerful, plus when I realized that the food cards added enough randomness. The best layout was one where symbols were equally distributed and where no two similar symbols were on adjacent hexagons. That came out after several playtests.

What about Martinique?   Where did that idea start from?
Ema: Martinique came from the game “Lanrick” by Lewis Carroll. I liked this game when I was at the high school because it was my first attempt to design a video game based on a boardgame. At that time I was not so familiar with other board games and this game was an alternative to the other well-known classic abstract games like Reversi, Chess, etc. So I implemented a two-player version that needed to be played on the same computer. This was at the end of 80s.

So, I wanted to explore this game again. I tried to play it a few years ago and found it had an interesting mechanism, but it wasn’t good enough for a modern boardgame. Therefore, I started to develop it. The first version was too similar to the original game and was not well received. After more than a year later, in which I did not develop the game, I was contacted by QWG games who asked about a two-player game. I took back the prototype and, in a few days, I had the final game working perfectly. It’s an example of a prototype where the idea was good, but I needed to wait a long period without thinking about it before reaching the final design.

How long do you spend balancing a game?  How many playtest games are needed before you commit to the board/cards/values that will be in the final game?
Ema: I have several notebooks where I write down my ideas. Sometimes these ideas never become a prototype. Sometimes different ideas merge together to make only one prototype. Some prototypes are no good so I decide to stop them. I playtest my games a lot before asking my friends to try them and I try to go to them only if the game really works. Of course, sometimes what looks like a promising design fails miserably to work with “real gamers”. But with more experience I have reduced the amount of time it takes to develop an idea. I’m able to decide if a game will work or not earlier than I could a few years ago. Therefore, I have more time to concentrate on valid ideas.

The number of playtests and amount of time to spend in tuning depends on the game. Assyria was really well tuned and Cyril from Ystari helped me a lot! Martinique is a much easier game and only a small amount of tuning was required. Byzanz, on the other hand, required almost no further tuning (only the rule for the special case where all players pass the auction was discussed with Amigo’s developer).

How did you sell your first game?  Did you self-publish?  How did you get your first publishing deal?
Ema: My very first game was Fantasy Pub. My wife and I decided to self-publish the game and to go to Essen to try our luck. It was a great fun and sold out. The next year we were at the fair with Oltremare and this time the success was even greater. I was contacted by several publishers for a license a few times after this which resulted in the creation of the Amigo version. The nice thing was that, in the meantime, Tilsit was really interested in a new version of Fantasy Pub and the two games in the new edition were finally released together at Essen.

Is designing your full-time job?  When you did your first game, did you do it full-time or have another job too?
Ema: I have another job. I am software engineering and I am currently working as support for a US-based software company. The boardgame market is not rich enough to give me and my family the chance to live off of this.

How much time each week do you spend on game design? Do you try to work fixed hours or just work when your mind is being creative?
Ema: My mind never really stops being creative. The “alone playtest” phase is in the evening – Almost each evening I spend few hours to think, design, prepare prototypes or play for my own. So I could say about 3-4 evenings per week, plus a couple of nights to play. The secret? Avoiding the television gives me more and more free time and doesn’t kill my mind.

Do you get requests to design games for companies now?
Ema: Not really, but I am available if any company is interested.

Have you ever attended the game designers/publishers event in Göttingen?  If so, was it useful?
Ema: No, I discovered this after I published some games, so I never went there.

Do you have game designs in production for 2010?
Ema: There are some prototypes in test to different publisher at the moment. But I have no idea if they like these games and want to publish anything in 2010. Big publishers take a long time for the whole process. So if you sign a contract now you, it will probably take more than one year to have the game published, but who knows?

I am hoping to release my first game at Essen 2010.  Do you have any advice for first-time designers like me?
Ema: Good luck! My idea is that at Essen you can reach a lot of gamers. Mainly if you are a small company it’s good to have a gamer game. Try to have people talk about your game. Then you will have done the first step in the right direction!

Thank you so much, Ema, for sharing your thoughts and experiences.  Good luck with your future games. We look forwards to them.


You can read a review of Assyria here.


2 Responses to “Interview: Emanuele Ornella (Part 2)”

  1. good review!
    thanks and good luck for your game design!!

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