Tuesday, October 29, 2019

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 195: Marco Valtriani

Welcome to People Behind the Meeples, a series of interviews with indie game designers.  Here you'll find out more than you ever wanted to know about the people who make the best games that you may or may not have heard of before.  If you'd like to be featured, head over to http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html and fill out the questionnaire! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples. Support me on Patreon!

Name:Marco Valtriani
Location:Pisa, Italy
Day Job:I design games and I work as an advertiser. In both cases I really prefer to work "on demand", on specific targets, with a strong focus and a well planned strategy.
Designing:Over ten years!
BGG:Marco Valtriani
Facebook:Marco Valtriani Designer/
Find my games at:Mostly Amazon and stores.
Today's Interview is with:

Marco Valtriani
Interviewed on: 8/13/2019

Italian designer Marco Valtriani has been designing games for over a decade and has a number of published games to his name. Voodoo and the Super Fantasy series are probably his most well known games. Read on to learn more about Marco, his current projects, and how he goes about designing games.

Some Basics
Tell me a bit about yourself.

How long have you been designing tabletop games?
Over ten years!

Why did you start designing tabletop games?
I suppose it was some kind of inclination. I'm a really creative person - in addition to game design, I work as an advertiser and a graphic designer - and since I was a child, and like many children, I always loved not only to play, but also to modify or invent games. I play tabletop boardgames and videogames since I was six, and role playing games since I was eleven. I started designing board games for a million reasons why: it's creative, it's fun, it makes people have a good time and socialize. And you never stop learning while designing games, and I really like to learn new things.

What game or games are you currently working on?
I'm working on four projects right now. Three of them are specific requests for the publisher I mostly work with, Red Glove, and the last one is a personal project. I can't say much on the first three games due to a non disclosure agreement, and the third one is a huge thematic game about ethical choices in a twisted world, but it's still a work in progress. I also have a story-driven rpg in my drawer, but I have not enough time for everything.

Have you designed any games that have been published?
Sure! Twelve games designed or co-designed by me found their way to the shelves. My first published game is O11, published by Scribabs in 2011. The most known in Italy is undoubtedly Vudù (Voodoo in the US) with Red Glove, and the last one, Armata Strigoi, a game involving the power metal band "Powerwolf" and published by Scribabs.

What is your day job?
As I said, I design games and I work as an advertiser. In both cases I really prefer to work "on demand", on specific targets, with a strong focus and a well planned strategy.

Your Gaming Tastes
My readers would like to know more about you as a gamer.

Where do you prefer to play games?
At home. I like playing at fairs or events, but usually I have to work there. If I play just to enjoy the experience, my home is my favourite place.

Who do you normally game with?
Mostly with my partner, sometimes with my 11-years old child (but he's more attracted by video games, as I was at his age). And, obviously, with friends. I also like a lot to play with publishers and fellow designers, because it's nice to comment on games with professionals, but this is more "work" than "recreation".

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Well, it depends on the friends. I have a small collection of 250 games of any genre, I think I'll ask my friends what theme they like the most and, considering their experience, I'll try to find a game suiting their taste. My favourite games are usually thematic\hybrid, and I like long games, so if I can freely choose I will probably go for an american\hybrid co-operative game.

And what snacks would you eat?
Is beer considered a snack?

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
If I play, I favour silence. I really, really like music, but music and board games does not fit well together for me.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
Stratagemma, in Florence. They're really nice, and in addition to the newest releases they have a lot of rare and old thematic games, which is great.

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Ouch, I can't choose just one. My top 3 here and now is Lobotomy (american), Mage Knight Board Game (hybrid) and Puerto Rico (eurogame). Least favorite... probably games that do not regulate interactions between players, like free bargaining.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
My favorite mechanic is probably Mac Gerdts' rondel. But I also like a lot deckbuilding, card driven games and role\action selection as in Puerto Rico or Twilight Imperium.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Twilight Imperium on top. Britannia, Shogun and Game of Thrones Board Game tailgate it.

What styles of games do you play?
I like to play Board Games, Card Games, Miniatures Games, RPG Games, Video Games

Do you design different styles of games than what you play?
I like to design Board Games, Card Games, Miniatures Games, RPG Games

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?
I really enjoy black humor, but CAH as a game is not my cup of tea.

You as a Designer
OK, now the bit that sets you apart from the typical gamer. Let's find out about you as a game designer.

When you design games, do you come up with a theme first and build the mechanics around that? Or do you come up with mechanics and then add a theme? Or something else?
The first thing is always the player. My design method is built around Tracy Fullerton's ideas about player-centric game design and a creative use of the "Five Ws" of journalism (each "W" covers an aspect of the design process). Depending on the target and the genre of the game I may start from the theme or the core mechanic, it does not matter so much, I always try to bond them a lot, I believe that theme and mechanics must work together to make the player experience meaningful, engaging and satisfying.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
Yes, in my early years I entered twice a card game design competition in Lucca Games, one of the biggest Italian fair. I made it to the finals once, but I never won. The winners submitted better games, I have to admit.

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
I really like Vlaada Chvatil's designs, and I think that Mac Gerdts is both a great designer and a really nice person. I also harbor a lot of esteem for Paolo Vallerga, not only as a game designer, but as an all-round artist (he's a graphic designer, a musician, a composer and a video-maker).

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
I don't know how to describe it. My best ideas come from the game itself: while thinking about "how" to make the best experience, while trying to figure out how I can make people "feel" the emotions and the sensations I want them to feel, usually something pops out in my mind when I look at the "big picture". It's like a puzzle that solves itself (with a little push from my mind).

How do you go about playtesting your games?
I must admit that I don't like very much playtesting, but it's a really important part of the job, so I try to do efficiently. I do a lot of solo-test, if possible, trying to make the game the most entertaining before playing it with other people. then I try the game over and over with my playtesting group and with publishers. I think that here starts the real development phase, when you polish the game with iterations that sharpen the rules play after play.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I like working alone or with selected people. I really like working with Francesco Giovo, co-designer of Vudù, and I really enjoyed working with Diego Cerreti. I'm a bit of a lone wolf, but working in teams is crucial (and you'll have to do it anyway during the development\editing process, so you can't skip this part), so I always try to get better at team working.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
In general, I think that making people have a great time is a fantastic job. Not easy, but really satisfying, so I always hope (and try) to do my best, and it's tough anyway. I also try to put some original ideas in every design, maybe just a twist, to make people say "wow, this is clever!". More specifically, I would like to make a board game that allow players to make real ethical choices (not dictated by mere utilitarism). I'm working on it, but it's not an easy task, and I'm really curious about the incoming "King's Dilemma" from Horrible Games, which seems to go in that direction in a smart way.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Dragon Ball, I think. I'm a really big fan. Unfortunately CMoN just announced a game with the licence, so I think it will remain a dream. But I'm a metalhead and I had the luck to work with Therion and Powerwolf, designing two games with a "heavy metal" theme, I worked as a developer on a Disney CCG, and Vudù got a Cthulhu spin-off, so I really can't complain, I worked with really nice IPs. Probably the best thing would be designing a game for Fear Factory, my favourite band ever.

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
I wish someone told me how hard it is designing games and how frustrating can be finding a publisher, especially at the beginning. Sometimes you seriously risk burnout. Often the gaming market seems a big happy family if you look it from outside or superficially, but it's not. I always thank Piero Cioni, a fellow designer that unfortunately had passed away some weeks ago, one of the few people that had the guts to tell me how things work in gaming world.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Well, I have a three point list that is the motto of Board Game Designers Italia, my little Facebook community about game design. The Motto is: "Play. Know. Design." You have to play, you really have to play a ton of games, because you can't make something without knowing deeply how it works in practice. And you must play also to keep you updated about news, trends and audience's taste. You have to know at least the basics of game design theory and what Game Studies are: games are a complex subject and no one is born with spontaneous wisdom or infuse science. So you need to study and to learn: talent is a good thing, but it's not enough in 99% of people. And you have to design. To design a lot of games. Make a lot of them. Make mistakes, learn from them, and start again. Don't get stuck on that single, 10-years old project: make new stuff, be creative. I think that these are three good starting points.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Published games, I have: With Scribabs:
011 (2011)
Armata Strigoi (just released at Essen 2019)

With Red Glove:
Super Fantasy: Ugly Snouts Assault (2013)
Vudù (2014, with Francesco Giovo)
Godz (2014, with Diego Cerreti)
Dogsitter (2014)
Ghiotto di Ghiande (2014)
MagiKaboom (2014)
Merry Yard (2014)
Super Fantasy: Night of the Badly-Dead (2014)
Vudù - Ninjas vs Pygmies (2015, with Francesco Giovo)
Vudù - Double Trouble (2015, with Francesco Giovo)
Vudù - Barbarians vs Zombies (2016, with Francesco Giovo)
The Tales of the Jungle Book (2016)
Vudulhu (2017, with Francesco Giovo)
Vudù - Monsters vs Aliens (2018, with Francesco Giovo) Vudù - More Dollz (with Francesco Giovo, also just released)

Games that I'm playtesting are: Lot of stuff here, but all of them are under non-disclosure agreement.

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
Card and Board Game Developers Guild

And the oddly personal, but harmless stuff…
OK, enough of the game stuff, let's find out what really makes you tick! These are the questions that I’m sure are on everyone’s minds!

Star Trek or Star Wars? Coke or Pepsi? VHS or Betamax?
Star Wars. Beer. On-demand media-services providers.

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
I have a degree in arts and the disciplines of performing arts: Cinema and Music are a fundamental part of my life. I also really like videogames.

What is something you learned in the last week?
New tendencies on US gaming market. But also that anxiety is usually wrong. And an alternative way to cook a Weißwurst.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
Music: mostly metal (power\gothic\death), punk and darkwave, but I really enjoy a lot of different genres. Books: apart from great classics, my favourite genre is undoubtedly fantasy. I also like horror and I'm a huge fan of Sir Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman and Douglas Adams. I also devour tons of japanese and american comics and graphic novels. Movies: A Clockwork Orange by Stanley Kubrick is my #1. I like both deep movies from visionary directors and light-hearted, entertaining movies. I like mostly action, horror and comedy, but as you may presume with a degree in Cinema I really watched a huge amount of movies of any genre.

What was the last book you read?
I would like to say "Fenrir's Awakening" by Paolo Vallerga, but it's the penultimate. The last one is "Game Mechanics: Advanced Game Design (Voices That Matter)" by Ernest Adams and Joris Dormans.

Do you play any musical instruments?
Not anymore.

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I'm koumpounophobic. I have an irrational discomfort with buttons, so I never wear them (just like Steve Jobs, but with less money on my bank account). And I always wear black.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
I've done plenty of crazy things, but I fear that most of them are not suitable for any audience. Maybe I can get away with it mentioning the time I made an unplanned travel in Germany, with almost no money, no contacts and no ideas about where to go, lodging in the red light district of Frankfurt (because it was cheaper), just because it was fun. And it was.

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
It happened more than 15 years ago. I was completely frantic after the end of a love story. I decided to go on a trip with two crazy friends across Italy, visiting people we met on the internet and random places. Most exciting, insane, adventurous travel ever, without even leaving the country.

Who is your idol?
I don't have an idol, I take inspiration from many people but I tend not to idolize anyone. I really like Giulio Cavalli (a writer and dramatist strongly involved in the fight against italian mafia), Doug Stanhope (stand up comedian), Neil Gaiman (writer), Burton C. Bell (Fear Factory singer and songwriter), Fat Mike (NOFX singer and songwriter), Richard Dawkins (scientist) and a load of writers, musicians and directors. Also, I really admire strong people that have made something good, it's a long list ranging from Charles Darwin to Muhammad Yunus. People can be awesome.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Nothing. Life is just a ride, a single ride, let's enjoy it as it is.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
Totally introvert. I fake extroversion if needed, but it's exhausting.

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
Batman, without any doubt.

Have any pets?
Two pets. Sayuki, a mutt dog, and Ichigo, a norwegian rat.

When the next asteroid hits Earth, causing the Yellowstone caldera to explode, California to fall into the ocean, the sea levels to rise, and the next ice age to set in, what current games or other pastimes do you think (or hope) will survive into the next era of human civilization? What do you hope is underneath that asteroid to be wiped out of the human consciousness forever?
I think that the instinct to play will survive until humanity does. I don't know which games will survive - it's probably mostly a matter of chance - but I'm sure that people will make new games anyway. So, who cares? We will always find something to play with.

If you’d like to send a shout out to anyone, anyone at all, here’s your chance (I can’t guarantee they’ll read this though):
Please, study and learn. Ignorance is a scourge. And be honest and kind. Being an asshole is really humiliating, considering the potential of any human being.

Thanks for answering all my crazy questions!


Thank you for reading this People Behind the Meeples indie game designer interview! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples and if you'd like to be featured yourself, you can fill out the questionnaire here: http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html

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