The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Martin Wallace Signatures (non-Train)

Designers, like artists, have preferred themes. Views they repeat over and over, with slight variation. If I see a game where I can pick a face up card from five selections (or so), guessing that Alan Moon designed it seems reasonable.

Last night I played Perikles for the first time, and I’m thinking about Martin Wallace. And his ‘design specifications.’ I don’t know if he consciously wrote these out, but certain ideas illuminate his (non-train) games.

I’ve played the following Wallace games:

I’ve also played Sixteen Thirty Something, but I really don’t remember it well. (My recollection of Princes of the Renaissance is sketchy, too).

A few themes keep popping up:

Three Main Rounds/Epochs/Eras. He just seems to like that.

A primary victory condition that may change. This is strongest in Liberte or Byzantium, both of which have Victory points, but triggers that end the game and completely change the scoring system. Perikles, by contrast, just ends the game early. Even Struggle of Empires has a minor version of this, with unrest causing automatic loss.

An Add influence phase, followed by a ‘resolve conflict’ phase. This one may be more of a stretch, but it certainly figures in Perikles and Liberte. Doesn’t apply to Struggle of Empires (which has both go at once) or Byzantium.

Players operate both/multiple sides of a battle. Perikles, Liberte and Byzantium have this in spades. You may lead a faction in one area, and oppose it in another. In Struggle of Empires, you control a fixed country, but the alliance change from round to round. Of all of the ‘signatures’ that Wallace has, I find this the most compelling.

Still, Wallace is hardly pedantic. These don’t apply to Runebound, or the train games. Even among his Warfrog games it’s not universal (I haven’t tried Tempus but I don’t think these apply.)

I guess his Magnum opus would be a train infrastructure game where one round you are for the Union Pacific, and the next you control the Sante Fe.

Signatures aren’t in every game, of course. Designers try new things. But, to me, these seem to be the core of Wallace’s design.

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Written by taogaming

March 17, 2007 at 5:18 pm

Posted in Ramblings

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17 Responses

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  1. One of Wallace’s early designs is Mordred and that also features multiple victory conditions and players operating on both sides of the battle. So those trends go back quite a ways (Mordred was released in 1999).

    Larry Levy

    March 17, 2007 at 10:27 pm

  2. You mean to say you haven’t played Age of Steam?!

    Iain

    March 17, 2007 at 10:32 pm

  3. I’ve played Age of Steam, but it didn’t seem to apply. Wallace’s train designs seem distinct from his non-train designs.

    Brian

    March 17, 2007 at 11:23 pm

  4. Designers, like artists, have preferred themes. Views they repeat over and over, with slight variation.

    Well, most designers do. But if you look at Reiner Knizia’s games, the level to which he doesn’t repeat himself is amazing, especially considering his tremendous output.

    I’d also tend to put Teuber at that level too, even if not as versatile as Knizia. It’s true, Teuber has spent a fair amount of time milking the Catan series, but once you get past the dice, it’s also impressive how varied the games are – Elasund, Candamir, the Settlers Card Game, Starship Catan, Struggle for Rome, and Starfarers as a group are all very different from each other. Plus of course he’s got other games like Adel Verpflichtet and Barbarossa which are nothing like Settlers to his credit. Maybe it’s because the Settlers’ similarities are more “bottom up” (they all rest upon the foundation of the production die rolls, but vary a lot otherwise), while the mechanical similarities designers like Alan Moon or Martin Wallace re-use are more top-down, more constraining, so they fell more similar.

    Chris Farrell

    March 19, 2007 at 7:50 pm

  5. I’m not a Wallace fan, but not because of his consistencies. Your observations made me think he needs to diversify himself. I’m wondering if anything strikes you regarding Kramer’s designs?

    jacob

    March 19, 2007 at 8:48 pm

  6. Jacob, the thing that strikes me most about Kramer’s work is how varied it is. Sure, he’ll explore an idea (for example, the Action Point games), just like Knizia, Wallace, Moon, Teuber–just about any prolific designer. But I can’t think of an identifying genre or mechanic or style. He’s mastered so many different types of games. I think he’s the most versatile designer we have.

    The designer who is most cited for not repeating himself is Karl-Heinz Schmiel. His output isn’t great (only about 15 or so games), but his fans always point out that no two Schmiel games are alike. Supposedly he has a new one coming out this year (his first new design since 2000), so we should soon have another data point to consider.

    Larry Levy

    March 19, 2007 at 9:35 pm

  7. That’s cool. It does bother me, though, that nothing by Kramer in recent years has caught my eye.
    I just picked up Attila by Schmiel and I think it’s pretty much awesome (but I had to add some variants).

    jacob

    March 19, 2007 at 11:03 pm

  8. That’s cool. It does bother me, though, that nothing by Kramer in recent years has caught my eye.
    I just picked up Attila by Schmiel and I think it’s pretty much awesome (but I had to add some variants).

    jacob

    March 19, 2007 at 11:03 pm

  9. There are two things about Kramer that make talking about him awkward.

    Firstly, I think his specialty tends more towards the “family” end of things (think Expedition), stuff you can play with younger gamers. So he doesn’t get as much attention from us.

    Secondly, while in addition to this he has done quite a few “gamer’s games”, he’s virtually always worked with a co-designer, and we the consumers are never sure who contributed what. But, certainly Kramer &Kiesling (the whole Tikal series of games) can be stereotyped. Kramer &Ulrich less so, except that the few games they’ve done are all good (Princes of Florence, El Grande, El Caballero, Die Handler – the later once you play with the correct rules, at least). Hacienda is the only “gamer’s game” I can think of off the top of my head that he doesn’t share a credit for.

    So I couldn’t really tell you what a “Kramer” game looks like (although I could tell you what a “Kramer &Kiesling” game looks like). I do consider him the third of the truly versatile, prolific, professional “top” designers (with Knizia and Teuber), albeit one who doesn’t reliably design for my niche.

    Chris Farrell

    March 20, 2007 at 1:12 pm

  10. Okay, interesting comments except that the last one rubs me the wrong way: I can’t agree with giving Teuber the title of “top” designer (or anything close to that). Klaus has made a lot of games, but so have a lot of other guys. Has he made enough great ones to be considered one of the best? Give me the next Moon or Rudiger game any day before I pick up Teuber’s.

    By the way, Chris, I miss your site.

    jacob

    March 20, 2007 at 7:08 pm

  11. Chris, in addition to Hacienda, you would have to add Wildlife (very much a gamer’s game) and Goldland. But that’s probably about it for his solo efforts.

    The reason I still feel like I can characterize his collaborations as “Kramer” games is that he’s managed to maintain the quality of them with so many different partners. Kiesling, Ulrich, Rosner (Tycoon and Saga), and now, with any luck, Lubke…he’s created great games with them all. I just have to believe that the common element in each of these designs (Kramer) is at least as important as the collaborators (who, by themselves, have produced very little). No one knows for sure what goes on in a collaboration, but I have no problem giving Kramer full credit for these great games, just like I give credit to both Moon and Weissblum for their wonderful collaborations.

    I can think of several reasons why Kramer’s heavy games are usually collaborations. For example, it might be easier with a partner to share the load of a more intense piece of design. But consider this as well. Prior to the appearance of El Grande, most of Kramer’s games were solo efforts. Afterwards, most of them were collaborations. But before 1995, there were very few gamer’s games from ANY designers (Die Macher, Modern Art, Elfenroads, maybe a couple of others). It just so happens that the Age of the Gamer’s Game coincides with Kramer’s decision to frequently collaborate. How much of that is cause and how much effect? I have no idea. But I think it does show that a simple counting of collaborative and non-collaborative titles can be a bit skewed.

    Larry Levy

    March 20, 2007 at 9:37 pm

  12. re: Teuber, as long as you resist the mistaken temptation to lump all the Settlers games into one bag, he clearly has done plenty of great games, far more than most “name” designers. Sure, a lot of the Settlers products are knock-ons (the historical scenarios, Nurnburg), but many are not: Settlers CG, Starfarers, Starship Catan, Elasund, Candamir. Plus he’s got Adel Verpflictet, Barbarossa, Domaine, Dunter &Druber, Entdecker, Vernissage … the man has done a ton of very good to great to all-time great games, a lot more than Rudiger Dorn (as much as I like Dorn’s games, although recent efforts seems to indicate he really needs strong development as supplied by the likes alea, Kosmos, or Hans im Gluck) or Alan Moon.

    Chris Farrell

    March 21, 2007 at 12:54 pm

  13. Wow, I go away for a few days and it lights up!

    I haven’t really been thinking about Kramer, Knizia, etc. This just jumped out regarding Wallace (and Moon, I suppose). Perhaps another aspect is how often games are designed ‘on spec.’ It seems to me that taking a theme and having to work with it (“A cooperative LOTR game”) may require more ‘thinking outside the box.’ (Although for all I know he did the game and then sold it.) I’m not sure if Wallace did Runebound and then sold it or was offered “Hey, we want a big fantasy game” from FFG.

    Brian

    March 21, 2007 at 5:55 pm

  14. Wow, I go away for a few days and it lights up!

    I haven’t really been thinking about Kramer, Knizia, etc. This just jumped out regarding Wallace (and Moon, I suppose). Perhaps another aspect is how often games are designed ‘on spec.’ It seems to me that taking a theme and having to work with it (“A cooperative LOTR game”) may require more ‘thinking outside the box.’ (Although for all I know he did the game and then sold it.) I’m not sure if Wallace did Runebound and then sold it or was offered “Hey, we want a big fantasy game” from FFG.

    Brian

    March 21, 2007 at 5:55 pm

  15. Oh yeah, there’s no question Teuber is one of the top designers of all time. I mean, he’s won 4 SdJs, 4 DSPs, and been nominated for 5 IGAs. Settlers and Adel are two of the most important games ever to come out of Germany. Lowenherz is a tremendous game. Then there’s Barbarossa, Entdecker, Elasund–what else does the man have to do? It’s true that he concentrated almost entirely on the Settlers franchise for about a five-year period, but he wasn’t just cranking out spinoffs, he was finding new and innovative ways of utilizing the Settlers engine. And the stuff he’s releasing now might be as good as anything he’s ever done. He doesn’t rank at the very top of my personal list, because his specialty–the intelligent family game–isn’t a kind I play that often, but I completely respect and admire the man’s ability. I put Moon ahead of him, but truly any objective list of great designers has to include them both, along with Knizia and Kramer.

    Larry Levy

    March 21, 2007 at 9:40 pm

  16. Oh yeah, there’s no question Teuber is one of the top designers of all time. I mean, he’s won 4 SdJs, 4 DSPs, and been nominated for 5 IGAs. Settlers and Adel are two of the most important games ever to come out of Germany. Lowenherz is a tremendous game. Then there’s Barbarossa, Entdecker, Elasund–what else does the man have to do? It’s true that he concentrated almost entirely on the Settlers franchise for about a five-year period, but he wasn’t just cranking out spinoffs, he was finding new and innovative ways of utilizing the Settlers engine. And the stuff he’s releasing now might be as good as anything he’s ever done. He doesn’t rank at the very top of my personal list, because his specialty–the intelligent family game–isn’t a kind I play that often, but I completely respect and admire the man’s ability. I put Moon ahead of him, but truly any objective list of great designers has to include them both, along with Knizia and Kramer.

    Larry Levy

    March 21, 2007 at 9:40 pm

  17. Brian, I think most of the prolific designers have some definite signatures. Kramer, Schmiel, and maybe Dorra might be the exceptions. Before Knizia entered his lush big-box period that began with E&T and lasted four glorious years, his designs were very recognizable: short, mathematical, and very lightly themed. Bruno called them “soulless”. Plus, their amazing ability to reveal their depth gradually over multiple plays. His most recent games resemble those earlier ones to some extent, although he’s certainly grown as a designer. And his big-box games were frequently cited for their byzantine scoring systems.

    You can find patterns in almost all of the other designers as well. Colovini’s games are very abstract and invariably play best with the minimum number of players. Cornett likes wild, innovative subsystems. Dorn had that crazy walking mechanic he was addicted to for a while. Bruno loves chaos. Mike Fitz specializes in CCGs and rummy games. Friese goes for the outrageous and the bizarre, both in terms of themes and mechanics. Moon’s games tend to be straightforward and streamlined and luck usually plays a reasonable role. Most of Randolph’s games were abstracts or thinly disguised abstracts. Rosenberg is the master of the card game and his best designs feature mechanics which go against commonly held conventions. Sackson’s games were the product of an engineer: sparse, mathematical, sometimes dry but always clever. I put Schacht’s games into three categories: the fillers, the meaty but short games (like Web of Power), and his opaque designs where you struggle to play against the system (like Industria and Hansa). Teuber and Tresham fill their games with lots of disconnected subsystems–it’s like they’re all thrown together from varying sources, but the end products hang together very well. And Wittig seems to base his designs on the components that he can put into them.

    As you said at the start, most designers have identifying patterns in their work. I don’t know if I could tell the designer of an unknown game if you let me play it, but it would be an interesting challenge.

    Larry Levy

    March 21, 2007 at 10:03 pm


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