How Bruno Faidutti makes games

Tell us about yourself - Who are you? What do you do? Why are you drawn to make games?

I’m Bruno Faidutti, I’m French (though I don’t care much about it), 53. I design games because my two passions are playing games and reading books, because I want to be creative, to impress myself and my friends, and because I’m far too lazy to write books.

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If I’ve never played your games before, what’s the first one I should try?

Everybody will tell you Citadels, and everybody is probably right. It’s generally considered my best game, and the most representative of my design style. With a dozen players, however, you should try Mascarade. I also like very much my recent party games, Speed Dating (kind of Cards against Humanity for gamers) and Animal Suspect, but they are very language dependent and not published in English so far.

One fact that we probably don’t know about you:

I doctored in history, and my PhD thesis is about unicorns - in fact about the scientific debate over the reality of unicorns from late middle-ages to XIXth century. This makes me effectively the world authority on unicorns. (What an accreditation! -A)

What tabletop games (including digital board/card games) are you playing most right now?

Seventh Hero, but with the French edition, Héros à Louer, because the US one is too ugly. Mysterium, one of the very few cooperative games I really enjoy, a kind of mix between Dixit and Clue. I think this game will be a major world hit once it’s not available only only in Polish and Ukrainian.. Also my last prototype, about pigeons and sparrows, and a prototype by Hervé Marly, about alligators and hallucinogens (among other things).

What are your all-time favorite tabletop games?

Poker, Cosmic Encounter, Ave Cesar, and Kuhhandel are not necessarily games I play very often, but I always think about them when I think of games, they are the games I would like to have invented. I more regularly play Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan, but these are more like modern classics, they don’t have the same evidence and elegance.

What are you naturally good at that helps you in your work?

I’m good at writing clear and synthetic rules. Publishers like my prototypes because they never have rules questions to ask, and my rules need little or no rewriting before publication. That's an interesting competitive advantage in the business, especially when some really big names are not that good at rules. Some publishers even try to have me rewrite the rules of other designers’ games, but I usually answer I don’t have the time for it.

What are you not naturally good at, that you’ve learned to do well anyway?

Writing in English. I am used to reading in English, but I had never really written in english before I went into boardgames. Technically, English is a much simpler, more efficient and more accurate language for game rules, and I use it now even for games that I know I will submit to French publishers.

What I could never learn is to make prototype with clever gizmos, stuff that makes strange noise or moves in a strange way. I would love to design games like Roberto Fraga’s ones, I sometimes have ideas for them, but I am not able to make a prototype. One of the reasons I design mostly card games is that I don't like to draw, print and cut large boards, and find the right box to put them in.

Describe your process (or lack thereof) when making games. How do you reach your final product?

There’s no precise process. I usually think of a game for a few days, weeks or months before I try to put it down on paper. I know most designers don’t start to write rules until the game is almost ready, but I usually start with rules, even when they are bound to evolve afterwards. Also, when I’m not satisfied very quickly by a design, and think there’s nevertheless something in it, I try to call some other designer friend for help.

But, once more, I don’t have a specific, regular process or method - I even think having a recipe, a clear process, is probably the best recipe for failure.

What design-related media do you consume on a regular basis?

Whisky and Red Bull, though I don't mix them. (That's probably wise. –A)

I also check regularly what's said of my games on the boardgamegeek. I've given up doing it on tric trac, the showy but confusing French equivalent of BGG.

What are some tool/programs/supplies that you wouldn’t work without?

An A3 color printer, inDesign, scissors and some cardboard. And a few thousand games as reference.

What’s your playtesting philosophy? How often/early do you playtest?

Unlike most other designers, I never do blind playtest. I always take part in all the tests, and try to play my prototypes, and friends’ prototypes, like I would play any other game.

I hold a game session every week or two – more or less. Usually we play about half prototypes – not only mine – and half other games. We start with a good dinner – I’m a good cook – and then we drink and play. I can’t imagine playtesting without good wine, vodka and whisky, it puts players in the mood and helps them feel free to suggest rules variations and improvements. I playtest with more or less the same group of friends for twenty years – a few have left, there are some new faces, but the group's core hasn't changed much.

I don’t necessarily playtest my games that much – if I’m satisfied after a dozen games or so, then I consider the game finalized. If I’m not, I usually set it aside, or ask another designer for help, and sometimes take it out again a few months later.

What are some of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your work, and how have you overcome them?

The game scene is a nice one. Game designers and game publishers are (almost) all nice people. The only serious issues I had were with game media – meaning websites and magazines, and most of these issues I’ve not overcome yet. I can be quite stubborn, and some game bloggers and webmasters are a bit jealous of designers and try a bit too hard to show us that they know games better than we do, and that we can't do without them. When this happens, I usually try to do without them.

How do you handle life/family/work balance?

I’m mostly single for three years now, which makes family things much easier. Balancing game-work and day job is sometimes problematic. As a teacher I have lots of holidays, but cannot choose when the happen, and they often don’t fit with game fairs. That’s why I’m not in Nuernberg at the moment.

Anyway, the major issue for me is handling games / books balance. I’m a compulsive reader, usually of heavy and difficult books, and have to balance my free time between reading essays and novels and playing and designing games. The years I don’t design are usually the years I read too much.

Do you have a second job? If so, what do you do? If not, when/how did you quit your day job?

Though I doctored in history, I’m teaching economics and sociology in a parisian high school. I don’t really need this second job, since I make enough money with games to live modestly, and I’m not a spendthrift.

However, I don’t think I will quit, because I love my job, and because teaching brings me in contact with very different people - when people in the game scene all have the same kind whackiness. Also - though I know it sounds pretentious - there’s a political statement in working for the state – working for everyone. I’m not sure I would be able to look at myself in a mirror in the morning if I were only working to sell something, even if it were only games.

How many hours/week do you generally devote to game design? How many to other business-related activities?

It’s hard to tell, because I often more or less think about games, without feeling really like work, or even design. It's also extremely irregular, since I'm not a regular guy. If “to devote time to game design” means to sit in front of my computer and try to write rules or design cards in in-Design, or manipulate tokens on my kitchen table, I’d say no more than five or six hours a week. I also spend some time writing articles for my website, mostly about my gaming “philosophy”, about the politics of gaming, or just about what strikes me at the moment in game designs trends. This takes a lot of time, because I always try to do it both in French and English.

I spend very little time discussing game “business” with publishers or other designers, I don’t like to spend days discussing every little point of every contract and checking my royalties. I try to keep it casual – which, of course, is much easier when one is relatively successful. I always say that [inlinetweet prefix="" tweeter="" suffix="via @andhegames"]what's important is not what is stated in a contract, but with whom you sign it.[/inlinetweet]

What one piece of advice would you give aspiring game designers?

Don’t be paranoid. Be trusting. I don’t think there’s any other business with as many nice, interesting and honest people as gaming. I could name a few exceptions, but there are so few that the probability you will ever be involved in a nicer business is negligible.

Who would you like to see answer these questions?

Eric Lang.

What’s the best advice about life that you’ve ever received?

Life is not a game. You don't know the rules and the goal, and you better not try, since it's more fun this way. That’s why I despise religion, and why I'm terrified by it – religious people act in life as if it were a game with a game designer, a set of rules, a goal and a victory point systems. Life is not a game, it's a mess – and it might be better that way.