A year ago today, I launched my Eleven series with Designers You Should Know. And since I got some comments about designers I left off that list, I thought it would be appropriate to kick off Season Two with Eleven More Designers You Should Know. These are game designers that have left their mark on the industry throughout their careers. And I’ve left off some more good ones, but there’s always Season Three, right? This list is organized alphabetically by last name.
Let’s start with Antoine Bauza, the French designer who is responsible for many recent well-respected games. His first game, Chabyrinthe, was published in 2007 by Cocktail Games. It’s a game where you are moving a 4×4 grid of tiles around to try and get cats home. It’s never been published in English, but his next game (Ghost Stories) made a huge splash in the cooperative genre. Published in 2008 by Repos Productions, it put Bauza on the map as a serious designer. And he didn’t stop there – eventual Spiel des Jahres winner Hanabi came out in 2010, and Kennerspiel des Jahres winner 7 Wonders came out in 2011 (*Side note: Bauza is one of four designers to have captured two parts of the SdJ Grand Slam – the regular SdJ, the Kennerspiel, and the Kinderspiel. The others in that company are Reiner Knizia and the pairing of Inka and Markus Brand. Bauza only needs the Kinderspiel to complete the hat trick.) Bauza has also designed Mystery Express (2010), Takenoko (2011), Tokaido (2012), and the recently released Rampage (2013).
Bauza is one of those guys who hasn’t been around for a very long time, and yet with his catalog, it feels like he has been around forever. His games are all very different, but still tend to be fairly family friendly. They tend towards the more complicated end of family games, but I don’t think any of them are going to be inaccessible to non-gamers. He’s got more interesting stuff on the pipeline, including a cooperative game called Sinbad that I’m very interested to hear more about. You can visit his blog at http://www.antoinebauza.fr/ to find out more (it helps if you know French, but there is a good amount of English there).
Richard Borg is an American designer that has been around the industry for a while, and has some great games to his credit. His first title, published in 1987, was Liar’s Dice, a game of bluffing. That game, which was based on a game brought to Spain in the 16th century from South America, won Borg the Spiel des Jahres in 1993. These days, however, Borg has come to be known for developing the system that has come to be known as the Commands and Colors system, a card-driven wargame style. This started with Battle Cry in 2000, set in the Civil War, and continued with Memoir ’44 in 2004 (World War II), Commands & Colors: Ancients in 2006, BattleLore in 2006 (set in the Hundred Years’ War with a fantasy element), Commands & Colors: Napoleonics in 2011 (set in France), and Samurai Battles in 2012 (set in Japan). The games essentially use the same system – play cards to order units and roll dice for attacks. Other notable games Borg has designed include Hera and Zeus (2000), Heave Ho (2002), Yahtzee Free for All (2008), and Abaddon (2012).
I’m not terribly familiar with Borg’s style. I have played and enjoyed Memoir ’44 and BattleLore, as well as Liar’s Dice. With Memoir and BattleLore, I was struck by the simplicity of the designs – highly detailed, and yet very easy to understand. Liar’s Dice, of course, is a game of pure bluffing. In looking at Borg’s catalog, it seems that he has his foot firmly in the hobby market while still trying to work in the mass market, as with Yahtzee Free For All, which adds some interaction to what was generally a solitaire game. Borg has a lot of good work out there, and I’m sure more is on the way, so he’s definitely one to know.
Carl Chudyk is probably the least prolific designer on this list, but definitely has caught the attention of the gaming world with what he has done so far. This American designer first appeared on the scene in 2005 with four games published by Cambridge Games Factory, the most notable of which was Glory to Rome. This game completely took off, capturing the imagination of hobbyists all over the world. Many believed it would have been stronger had there been better art (a 2012 edition funded by Kickstarter attempted that very thing, and the game rose the ranks at BGG accordingly – I still prefer the cartoony style). Chudyk followed that up with the 2010 civilization card game Innovation, and then FlowerFall in 2012 (both from Asmadi Games). Upcoming releases I’m pretty excited about include Impulse and Consequential, also from Asmadi.
The big reason that I want to highlight Chudyk as a designer is that he designed two of my favorite games – Glory to Rome and Innovation. Back when I did my SHOWDOWN! of the two, I said that Innovation had the slight edge. Lately, I’ve been leaning more towards Glory to Rome. But no matter which one I ultimately prefer, it’s a great achievement to have two very dissimilar games that are still tied together. There is a lot going on in both of them, and both have evolving strategies based on the cards you get. And because of the differences between cards, no two games are ever going to feel the same. Either one of them would be a star in the crown of most designers. Having both means Chudyk is a designer I think everyone should know.
For a long time, Rob Daviau was a designer working behind the scenes at one of the biggest game manufacturers in the world – Hasbro. Beginning in 2000, he had a hand in reboots of different classic titles – Monopoly: Looney Tunes, Risk 2210 AD, Acis & Allies: Pacific, the Battleship Card Game, Monopoly: Tropic Tycoon, and Clue: Discover the Secrets. But, along with Craig van Ness, he also worked on original games with a number of licensed properties – Star Wars: The Queen’s Gambit, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Star Wars: Epic Duels among them. In 2004, he, van Ness, and Stephen Baker produced Heroscape, a classic fantasy battle game that remains at the top of many hobbyists’ lists. In 2011, Risk: Legacy came out, establishing him as a major force in game design. Shortly thereafter, Daviau left Hasbro to form IronWall Games, his own design studio. To date, IronWall has only produced Viking Funeral, a free ruleset where you destroy a deck of cards, but a highly publicized upcoming game called SeaFall promises to take the Legacy concept to the next level.
In looking through his catalog, I don’t think I’ve ever played a single game Daviau designed. It’s not that I don’t want to, I just haven’t. Many are well-respected, and I personally think it’s amazing how high he was able to elevate what he was doing working somewhere like Hasbro. Tom Vasel of the Dice Tower often cites Tropical Tycoon as his favorite Monopoly version. Heroscape is still being played nonstop, even though it’s been out of print for years. Queen’s Gambit is a highly coveted grail, despite its relation to The Phantom Menace. Daviau’s games are complex, thematic, and from all accounts, very fun. I’m excited to see where he goes without the restrictions/support of Hasbro. His website can be seen at robdaviau.com.
Bruno Faidutti is a French designer whose first designs (Les Sales mômes and Baston) were published in 1986. In 1995, he and partner Serge Laget designed Murder in the Abbey, which would later be republished by Days of Wonder as Mystery in the Abbey. He did a number of other designs after that, but really made his mark on the industry in 2000 with the pioneering role selection game Citadels. After that, he designed a bunch of well-respected games, collaborating with some other great designers along the way – Dragon’s Gold (2001), Fist of Dragonstones (2002 with Michael Schacht), Boomtown (2004 with Bruno Cathala), Mission: Red Planet (2005 with Bruno Cathala), Diamant/Incan Gold (2005 with Alan R. Moon), Red November (2008 with Jef Gontier), Ad Astra (2009 with Serge Laget), Pony Express (2009 with Antoine Bauza), Isla Dorada (2010 with input from Alan R. Moon, Andrea Angiolino, and Pier Giorgio Paglia), Lost Temple (2011), and Mascarade (2013).
Bruno Faidutti has a very wide range of designs, and it’s difficult to pinpoint a particular style. He’s very open about his inspirations for games, and does a ton of work with other designers. You can see from the above list that many of his best known games are ones done with others. But even though he takes game ideas to the next level, I don’t think anyone would ever call him derivative. Citadels grew out of the role selection of Meuterer and Verräter, and really took the mechanic to the next level. Red November combined the cooperative boom with the time track from Thebes to make a very interesting new game. Isla Dorada grew out of Elfenroads and Ulysses. Mascarade grew out of his own design, Citadels, and added a social deduction element as in Werewolf. Faidutti is all about advancing the hobby by working with what exists, and does it quite well. You can check out his blog at faidutti.com (in French and English).
Fantasy Flight is one of the bigger American companies, and have some designers on staff for them, including Corey Konieczka. He began working as a developed for FFG in 2006, working on the Shattered Empire expansion for Twilight Imperium and the Storm of Swords expansion for A Game of Thrones. In 2007, his first full game came out – StarCraft: The Board Game, co-designed with FFG founder Christian Petersen. In 2008, his first solo effort was released – Battlestar Galactica, based on the very popular SciFi channel series (it was SciFi then, and I refuse to call it Syfy, since you asked). BSG was a massive success, and Konieczka continued to produce big, complex games like Middle-earth Quest (2009), Runewars (2010), Gears of War (2011), and Mansions of Madness (2013). In 2012, he helped redesign Descent: Journeys in the Dark into a more streamlined second edition, and in 2013 came out with Eldritch Horror, a continuation of the Arkham Horror story.
In a relatively short amount of time, Koniecka has established himself as a designer that really understands how theme should work in a game. Battlestar Galacitca is one of the most thematic games I’ve ever played, and all the mechanics just make sense with the game. I’ve also played Runewars and Mansions of Madness by him, and while they aren’t my favorites, I can’t deny that they are pretty much theme in a box. His redesign of Descent really made the game easier to fit into a respectable playing time while maintaining the epic feel and making it more of a competitive experience. While Konieczka is at FFG, he’s going to be someone to watch – I expect more great stuff to come from him in the future.
Last time I did this list, I got the most flak for leaving off Wolfgang Kramer. He’s a German designer that has been designing games since 1974, and is the only designer to have won five Spiel des Jahres awards – 1986 for Heimlich & Co., 1987 for Auf Achse, 1996 for El Grande (with Richard Ulrich), 1999 for Tikal (with Michael Kiesling), and 2000 for Torres (again with Michael Kiesling). El Grande is credited with inventing (or at least perfecting) area control as a mechanism in games, and developing the action point system with the so-called Mask trilogy (Tikal, Java, and Mexica). Additionally, he’s well known for Daytona 500 (1990), 6 nimmt! (1994), The Princes of Florence (2000), Gulo Gulo (2003), Hacienda (2005), Colosseum (2007), Asara (2010), and The Palaces of Carrara (2012).
I’m not really a fan of Kramer’s games. Most that I’ve played have seemed to have too much to do and not really a clear way to do them. Plus, they’re really dry. Nevertheless, I do recognize that he’s a great designer that has made some truly great games. El Grande is a fantastic game, and 6 nimmt! is a great fast filler game that up to 10 people can play. He’s done a lot to develop the hobby, and he’s definitely a designer you should know. You can visit his website at kramer-spiele.de (in German).
Uwe Rosenberg is another designer people said I should have included on the last list. Rosenberg is also from Germany, and began releasing games in 1992. In 1997, he designed Bohnanza, a bean farming game that is still known as a classic gateway game. In the years that followed, he came out with a lot of bean themed games and expansions (Space Beans, Al Cabohne, Rabohnzel, Bohnaparte, and High Bohn among them), as well as some really good filler type games (such as Mamma Mia! and Bargain Hunter). In 2007, he surprised the world with Agricola, his first big box game that captured the imaginzation of gamers everywhere and shot to #1 at BGG, dethroning Puerto Rico. He has since followed it up with Le Havre (2008), At the Gates of Loyang (2009), Merkator (2010), Ora et Labora (2011), Glass Road (2013), and Caverna (2013).
The arc of Rosenberg’s career is really interesting to see. He started out with very light, kind of quirky games, and has evolved into a designer of big gamer games. This is the opposite of someone like Reiner Knizia, who tends to do very light stuff now after designing big heavies early in his career. And while nothing before this year had matched the buzz of Agricola and Le Havre, Caverna (which is an update of Agricola) is rising fast in the rankings. For me, I tend to prefer his smaller stuff – I love Bohnanza, and have really enjoyed Bargain Hunter and Mamma Mia! as well. I’m not as big a fan of Agricola, but I do really like Le Havre, and I think Rosenberg has a lot to offer.
Board games are kind of a boy’s club, so I felt the need to include a female designer here. Susan McKinley Ross was the first female designer to gain a solo win the Spiel des Jahres, winning for Qwirkle in 2011. She formed Idea Duck, a product design company, in 2002. Idea Duck began designing toys, and Susan designed her first games in 2006. One of those designs was Qwirkle, which is her best known game (originally published by MindWare). She went on to design Spunky Monkeys (2008), Flippity Frogs (2009), Qwirkle Cubes (2009), Skippity (2010), Color Stix (2011), and Cirplexed! (2012). She’s also done a couple of expansions for Qwirkle (Connect and Select) because SdJ winners need expansions.
Susan McKinley Ross is unusual for this list because she really doesn’t have that many hits. Of her games listed on BGG, only three (Qwirkle, Qwirkle Cubes, and Skippity) are ranked (meaning they have more than 30 ratings). However, I still think she is a designer you should know. Part of that is because she’s one of the few successful female designers out there. Another part is that she is making a living designing interesting games that can be played by kids. There is a dearth of good kids games in this country, as opposed to Germany where they’re everywhere. People like SMR are helping with that by not dumbing things down and making games that can be enjoyed by players of all ages.
Michael Schacht is a German designer who is one of the few that works at it full time. He’s been designing games ever since 1992, when his first game Taxi was published in the German game magazine Spielerei. He continued to design, and really began to receive some recognition when he produced Web of Power in 2000 (which was later republished as China in 2005). In 2003, he designed what would come to be one of his most famous titles, Coloretto. This design was later reworked into Zooloretto, which won the Spiel des Jahres in 2007. Along the way, he designed a number of other well respected games, including Richelieu (2003), Hansa (2004), Aquaretto (2008), Shanghaien (2008), The Golden City (2009), Valdora (2009), Mondo (2011), and Africana (2012).
The thing I really like about Michael Schacht’s games is that he really is able to cram a lot of depth into games that are really easy to learn and play. He really seems to like the set collection mechanism, and really does cool things with it. Coloretto is one of my all-time favorites, and I’m always willing to give one of his designs a try. Definitely a guy to check out. You can see his website at michaelschacht.net.
Kevin Wilson is another designer who made his name as an in-house designer for Fantasy Flight. His first games came out in 2003 from FFG – Arena Maximus, A Game of Thrones (with Christian Petersen), Magdar, Mutiny!, and Warcraft: The Board Game. From there, he continued designing popular games, including Doom: The Boardgame (2004), Descent: Journeys in the Dark (2005), Android (2008), Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game (2010), and Elder Sign (2011 with Richard Launius). He also worked on several highly regarded reprints, including Fury of Dracula (2005), Arkham Horror (2005), Cosmic Encounter (2008), and Wiz-War (2012). Wilson left Fantasy Flight in 2012 to form his own freelance design studio (Wilson Creative), and we should be seeing the first fruits of that in 2014 (including Generation Hex, designed with Eric Lang).
Kevin Wilson is an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink type of designer, and does it really well. He crams a lot of stuff into his games, and did some great work developing a number of titles at Fantasy Flight. His work on Cosmic Encounter is widely acclaimed as making it the definitive edition. And while Descent has since been reworked into a more streamlined version, Wilson’s version was very popular and a favorite of many people (Alan R. Moon called it his favorite game). I’m very interested to see what he comes up with without the resources of Fantasy Flight – it should be interesting. I really want to see him and Rob Daviau design something together – that would be AWESOME.
So there’s the list. What are your thoughts on these designers? What others did I leave off? Let me know. Thanks for reading!