For the third season finale of The Eleven, I thought I’d take a look at some design teams that have made an impact on the hobby. To be eligible for consideration on this list, the design team has to have worked together on at least two games. Also, I tried to pick only one pairing for each designer – I probably could do an entire list off the collaborations of Bruno Cathala or Bruno Faidutti. I’d also like to add the caveat that, while I will try to list most of the games they have teamed up on, I may miss a few because there’s no real way to search for collaborations on BGG. On with the list!
The Bamboozle Brothers consists of Canadian designers Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim (they aren’t actually brothers). The duo has been designing published games since 2011, when Train of Thought and Belfort came out from Tasty Minstrel Games. In 2014, the duo gave us Akrotiri, Tortuga, and the game with the best title I’ve ever heard: This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the 2-4 of Us. This year has already seen the release of But Wait! There’s More!, and Orphan Black: The Card Game should be released soon.
If nothing else, these guys are tough to pin down into a style. Train of Thought and But Wait! are party games, and This Town… is a microgame. But then you have Belfort (a worker placement game), Akrotiri (a civilization exploration game), and Tortuga (a pirate themed dice game). Not to mention Orphan Black, which is a licensed game. Of their games, I’ve only played Belfort and But Wait! I liked Belfort a lot, and really didn’t care for But Wait!, though that might be more due to my general dislike of party games. Their other titles all intrigue me, so I’d say this is definitely a collaboration to watch.
As I mentioned in the into, Bruno Cathala is a very prolific collaborator. Most of his games are co-designs with someone else. Here, I want to focus on his partnership with Ludovic Maublanc. The two began their published relationship in 2006 with the releases of Mr. Jack and Cleopatra and the Society of Architects. Cyclades and Dice Town both came out in 2009 to great acclaim, and then the pair teamed up in 2011 for PRRRT…, which was a game about farts (I’m not even kidding). 2012 saw the release of Think Again!, a party game, and Noah, a game about the Great Flood. In 2013, we got the Spiel des Jahres recommended SOS Titanic; 2014 gave us Desperadoes of Dice Town and Madame Ching.
Cathala and Maublanc are both pretty well respected designers on their own (Cathala most recently had great success with Five Tribes, and Maublanc is seeing a great resurgence of popularity for his 2005 game Cash ‘n Guns with the recent release of the second edition). But together, they seem to work really well. Dice Town and Cleopatra are both on my Top 99 Games list, and some of the others might be if I had played them. Mr. Jack gets a lot of love as a great two player game (with a few rethemes – Mr. Jack in New York and Le Fantôme de l’Opéra). Cyclades is very popular, and while I have only played it once, I did enjoy it. This is definitely a design team that I hope keeps working together.
James Ernest and Mike Selinker both came to the design hobby while working for Wizards of the Coast. The pair first teamed up for the game Fightball in 2002, which was published by Ernest’s company Cheapass Games. In 2003, the two formed the design studio Lone Shark Games, and collaborated in 2004 on Fightopia, Dungeonville, and Pirates of the Spanish Main (for which they were joined by Mike Mulvihill). 2006 was a pretty prolific year for the pair as they produced Letter Hold ‘Em, Zero In, Kotsuku, Cowpoker, and Gloria Mundi. In 2007, the pair contributed to the legendary failure Stonehenge, as well as producing the Cthulhu themed word game Unspeakable Words. In 2008, they produced Michelangelo and Link 26, followed by the wonderful Lords of Vegas in 2010, 12 Days in 2011, Palomino Poker in 2012, Veritas in 2013, and Red Baron in 2015.
James Ernest is a designer that really interests me because he has such a different perspective on gaming. He’s very original, and while his games aren’t always great, they’re definitely unique. I don’t know much about Mike Selinker outside of the pairing, but he’s done some good work on a number of great games, including the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. Together, they really put out some good products. Lords of Vegas is one of my absolute favorites, and I’ve been interested to try Unspeakable Words (which is saying something since I’m not a big word game guy). This duo is one that I hope we keep seeing games from in the future.
Bruno Faidutti and Serge Laget are French designers that have collaborated on a number of great games. Their first collaboration was for Mystery of the Abbey in 1995, though that game is better known for its 2003 reprint by Days of Wonder. In 2000, the pair collaborated again on Castle. Their 2005 game Shadows over Camelot is probably the best known of their co-designs, a cooperative game with a traitor before that kind of thing was en vogue. They collaborated again in 2009 with Ad Astra. Their next collaboration will be Argo, a space-themed coopetive game coming out in 2016 from Flatlined Games.
Faidutti and Laget haven’t collaborated a lot, but their collaborations tend to produce some really good games. Shadows over Camelot, while not my favorite in the traitor genre, is still being played ten years later, even after games like Battlestar Galactica took the traitor mechanism to a new level. From their other titles, Mystery of the Abbey has always sounded like a good take on the deduction genre, and Castle has a lot of big fans. I’m not that familiar with Ad Astra, but Argo does look like something to keep an eye on going forward.
The Future Pastimes crew is a design collective that was active in the late 70s and early 80s. The primary members were Bill Eberle, Jack Kittredge, and Peter Olotka, with others joining in for some of the games. Their first design, in 1977, was Cosmic Encounter, which remains their most popular and influential game. In 1979, they released Darkover, a sort of party game; and Dune, which is probably their second most popular design. In 1980, there was Quirks, a game about creating works of nature. 1981 saw the release of Runes, a word game; and Hoax, a bluffing and deduction style game. In 1982, they released Borderlands, a big expansive civilization building game that has been cited as an influence for Catan. The collective’s final collaboration was in 1985 with the publication of Star Trek: The Enterprise^4 Encounter.
This crew was hugely influential in the development of the hobby. Cosmic Encounter introduced variable player powers and really lead the American style of theme-based gaming before that was really a thing. Dune is a game of voting and treachery, leading the way for future games like Battlestar Galactica. Borderlands has the resource collection system that inspired Catan. And Hoax, which will be published in a second edition soon by Fantasy Flight, is VERY similar to the later game Coup. I will say that I’ve played all four of these games, and the only one I actually like is Cosmic Encounter. But there’s no denying that this crew had a big impact on later gaming.
Michael Kiesling and Wolfgang Kramer have had a very celebrated and prolific working relationship since 1998 when their first games Pepper, Jump!, and Der dreizehnte holzwurm were published. In 1999, they collaborated on Ever Green, as well as the Spiel des Jahres winning games Tikal and Torres. In 2000, Java was published, followed by Pueblo and Mexica in 2002. In 2004, Maharaja: The Game of Palace Building in India and Sunken City were published. In 2005, we got Australia and That’s Life! In 2006, there was Celtica and Bison: Thunder on the Prairie. In 2007, we got Trapper. In 2008, it was The Swarm and Cavum. In 2009, we got Einauge see wachsam! In 2010, the pair gave us Tikal II and Asara. 2011 saw the release of Artus. 2012 was the year of The Palaces of Carrara. In 2013, Coal Baron and Nauticus were released. In 2014, we got Abluxxen and DOG Cards. In 2015, we’ve gotten Adventure Land and Kniffel Master.
As you can see, these guys have put out a lot of games over the years. It’s rare these days to see a game with one of their names and not the other, even though both are well established designers by themselves. I’ve only played a few of their titles, and am not really a big fan of any of them, but I do respect their designs and I have to say, most of them look really good.
The Lamont Brothers (Fraser and Gordon) are a pair of Scottish game designers that have been publishing a game at Spiel every year since 2004. Their releases are always an event – they dress up in costumes, hawking games with ridiculous components in very limited quantities. And it seems like their games get more and more extravagant every year – they started in 2004 with Leapfrog, and followed that with Shear Panic (2005), Hameln (2006), Antler Island (2007), The 3 Commandments (2008 with Friedemann Friese), Snow Tails (2008), Savannah Tails (2009), Antics! (2010), Poseidon’s Kingdom (2011), Spellbound (2012), Mush Mush: Snow Tails 2 (2013), Dragonscroll (2014), and A Game of Gnomes (2015).
The Lamonts are certainly very successful with their business model – they only print 1000 of each game and pretty much are completely sold out before Spiel ends. Which in itself is odd, particularly since their games don’t typically receive much in the way of critical acclaim. So far, only three of their titles have been picked up by other publishers – Shear Panic (Mayfair), Snow Tails (Asmodee and the recent reprint by Renegade), and Poseidon’s Kingdom (Game Salute). If nothing else, the Lamonts are a great case study in how to market a game.
Christian Leonhard and Jason Matthews have teamed up for a trio of very successful political games. In 2007, the pair brought us 1960: The Making of the President, a game about the presidential race between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon. In 2009, the two brought out Campaign Manager 2008, a much smaller card game about the presidential race between Barack Obama and John McCain. In 2010, they teamed up once again for Founding Fathers, a game about the writing of the Constitution.
This pair is not as prolific as most of the entries on this list, but they do have quite an impressive resume. Jason Matthews has collaborated with others in his career, including Ananda Gupta for Twilight Struggle, but his most frequent collaboration has been with Leonhard. These three games are highly thematic games, but with strong mechanics that really fit the theme – CM2008 is probably the weakest of the three, but does a great job of boiling the presidential race down to its basics. I hope these two have some more designs in them.
Simone Luciani and Daniele Tascini are Italian designers that are on the rise. Their first collaboration came in 2012, and it was a big one – Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar was a huge success for Czech Games Edition. They also had Sheepland come out in 2012. In 2014, the pair teamed up with Lorenzo Tucci Sorrentino for the party-dexterity game Soqquadro, and with Paolo Cecchetto for the bidding game Dungeon Bazaar. 2015 had two more good releases for the Luciani/Tascini team, with Council of Four and the Kennerspiel des Jahres recommended The Voyages of Marco Polo.
Even after a relatively short time working together, Luciani and Tascini have definitely made their mark on the industry. Tzolk’in had a very clever use of gears, and Marco Polo is apparently a very good take on worker placement games. I’ve been interested in their other co-designs as well, and this is a pair that I will always want to hear what they’ve got next.
Alan R. Moon and Aaron Weissblum have be collaborating since 1999 when they co-designed Knights of the Rainbow. They followed that up with Time Pirates in 2000, and then Das Amulett, Capitol, and San Marco in 2001. In 2002, they began their collaboration on the 10 Days series with 10 Days in Europe. It was to be followed with 10 Days in the USA (2003), 10 Days in Africa (2003), 10 Days in Asia (2007), 10 Days in the Americas (2010), and 10 Days in Germany (2012). Over the next four years, they would collaborate on a bunch of games, including Canal Grande (2002), Im Schatten des Sonnenkönigs (2002), Lumberjack (2002), King’s Breakfast (2003), Stop It! (2003), Mammoth Hunters (2003), New England (2003), Clocktowers (2004), Immer oven auf! (2004), Employee of the Month (2004), Oasis (2004), and Walk the Dogs (2005). In 2008, they collaborated on Surf’s Up Dude!, and then Skyline 3000 in (2009). In 2013, they came together for Wizard’s Brew, but haven’t had a co-design since.
Over a period of six years (1999-2005), Moon and Weissblum were as prolific as anyone. But then their output slowed, which probably has as much to do with the titanic success of Moon’s Ticket to Ride as anything else. Of their co-designs that I have played, San Marco is a fantastic area control game, and I’d say that the 10 Days series is the finest set of geography based games out there. Two very good designers with a very fruitful collaboration.
Ben Pinchback and Matt Riddle first burst onto the board game scene with their 2012 card game Fleet, a bidding game which explored fishing in the Arctic. They followed that up in 2014 with Eggs and Empires, a simultaneous action selection game about collecting dragon eggs. In 2015, the pair will have two released games – the dice speculation Floating Market and Wharfside, a standalone game based on Fleet. Right now, Dice Hate Me Games is running a Kickstarter for Monster Truck Mayhem, and Eagle-Gryphon recently wrapped up one for Morocco, both due out in 2016. Also, they are designing Back to the Future: An Adventure Through Time for IDW, also due out in 2016.
Pinchback and Riddle are pretty new on the scene, but they’ve already made a pretty good reputation for themselves. I’ve only played Eggs and Empires from their catalog, and it’s one of my favorite games. I’ve been interested in their other stuff, particularly Floating Market. And, seeing that these guys were commissioned to tackle a property like Back to the Future, there’s most likely very good things ahead.
I’m going to give an honorable mention to Inka and Markus Brand (designers of Village, La Boca, Murano, Saint Malo, and so on). I would have included them on this list, but as they were listed as a joint entry in my third installment of Eleven Designers You Should Know, I’m skipping them this time.
And that’s the list. I will not be doing an edition of The Eleven in the month of December as I’ll be attempting to take the whole month off. So this series will resume in January, presumably with another edition of Designers You Should Know. Thanks for reading!