Season Five of The Eleven is upon us! And as always, we’re opening it up with eleven more designers you should know. If you don’t see your favorite designer on the list, please check Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV before you yell at me. If you still don’t see them, let me know so I can look into them for Part VI.
Ted Allspach got his start in game design working on maps for Age of Steam, and did at least 21 between 2005 and 2011. His first game, Seismic, was published by Atlas Games in 2006 and has been called Carcassonne with earthquakes. He also wrote and illustrated a board game comic called Board 2 Pieces from 2006-2012, the characters of which appeared in his game Start Player (2006). In 2007, he published his first title with his company Bézier Games – Ultimate Werewolf (with an Ultimate Edition coming out in 2008). After that, his games were primarily published through Bézier Games, including Rapscallion (2008), Beer & Pretzels (2009), Perpetual Motion Machine (2010), Tiebreaker (2011), and Ticked Off (2011). 2012 was something of a breakthrough year for Alspach, with the publication of three of his designs – Enter the Passage, Mutant Meeples, and Suburbia, the last of which has become one of his most renowned games. In 2013, he published You Suck, but that was really one of the last of his quirky games. In 2014, he published Castles of Mad King Ludwig as well as One Night Ultimate Werewolf, a game he developed from the Japanese original by Akihisa Okui. That was followed in 2015 by One Night Ultimate Vampire (with One Night Ultimate Alien due to be released this year). One Night Revolution also came out in 2015, published by Indie Boards and Cards – this took the One Night concept and applied it to The Resistance. In 2016, he published Colony and America, both developed from previous games.
Alspach was really known for a lot of lighthearted games until the publication of Suburbia in 2012. Since then, he’s really been focusing on some very serious titles (such as Castles, Favor of the Pharaoh [developed by Alspach, but designed by Tom Lehmann], and Colony). The Werewolf line is still being heavily leaned on, and while I dislike the original, I think there have been some good explorations of the theme since then. Alspach has proved himself to be a very good developer, and adds his own design expertise when he feels is is needed. Suburbia and Castles of Mad King Ludwig proved he has the design chops to produce very good strategic games, but his other games show that he is not afraid to explore some quirky territory.
Leo Colovini is an Italian designer who got his start in 1986 with the game Drachenfels. Over the next 14 years, he put out a few games – Inkognito (1988), Die Magische 6 (1990), Die Osternei (1994), Top Hats (1997), Inkognito: The Card Game (1997), Europa: 1945-2030 (1998) and Absacker (1998). 2000 was his breakout year, with the publications of Doge, Carolus Magnus, and his most successful game to date, Cartagena. In the years that followed, he became much more prolific, with titles such as Vabanque (2001), Clans (2002), The Bridges of Shangri-La (2003), Magna Grecia (2003), Familienbande (2004), Carcassonne: The Discovery (2005), Go West! (2005), Justinian (2006), Masons (2006), The Dutch Golden Age (2008), Atlantis (2009), Mount Drago (2011), Aztlán (2012), and Odyssey: Wrath of Poseidon (2015), among others. In 2016, he designed the Kinderspiel des Jahres nominated game Leo, which was the one I thought would win (and the nominee I’m most interested in playing).
Colovini has been criticized (and rightly so) for making very dry games. Many of them are basically abstracts with the barest of themes slapped on, though they usually have more moving pieces than your typical abstract game. Of the games of his that I have played, I really enjoyed Masons and Carolus Magnus, and not so much Clans. Mount Drago I have played online, and it’s OK. Cartagena seems like a better version of Candy Land, and as I mention, I really would like to play Leo sometime.
Jeroen Doumen and Joris Wiersinga are designers from the Netherlands that are primarily known for designing games published by Splotter Spellen. Wiersinga began designing games in 1998 with Gossip and Chameleo Chameleo before teaming up with Doumen in 1999 for the games Spöl (with several other designers), Web, Bus, and Roads & Boats. They teamed up again in 2001 for the games Ur: 1830, Planes & Trains, and Beest. In 2002, they produced VOC! Founding the East India Trading Company and Cannes: Stars, Scripts and Screens. 2004 was the year of Antiquity, followed by Indonesia in 2005. Duck Dealer came out in 2008, Greed Inc. in 2009, and The Great Zimbabwe in 2012. Their most popular game to date, Food Chain Magnate, was released in 2015.
I have never played a game by Doumen and Wiersinga. I haven’t had the opportunity, but I’m also a little intimidated by the scope of their games. The Spotter games are well known for being some heavy hitters, and don’t typically get wide distribution. But they have some big fans out there, and I think the success of Food Chain Magnate will spur people to further check out their catalog.
Richard Hamblen is an American designer who, while not terribly prolific, definitely left his mark on the board game industry. His first three games were all wargames published by Avalon Hill in 1977 – Victory at Sea, Victory in the Pacific, and The Arab-Israeli Wars. In 1978, Avalon Hill published his design Fortress Europa, and in 1979, they published Magic Realm. Gunslinger was next, published in 1982, and that was followed by Bull Run in 1983. After five years, Hamblen returned with Merchant of Venus in 1988, and The Great Khan Game (published by TSR, the only time anyone but Avalon Hill published one of his games) came out in 1989, co-designed by Tom Wham.
Not being a wargamer myself, and many of his games being long out of print, the only one of Hamblen’s designs I’ve played is the Fantasy Flight reprint of Merchant of Venus. It’s a long and wildly chaotic, but fun and creative game that I really enjoyed. I’m not terribly interested in most of his other games (other than Magic Realm), but they are well respected in the industry.
Hisashi Hayashi is a Japanese designer who published his first game, String Railway, in 2009. In 2010, he produced Savanna Trick and Ekiden, followed by Trick of the Rails and 9Tours in 2011. 2012 was a breakout year for Hayashi as that was the year of Trains, the Dominion inspired deckbuilder mixed with a train game. In 2013, he gave us Edo Yashiki, Magical Restaurant, Patronize, String Safari, and Sail to India. 2014 was the year of Isaribi, Sail to Jipang, Rolling Japan (later released in the US as Rolling America), and a set of Lost Legacy cards based on the system created by Seiji Kanai. In 2015, we got Curio Collectors, Go da Cheese!, and Minerva. In 2016, he produced Junglila, Okey Dokey, Word Porters, and Yokohama (which will soon be published in the US by Tasty Minstrel). For 2017, he will be producing a new map for the Railways of the World system called Railways of Nippon.
There is a lot of creative stuff coming out of Japan lately, and Hisashi Hayashi is one of the leading designers. Of his games, I have played Trains, String Railway, and Rolling America. Trains is a great take on the Dominion concept, adding a board and some route building elements. String Railway challenges you to think in some extra dimensions as you build routes and try to control various locations. Rolling America is…not my favorite, but it’s a decent puzzle. I’m very interested to check out Yokohama when that comes out, and look forward to seeing what Hayashi has coming out in the future.
Dirk Henn is a German designer whose first games (Speculation, Hopfen & Malz, and Stimmt So!) were published in 1992. In 1993, he designed Timbuktu and The Gardens of the Alhambra (an abstract game not really related to a later release). In 1994, he gave us Hexenstich and Beziehungskisten. His designs began to pick up in the popular market in 1996 with Show Manager, followed in 1997 by Rosenkönig (now called The Rose King) and Metro. After some less well-received games (Tendix in 1998, Yukon Company in 1999, and Derby in 2000), as well as a retheme of Show Manager called Atlantic Star in 2001, Henn designed one of his biggest success in 2002 – Wallenstein. 2003 was the year of Eketorp and Alhambra (the latter of which won the Spiel des Jahres award). Much of his output over the next six years was Alhambra expansion related (with a retheme of Wallenstein called Shogun in 2006). 2009 saw the release of Granada, Colonia and Cable Car. Beyond that, most of his credits have been expansions and big box versions, save for New York (2011), Neptun (2014), and High Tide (2016).
The only Henn game I’ve played face-to-face is Alhambra, which is a pretty decent gateway style game. I’ve played Rosenkönig on Yucata.de, and do enjoy that one. The Wallenstein/Shogun system (using the cube tower) is very well respected, and it’s something I want to try out sometime.
Chad Jensen is an American designer who has found crossover success between the wargame and Eurogame markets. His first game, Combat Commander: Europe (2006) is a Top 100 game at BGG, and has spawned a whole series, including CC: Mediterranean (2007), CC: Pacific (2008), and CC: Resistance! (2011). In 2010, he ventured outside the CC line (and indeed the wargame line) to design Dominant Species. 2011 saw the release of his city-building game Urban Sprawl, as well as Fighting Formations: Grossdeutschland Motorized Infantry Division. In 2012, he produced Dominant Species: The Card Game. Future games scheduled from his design pen include another Fighting Formations game (Grossdeutschland Division’s Battle for Kharkov), Golden Gate Park, and Welcome to Centerville.
Dominant Species is a game I have long wanted to play, but never have had the opportunity. I have played Urban Sprawl and liked it well enough, though it got a lot of flak for being too random. I haven’t tried any of Jensen’s wargames (and am not really that interested), but I would like to see how Golden Gate Park and Welcome to Centerville turn out.
Alexander Pfister is an Austrian designer who has really been on a hot streak with his designs lately. His first game (Yvio: Freibeuter der Karibik) was published in 2008, and The Mines of Zavandor came out in 2010. In 2012, he released Meins!, and Händler der Karibik came out in 2013. He began to get some notice in 2014 with the release of Port Royal, and really blew up in 2015: Oh My Goods!, Mombasa, Broom Service, and Isle of Skye were all released that year, with the last two (co-designed with Andreas Pelikan) winning the Kennerspiel des Jahres in successive years. 2016 saw the release of Great Western Trail, and I’m sure there are more to come.
I’ve noticed that Pfister tends to lean heavily on tough choices in his game. From what I’ve played, there is a push-your-luck choice in Port Royal; choices of where and how to produce in Oh My Goods!; choices about which roles to use in Broom Service; and choices about how to divide up your prices in Isle of Skye. His games are very Euro, and offer a healthy amount of strategy. It will be fun to watch where his career goes.
Jamey Stegmaier is perhaps the least prolific designer on this list, but that’s not to say he hasn’t made an impact. His first two games, Viticulture and Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia, came out from his company Stonemaier Games in 2013. After a bunch of Viticulture expansions, his next game came out in 2016 – Scythe, which has topped many people’s lists for game of that year. In 2017, he’s planning on releasing Charterstone, his own take on legacy games.
While his designs are pretty highly praised (Viticulture is a Top 100 game at BGG, and Scythe is currently #6), Stegmaier’s main impact on the industry has been establishing what it means to be a good Kickstarter company. All of his work is highly professional, and he even writes blog posts about all the lessons he has learned. Even if you’ve never played one of his games (which I haven’t), there’s no doubt that he’s left his mark on the industry.
Klaus-Jürgen Wrede is a German designer who also teaches music and theology. He is, and most likely always will be, best known for his very first game design – Carcassonne, published in 2000. It was, of course, a monumental success, and he probably never had to design another game, especially since he does a lot of work on expansions and new versions of the system, such as Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers (2002), Carcassonne: The Castle (2003), The Ark of the Covenant (2003), Carcassonne: The City (2004), New World: A Carcassonne Game (2008), Carcassonne: Wheel of Fortune (2009), Cardcassonne (2009), Carcassonne: South Seas (2013), Carcassonne: Gold Rush (2014), and of course Carcassonne: Star Wars (2015). But every now and then, he also comes out with something not Carcassonne related – Krone & Schwert (2002), Die Fugger (2003), The Downfall of Pompeii (2004), Mesopotamia (2005), Dragonriders (2005), Anasazi (2006), Venedig (2007), Sun & Moon (2008), Albion (2009), Rapa Nui (2011), Heroes of the Three Kingdomes (2013), and Die Baumeister des Colosseum (2016).
Outside of Carcassonne, the only games by KJW that I’ve played are The Downfall of Pompeii and Mesopotamia. The Downfall of Pompeii is a fantastic game I’d recommend to anyone, but the only thing I really remember about Mesopotamia is that the tiles were weirdly shaped – hexagonal, but with jagged edges for hooking to each other. People often defied the Carcassonne series for having way too many expansions, but a lot of them show a lot of creativity. Yes, even the Catapult – despite being ridiculous, it’s still a unique idea for the system.
But wait, you may say! Isn’t that just ten entries? Well, yes, I suppose, but Jeroen Doumen and Joris Wiersinga are separate people, so that’s Eleven Designers You Should Know. Thanks for reading!