Game Designer Interview: Stefan Dorra

Stefan Dorra has designed a wide variety of games over many years, although you’re most likely to know him as the designer of For Sale. Eselsbrücke by Stefan and co-designer Ralf zur Linde was nominated this year for the German Family Game of the Year (Spiel des Jahres), and their latest design Milestones is soon to be published stateside by Stronghold Games. Thanks to Stefan for taking the time to answer these questions!

In a past interview, you commented that you hadn’t done any co-authoring yet, but now you’ve done quite a bit, especially with Ralf zur Linde. How did this working relationship start? How do the two of you work through a design?
That’s a long time ago. For nearly 5 years, I’ve worked together with Manfred Reindl from Austria. He is mostly interested in children games. We work together via internet and e-mails and I visited him several times. Ralf zur Linde is a friend, who I met first at the Hippodice Spielewettbewerb in 1992. Many years later in 2008 we had the idea to make a boardgame together with the title Pergamon. In the last 3 years we made with Eselsbrücke, Ranking and Milestones, 3 more family games.


Our English-speaking audience hasn’t had much exposure yet to Eselsbrücke despite its Spiel des Jahres nomination. Can you tell us more about the game? How is it played? Who is the target audience? What led to its design?
Eselsbrücke is a typical family game for people who like communication and party games. You draw some picture-cards, for example a cucumber, a mayor and a dragon. Then you tell a short dragon-story with these terms. And then you turn the pictures. The other players also draw some cards and tell other stories. After a while, you deal out the cards from the first dragon-story to the other players. Each player gets 1 card. Susan has, for example, the mayor. Now she has to call another card from this story (cucumber or dragon). This is very simple, if the story was funny. The players who played Eselsbrücke the first time were always surprised how many stories they can keep in mind.


Can you tell us a bit about how Milestones is played? What are its unique mechanisms?
I think Milestones is the most ambitious game from Ralf and me. The rules are very simple, but there are many different ways to win this game. The players build houses, streets and marketplaces on the game board and they get points for these buildings. But if you want to build a house or a street, you have to produce sand and stone. This happens on a player board. Every player has an individual board with different spaces. On the 8 upper spaces you can hire some workers, who produce stones, wood, sand, grain or coins. On the four buildung spaces, you can take actions, such as hiring new workers, building on the main game board or delivering grain. These 12 spaces form a circle. You can move your playing piece slowly or fast around this circle. If you go slowly, you will earn more coins or wood. If you go fast, you can build a house first.


How did you come up with the idea for Milestones?

While making this game we experimented with streets and houses on a game board. I think two decisions were essential for Milestones.
1. We were looking for a simple and variable mechanism to get points for building streets and houses. Later we made a game board with many triangular spaces and in every corner we drew a number. If a player builds a street or a house, he gets points according to these numbers.
2. We were thinking about a mechanism to get stones, wood and sand for the buildings. We had the idea of variable arrangement of workers in a row. Later we integrated the action spaces with the workers’ row and so we kept a circuit. Every player got his own player board with this circuit.


What comes first for you, the mechanism or the theme?
Normally I look first for a new mechanism. Later I’m thinking about a theme, which is suitable to this mechanism.


How do you find the right publisher for a game?
I have good contacts at different publishers. Normally I send an e-mail with the rule of the game and some photos to a publisher. If they are interested in the game, I send them a prototype.


Which game of yours surprised you by its success (whether positive or negative)?
What do you mean by negative success? I love all my games. I’m not surprised, if they are successful. There were also games, which weren’t very successful – for example, the game Ranking from Ralf and me. But I like it, too. We have had very much fun with that game.

I think that all published games are interesting, but not for all gamers. In every game, many people invest much time, much work and much money. And they wouldn’t publish the game if they hadn’t had much fun with it. It’s not suitable to review a game with more or less points. I think it’s better to describe for which player this game could be interesting and for which player not.


What have you been enjoying lately – games other than your own, books, movies?
Movies/TV: Breaking Bad – The Fourth Season.
Books: Paul Cleave: The Cleaner / Collecting Cooper.
Music: 17 Hippies: Phantom Songs.
Boardgame: Pegasus: Village.


We’ve seen a trend in the past year or two of more and more small publishers, more and more games in the market, along with the advent of Kickstarter. As someone who has been designing games for a long time, how do you see this affecting the hobby, and your place in it, in five or ten years?
I think that’s an unfavorable trend. There are too many games, that disappear after a short time. All players are looking for new games, and after a few month these new games are too old. But there is also another trend. To publish a new game it is more and more necessary to work together with foreign dealers and publishers. And this is a great chance for some games.

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