Somewhere along the way, American gamers seemed to have forgotten to mention Ludovic Maublanc in their worship sessions of awesome designers Antoine Bauza and Bruno Cathala. Ludovic is the other half of the Cyclades, Dice Town, and Mr. Jack series of games, as well as co-designer of Rampage (now Terror in Meeple City) and the sole mastermind of Ca$h ‘n Gun$. Ludovic was kind of enough to answer some questions about hist recent games as well as some that are due out soon – and he’ll be at Gen Con as well. Thanks, Ludovic!
Tell us a bit about yourself – your day job, how you got into gaming, your favorite games, how you got into design…
When I do not create games, I work in a large toy store . I’ve always played, it seems to me … a lot of roleplay during my teenage years, then I came back to the game board in 1995 with The Settlers of Catan. The games I play the most are those adapted online and on iPad. I play a lot to Through The Ages, Kingdom Builder, Small World and Carcassonne. When we play games with varied people, we almost always play new games, games of any type and prototypes. As I used to play role-playing games and write my own scripts, it seemed natural for me to create my own games when I went back to boardgaming.
You, Bruno Cathala, Serge Laget, Antoine Bauza, and Bruno Faidutti seemed to have formed some sort of French Game Designer Coalition – you’re always working together in various pairs. Gamers have taken notice of some of the signatures that set each of you apart (Faidutti’s love for character cards, for example)… What is unique about your involvement? Do you think that you have any trademarks?
I create all kinds of games, big games as Cyclades, reflections as in Mr. Jack or less serious things like Ca$h ‘n Gun$ … Actually, I make games that I would feel like playing. If I had a “brand” that would be to try to bring elements into my games that are not found elsewhere as guns in Ca$h ‘n Gun$, 3D buildings in Rampage …
Recently, The Dice Tower talked about their top 10 designers, and Zee Garcia said that Bruno Cathala’s appeal is that he can also design many games on his own. Likewise, Faidutti and Bauza have had big successes like 7 Wonders and Citadels. Do you feel any pressure to put out notable games on your own, or do you feel like Ca$h ‘n Gun$ was proof enough that you could do it?
Even if it would be a pleasure for me to be in this list, it is not a goal for me. I make games for fun and it is an activity that is more pleasing with friends!
Last time we talked, we were discussing Mr. Jack Pocket among other things. Since then, it seems like that version of the system has grown up again, into Le Fantome de l’Opera. Why the change of setting, and how do you feel about the many different versions of the game now? Do you think the new mechanisms (such as the hexless movement system) are an improvement? To me, it feels like Le Fantome de l’Opera is the ultimate, refined, best version of the system – but should we expect more to come?
There is no predefined plan for Mr. Jack’s trend. It turns out that Bruno had the basic idea of Mr. Jack Pocket and we just worked on it … then we wanted to rediscover the simplicity of the Pocket version, closer to the initial game, richer and less risky . It is true that we can say that the Phantom is the refined version of the base of the game as the NY version is the Hard Core version. Again, this is not a purpose, but a reflection of our desire. At the time of NY we played a lot to Mr. Jack and we wanted a harder game. Today we want a game which is simple to explain and offers immediate pleasure. And it was this desire that gave birth to the ghost.
Rampage was such a huge success this year – easily my favorite game of 2013. How did you and Antoine even get this idea? How did you refine the gameplay of something so crazy – for example, how did you decide rules like “the player cannot inhale for blowing until his chin is on the monster”? How did you decide the dimensions of the components? These are not game rules you are normally thinking about!
The original idea comes from Antoine, he thought it would be fun to play monsters destroying the city and eating poor Meeples wooden pawns . We then had to find a fun game around it . We found some stuff immediately, like the breath … But the first version of the game was still fairly tactical … Then we let the project rest for some time to complete another game (Dungeon Naheulbeuk , based on a French Franchise , let’s say that the game is a mix between a Party and a Dungeon Crawler game) . Then when we were back on the idea of monsters, the image of the buildings built by a stack of Meeples imposed itself and the rest of the game flowed naturally. Of course it took a lot of testing to make it all fluid. For breath, for example, we realized that if a player inhaled and then put his chin on the monster and blew, it gave a too powerful blast . We then realized that blowing in a bended manner gave less power and allowed buildings to resist better. Once the game was signed by Repos Production, we still had to work on the material aspect of the game and had to reduce the number of Meeples to lower the cost of production, and therefore review the form of our buildings. We also had to study different ways to make the game board, modular or not … how to keep the foundations of buildings, how to fix different parts of the board, etc. These are things we don’t think about in a classic boardgame, but that’s what was exciting to do in Rampage.
Another great game of 2013 (a very good year for you!) is SOS Titanic. What were the design goals for this game? What made you think of Solitaire/Klondike/Patience as a game to improve upon? How did you pick the theme? Were you worried that people would find the theme distasteful?
For this game, it was Bruno who came up with the idea. He already had the idea of taking the basic principle of the solitary and the theme of the rescue of the Titanic which accorded well with the mechanics of the game, where the cards are sorted in order to discard them in a certain way. It led to the idea of putting passengers into lifeboats. The development of the game consisted mainly of introducing characters and their powers to players so that everyone could play slightly differently, which is important in a cooperative game. We introduced special cards that bring new opportunities during the game which can lead to discussion between players. The theme has never been a problem for me since the aim of the game is very positive: saving people.
An older game I can’t help but ask about is Cyrano, co-designed with Angèle. What in the world made you decide to make a game about poetry? Does it take a certain kind of player to enjoy (or even play) this game?
I had a period at the beginning of my “career” where I wanted to make games on all the subjects which came in my mind. It was during this period that I created “Monstro’Folies” , a game where monsters are created in clay and even Ca$h ‘n Gun$ and its guns. Then I told myself I would love to make a game where players write poems. I had in mind the typical picture of the man in front of the balcony of his beloved. Each poem allows the author to go more or less quickly to the balcony of his beloved … It seemed like a good idea for a game … Only I did not know how to turn the poem into “points” to move the player character . The idea came to me several years later by a single blow. I then tried it this way and it worked the first time! It only remained to refine the game , find rhymes and themes and this is where Angèle , my partner at the time, intervened. She had helped me a lot in some games and this time, I thought she deserved the title of co-designer … even if she did not want it. I introduced the game to my friends of Repos Production and a memorable game at Bruno Faidutti’s Ludopathiques convinced them of the potential of the game. We knew that this kind of game cannot really be played by everyone. Some players get stuck with the idea of having to write … But I assure you that those who overcome this have a great time! Because if you look closely to the game, technically, you just have to find four original words which end with a certain syllable … the rest of the text is just something to make one’s friends laugh … everyone can play Cyrano with a little vocabulary.
Can you give us a summary of Desperados of Dice Town?
Desperados of Dice Town is a new game in the world of Dice Town. This is not an extension but a standalone game for 2-4 players. Each player must free his gang of Desperados currently in prison. To do this, players launch one after another 4 dice which represent your henchmen. There are several types: leader, bad girl, ugly…. When your Desperado is released, he can attack other players who have not released the desperado of this type. Each attack makes the targeted player lose money… The aim is to release your 5 Desperados AND be the richest around the table … You can also win by eliminating all other players because a player leaves the game when he is bankrupt!
Can you tell us a bit about Cyclades: Titans?
Cyclades: Titans will be an extension which can be played by 6 players. It will introduce new game elements that can be used from 3 to 6 players. As in the Hades extension, each new element will be presented in a module that can be added or not to the basic rules. There will be a new game board that will change the habits of many players. A new god Kronos, who lands in with his Titans and brings a lot of movement in the archipelago. There will also be powerful holy relics and new types of Metropolis! All these elements were thought to boost the game and make it even more tense and nervous!
After 10 years of life, the publisher wanted a new look for the game. Repos Production then asked me if I could find out new rules for the game. So I worked on my game again but with 10 years of experience…And I told myself: ! there’s work to do!! My first task was to simplify the game by withdrawing the rules I systematically had to explain several times… No more BANG! BANG! BANG!, no more hidden powers! As such, everything that seemed dispensable like shame points and the Cop version has been removed. By removing materials, I hoped to gain some place to add more guns because it is funnier to play with several players! It was effective and the game now allows up to 8 players. I took advantage of the remake of the game to add a new sharing method which I was saving for an extension. But the publishers and testers liked this version so much that it became the new sharing method of the original game! The few modifications I wanted to bring to the game finally turned into a full remake of the game! Today, it is much easier to explain, more dynamic and for sure, a little nastier too!
Indeed, Madame Ching is a game that had multiple looks… But the main theme of the game has always been travelling. In this game, players make a succession of travels, farther and shorter, more rewarding and less. The first version of the game took place in Cyclades’ universe; we played some heroes who went on a quest. But this version did not satisfy us without really knowing why…So we let the game aside for a year!
Then, during a journey at Bruno Cathala’s house, we decided to work on the game again. To look at the game with a new eye, we decided to change the theme. Players were now space travelers who had to take earth settlers to faraway planets. This change helped us to understand what was wrong with the game and we quite quickly managed to do a version which as satisfying for us.
The testers then made us notice that the space theme did not fit with such a family game way of playing. As we wanted to keep the travelling theme, we thought about Marco Polo. It allowed us to have a pretty look for the game and to help modify the game, which was used to turn the travels’ scoring values into an actual central game platform. The last change of theme occurred after we signed at Hurrican and as we wanted to keep an exotic side for the game, we chose the theme of Chinese pirates. Whatever the look, the original idea remained the same: the players have to manage their cards to realize the best travel as possible. The secret being not to focus on the current travel but to gather cards for your future travels in a way to score more. Of course, like in all travels, we have unexpected meetings and we have to adapt. Madame Ching is a simple family game but we can find many hidden elements which can please hardcore players too.
What have you been reading/watching/playing/enjoying lately?
I read much less than before, but I can never resist to the last Pratchett or to a new volume of GoT. I’m fond of series; my favorite remains The Big Bang Theory. I realize that the game I play most regularly is Ultrastar (Singstar PC version). I also like to play with friends on the WiiU. Yet I’m not very fond of video games … Gaming alone in front of the screen does not really interest me. But I just got an arcade machine with 3000 games, I’m catching up in this area … I finally played the old video game RAMPAGE!
Anything else you’d like to add (or any topic I forgot)?
Hey, everyone does his job, it’s not mine to ask questions : p
Thanks to Ludovic! Madame Ching arrives July 23rd in the U.S. and we’ll have a review soon! Make sure to check out Ca$h ‘n Gun$ second edition at Gen Con as well.