Let's get to know game designer, Dr. Reiner Knizia!
Dr. Reiner Knizia, born in Germany, is one of the world's most recognized and prolific game designers with more than 800 games published worldwide. In addition to becoming a successful game designer, he earned a Ph.D. in mathematics and has previously worked in the banking industry. From dice and card games to children’s games, and even the deep 3–4-hour board games, Dr. Knizia develops games for all audiences while pioneering the abstract theme in modern game design. This approach has allowed him to develop games that are comparatively simple but require thoughtful gameplay, while still retaining strong thematic elements.
SimplyFun's Partnership with Dr. Reiner Knizia
SimplyFun has partnered with this renowned game designer since 2007 and to date, published over 35 games designed by him. We're talking about best-selling, award-winning titles such as Arctic Riders, Dreaming Dragon, Ice Tumble, Wake Up Stars, and Word Bits, to name a few. But there are so many more! Check out the complete array of games designed by Reiner for SimplyFun.
How do we decide on who to partner with and what games to publish? Choosing from a range of prototypes shared by our partners, we evaluate and select which games to produce based on a range of criteria. We ask ourselves many questions like "Is it fun?" and "Does it fill a need in a particular age range, skill, or target?" From there, we work on developing the game to fit our content goals and high standards.
The first game SimplyFun licensed and published by Reiner was Sudoku Challenge, in 2007. The partnership has not wavered; it continues to be a great success with over 35 games published to date.
Q&A with SimplyFun's CEO, Patty Pearcy, and Director of Product Development, Tiffany O'Brien
What draws you to Reiner's game concepts and design mechanism?
"Reiner is a game design legend and has earned that title with his diverse line of games", said Patty Pearcy, President and CEO of SimplyFun. "All of the games he has designed for SimplyFun feel like they are incredibly intentional learning tools for young minds. But they are also complex enough for the whole family to enjoy, and that’s what keeps people playing them over and over".
"Reiner always puts a unique twist on his games with a bit of hidden strategy that can make even a game for 4-year-olds feel fun for adults to play", said Tiffany O'Brien, Director of Product Development at SimplyFun.
What do you look for when deciding what game concepts will work well for the SimplyFun audience?
"We want an elegant balance of fun and education, and we want people to want to play those games for years to come", said Pearcy. "Learning is an ongoing process, and it’s a real honor to help make games where learning is something kids want to do".
"Reiner cares deeply about serving the needs of our SimplyFun families and always wants to know what topics are of most interest to us", said O'Brien. "Sometimes that means developing a very different concept such as our game, Do You Know Shakespeare? His passion for connecting the games he develops to the audience he serves results in unique and memorable experiences for players of his games".
SlideAscope is SimplyFun's newest game designed by Reiner. What attracted you to this game concept?
"The appeal of this game is the simple mechanic of matching two halves of unique shapes and seeing what types of chain reactions would occur with neighboring shapes", said Pearcy.
Were any changes made to SlideAscope's original prototype by Reiner to work best for SimplyFun's audience?
"We always work together with Reiner if we see a change that we would like to make to ensure that the underlying game mechanics, statistical probability, and expected results remain in line with the original prototype", said Pearcy.
"Together with SimplyFun artist Brian Kolodziejski, the type of shapes, colors, and materials of the tiles were updated", said O'Brien. "We also included a frame to contain the tiles in the play area and added the concept of rotating a placed tile to create more matches on your turn".
Let's learn even more about Dr. Reiner Knizia and his latest game licensed and published by SimplyFun, SlideAscope.
Q&A with Reiner
How did you get started in board game design?
One of the very interesting aspects of our industry is that we have many different people from many different backgrounds. I call them the colorful birds, all gathering in this industry. It's not a specific study or a specific education that brings us together, but it's really the love for the games.
And so, everybody who becomes a game publisher, a game designer, a graphic illustrator, or an author - they all start out loving the game, playing the game, and then becoming more ambitious.
It's the same for me. I've played as long as I can think. Too many games, too little time to play. That was always the motto of my life. From this love came, then, as I say, the ambition. Why can't I do something myself? It wasn't really the ambition to get it published. I soon started just to design, just to play my own themes, which fascinated me. And it all started from there. And now we see where it ended up.
What is the most challenging part of creating or designing a new game?
I think it's an evolution there. Things change with increased experience. It doesn't necessarily get easier in a way, because having published so many games always restricts you from not copying yourself, but really finding something new. Of course, over the years and the decades, seeing what is relevant, so as not to rest on the laurels of the past years or past decades.
When I started out as I just described, I was fascinated by specific themes and if I couldn't find the game about that theme, then I started developing my own game and just enjoyed playing it. Then this became more than a hobby. When it became a profession and really targeted at getting published, I realized that game design is not science.
What is your game design process?
I've learned that game design should not have a methodology. Game design is not something I can structure. Game design is something that needs to flow from itself and the best thing - which is almost a triviality - but for me, it's a deep insight. The best thing I can do to end up with a new game is to start with something new. Find new materials, new production methods, a new book or movie that I can work with, new game mechanics, and so on.
The starting point is very, very important because it leads the whole process. In a way this is difficult, but people very often ask me if I ever run out of ideas. And that's the other side. I'm actually cursed by ideas because when you work in this and you look into the world with open eyes, it reflects life. And our games are a mirror of our lives. That's the curse of having so many ideas because the idea of course is that it needs to be good, and it needs to be innovative. But then comes the hard work. I'm not calling it heroic, a lot of it is fun! Then comes the long process of thinking it through.
In a way, it's two stages.
Thinking it through, closing my eyes, playing the game, and working it out in my head so that I have the initial rules, the initial mechanics, the initial components, everything there. Then I make shorthand written notes so that I don't forget how the game plays. When all of this is researched, depending on the theme, and all of this has been done, then comes the first prototype and then, playing.
There are lots of movements - if it works! Very often the game works perfectly in my head, but then it doesn't work so much in reality. If we are lucky then we get into a fine-tuning process until we end up with the final prototype. It's a long process and it's important to leave one's own tracks and to force yourself onto a new path.
What or who are some of your inspirations?
If I look back on my life, I've done many things, but the one thing I really love and that energizes me is designing games. Even so, initially, I didn't start off to become a game designer. I wanted to have a proper job. I studied mathematics, business, and computer science and I ended up in management roles in banking and IT.
Eventually, I decided I like to do one thing properly, rather than to dance on many different floors or stages. I've only got one life, so I decided to jump and put my full time into games. It wasn't such a risky jump because it helped that some of my early games were quite successful. This opened doors - being well-known in the industry and having some games that made reasonable earnings. The decision was more about saying goodbye to my management job and knowing that if I leave, I'm never coming back. But I've never regretted it. I do what I love to do.
What inspired the design of SlideAscope?
What fascinated me in this game was the cascading aspect. Cascade means that one action then triggers another bonus action, which triggers another bonus action. The challenge there is you don't want to make them too rare - because otherwise, you're chasing a ghost and never see it. On the other hand, if you make it too frequent, then one player enjoys herself or himself, taking one after another, and everybody else just watches.
I'm also convinced that a game doesn't need to be complex. It can be relatively simple and nevertheless very exciting if you give it the right spirit and the right challenges.
I didn't want to give people too many choices and create analysis paralysis, but also not give too few choices because otherwise there's nothing to think about. So, this was the dimensioning. Keeping it interesting to play but still is fast enough to play.
I know that SimplyFun often tries to enhance the games with more manipulatives because that's part of the game and part of the play. When you have wonderful components and everything works well mechanically, you end up with a wonderful game. It's always the game designer and the publisher together that make a great game. It's just not just one or the other. If I don't provide a good game, you can't publish a good game. And vice-versa.
How long did it take you to design SlideAscope?
This is relatively hard to say because I'm not working on just one game at a time. However, the initial design phase didn't take too long. I worked things out in my head over about 2-3 weeks, and then I had some quick prototypes of the tiles done and tried it myself, figuring out how many different symbols I would need, how many different colors I would need, and how the dimensions would work best. Once that was done and we had the prototype to play and test, it was a process of about 3-4 months. I have a group of very experienced players who first played the game, and once I feel it is stable enough, then it's played by a target group. This involves finding the right audience to play and try it out, then we optimize it again as needed. With SlideAscope, it was actually quite a quick design process from front to end, about half a year.
Do you have a favorite game - or a few favorites - that have been published by SimplyFun?
You know, when you have 800 "children" and are asked which one is your favorite child, you make one happy and 799 very unhappy. But each "child" has its own history.
I think one of the remarkable histories and one of the greater games we have done together is Dreaming Dragon. I remember we had made a clay prototype, which was very clumsy to transport, and SimplyFun took it onto the plane and held it in their lap to bring it back safely.
In Dreaming Dragon, you don't necessarily need rules and explanations, you just set it up and it's fantastic because if you demonstrate it and just start to play, everybody watches and sees the excitement and the thrill behind it. I cannot call it my favorite, but it has a nice history.
Anything else to add?
It's wonderful to work with SimplyFun! We have found each other, and you create wonderful games that bring lots of enjoyment, and lots of people together. I think the greatest thing you can do. It's the greatest job one can have.