28 September 2010

The Expedition's Leader

An interview with Bruno Faidutti, designer of Isla Dorada

Isla Dorada, a board game of exploration and treasure, will hit stores in November. Last week, we released the rules for Isla Dorada. Today, as our expedition of the island continues, we’re happy to present an interview with its designer, Bruno Faidutti (Citadels, Red November). Enjoy!

What was the inspiration for Isla Dorada?

I first had the idea for “Merchant Caravan,” which would later become Isla Dorada, about ten years ago when playing [Alan Moon’s] Elfenroads. Elfenroads [...] is one of my all time favorite board games. I liked the game; I also liked a lot its board, illustrated by Doris Matthäus. For one or two years, it was the game I played most often, and I became very familiar with its board. As a game designer, I thought that there was certainly some other kind of game to imagine using this kind of board, with different kinds of paths through the forest, the desert, the plains and the mountains.

At the same time, I happened to play Ulysses, another great game. In Ulysses, a game by Andrea Angiolino and PierGiorgio Paglia, the players are gods trying to “push” Ulysses’ ships in various directions, to different places. The game is played on a map of the Mediterranean, and each player uses wind cards to move it to the place where he wants it to land.

Isla Dorada seems to have had plenty of design input, between yourself, Alan R Moon, Andrea Angiolino, and Piergiorgio Paglia. In what capacity did each of these designers contribute? 

In fact, it’s not really a collaborative design, but more like a design chain. Alan designed Elfenland, from which I took the board structure, and the original idea for the game. PierGiorgio and Andrea designed Ulysses, from which I borrowed the single pawn and vote idea. From there on, most of the design was mine, though I regularly kept everyone informed on how it was evolving. In the last two years, PierGiorgio and Andrea jumped in with suggesting some card ideas and some rules changes. In a way, this is a game by me but largely based on ideas by Alan, PierGiorgio and Andrea.

Isla Dorada’s most distinctive feature may be its gorgeous artwork. To what extent did the artwork inspire the theme and mechanics, or vice-versa? 

When I signed with the French publisher, FunForge, the game was still named “Merchant Caravan”. It was Philippe Nouhra, at FunForge, who suggested the change of theme and setting, and it was probably the only time since I’m designing games that a change of theme suggested by the publisher happened to make a game better. He thought of a Lost Island setting, in the thirties, with a pulp-like graphic style. I agreed, and he started to look for an illustrator. Philippe happens to be very well acquainted in the French video game scene, and to know great artists, so he found the right ones – Georges Bouchelaghem for the board, and Xavier Gueniffey Durin. So the theme was before the graphics, but it was chosen with a graphic style in mind.

What would you say was the most drastic change mechanically that took place over the course of the design process?

With core mechanisms, the most drastic change was when I reduced the number of track types from 4 to 3. It seems like a very minor change, but it dramatically increased the game dynamics. Another watershed was the change of theme which, as I said before, gave us ideas for lots of fun action cards. Well, may be I would have added such cards anyway, since it's always the last and the most fun part in designing a game, but the ones in the game were inspired by the change of theme.

What aspect of the game did you enjoy designing the most?

This has been a very long design, more than ten years, with lots of different versions. The final version of the rules had the version number 8.23… So, I don’t remember everything.

In the last year of work, the most fun was probably the many new cards I added to the game after the change of theme. The Treasure Island setting, and the natives, brought many card ideas which were not in the former versions. It may also have been that now that we were completely satisfied with the basic system, it was time to add the chaotic card effects. And this was probably the most fun – adding the zeppelin, killer pandas, cannibal pygmies, tribe war, flying monkeys and other fun action cards. They really make the game much more fun and dynamic without breaking its balance. One day, I had to decide it was enough and we didn’t need more cards.

Do you have any winning strategies that you can share? 

Isla Dorada has been deliberately designed to impose a balance between tactics and strategy. The final destiny cards determines your strategy, the treasure cards determine your tactical choices. It's when they don't perfectly fit together that things become interesting, but I can't say that one choice is better than another. 

Thanks, Bruno! Keep checking back for more on Isla Dorada!

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