Reiner Knizia

David Ethan Kennerly - May 29, 2003

Hearing Reiner Knizia speak at KublaCon (Sunday May 25) reminded me why I design games. If he had more hours in his day that he would design more games. He spoke to the crowded room a about his design process, history, and about publishing.

He approaches each game differently. Sometimes he begins with a theme, or a mechanic, or something else. If he took the same beginning and same path, he'd end up with the same result. He believes a good game has general principles that one can go back to. That the rules are small and simple. He is a scientist. A good game is robust. It can survive any kind of playing style or strategy.

He also believed that each player made the game unique. He believed the game is a platform for people. In Germany there is a choice of the right game for the right person and the right mood.

He made board games since he was 10, as he said, "Ever since I could think." They were not published and will never be published.

But he prodigiously published in the last decade. Years ago, He had published a game every two months in a German game magazine for about five years.

He has a dresser with 30 drawers, so he never advances on more than 30 games at a time. He has to play the game at least once a week so actively works on about five or six games at a time. An intense game he plays everyday. It never gets boring because he enjoys it and it changes a little.

He described himself as a perfectionist. He iterated his games often; i.e., playtested. I guess he had a good understanding of what changes solved what problems.

He believed in playtesting. He said that too many published games are unfinished. During the process the mechanics might change so much that the theme might shift.

Some designers believe a licensed game is a second class game, but not Reiner. Lord of the Rings had smart publishing. The first game got the license from the book, before the movie. The movie gave the game advertising. In Germany it had sold over 100,000 copies after publishing in October 2000.

He paused and explained his ambition. He had wanted to conquer all the publishers: that is, to have a game published with each. He found out the difference between publishers.

The difference between American publishers and German publishers. In Germany it is the game. Several years ago he brought an Egyptian-themed game to an American publisher. The publisher said, We already have an Egyptian game. In Germany, the publisher would say, let's see the game. That is, let's see its mechanics.

As a scientist he gravitates toward general principles. A good scientist attempts to reduce redundancy. A marketer creates redundancy.

In America, it is alright to use the same mechanic again and again. In Germany and Europe the same mechanic cannot be used again. The critics would tear you apart.

But the critics will tear you apart anyway. At first they will ignore you. Then after you are successful they will want to tell a success story about you. After everyone has heard it, it will no longer be interesting. So they will tear you down, piece by piece. They will criticize everything you do until there is nothing left of you. Then that will no longer be interesting.

There are other differences in the market. Although he is sure the statistic differs in the US, in Germany, women buy 80% of the games. There they are bought as gifts.

Currently he likes to experiment with a larger number of players. For example: PolyPoker, Weedle. Not every game is intended for publication. For a long time he never wanted to publish a game.

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Further Reading

  1. Special K
    Biography, 2001.
  2. Funagain interview
    Fall 2002.
  3. GameCabinet interview
    Before his retirement, 1993.
  4. Reiner @ Convivium
    Articles, rules, etc.
  5. Dice Games Properly Explained
    His book.
  6. Funagain Games
    His games.
  7. Boardgame Geek
    His games.
  8. Reinerspiel
    A fan page of his games.