Between 1979 and 1986 I invented some fourty abstract games, some of which can be found in the ArenA and the Pit. Then, unintentionally and more or less by accident, came Dameo's invention in 2000, after the basic idea had been on the shelf for some fifteen years. Its actual invention took two minutes. The co-invention of HanniBall in 2009 marked a reluctant restart. But then, in the fall of 2010 a whole bunch of games poured out, two of which, Symple and Sygo, are significant insofar as abstract games can be significant. The whole process was a 'live' occurence decribed in late arrivals and final whispers. A second 'wave', of which Scware, Pit of Pillars and Io are worth mentioning, came in 2012 and 2013.
Looking back now, from a safe distance, and with the benefit of hindsight, I'd like to clarify how and why I invented these games, and more specifically why not.
To start with the latter, I never was particularly interested in commercial success because that's a whole different ballgame. I would have liked it of course, and it might have made things easier in some respects. Then again, it might not. But I felt an inventor, not a promotor. I can honestly say that I never made a game for merchandise, ever. Havannah ended up as a Ravensburger game nevertheless, but in hindsight it was destined to fail. Strategical games are almost a recipe for commercial failure.
Moreover, why buy them if you can try them. Bushka, Dameo and Emergo can be played by anyone who has a chess board, a 10x10 draughts board and a set of draughtsmen. Symple and Sygo can be played on a regular Go board. So much for merchandise. I was simply interested in finding the best possible games.
I did it because I could. As a kid I played a lot of 10x10 draughts. Never Chess. It was an 'upper class lower class' thing: proletarians played draughts. As a late hippie, in the mid seventies, I encountered Go. One night, while playing, I had a crucial shift of perspective. We still were absolute beginners, so it wasn't embedded in any real knowledge of how to play Go. Yet, under my eyes the game transformed from a mechanism, the parts of which were still unclear to me in terms of interaction, to an organism with its own will and intent.
I watched the game come to life like conflicting bacteria in a petri dish. At the same time I felt will and intent: how each side effortlessly absorbed the available territory with a maximum of efficiency and unbounded finesse. A complete identification with how the game intended to behave, if not spoiled by bad players.
Bad players like myself obviously. I wasn't even good enough to qualify for that. I was at the very bottom of the strategy tree, feeling how it felt at the very top, where simplicity has come full circle through a universe of complexity, and where every move is self evident.
I was not aware that this perspective was in any way unusual. I was only gradually to find out that knowing how some games will behave on the highest level is not a frequent quality, even among dedicated players. Moreover, the kind of identification involved is limited to a small class of games that I would label 'organisms' rather than mechanisms. Chess games in particular lack these qualities.
My first game ever was a attempt to blend Chess and Go, the mechanical with the organical. It turned out like Frankenstein's monster: all seperate parts, and no life of its own. I like to think it compressed all possible mistakes an inventor can make into one game. It put me on the right track for sure: look for simplicity.
The five games that I consider the core of my work can be found in the ArenA. Two essential games are co-inventions, Emergo with Ed van Zon and Symple with Benedikt Rosenau.
The other games in the ArenA also qualify as 'mental sport weapons'. They allow a master level of play without devaluating that concept. I cannot not say "that's how I made them", because one cannot set out to to make a true strategy game. But given the right mechanism and a thorough application of Occam's Razor, a game may turn out that way.
And these games did.
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