I am very pleased to introduce you Filip Milunski from Poland. I have had the pleasure of playing and reviewing 2 of his designs – Mali Powstancy and Na Grunwald and was very impressed with his talent. Now with the publication of Magnum Sal which he has co-designed with Marcin Krupinski, I felt it was time to showcase him on Boardgames in Blighty as an up and coming game designer. I predict that Filip will become a noted and leading game designer. You heard it here first!
Congratulations on the publication of Magnum Sal, Mali Powstancy and Na Grunwald!.
Hello. Thank you!
Can we start by having you tell us about the Magnum Sal, your newest design. What is the basic premise? Can you describe the general game play and objectives? Is it a family game or more for the hobby gamer?
Magnum Sal, designed together with my friend Marcin Krupinski, is definitely closer to a gamer’s game that to a family game. In this game you take a role of a foreman, a manager of a mining team. Your goal is to extract salt from one of the biggest and oldest salt mines in the world, which is in Wieliczka, in Poland. This is an economic game – at the end the richest player is the winner. The main mechanics are pick up and delivery and worker placement with a nice twist which we called a chain rule. Briefly it gives you a choice: do you want to dig fast but then you have to pay a lot to other players who are transporting your salt to the surface or maybe do you want to plan the extraction carefully but you won’t be first there and probably the best salt might be already extracted.
Can you tell us the story about how and when the idea for the game came to you and the journey you have traveled up to the launch at Essen?
It was Marcin’s idea to make a game about Wieliczka. He told me about it and I encouraged him to start working on it. After some time he asked me to help him and finally we decided to make it together. What is quite unusual is that we did most of the brainstorming on instant messenger sitting in our offices (please do not tell our bosses about it 😉 ).
The whole design process took about a year and a half. Magnum Sal is quite a complex game so we needed a lot of play testing to find the balance, but we are pleased by the result.
Your other designs, Mali Powstancy and Na Grunwald! are based on important events in Poland’s history. Why did you choose these topics?
When I started designing boardgames few years ago I asked myself a question: What should I do to interest Poles in modern boardgames? Unfortunately boardgames are not so popular in my country like in Germany or the USA. Most of the people know only about Monopoly and Scrabble. I thought a bit about it for some time and my answer was: you should pick a familiar theme, topic which is important for the polish people. Another game about banana plantations or castle building probably won’t catch their attention. And I have to tell you that Poles love history. We can talk about it all of the time and historical events are very important to us. Sometimes even too important ;). So I started looking for a historical theme and then the idea of a game about a scout military post popped up when I was visiting the Warsaw Rising Museum.
What kind of research did you have to do for these games? How historically accurate are they and what is the balance you had to achieve to be faithful to the historical events and making a fun, playable game?
This is a crucial question because in my opinion it is also the biggest challenge! How to make a boardgame which is thematic and historically accurate and playable at the same time? And I am not sure there is a simple answer to it 😉 .
My attitude is to build a game around the theme. Generally I do not like pasted on themes. When I start work on some title I read about the topic first. In the case of Mali Powstancy my source was the Warsaw Rising Museum. Then I looked for the most important process or idea which should be reflected by the game. In Powstancy it is a fight against time.
It is impossible to completely reflect a complex historical event or situation in a boardgame so you need to find that kind of key idea, or process and then try to find a game mechanic which will suit it.
When I worked on Na Grunwald I had help of a historian who was checking my ideas and if they were historically correct.
What were the main challenges in designing all three games? I’ve heard that you had little time to organize the Na Grunwald! project and get it published. The story of the Mali Powstancy’s young insurgents is a powerful story of bravery of these young children.
The main challenge in the process is patience and careful testing. It is the longest part of designing but also the most important. It is sometimes hard for a designer to find again and again something that is not working properly so you need patience and good testers! Help of other people is crucial. A boardgame designer without testers can not do anything. The thing I like the least in designing is writing the rulebook. ;(
Yes I had only two months for designing Na Grunwald so it was hard time. There were days when we were performing 5 or 6 playtest of it so when it was finished I almost hated my newborn child 😉
Were there any particular surprises along the way?
Probably the biggest surprise was how easy it was to find a publisher for my first game. I e-mailed him and the same day I received an answer that he wanted to read the rulebook. Week later we met and he started playtests, and another month later Egmont decided to publish it. I was really surprised because I heard a lot stories how hard it is to interest a publisher in your game.
How did you arrive at your key design decisions and mechanics?
As I told before I almost every time start from the theme. I read about the topic and then I am give myself some time to work on the ideas. I think about them when I am riding my bike to work, washing dishes and walking with my dog. If the topic is interesting sooner or later some ideas appear in my head and I start to work on them. This process reminds me of a puzzle and is imo the most fascinating part of design. I am collecting the pieces of mechanics in my head and then I try to make them fit with each other. Many designers do this work on paper which is called “rapid prototyping”. I prefer to do it in my head and the first prototype is created when everything seems to work. And the most common mistake is for me to create the first prototype too fast. You need some time to make the pieces of a puzzle fit with each other 😉
What kind of feedback have you received?
I received a lot of positive feedback which makes me really happy and motivates me to work hard on my next games. Of course there were people who don’t like my games (they always will be there, somewhere;)) and I appreciate their opinions because negative feedback is not nice for the designer but it is the best one when you look at it as a tool. If it is only constructive there’s no better learning tool for designer then the negative feedback!
How long have you been gaming yourself? How did you get started?
I started four years ago when my sister decided to buy “Shadows over Camelot”. We played it several times during Christmas and I was amazed that there were games like these. So I discovered eurogames. Polish boardgame forum and BGG and the geekiness started 😉
What type of games do you like to play? Any particular favourites? Any games or game types that you avoid?
I play many different games. The type I enjoy the most is middle-weight eurogames but I also like more complicated economic games and some of the good ameritrash. My all time favorites are Dominion, Through the Ages and Stone Age. I generally avoid most complicated train games like 18XX and wargames which are too long for me and then less fun.
How did you get into game design?
I always was a creative type so when I started to play a lot I really soon thought about designing. My first game wasn’t good but I knew less about games and mechanics then. It is important to know what are the most common types of games and games mechanics first and then to think about design.
Do you have any particular game designers and/or designs that you admire?
I admire Vlaada Chvatil. He is really talented designer and has this rare ability of designing really fresh mechanics that suits the theme well like in Galaxy Trucker or Travel Blog. Through the Ages is one of my favorite games and I never refuse to play it. I very much like the feel of Achitocca games. Egizia and Comuni are really great titles. I still wonder how these guys are able to work together in group of four people.
Tell us about your future plans? Will there be wider distribution of your games in Europe and the USA?
I am working on several titles. Two of them are ready for publishing and they probably will appear on the market in 2011. One is a family game about the Baltic Sea, another is a card driven, party wordgame. I also started to work on our next economic game with Marcin Krupinski. I can say that this one will be about XIX century and industry. I am also looking for a publisher for the two player card game set in the world of Battlestar Galactica TV series. It will probably need a re-theme because of a license issues but I really count on that one because it is a game I worked two years on and is greatly developed.
I also designed a game for one of the polish NGO’s and this is also a direction I want to follow – to design games for institutions and companies as a learning tools or support of company’s PR.
About distribution of my games in Europe and USA. The problem with Mali Powstancy and Na Grunwald is that foreign publishers are not so interested in polish theme. Magnum Sal is still looking for a foreign publisher and we are definitely open for propositions.
Any words of advice for others interested in design/publishing their own games?
Do it if you really love playing. Play at least 50 modern boardgames before you start designing. Be patient, listen to your testers and last but not least, enjoy every moment of it!
Tell us where we can meet you this year. Upcoming public demos, conventions? Do you have a website?
The only place outside Poland when you can meet me will be the Essen Fair. I do not have a website yet but I’ve started the process of making it. It should be ready in first quarter of 2011 at www.milunski.pl
Thanks for the interview!