As a part of an interview series with last year´s winners, we talked to Carlos Moreno Serrano, designer of the third placed entry Promises, Promises. He told us about his challenges when designing his entry, his disappointment in KBG and lessons he learned when dealing with evil publishers like us.

[You can view a short description of Carlos´ game in our round-up post of last years contest]

Hello Carlos! We couldn´t help but read your profile on Boardgamegeek in preparation for this interview and notice that you are a mensa member and fluent speaker of 5 languages. Would you say that you like board games because you are smart or are you smart because you like board games (You have to choose one of the two!)?

If I have to choose one, I would go for “you like board games because you are smart”. The reason behind is that for modern boardgames, you need to make serious decisions, you need to make an effort and think about the consequences of your actions. Taking pleasure in this type of games means that you enjoy thinking and analysing. I have played board games in many countries with many people from all over the world and you clearly see the same trend.

Let´s talk about your winning entry Promises, Promises:What was it like to make the game? Did you encounter any particular problems you had to solve? Please tell us a little about the whole process!

I had been working on this game for a couple of years. Originally, I had a complicated way of keeping track of the promises and that involved using pen and paper, which made the game not fun. I also had a way of getting into a lot of “debt” or owed favours, but that made the game too complicated. I tested the game many times with my usual testing crew and they gave me some suggestions, some of them led me to the current game, which is sort of a “political poker with investments”. You need to decide how much you want to “invest” in favours or if you want to just play with what you have got. Asking for favours will initially give you a boost, but when pay back time comes, maybe you get crippled by all the stuff you have to give away.

The theme of your game is “Politics”. In fact, the game is about making promises(bidding) to win votes and later trying to fulfill these promises (negotiating with other players). Do you see the game more as an abstract or do you place special importance or even a message in this particular theme?

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Most if not all my games have a message in them. I engineer the game to favour the strategies that support that message. I have never told this to anyone before, so this is exclusive news! In Promises, Promises! the message is that it is good to form coalitions, as in real life politics, the more consensus you have, the stronger the support that particular Bill will have, but you need to make sure to fulfil your promises or you will be seriously punished. You might get away with it once or twice, but no more.

To get a feeling for what kind of gamer you are, please give your three favorite games and explain your choices.

That is easy, I love economic games! My three favourite games would be:

– Any 18xx game, for example 1856, 1889, 1830, etc. I love the zero luck mechanisms and to be the owner of my own destiny. It is a very punishing game where any mistake or even making a sub-optimal move can mean defeat.

– Container. This game is pretty much the perfect game. It has a closed economy that forces the players to pay fair prices or even generous prices to inject money into the economy and later on evolve to a more competitive market. If you do not follow this, all players will go bankrupt and the last one to go broke wins (that was my first game). Another beautiful thing from this game is that in any Euro, you usually invest as much as you can in growing your engine and then at the final turns you reap the benefits of your investment, but this does not work with Container as you have to grow your business slowly and reinvest slowly like in real life or you will go broke. I wish I would have created Container or the 18xx family as they are so clever and rounded.

– Go (baduk, weiqi). I cannot forget my good old friend Go. I have dedicated years of my life to the study of this game. I have over a hundred of Go books. I have had a few sensei (teachers). I have been on a week-long 24/7 Go seminar with professional players. I have gone to many tournaments. I have gone to the Nihon Ki-in and sat at the Yugen no Ma (the most famous room to play Go, where only the best in the world play (I obviously didn’t get to play there). I have been to 2 schools for professional players in China. I took a break from Go when my son was born, but I will come back, I will!

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As you might know (i´m not sure, actually), you are the only one of last years winners who did not receive a contract offer from us (which is purely due to our market conditions and not due to any lack of quality of the game, i want to assure you).
Are you disappointed or relieved that you don´t have to work with a bunch of crazy Koreans – and possibly learn a 6th language?

Well, I am disappointed to be the only one that didn’t get the contract offer, but I completely understand that this is business and if I had targeted the contract, I might have gone for a different game that might have not won. I am really grateful to have won 3rd place and that you valued the quality of the game over the sellability. That makes the contest very valuable and very fair.

To give you an example, the game I presented in Essen last year to publishers, Robofactory, it is a business/economic simulation game that is very fun to play and has zero luck. Most publishers loved the game, they told me that they would play it, buy it and keep in their collection, but all of them agreed that they would not publish it because they would not sell enough copies to make it worth it. Most publishers I approached usually have a print run of 10000 copies and they were confident that I could sell a few thousand of Robofactory, but not so sure of fully selling out the print run. That was devastating for me because it is a very solid and fun economic game and everybody I played it with loved it and wanted to play it more and I did a few blind tests with random unrelated people and they all loved it. I learned a lesson from this and one of the publishers sat down with me for half an hour to explain to me what the market wants at the moment (which has changed from the past). He told me to design games for the market, not for me. I love all this complex medium-heavy economic games and there is a market for them (I buy them!) but there is a much bigger market out there and if I want to get more games published, I should target them, not me.

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So I have currently finished designing Guilds of Florence, which is a very sellable worker-programming (not worker placement) game. I am testing it at the moment, but this is my answer to Essen’s lesson last year. Watch out! Oh, and by the way, I know some Korean! My wife is Chinese and we both love watching Korean dramas and films. I know how to read Hangul but not the meaning of the words (blush!). So I can order my food in Korean and say the typical basic things, just not enough to update my BGG profile (need more studying!).

As you know, the next KBG contest is already running, but we did not receive an entry from you, yet! Do you plan on participating again ? If not, we would of course like to know why!

I have been following the contest on a daily basis, and thought very hard on a few games for it. The reason why I have not submitted a game yet is purely because I am moving house and it is absorbing most of my time. I feel that I rather send a properly thought-out game rather than something in a rush. If you don’t mind a not-fully-rounded game proposition, I can still send you the one I prepared for this contest.

Final Question: Ìn our contests we are looking for games that fulfill certain criteria. Some of those criteria are necessities of the market, some derive from our feeling and intution on what is good/fun and what is bad/boring to play. What – in your opinion – makes a great game?

In my opinion a great game makes you want to play it again and again. I also appreciate if a game is very clever and challenges my way of thinking or makes me work hard to find the perfect engine. My personal preference is for a game that needs you to make tough decisions or sacrifices, where you cannot have it all. However, a great game from the market’s point of view usually needs easy rules that can be taught in less than 10-15 minutes, easy to understand mechanics where people “get it” at a glance and a playing time of 60 minutes or lower. The key thing is to have clear options to choose from, but deciding which ones or in which order being challenging.

Thank you for the interview!