Could you quickly introduce yourself, for the people out there that may not know you already?
Hello, I am Hilko.
I’m a boardgamer since the early days of my childhood. After a few halfhearted attempts, I began developing games in a more serious fashion in 2007. This has so far led to 8 publications, from small-scale series to a few higher volume editions. I’ve been blogging about games for two years now as well.
My full-time job is teaching German as a foreign language in a small language school in Göttingen.
In your blog (Du bist dran!) you frequently write about more obscure games, for example from South America or the Far East. Where does your fascination with lesser-known games hail from?
I traveled a lot in my past, especially in Asia. In 2000 I went to Taiwan for approximately two years. I couldn’t really find a gaming scene, but one of my students once told me he had a few German games at home. Nevertheless it didn’t come to a point where we met up.
Then I brought some things myself and played Settlers here and there, or some Tichu. This was usually with other people from foreign countries though, and Taiwanese only sporadically took part in it. In 2012 I returned for a visit again, and discovered an active scene had developed. That’s when I met up with a few game authors and formed some first friendships, played prototypes, and so on.
Since Taiwan was very dear to my heart due to my personal history, I always paid attention to see what came from there. Also in 2012, Seiji Kanai put an envelope in my hand that had 16 cards inside. This was of course Love Letter.
I was delighted by the graphics and wanted more of it (I never warmed up to the AEG-edition, we still play the original – although it is probably the third copy of it at this point). In many European games I’m just a bit bored by the illustrations, even though there are of course beautifully crafted pictures here as well.
This is how my passion for Asian games was kindled. And when I wanted to start my blog two years ago, I looked for a niche, since I thought, that nobody really wants hear me, of all people, give the umpteenth review for some hit game.
So I concentrated on Asian games and other lesser-known things.
Latin America was only added last year by pure coincidence. I heard of a publisher in Sao Paulo and then looked at their BGG entry. Besides many licensed editions there were also a few games there that originally hailed from Brazil. Then I looked for someone who could teach me about them.
From that came some really nice contact with the authors, and then I just did that again with Argentina. I also realized more and more how international and colorful the gaming world is. I thought it was great! In all countries there’s play. More in some, less in others – but games exist everywhere.
Here in Germany, we don’t notice a lot of that. This doesn’t just apply to the players here (who understandably rely on the local supply) but also to the publishers. Japanese games are on everyone’s lips by now, and the Taiwanese games were also noticed a lot more this year, but what about Colombia? Indonesia? Nigeria?
There’s so much untapped potential.
Essen is often the only way for players to get these lesser-known games. Do you have other sources for unknown games, and which game was your favorite in Essen 2017?
The conventions in Essen and (to a smaller degree) Nürnberg are indeed the most important sources for me. It’s true that those are the locations where people from all over the world meet up, and when I see something that’s truly exciting, which would otherwise be too expensive due to postage costs, then I find someone who can bring it along. I myself also send quite a bit of stuff from here out to the world.
Naturally I also want to give back. Aside from the conventions I very rarely buy games. I’m fairly well supplied with the stuff I got in Essen… for a few more months.
Of course, you can get nearly everything through the internet, when you’re willing to pay the corresponding price (although specifically in Japan you sometimes also have the language barrier as a factor).
I find what NiceGameShop does to be great, from there you can get some exotic games, even though you’re not in contact with the creators themselves. But for me personally it’s not really always about buying or owning the games themselves (or even just playing them – not everything I write about necessarily has to be interesting to me myself).
I first and foremost want to show how international and diverse our hobby is.
You also translate games for various publishers. From which languages do you translate, and into which languages?
Usually I translate from English, as that’s the only foreign language I’m proficient enough in. However, together with my wife (who comes from Taiwan) I’ve also translated some things from Chinese – but I couldn’t do that alone.
I can’t speak Spanish whatsoever, but I can somewhat understand game rules by now (if they’re illustrated halfway sensibly). So I’ve also done some ad-hoc translations there, but not really good enough to be published. Portuguese is harder, but I let myself be helped when I’m on unclear passages.
When you know many games, understanding others gets easier, even when they arrive in more exotic languages.
In addition to blogging and translating you also develop your own games. Can you talk some more about your own games?
I had the fantastic fortune to get to know Reinhold Wittig, who has become a friend and mentor to me. I learned a great, great deal from him, even though we often have completely different trains of thought. But maybe it is exactly for this reason that we’ve published three games in the meantime.
Reinhold’s ideas often come from objects that he sees or touches, and which he plays around with. He sees a lot more in many things than other people.
For me, it’s more the mechanisms that come to mind, with which I experiment afterwards. So our talents often fit together nicely.
And of course I’m influenced by the games I like to play myself when developing: card games, dexterity games, short and crisp games. Sometimes I try some stuff that wouldn’t necessarily pull me in as a player myself… just because.
Your Mission Impractical looks very interesting. How did you get the idea for the game?
Thanks. I woke up one morning and an idea came to mind. As I woke up more, I realized that a game like that existed already and I scrapped the idea. And then I suddenly Mission Impractical popped up. Then I made a first prototype from paper and tried it out directly on the next day and it was a resounding success.
At that point I knew that I was onto something. And indeed, I’ve never had such good reactions to a game. I myself still gladly play it after more than 100 games. I was also very happy, since first of all, I always wanted to make a game fit for laughter, and second, since I wanted to develop something that is actually usable for German classes.
That worked well with Mission Impractical.
What would be your advice for those that want to get a foot in the door of the boardgaming world as an author?
First: To warm up, just start and don’t look at the potential for publishing too much. Only one of several good ideas comes through anyway. You can learn something from failed projects as well.
And please don’t be scared to try things, even in front of an audience.
Second: Build a network. Get to know people, get involved with strangers, talk to many people about your own ideas (and the ones of others!) and try them out. A part of this works over the internet, but the face-to-face contact is still absolutely necessary, I find.
You can drive to one of the bigger authors meetings, like for example the one in Göttingen. That’s a wonderful opportunity to meet like-minded people and exchange views (testing with other authors can be way more fruitful than just with people who only look at the game from a player’s perspective). Or you go to one of the ‘normal’ gaming events and just present yourself.
What’s next for the blog and game development? Do you have any new projects planned?
Always. Before Christmas, there are a few more reviews coming to stuff that I brought from Essen. I’m guessing Geek Out! Masters, Samurai Dori and Der Baum, but that always depends on my current mood and inspiration. Maybe I’ll write a few things about the book Homo Ludens by Johan Huizinga that I’m currently reading. And in January there’s the deadline for the King Alfonso award [Note: Premio Alfonso X] in Argentina. I’m looking forward to that.
I don’t have any really hot prototypes right now. There are some half-baked ideas that I should work out at some point given the opportunity, but nothing that’s tangible enough that I could say a lot about it already.
It’s simply not my way to sit down with the objective: “I will now invent a game.” The first part of being inspired nearly always comes suddenly. And then it depends on whether or not you catch fire and do something with it…