While getting into the hobby of board gaming I paid little attention to who designed a game. I grew up on a steady diet of RISK, Clue and Monopoly and the idea that there was an actual person behind the game was lost on me.
Over the past few years I’ve started to really notice who consistently makes the games I want to play. The designer is the biggest factor that will grab my attention when looking at a new game. That trumps the theme, mechanics, art or anything else that might lead to a purchase. I do consider those factors, but who made the game is pretty darn important.
Recently the designer that has been blowing my mind on a regular basis is Antoine Bauza. He has been very prolific, but has somehow avoided having similar elements from game to game. Each design seems fresh and creative and often revolves around mechanics I’ve never seen before.
Bauza has been rewarded twice with Spiel des Jahres for the German game of the year. 7 Wonders took home the honour in 2011 and most recently Hanabi won in 2013. Both games are brilliantly designed.
7 Wonders takes a civilization builder and compacts it into a half hour of tense card drafting. It plays up to 7, but that shouldn’t affect play time. Everyone’s turn is taken simultaneously meaning that there’s virtually no downtime. Hanabi completely turns cooperative games on their head. Collectively players are trying to lay down cards in order in five different suits. Simple enough, right? The catch is that you can’t see your own cards. Only those of your teammates. You can spend from your small supply of clues to help each other out, but communication is limited. Not only is this game a super intense group experience, it also solves the alpha player syndrome that so many cooperatives face.
Takenoko (which I still claim is the cutest game ever designed) has been getting some love after an appearance on Tabletop. In Takenoko the Emperor of China has gifted a giant panda to the Emperor of Japan. Through careful planning you’re going to grow bamboo, feed the panda and expand the royal gardens where he lives. It is a bizarre concept for a game, but one that feels mechanically and artistically original.
Not every one of Bauza’s games are a hit. However, even when he misses the mark he still seems to come up with an interesting idea. Dr. Shark, for example is a BAD game. You play a swinging 1960s style spy infiltrating a pool party on the island hideout of the evil Dr. Shark. On your turn you have a short time to search a bag of puzzle pieces to come up with evidence that can be used for end game points. There are a number of different ways to search the bag by shape and texture. Is this a game I want to see hit the table often? No, but I do appreciate the effort to bring something new to the dexterity game genre.
He’s done it again with what’s being called a gamer’s dexterity game, Rampage! All those quarters I spent playing the classic arcade game coupled with a lot of crokinole made this game a must play for me. You’re one of four giant monsters destroying a city and gobbling up the unfortunate meeples that get in your way. Stupid silly fun!
And that’s about the best thing I can say about Bauza’s games. They’re fun! I’m always interested to see where he’s going to take me next and how he’s going to challenge the limits of design. Word is his next project is a collaboration with another great designer, Eric Lang. I’ll wait with baited breath to see what these two masters come up with.
Other great games by Antoine Bauza-
Ghost Stories- wickedly hard cooperative game
Tokaido- beautiful artwork, simple gameplay will delight, travels through Japan (a haiku)
The Little Prince- Build your own planet!