Since 1995 Reinhard Staupe works professionally as a game inventor. He has published more than 100 games and has worked with various companies from all over the world: Amigo, Ravensburger, Mattel, Schmidt Spiele, HABA, Out of the Box, FX Schmid, ALEA, Fundex, Playroom Entertainment, moses, Nürnberger Spielkarten, Gamewright, Adlung Spiele, Gigamic, Huch, Kosmos, Coppenrath, Pegasus, Foxmind Games, Eggertspiele...
His best selling game Speed (called Blink in the USA respectively Sprint in Israel) has sold more than 3 millions copies.
In the 90ies Reinhard had his own small card game company Staupe Spiele and published his products in cooperation with the traditional card game producer Berliner Spielkarten. Reinhard also worked for Berliner Spielkarten as their responsible editor untill 2001 and afterwards as a product manager for Amigo Spiel + Freizeit GmbH. From 2005 - 2011 Reinhard worked as an editorial consultant for Amigo. Since 2012 Reinhard is working as the responsible editor for Nürnberger Spielkarten, building up a line of card and dice games in a small box, including the bestselling and award-winning games "Qwixx", "The Game" and "The Mind".
Besides intenving games Reinhard is writing stories for children picture books and is working as a postcard writer for the company Grafikwerkstatt Bielefeld. In 2016 he published a novel, a thriller (see "Roman").
Reinhard lives close to the city of Bremen.
For more information please contact Reinhard via Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Interview with Tom Vasel, October 2005:
September 20th 1968 in Kassel, Germany .
1988 high-school graduate.
1988 - 2000 alternative service in a hospital instead of military service.
Degree at the university of education (becoming a primary school teacher): sports and mathematics.
Initial planned career:
Professional football (Soccer) player. Stopped by problems with his knee joint.
Alternative planned career:
Script writer. Rejection at the university for Film & TV.
First invented game:
1988: "3-Denk" (3-dimension-2-player-game). Not published.
First published games:
February 1995: "Kunterbunt" and "Blütenhupfer - Farbentupfer" (FX Schmid).
October 1995: "Speed" gets published by Adlung-Spiele and becomes immediately a bestseller.
December 1995: Foundation of his own game-company (Staupe-Spiele) and publishing "Ikarus".
1996 - 2001: Responsible for editing card-games for "Berliner Spielkarten".
2001 - 2004: Product manager for the company "Amigo".
Since 2004: Editorial consultant for Amigo.
5 nominations for the prestigious "game of the year" (1996: "Speed", 1997:
"Comeback", 1998: "Basari", "David & Goliath", 2003: "Edel, Stein & Reich")
1 nomination for the "childrens game of the year" (2003: "Der Plumpsack geht um")
All-time-favourite self designed game: Kunterbunt (for it's once-in-a-lifetime-mechanism).
All-time-favourite non self designed game: "Doppelkopf" (traditional German 4-player-card-game), "Die Werwölfe von Düsterwald"
Films & Cinema, Reading, Sports, "Bonny" (Golden Retriever) and Games, Games, Games ...
Plans for the future: Publishing a novel.
Tom: Reinhard, you've designed a lot of children's games. Why do we not see more well-designed children's games on the market?
Reinhard: Whoever works as a game designer knows how difficult it is to find something really new and innovative. Most of my own Prototypes are just average; the pearls are rare. But nevertheless I think that each year there are some really great new games with remarkable new ideas, even children's games. Kai Haferkamp for example comes up over and over again with fantastic new approaches (and I'm really pleased that we won the Children's Game of the Year award 2005). Or Heinz Meister, who has designed extraordinary simple but nice children's games for decades now. And so many other authors who come up occasionally with something overwhelming, where I personally have much feeling: wow, that's brilliant.
The problem is that the market is so fast-moving. Each company has to publish at least a handful or a dozen novelties each year, which sums up a few hundred new products altogether - far too much to be all filled with quality. And it goes without saying that 90 percent of these new products are more or less just a piece of solid workmanship. But as long as there are 10 percent splendid and smart games - that's fine. Let's concentrate on those and recommend them to our friends! I'm convinced: quality survives. And there is a lot of quality in some of the boxes!
Tom: Of all your games, which do you think is your best work?
Reinhard: There are several games which I'm completely satisfied with. "Speed" ("Blink") of course, which has this rare magic spark that grabs a lot of people from the very beginning (and doesn't grab others at all); pure Adrenalin when you race to get rid of your cards as fast as possible. Or "Basari", which on the one hand is light enough to be understood by almost everyone, and on the other hand is deep enough to entertain and challenge real gamers. Or the whole Amigo-line of children games, who all combine having fun with a pinch of education. Whenever I see young children playing one of these games, being concentrated with red cheeks and "learning" something at the same time, that's a great feeling.
The favourite of all my games is and always will be "Kunterbunt" ("Catch the Match"). The mechanism behind this extraordinary simple children's game is what I call my-once-in-a-lifetime-mechanism. You can pick any two boards and there is always exactly one identical object, never more or less: always one! Don't ask me how I found this idea - all of a sudden it was there. And the Prototype was an enormous amount of work. At that time (1993) I didn't use a Computer (which is so helpful nowadays). I had to paint all the images with a pen, multiply them with a black and white photocopier, cut out all the single images, colour them by hand with felt pens and glue them (according to a certain order) meticulously on the boards (the original Prototype had 400 images with 800 colour segments!). The whole floor of the room was covered with these images, and it took me weeks to finish the game. I almost got an epileptic fit by all the colours, trying not to mix up anything. But it paid off in the end: It was the first game I ever got a contract for. It's still on the market after ten years, and I hope it stays forever.
A game designer's life is pretty hard sometimes :-)
Tom: Was it harder to get your initial games to be accepted by publishers, than nowadays?
Reinhard: When I started designing games back in 1989 it took me about 5 years until I got my first contract signed by FX Schmid. But the reason for this long hard haul was not that no-one knew me, the simple truth is that my Prototypes were just not good enough: too abstract, too expensive to be produced, not perfectly balanced, not innovative enough, etc. It started changing as soon as I learned more and more about the different companies, the market, the whole variety of games. And that's my main advice for young designers: learn as much as you can! Play as many games as possible! Go to visit Game Designer Meetings, go to visit Essen and Nuremberg, make contact to other authors and to the editors! Get to know the lake in which you are swimming!
Founding my own company and working for "Berliner Spielkarten" and for "Amigo" was extremely helpful to get an insight into the whole process of a game coming into existence, being distributed and sold.
I'm saying all this, because, yes, it's definitely easier for me nowadays to get my games accepted by publishers, but primarily because of the fact that I have professionalized myself in many ways. Knowledge can never replace creativity and fresh ideas, thank goodness, but it helps to avoid mistakes and misjudgments. For sure the publishers pay a lot more attention to my Prototypes now than in the early days, which is great, but this doesn't help at all to sell a bad or even an average game. Most of the companies know very well how to do their job and they won't take a game, just because it's from a well known designer (a few exceptions now and then prove the rule :-)). Only the good ideas will come out on top against the hard competition.
Tom: What designers and games had the most influence on you?
Reinhard: The games which influenced me most are definitely the very early ones of my life, the traditional ones. I started playing Chess and Skat (most famous German card game) and Rummy and Checkers and Halma (and many more) when I was about five years old. My whole family used to play a lot, and it has always been a part of my childhood. I used to play Chess quite seriously when I was a teenager. I remember when I was about twelve or thirteen, I played the championship of my federal state. I was in third position before the final day. And what did I do? I "invented" a chess-variant the evening before, and I and a friend played it until five o'clock in the night - and for sure I lost the final two matches the next day... How stupid. But on the other hand: I make my living nowadays with suchlike nonsense!
I don't think that other designers really influenced me. It was more that some authors impressed me a lot with their creativity. The first two designers I really admired for their inexhaustible inventiveness were Wolfgang Kramer and Klaus Teuber (I think the top-designers of all time). Wolfgang Kramer created masterpieces and left his footprints in every part: children's games, party games, family games, real gamers games. That's unique. And Klaus Teuber always takes you on a wonderful journey with his brilliant ideas. I remember playing "Barbarossa" and "Der fliegende Holländer" a lot in the early 90's, when I started designing games seriously. Another author who has a wonderful approach to games is Stefan Dorra. "Land unter" is great, "Intrige" is an ingenious nasty game and "Die sieben Siegel" is simply the best trick-taking-game in the world.
But as I mentioned before: There are so many authors who come up over and over again with great games and innovative ideas, that it still overwhelms and inspires me after all these years. It's a great honour to be a small part of this family.
Tom: Many of your games are now being published in America. Do you notice any differences between the German and American game markets?
Reinhard: Frankly speaking I don't know enough about the American game market to be in the position to judge that in detail (it's hard enough to keep track of anything that happens in Germany). But one thing is obvious: Selling board-games (if you have no TV-advertisement) is extremely difficult in both markets. Disregarding the enormous power of the "Spiel des Jahres"-award, most German board games only reach small quantities, terrible small quantities quite often. As a publisher you have to invest dozens or sometimes hundreds of hours to make the Prototypes perfect, which you receive from the designers, plus the time that you spent in finding the right theme, doing the illustrations, managing the calculation and the production, writing the rules, etc. And it just doesn't really pay-off in the end. It's sad and frustrating sometimes.
Apart from the board games the American market seems to have a strong demand for not too expensive well designed games that can be explained in less than a minute - which is fine for me as a designer, because that's my main genre. I have 14 games out in the US at the time, and a few more will follow in the nearer future. I'm always surprised and very much pleased how well-informed the US-companies are about my games.
As far as I'm concerned, the basic structures of the American and the German markets are the same: The more complex a game is the more difficult it is to sell.
Tom: When teaching games to children, what games would you recommend first, and what tips and hints would you give?
Reinhard: It depends pretty much on the children you are dealing with, their age, their abilities, their experiences with games, etc. A basic problem nowadays (at least in Germany) is that a lot of kids have big problems in being concentrated and keeping their concentration over a longer period, which is causing great concern. That's probably the reason why I get such great response for my line of children games from parents, teachers and therapists: they are extremely easy to learn and quick to play; five minutes, ten minutes, that's it. I visited a Kindergarten two weeks ago, and the game the kids liked most was the fastest-one, the one they understood just by watching others playing: Speed. Another great catch is always "Halli Galli" from Haim Shafir. Kids love it: it's simple and quick, and ringing the bell is very much appealing. And one important hint: Don't torture kids with pure educational games - entertain them.
Tom: Do you think that video games are negatively affecting board games?
Reinhard: The kids grow up completely different nowadays than for example I did thirty years ago. They are confronted with computers quite early, with the internet and with video games. All this is very fascinating, and it swallows a lot of time and money - money which of course gets lost for the board game market. But nevertheless I believe that someone who likes playing video games basically just likes PLAYING. I also loved playing the first generation of video games in the seventies, or playing all those Atari-games. It's just up to us, the parents and uncles and aunts, to show the kids (from a very early age on) that playing board games, communicating face to face with real persons, can be a whole lot of fun.
Besides that the traditional family structures are constantly changing and getting more and more lost, sadly enough. So many marriages are getting divorced and so many children grow up with just one parent. It's much easier to turn on the TV or to buy a video game instead of spending time with the kids together. It's a big challenge for our modern society to really care for the children's needs. And a board game is a wonderful opportunity to bring different ages together - so let's just do it.
Tom: You've talked about games for children. What about adults? What games are best for introducing them to the hobby of board games?
Reinhard: If adults have no experiences with board games at all, I use games with an easy access, like "Take it easy", "6 nimmt", "Bluff", "Land unter", " Der grosse Dalmutti", "Carcassonne", "Anno Domini". And a great game to delight non-gamers from all different ages (for example at a family celebration) is "Wat'n dat" from Claude Weber. Fatastic Party-Quiz-Game (on the list for the Game of the Year 1996) unfortunately has been out of print for many years. And one game that I always recommend: "Die Werwölfe von Düsterwald". I organize a werewolf-meeting every second Friday, and a lot of non-gamers (and a lot of gamers as well!) are very sceptical in the beginnning: just a few cards and a strange theme. But almost everyone gets caught by the atmosphere and the unique communication. It happens quite often that people just can't stop playing anymore.
"The villagers fall asleep now ... and only the werewolves open their eyes … choose a victim ... kill the victim ..." I love it. One of the best games ever!
Tom: What would be your advice to aspiring game designers?
Reinhard: 1.) Write your rules precisely and take great care in making the access as easy as possible, especially if you are offering something more complex than a children's game. The big companies receive up to 1000 new ideas each year. The editors and product managers are up to their neck with work, and looking at new ideas is just one small part of it. If your rules are unstructured or full of mistakes, your game has bad prospects (even if it is a good-one).
2.) Be as self-critical as possible. Leave the average ideas or the ones that are not yet one hundred per cent finished in your drawer.
3.) Be patient and don't call the companies every second week if they playtest your game. It takes several weeks or months. And if they reject a game, take it as a sportsman and don't argue with them about it.
4.) Don't give up. Never! If you have great ideas to offer, you will make it. I'm always pleased to see new designers publishing their first game. I will never forget the proud moment when I held my first contract in my hands - and that's something I wish every designer to have.
Tom: How much do you playtest your designs, and with whom?
Reinhard: I playtest my designs with 3 different groups: 1.) with myself, 2.) with my family; my nephews and nieces being seven, nine and thirteen years old now, and my brother being my most constructive critic, 3.) with my friends. How much I playtest a certain design, differs pretty much. Some games only need a few playtests, others dozens. Concerning my own games I probably playtested "Edel, Stein & Reich" the most, balancing the different cards. And concerning games from other designers I definitely playtested "Die sieben Siegel" from Stefan Dorra the most - about a hundred times. He gave it to me when I was still working for "Berliner Spielkarten" (which must have been in 2000), and we always slightly changed something to make it perfect until it was published in late 2003 at "Amigo". There is always the moment in playtesting a game, when I get the feeling: that's it, I can't do better!
Tom: How many games have you given up on during playtesting?
Reinhard: About 2 or 3 dozen. But what I often do is take old Prototypes out of my drawer after a while and try to improve them. Next year at Nuremberg there is a game coming out (a gambler's dice game) which goes back 12 or 13 years. I changed it and changed it over the years - and now there is just one element left from the original prototype.
Tom: When designing a game, do you start with theme or mechanic?
Reinhard: Sometimes it's the theme, sometimes the mechanism. "David & Goliath" for example started with the theme. There is this small guy, being very smart, always just picking one card. And there is this big ugly, strong muscleman, who grabs everything he can get his hands on (which is pretty stupid).
But it's not just theme or mechanism - quite often it starts with the image of how a certain game might FEEL like. When I first thought of "Speed" ("Blink"), I had the image in my mind that two people are sitting opposite to each-other racing to get rid of their cards, pure action and fun and tension. Or when I did "Ikarus"/"Leonardo" (US-version "Ricochet", Gamewright) I had the image, that all the players are sitting around the table, nothing happens, except the eyes looking rapidly at the different cards - and finally one player slams with his hand on one of the cards. All the action and tension (which takes place visually when playing "Speed") happens inside the player's minds. And one of my games started just with the title! I wanted to do a game called: Die Bombe (the bomb).
The first impulse can be quite different every time. But wherever a game starts from, the main thing is always the mechanism. The best theme in the world with a bad mechanism - boring! But a great mechanism (even with the wrong or no theme at all) can be a whole lot of fun. I always had the feeling that old Egypt was the wrong theme for "RA" - but it's nevertheless one of my all-time favourites, a masterpiece.
Tom: Do you think it's easier to design a two-player game or a multi player game? What are the advantages and disadvantages to each?
Reinhard: The problem with a multi player game is to find the right balance for each number of players. "Edel, Stein & Reich" for example plays quite differently with 3 than with 5 people. It took quite a while and really wasn't easy to find the right approach for the 5-player-variant and to make perfect.
The big advantage of most multi player games is that they imply the chance to avoid one player winning untimely. If one of the players is clearly in the leading position, the others form an alliance against him. That's completely different in a two-player game. I really like "Halali", and it's always fun, but winning 75 to 9 happens quite often.
But the biggest problem in designing a two-player game is definitely: to find a publisher. Kosmos is doing a fantastic job with their line, but besides that the market is pretty small.
I have just re-designed my game "Colorado County" - it's a pure two-player game now. The board is smaller, the mechanism is much more elegant, and the whole game plays in about 20 minutes. I always liked "Colorado County" the way it was, and I'm convinced that the new two-player variant is a big step forward - but I'm NOT sure that the game will ever see the light of day...
Tom: Why is the market for two player games so small? I run into situations where they come in handy quite frequently.
Reinhard: I agree; two player games come in handy quite frequently. The problem is probably that people prefer buying games that can be played in twos, but also with more - and there are so many great games for 2 - 4 or 2 - 5 players that you can enjoy a lot only with only two players. Nevertheless Kosmos proved that it's possible to successfully establish a line of pure two player games, mainly aiming at couples. They did everything right: great ideas (with always a pinch of luck), fantastic illustrations, not too expensive, small box and understandable rules. And, not to forget, they had the great two player game from "The Settlers of Catan" to start their line.
Ravensburger has just given up their line of two player card games. Schmidt Spiele gave up their two player line a while ago (including Kris Burm's Gipf Projekt). The great line from Gigamic is not selling well (at least not in Germany). It's not easy. And it's especially not easy to take it on with Kosmos.
Tom: Many games that advertise as being good for two are simply better with multiple players. What games do you think are great multi-player games, and yet still work well with only two people?
Reinhard: I really enjoyed the following games with two: El Grande, Durch die Wüste, Torres, Tikal, Colorado County, Manhattan, Cafe International, Drunter & Drüber, Carcassonne, Sankt Petersburg, San Juan, Einfach Genial. There are probably a lot more great multiple player games that work well with two, but most of the time I play with more people – or I go back to my all-time favourite two player games: Backgammon, Mastermind, Chess, Quoridor (great and surprisingly deep game from Gigamic with hardly no rules!) and Halali.
Tom: What are some of the hardest things about designing games?
Reinhard: The hardest thing for me has always been: waiting. When you have finished a prototype and sent it to a company, it quite often takes weeks and months until you receive a final respond. That's the way it is, the way it has to be, but it's awful to be waiting and waiting, especially when you are a young designer. I still remember very well that in my early days I was waiting every day for the postman. Most of the time he had nothing for me. And if he had something, it was a rejection.
Another hard thing for me was to accept that I can't force new ideas. They come naturally by themselves, if I'm in the right mood. I once had a period of about nine months with no ideas at all (and with no real passion). And each day I said to myself: 'hey, it can't be that difficult to create a new game, you've done it so many times before!' But it didn't work. I tried a few approaches, but they were just not good enough. In my case (which might be completely different from other designers) it has a lot to do with leisure and with inspiration (and with passion). Writing the rules, playtesting, balancing the components and doing a prototype, that's just diligence and hard work (which is important), but finding new ideas, that's different. I can't go into my office each day from nine in the morning to five in the afternoon – I have to let things flow.
And one thing that quite often drives me near to tears is: the royalty reports ...
Tom: So it is next to impossible to earn one's living solely from designing board games?
Reinhard: It's not easy to sell a game to a company, the competition is tough. And most of the games only stay in the market for one or two years and reach small quantities. And the author's royalty is pretty scanty (much scantier than most people believe)! Under these prerequisites it’s very hard und unlikely to make your living solely from designing games. But it's not impossible. There are basically three ways:
1.) You need to have a few games which stay constantly in the market, being successful over years and years.
2.) You have to publish a lot of games each year, half a dozen or more, which puts a lot of pressure on your back and demands real hard work – and not everyone's a Reiner Knizia (or a Heinz Meister). I'm still overwhelmed by Reiner's output. He is able to create so many games on a constant high level (with real masterpieces from time to time), it's almost unbelievable.
3.) You need to have one absolute hit (like "Carcassonne" or "Das verrückte Labyrinth" or "Halli Galli").
In my case I'm really lucky to have "Speed" (Blink). It's been on the market for ten years now, and it's going to hit the number of one million printed copies soon – and the sales in the US are still going up. And also "Solche Strolche" which sold more than three hundred thousand times. And "Kunterbunt" which has constantly been in the market for a decade now.
If you are a young designer and want to make your living with it, my advice is to regard it as a hobby and NOT to think of the money at all. You have to like and to enjoy it. And if the rare opportunity occurs to make as much cash as Richard Garfield or Klaus Teuber or Donald Trump – take it with force.
Tom: Speaking of output, how many games do you work on at one time?
Reinhard: I always work only on one game at one time. Sometimes I already have the next idea in the back of my mind (if I'm lucky), but I never work parallel. I have just finished one children's card game about clock and time, and the next thing I would like to do is something with shadows (don't ask me how it might work, because I really don't know). But the next game probably has to wait for quite a while, because right now I'm working on a very special game project, which swallows all of my time, a dream, a social bridge between different kinds of people.
Tom: Reinhard, thanks for taking the time to answer these questions! Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?
Reinhard: First of all thanks for your interest, Tom.
Finally I would like to invite all the readers of this interview: If you are ever going to visit my hometown Kassel, which is almost exactly in the centre of Germany, please give me a call or send me an Email! I'm just opening sort of a meeting place for people who like playing games. You enter the large room with all these colourful boxes, and you can just sit down and communicate with different people in the easiest and nicest way that I can think of: by playing games. You can't buy anything, and it doesn't cost any money – and everyone is welcome!
"Real men play board games"
October 1, 2005