The answer to my interview request from Johannes Sich, the author of the new Mafia card game La Cosa Nostra, reached me at 0:40 a.m. This time stamp already shows how long the working days of a card player inventor can be when the world's most popular game fair, the International Game Days in Essen, is imminent. At Spiel'14, La Cosa Nostra will be made accessible to the general public and these four days will show whether the game concept is also well received by recreational players.
Fascination with paper money
In the following interview, Johannes Sich gives some insights into the development process of La Cosa Nostra, reports on how the idea for his Mafia card game came about and makes it clear that the serious background was a personal moral hurdle.
Johannes Sich: “The first conscious experience that comes to mind is that I learned about the “game of knowledge” and the “game of life” from a kindergarten friend. For a long time I didn't play these games myself, but the names alone made a deep impression on me and have become something of a mystery. At some point I probably actually played it, but I can't remember that at all.Spielpunkt: Do you remember your very first board game experience?
The next impressive experience was then Monopoly. The fascination with big chunks of paper money has remained.”
Johannes Sich: “It's a long story. I try to keep it short.Spielpunkt: When and how did you come up with the idea of inventing your own game?
There was a time when I was working on a project with my colleague Daniel. It went very well and after work we often played games or watched the mafia series The Sopranos. We were in a very creative mood and the idea came up to make a game that captures this special mood of the mafia genre. This gloomy, the feeling of power and lurking danger... At that time there were almost no games on this topic. I stuck with it, even though I gradually had to learn that turning a good idea into a good game isn't as easy as you think. It took a few years. Meanwhile, other mafia games have been churning out.”
Johannes Sich: “Apart from an affinity to the genre, triggered above all by the series mentioned above, there is no personal connection. Of course I did a lot of research in the course of my diploma thesis and also read a lot about the real mafia. In fact, during this research, I had serious doubts as to whether it was morally justifiable to further downplay the topic of “organized crime” through glorifying genre depictions. Because the reality is very different, and real mafiosi are among the most despicable things in the world, along with dictators, arms dealers and warning lawyers.Spielpunkt: How do you relate to the Mafia?
In the end, I calmed the remorse by arguing that the genre has already moved far enough away from reality.
For these reasons, it was also important to me to use similar stylistic devices in the creative implementation as the genre models from other forms of media do. For example, the genre glorification of the Tarantino films, exaggerated to the extreme
Johannes Sich: “The development of the game actually took place parallel to the development of crowdfunding. When I developed the first concepts for La Cosa Nostra, there were no crowdfunding platforms yet. It was only later, when we began to seriously consider publishing it, that we first heard about it Kickstarter, and then also from Startnext and other platforms. At that time there were already very successful board game projects in the USA, but interest in German-speaking countries still seemed very subdued. That's why this route didn't seem particularly promising to me at first. It was only when the card game “Steam Noir Revolution” broke the ice on Startnext and was extremely successful that I was convinced of it.Spielpunkt: How did crowdfunding platforms influence the development of La Cosa Nostra?
At that time we were actually looking for a publisher who wanted to publish La Cosa Nostra. Suddenly, however, we were so enthusiastic about the crowdfunding idea that we were almost relieved when the publisher's cancellation came. We didn't try any further with the very lengthy search for a publisher, but started to prepare the campaign."
Johannes Sich: “From a whole lot of difficulties. First of all with the actual development of the game. It was my first game so I had no experience with it. Nevertheless, I was convinced that it would be quite easy if you thought about it well enough and were creative enough. But far from it - only after years of dealing with the topic did I realize that there is much more to it and that you have to overcome your convictions and your own arrogance again and again. There were repeated points where I realized that the game wasn't as good as I thought it would be.Spielpunkt: What difficulties did you encounter during development?
The planning and organization of the crowdfunding campaign, the marketing and the production planning, all of this was also new territory for me.
When realizing such a huge project, there are difficulties lurking around every corner that one would never have expected. We are currently having a problem with the shipping packaging for the posters. The shipping company now wants to charge an insane surcharge for bulky goods of an insane 20 per item because the boxes are not cuboid. You suddenly have to deal with such nonsense.
There were also the many illustrations, which I really enjoyed, but I also had a bit of a goal for them. The completion of the artwork has taken place over almost five years, parallel to the development of the rules. All in all, the biggest challenge was keeping motivated for so long.”
Johannes Sich: “Of course. In Hall 2 at Stand F-114. Come over!"Spielpunkt: The 2014 game in Essen is approaching. Will you be found there?
Johannes Sich: “Very difficult question. There are just so incredibly many games, and so many different ones, that you can't even speak of a single favorite game. In general, I like playing games that involve negotiating, allying, and betraying. I'm actually not particularly good at negotiating, acting, etc.Spielpunkt: Are you an active board player yourself? Which is your favorite game?
All of these Eurogames optimization games, which are currently very popular in Germany, don't really appeal to me. Not that I think it is bad, I usually find it quite exciting while playing - but afterwards I rarely feel the urge to play it again. For me, the attraction of board game is the togetherness and confrontation with the table neighbors. If I look at the board more during the game and brood to myself than to communicate with the other players, then that's not my thing.
Oh, but I definitely have to mention an insider tip that I have enjoyed playing again and again for years. It's Escape from the aliens in outer space. The game is basically based on battleships and this "I think that he thinks that I think...". And actually there isn't much talking about it. But it is incredibly exciting, atmospheric and beautifully designed. And extremely easy to learn.”
Johannes Sich: “Thank you all. Without you, this game wouldn't exist. It was great fun and your feedback always motivated us a lot. Come by the fair, we look forward to seeing you.”Spielpunkt: A greeting to the fans of La Cosa Nostra?