Interview with Andreas Steiger
With the world marking the first anniversary of Lockdown, board game designer, Andreas Steiger, has noted the occasion in his own way by releasing a free print and play addition to his two-player worker placement game, Targi (2012, published by Kosmos Games UK).
Hi Andy! Thanks for chatting with me today.
Having done a little research, our board gaming backstories have something rather unusual in common – childbirth! I used a board game to help me with anxiety during pregnancy, and you jumped into board gaming proper when your wife was finding your usual hobbies too exhausting when carrying your first child (which I understand completely!). Had it not been for your wife, do you think you would have discovered your passion for playing and designing board games?
If it was not for my wife’s pregnancy, I don’t think I would have discovered board games in the same way. Even though I played as a child with my mother on Sunday afternoons, and later as a teenager playing Uno and Settlers of Catan with friends, these experiences did not turn me into a hobby gamer. I even worked in a shop which also sold some board games but still I didn’t jump in! The main driving force was the desire to spend quality time with my wife, and it has stuck.
Great to hear that you are still enjoying board games together. So, for those who aren’t familiar with Targi, how would you describe it?
On Boardgamegeek, a member once wrote that Targi is a game that feels like dancing tango.... in a phone booth! 😊 To me, that describes the feel of the gameplay perfectly. It is a very tight worker placement game for two players, where every move has a huge impact on the round.
Haha! That is exactly how it feels to me when I play with my husband – exquisitely, sand-in-your-pants uncomfortable haha!
I will say right here that I am a huge Targi fan. It is practically everything I want in a tense, tight, two player game, and the worker placement model is very unique. Even now, nothing seems to come close in terms of the way in which players’ pieces intersect. Did you come up with the placement formula first and then design a game around it, or was the way in which the workers intersect a means of making the other elements work together?
I am very happy that you like Targi! The worker placement formula came first. I like board games which offer players a lot of decisions within a simple rule set. Also, as a big fan of worker placement (WP) games generally, I definitely wanted to use that mechanism in my own design.
In a classic WP game, the placement of one worker normally gives the players one action or resource. The decision/action is therefore resolved the moment you choose and take that one spot. My design goal was to add another layer of decision making, so that one choice would not only effect that action but two or more at the same time.
My first idea in Targi was to work with just rows of cards, so that if you placed a worker somewhere on a given row, you could claim those cards for yourself. Going further with this idea, I decided it would be even better if you could claim a row and a column to the exclusion of your opponent. But the moment I saw how the grid could actually work using my intersection mechanism, the game really started to shine. Suddenly, you could potentially claim cards within a row or column for yourself. But then only one or two cards at most, and only if able to place your second and third workers in the precise spots you needed. Not knowing whether you have secured the cards you want until all 6 workers are down is intense!
Added to that desire to pick spots in order to secure the best goods and tribe cards in the middle, players must also work out which bonuses/actions they actually want or need through their choice of border cards, adding another tense, sometimes contradictory, decision!
Ooft - tangoing in a phone booth indeed! 😊 Targi could be considered quite a “mean” game by some gamers, though, in terms of the restrictions placed upon each player by not only their opponent but also the game itself via raids and the Robber. Where did the desire for that double layered challenge come from?
I like to face challenges in games and work out how to overcome them. People tend to add in extra obstacles and target into the things they do for fun.
Bowling is a great example. There, the basic goal of the game is to knock down all the pins. But if that was all there was to it, the best way to do it would be to walk over and kick them down with your feet. BY requiring the use of the bowling ball, there is suddenly an obstacle for the player to overcome and that is the fun part. Same with golf. The fun comes in trying to hit the ball into the hole using the club, not just getting the ball in the hole by any means. It is the obstacles which make things interesting and the same principle works for board games. It feels satisfying if you are able to pull off a great move in a tricky game. And in Targi, it feels great when you secure the spots and the resources you need to get what you want, because it is so challenging.
I’m not sure I would find golf as much fun as board gaming (haha!) but that makes sense! You have previously said that Kosmos Games were excited about Targi from the beginning, presumably in part, because of how well balanced the game is. What inspired you to design the expansion in 2016 which introduced new elements?
Since I still liked to play Targi with my wife more than our other games, I was constantly thinking about new tribe cards for the game. For the two of us really – to keep the game fresh.
Did you worry that it might dilute the tension which makes Targi stand out as such a tight, crunchy game?
Over time I had lots of new ideas which started to go further than just designing new tribe cards, so I went with it. Balancing those new elements in the expansion with the existing gameplay was quite challenging, because, as you kindly mentioned, the base game is very balanced.
Knowing that it was essential to keep that tension, I tried to maintain balance by making some parts harder, like the new raids. But at the same time, making other things a little easier, like the Targia who gives you an extra bonus when you visit her space. The new sand dune cards also balance themselves by being very strong but then also removing one intersection point on the main board.
Speaking of new cards, in response to the stress brought about by the imposition of lockdown during the Coronavirus pandemic in 2020, you kindly designed an alternative free set of edge cards. One year later, with the world still facing serious social restrictions, you have generously provided a further set with yet more tweaks to the original game play (both available here).
Do you think the way we currently play games will influence designers like you with solo play, lower player counts, and zoom friendly game play being prioritised over other more traditional considerations?
Yes, I think the pandemic has changed the board game world and many designers have already started implementing those features in response. I think it is good that designers and publishers are keeping games accessible to play in changing times. But I also really hope that the traditional ways of playing will still be also available again in the future. Given the choice, I think still the best way to play a board game is to come together around a table and spent time with each other.
Gamers are definitely missing that physical interaction, and it is a blessing that some of us have another willing player or two at home. Now that your children are older, do you enjoy more family based board gaming or do you still prefer competitive two player games?
My wife and I still play board games regularly as a couple at least two or three times a week. This remains very precious quality time for us and I believe it always will be. We also play a lot with our kids as family but with them we play a lot of cooperative games, since my youngest son likes those the most.
In the almost decade since Targi was published, have you ever been tempted to design another game?
I am first and foremost a board gamer and only secondly a game designer. I had the time and urge to design Targi mainly because my wife, who was my inspiration for the game and my main gaming partner, was too exhausted to play after the birth of our first son. But I have worked on other designs here and there.
Other brutally clever 2 player games or, now that you have a family, ones for a higher player count?
With Targi everything just fell in place perfectly. I often joke that we need to have another child, so that I will be more focused on designing games instead of playing them! Most of my prototypes are two player games, since this is such an important player count for me.
Wow! Having another child would be true commitment to the board gaming hobby! Haha Will you be marking the 10 year anniversary of Targi’s publication in any way? A sequel, perhaps? 😊
Haha well I will be very pleased to see Targi being enjoyed by new and existing board gamers after all these years! I did have an idea for a special ten year special edition for Targi, adding in the new border cards, tokens and other bits, and maybe the promo tokens of the 2015 board game advent calendar too, but I will have to have a chat with my editor about that! If we do it though, I’ll let you know!
Would you ever consider collaborating on a design, or would that require giving up too much control in the creative process?
I would love to try teaming up with other designers although my computer skills are not the best. I would definitely be interested if another designer lived close enough such that we could meet regularly in person and flesh out some ideas though. Maybe I should get my sons onboard. :-)