Jeux Viens à Vous Richard Garfield
In December, 1994, I discovered Magic the Gathering thanks to Casus Belli. My life has never been completely the same since.
This interview is the outcome of my search on what game means to me for all these years, it is in a way the ultimate return to basics.
Richard Garfield confides in a open and very simply way on his vision of board games and their evolution in the last decades, on Antoine Bauza and the Coen brothers as well, on Magic aftereffects in his life but also in millions of players' life, and on KeyForge his new game of which he very proud...
1) Richard Garfield, hello. Could you please introduce yourself?
I am best known as the creator of the trading card game, Magic the Gathering 25 years ago. At the time I was teaching mathematics in college but moved to designing games full time. Since then I have been playing, studying, experimenting with, and sometimes publishing new games. I also wrote a textbook with two co-authors Characteristics of Games.
I am particularly excited by two of my games coming out late this year, Keyforge and Artifact. Keyforge is the first unique deck game - every deck is unique, with a distinct composition and name. Artifact is a strategic electronic card game done with Valve, and set in the world of Dota.
2) What does the game mean for you? What about playing? And having someone play?
Games are a way for me to connect with people I play games with all the important people in my life. The first thing I do when meeting people is try to find a game to suit the players - playing is more meaningful to me than any small talk.
Games help me understand the world. When there is something complicated - like an idea on economics or evolution - I create games to help me understand them.
When I fell in love with games - in my teens - I was amazed at how big and unexplored an area it was. Other topics had so much more written on them - it felt like games should be as rich in study as literature - yet it seemed there was less written on them than, say, a single play of Shakespeare. While that was a bit depressing it was also exhilarating - it felt like learning about games was true exploration rather than just walking down well trod paths.
3) You pointed literature out and it reminds me of a debate in the present-day in France:
In your opinion, is game an art? What differences and similarities can you spot between these two areas?
I don't like trying to distinguish between art and something other than art. When I did mathematics I felt that it was an art, there was a beauty and creativity that may take a certain training and outlook to appreciate, but it would occasionally move me as much as anything I have ever encountered. I think any human endeavor that involves creativity will be appreciated as an art by some, and it will be no surprise that this is often the case for me with games.
That said, I have occasionally likened games to architecture. Architecture - which is widely regarded as an art, creates spaces for people to live in, which game designers create abstract structures for them to play in. Architecture is subject to the laws of physics, and an architect must either be an engineer or work with engineers to realize their vision.
Game designers must be developers or work with game developers to realize their vision.
Richard Garfield to 5 th grade
4) I will have to come to a topic you may not want to talk anymore about, but that is your identity for it changed your life with its success.
You have had a huge success with Magic the gathering, a long seller allowing you to live sustainably for many years.
Tom Vuarchex, Jungle Speed big hit’s author, decided to move away from the gaming world to successfully start from fresh as a graphic artist.
What was your motivation to keep deigning games? Is that people you worked with? Everyday’s encounters? Friends with whom you have a drink on convention nights? Thinking about technical data? The challenge of creating a new big hit that makes you get up in the morning?
I started designing games because I loved games - I liked thinking about them and exploring the possibilities. That didn't go away with the creation of Magic, if anything my drive became more intense, even if the pressure to succeed vanished. I don't try to equal or exceed Magic - that is a once in a lifetime phenomenon - the stars aligned, the world was ready for it at just the right moment.
I will continue to try to do new things - some of the newness will be subtle - like in King of Tokyo, but some will be overt - like in Keyforge. But I have no illusions that anything will equal the contribution to gaming that I made with Magic.
5) The environment has changed a lot since your beginnings, what do you regret from the 80s and 90s when the gaming world was a real microcosm ? And conversely what above all don’t you regret?
This is an interesting question, one that I don't believe I have been asked before. My feelings are mixed. On the one hand, the world of games today is what I wished for when I was a child - there are many games in many varieties, there are many players and designers and thinkers that are driven by games.
On the other hand - being around then surely gave me a perspective that I wouldn't have had the patience to earn today. Because I had so few choices I had to make the most of whatever I had - and I explored classic board and card games like go and bezique, I played crusty old wargames and role playing games that had been published as xeroxes. Occasionally I would find these incredible gems, like Sid Sackson's games and books - which really anticipated the modern game movement.
Perhaps if I had been born into the world I wanted I would see games as a recent invention rather than an amazing human cultural creation that could trace its roots to the very start. Maybe I wouldn't have time to play the games that made me...hell, I might not have had time to play a game twice and then how would I have learned the most amazing thing about a good game - that it doesn't get stale, it gets better over time.
A big picture of much of the original Magic playtesters and Wizards company, including peter adkison, skaff elias, dave pettey, chris page, lisa stevens, me, joel mick, don felice, jim lin
6) I have to tell you something, Richard, something you must have been already told. You changed my life.
Or at least you have strongly influenced it, without knowing of course, but Magic has been very important in my life for several years, and marks are still visible on the man I have become.
Generated thinking, tens, hundreds, thousands of testing hours, probabilities, thinking on human beings with the guessing, thinking about rule diversion, making bad cards essential in a deck, focus, play, play again, trips to win a tournament or qualify for a pro tour, sandwiches with friends talking about Magic, Magic, Magic and forgetting everything else...
6 A) Is that actually something you have already been told? How do you feel from having influenced thousands of lives throughout the world?
Many players have told me how much Magic influenced their lives. I guess any game or sport that players can really dedicate themselves to and find a community will very much change their lives.
This knowledge has often felt overwhelming to me, but I am gratified to be able to share my love for games with such a wide audience. When players love Magic and the Magic community that is great - when that makes them well rounded game players that is even better!
6 B) I rubbed shoulders with excellent French players, like Gabriel Nassif or the Ruel brothers, and many of them have a successful, even very successful, career.
How can you explain that?
Would Magic promote success? Or should I dare provocatively ask whether Magic is rather a game for favored white men?
I view games as mental sports, and just as a physical athlete will generally become physically fit - a mental athlete will generally become mentally fit. The world we live in, being mentally fit is a great asset and will, as you say, promote success.
As far as any narrowness in demographic is concerned - I feel culture is responsible and that the culture is changing to become broader - not just for Magic but for many games. Who feels comfortable playing or competing with each other - these are issues far bigger a game designer or publisher is able to change by themselves.
The best they can do is make the imagery in the game welcoming to a broad audience, and if they are maintaining any sort of organized play - try to maintain a welcoming community. That has been the philosophy of Magic from the start, we tried to portray women in a positive way and have a culturally diverse range of imagery. Naively I thought that would be enough at first, now I see it is just a small piece of the puzzle.
The first championship'final of Magic the gathering with Bertrand Lestrée and Zak Dolan
7) At what point did you understand that the game was reaching a whole new level, that it eluded you in a way to become no longer a board game but some kind of insitution in the world of games that inspired many game designers ever since?
I was constantly surprised by Magic's wild success for many years. I guess I still am. I did believe, even before Magic was published that it was a new form of game, and that just as there are many board games there could be many trading card games.
In fact - that belief was what in part what lead me to hand off Magic design to other designers and developer's after just the first expansion, I wanted an opportunity to explore other parts of this newly discovered game world. And there was a lot to be discovered!
For example, my standards in designing Magic were based on board games, and I wouldn't have been bothered if the game lasted an hour or even more. It wasn't until I designed my second trading card game, Vampire: The Eternal Struggle that I realized that a short game length on trading card games was really desirable since it allowed players time to try a different deck, or a variation of the first, or even just play again and compare results. I began to think of games with trading cards as being hands in a bigger game, rather than stand alone games.
8) Many players, often without having ever played Magic, criticize its mercantile side. I guess somebody ever told you about it.
Although, of course, Magic tournaments require financial investment, the game itself does not require excessively expensive cards.
Father and son, or two friends, can compete with cheap cards and have a great time together.
That is true - playgroups can make an environment to suit their interests at any budget. You don't need a lot of cards to play, and you certainly don't need expensive cards. Magic plays well with whatever cards are handy - you can split them up any way you want or draft them and then have fun with them.
There is often the misconception you need new cards or it gets old; but Magic is like many games - the more you play, even with the same collection, the more fun it can get. I still play with old sets that I have played with for decades.
8 A) Are this frenzy and this incredible rise of prices something you originally thought about?
No, I was surprised and worried.
The early days of Magic many short sighted people in the company were delighted with the prices going through the roof. Those who loved the game, however, knew that this was a bad situation, one that could kill Magic entirely. If you can't get the cards you can't play, and if you can't play the game becomes just a thing you speculate on which will inevitably crash. This is why we intentionally overprinted the expansion Fallen Empires...
We wanted to force out speculators and take control of the game. It was a scary time because the speculators badmouthed the game and said it was over, and peoples perception of the expansion was bad because it was in discount bins. But with the game in discount bins people could actually play... and quickly it became apparent that actually having a game people could afford was better than the short sighted appeal of a white hot fad.
8 B) What would you say to people thinking one cannot play Magic without selling one's house?
That is a little like thinking you can't race without selling your house.
You can run, swim, or bicycle inexpensively, or engage in many different types of racing. If you want to race exotic old automobiles ... perhaps it will be expensive. If you look at people playing with old cards from magic which are highly valued ... yeah that is pricey. But that is no more the truest form of magic than racing exotic automobiles is the truest form of racing.
It isn't even the most skill testing; you wouldn't consider an excellent bike racer 'inferior' to an excellent exotic car racer.
9) You mentioned several times Keyforge, this game seems important to you.
Could you tell my readers more about it?
Keyforge is a project I have been thinking about for a long time, perhaps 20 years. The genesis of the game stems from playing leagues in Magic - we used to give limited numbers of cards to each player and they would keep them separate from any other cards they have, so all players had different capabilities which they had to work with.
This was a fun way to play, and it felt like every player's tools were different. However, it was also a hard way to play because people would lose track of their decks, eventually it was just easier to play draft, sealed, or constructed. I thought that if there was a way to customize each deck so that it had a unique back as well as unique contents that I could make a game that captured what I liked about leagues. This was impossible to do back then, but now printing technology is so good we are able to do it.
In Keyforge every deck is unique. It has a unique name on the back, and unique contents. The play is quite different from other card games, in part because the decks had to be flexible and have different strategies to their play right out of the box.
My hope is that when a player gets a keyforge deck that they become experts on how to play that particular deck, with both strong and weak features. This would be distinct from many trading card games where players feel like they can't compete without chasing down a particular set of cards to make one of a few particular decks.
10) What do you like to see happening at a gaming table? Thinking? Turnarounds in game? Emotion? Verbal or non verbal exchanges between players? Meta-game?
Those are all great. I would say my favorite thing is the unexpected. I like it when there is a novel game situation, or when a strategy players thought was best is defeated. When I play Magic I like to play with cards that I think are underrated rather than what everyone thinks is best. The unexpected makes us laugh and see new depth in games. It is where the best stories come from.
On the surface of it this seems to imply I like games with lots of randomness, and I do - but not exclusively. The unexpected can stem from complex deterministic games as well; in chess the unexpected opening or line of play is exciting.
This is related to what is probably my biggest pet peeve in games - when people play a game once and think they understand it fully. Often the people with this foible are very good game players so their group listens to them and don't play the game long enough to prove them wrong. They will move on to hastily analyze another game, and seldom appreciate the fact that games often get better as one knows them better, not worse. Most games are like life - filled with unexpected things and settling into a single unquestioning orthodox view might be safe - but will limit you.
11) When I discovered Magic back in 1994, or the Settlers of Catan and Diplomacy a few years later, we used to buy one game, and played it over and over. Today’s game world is now totally different. People buy four games a month, stack them in their swedish shelves and don’t even play them.
Do you perceive there a symptom of our current society?
By the way, do you try to be interested in whatever is currently released, or absolutely not?
I am delighted that people are so interested in games and there is such a variety to choose from. I am worried that the essential qualities of games are being lost to surface qualities; because if you play a game only once or twice you really can't go very deeply into it. It becomes a disposable experience.
I used to feel like games should be more like movies or books - with bestseller lists and frequent review columns and so forth, At some point - long before we entered that place - I realized that people who played the same games their whole lives may not be like people who only read one or two books - that this was a rewarding way to play and consume games. Now I think of games more like music - there is room for constant innovation but a good piece of music never gets old, and it often takes several experiences with the same piece before you even learn to appreciate it.
Is this a symptom of our current society? I am not sure. It is certainly tempting to say "disposable culture" or "short attention span". That may be part of it. But it also could be people falling in love with games and being very interested in all the possibilities games has to offer - something I very much identify with.
I am very much interested by the games that are coming out. I have to force myself to play games I think have potential multiple times because I have so many I want to experience. I am often disappointed, but not infrequently impressed and occasionally overwhelmed with what someone has done with a game.
"Skaff Elias, current partner for the company 3 donkeys which I do most of my design through, main architect of the Magic protour"
12) Have you a funny or moving anecdote to tell us taking place for instance in a game convention?
At one convention I was playing with people next to Peter Adkison, the original president of Wizards of the Coast. We were tracking our victories, we had a bet as to who would have the better record. Our results were similar, we were both winning most of our games. Then he ran onto a player who had an island that had been edited to say "Do 20 damage to Peter", signed by me. He was a good sport and honored it and I squeaked out a victory.
13) Could you give me two people from the world of games, one for his professional qualities, the other for his human qualities, not that both qualities are conflicting?
I don't feel like I can distinguish between the two. Two amazing publishers I have dealt with are Peter Adkison and Christian Petersen. Peter saw in me the game designer I was to become - and recognized in Magic its potential. He stuck with me through the most difficult times with the game and respected my calls on the most contentious game design decisions.
I haven't worked with Chris as long but I have been impressed with how relentlessly he keeps his sights on being generous and open with everyone he works with and his customers. While working on Keyforge I always felt we had the common goal of making the best and most exciting version of the game.
The game designer that comes to mind is Antoine Bauza, He would be one of my favorite designers with Seven Wonders alone, but then he made Hanabi - which is the best cooperative game I have ever played.
14) Could you tell us about an author or an important work for you, whatever the context: literature, theater, movie, games, etc. that you would like our readers to discover or rediscover?
I am a longtime fan of the Coen brothers, I follow their work diligently.
I like the books of Iain Banks, his science fiction in particular is fun because of its huge scope. I am interested in anything Steven Pinker writes about, exploring his outlook on any topic always leaves me feeling like I have a better understanding of the world, and that the world is filled with fascinating things to think about.
I can't get enough Rick and Morty, I have watched every episode multiple times.
Richard Garfield and Mr Ishihara, creator of Pokemon (about 2009)
15) The day you leave the gaming world, whatever the reason will be, what would you like to be remembered for?
I would like to be remembered as someone who contributed to games and brought people into games as a whole ... not just my games.
I hope that my games and insights about games and play are helpful to other designers who make games I never dreamt of, and that they stand proudly on my shoulders as I have stood upon the shoulders of those that preceded me.
16) Sadly, this is the end of our interview, Richard, are you happy?
I am happy!
I am happy professionally, my passion for games has only grown and it delights me there are so many people interested and so many people contributing to it.
I am happy personally, my first two children are in college and my one year old twins are adorable.
I am happy with this interview - you asked some questions that I haven't been asked before and it gave me the opportunity to reflect.
I would like to thank you Mr Garfield.
Not only for this interview, of course, but mostly for all the happiness your game brought me. I mean it.
I don’t know how to put it, but Magic brought me so much, may be sometimes in a negative way, as some teachers told me in high school because I used to play every day from 6PM to midnight, but often in a positive way, for all the memories with my friends, journeys, constant thinking, anguish, bluff, joys… and maybe soon with my two sons.
Just thank you.
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