The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Eric Hautemont Interview

Ryan Bretsch

April, 2005

For the last couple of years, Days of Wonder has been providing the boardgame community with a number of interesting games such as Queen's Necklace, Pirate's Cove and Mystery of the Abbey. We were fortunate enough to catch up with Eric Hautemont (and that's not easy, by the way! He is a very busy man...) to ask him a couple of questions about the board gaming industry at large.

So without further ado... here to chat briefly about boardgames and the future of boardgames... is Eric Hautemont from Days of Wonder:

Ryan Bretsch: We hear a lot about you always working on boardgames and yet we suspect we know very little about what makes it fun for you. So when you get together with friends to play boardgames, what makes the experience enjoyable, lively and just an all-around good time?

Eric Hautemont

Eric Hautemont: I'd have to say "the people". More than anything else, it is the people you play with who make a game session enjoyable (or not!). The game is just a conduit, most of the time. And then, a distant second behind, I'd say it is the game itself. Reflecting upon it over the past few months, I've come to the conclusion that the games I tend to enjoy the most fall in one of two (sometimes, but not always overlapping) categories:

  1. Games that provide a good intellectual jog and satisfy my need for competition. (This does not necessarily mean heavy games, though.) Under the right circumstances, and with the right sparring partners, I'd put Ticket to Ride and Gang of Four in this category... just as much as I would put El Grande or The Princes of Florence.
  2. Games that are immersive enough to create a memorable game session… one where we will still be discussing a particularly crucial moment six months or six years down the road. For me, this usually means games with a really strong theme, capable of drawing me into the game, though often it is the inter-player dynamics is which provides the match that "lights the fire". Civilization, D&D, or closer to home, a game of Memoir '44 in its 8-player Overlord version come to mind. And so does a recent play-test of Shadows over Camelot!

On a more serious note, many people speak of a "renaissance" in boardgames today, while others are not so sure. Are boardgames the next "hip" thing?

A "renaissance" would seem to imply some earlier Dark Ages. While some folks might indeed have had that impression, I personally never experienced it.

To me, a game is a game, with or without a board, and regardless of the platform, be it pen & paper or digital. I think you will see a blurring of the genre in the coming decade, with a lot of the rock-solid mechanics of today's boardgames migrating to a variety of digital formats and conversely you will see digital technology that transparently, yet literally, find its way embedded into cards, dice and boards.

It will be interesting to see what type of companies end up crossing the gap. Most traditional boardgame manufacturers are a world (or more) away from understanding high-tech, while there is not enough money to draw in the big high-tech guys yet.

Talk to us about the element of "luck" in boardgames. In what way is it an important component to the game experience? Why do you think Days of Wonder has been so successful in balancing that element in the games they produce?

Luck means different things to different people, and it comes in many flavors. It reminds me of the first week that Ticket to Ride was released in the US. I received eight different e-mails explaining to me what "the" definitive strategy for winning the game was. Interestingly enough, all eight were convinced that their definitive strategy (which differed from all others) was the right one!

Memoir '44 diceIt is the same thing with luck: Too often, I will hear of a game being "too" luck driven, despite evidence to the contrary (i.e. statistical data showing that a strong player consistently beats a weaker one). Often, this will simply mean that the game's driving parameters are not easily formalized or visible to the players.

On the opposite side, there are many games with supposedly little to no luck in them where the luck elements are simply not directly observable, or highly tied to meta-aspects of the game. The history of game Chess shows that between strong players White wins about 37% of the time, draws about the same, and loses only about 25% to Black. So in a way, your likelihood of winning, in some instances, is driven by the flip of the coin more than by your skill. Yet nobody would argue Chess to be a game of luck.

I also don't know that we have been "successful" in balancing "luck" in our games, or even that that luck can easily be quantified in our titles. Queen's Necklace has frequently been described as too chaotic, yet, particularly in a three-player format, it is a very tactical game, with luck having very little impact on the outcome.

I think that what we have been successful in developing, is a product line that has some consistency from a game play, and more generally, from an overall game experience standpoint (this includes the packaging, the game's editorial aspects, etc.).

As a result, our prospective buyers probably have a better than average chance of figuring out ahead of time whether they will like our next offering or not. It is the same thing with movies. To a large extent, your expectations going into the movie define your perception and appreciation (or lack thereof) coming out. Sitting through a three hour long drama when you thought you'd be watching a light-hearted comedy isn't much fun.

What would you like to say about the rest of the Days of Wonder team? How have they helped distinguish your company from other game companies?

Support, what support? Well they do put up with me, that's true. (lol).

More seriously, the fact that most, if not all of us, here and abroad, have known each other and worked together for over a decade prior to launching Days of Wonder, has been invaluable. And so has our collective entrepreneurial experience in the Silicon Valley of the late 1980s through mid-1990s. Besides that, we've been blessed from the get-go with financial independence and a strong sense of what we want to accomplish.

At the end of the day, though, we're only as good as the games we make. There, we owe much to an industry full of awfully nice and passionate people, game designers, resellers, distributors and game enthusiasts!

Many thanks to Eric for taking time to make himself available.

- Ryan Bretsch

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