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Interviews

A Broad Vision for the Hobby Game Industry

An Interview with Christian T. Petersen, CEO of Fantasy Flight Games

I first discovered Fantasy Flight Games through Diskwars in the summer of 1999. I wasn't aware of all their products at the time, but it seemed each year they were putting out more interesting games and branching out in new directions. I was very surprised when I saw their version Through the Desert. A German game from Fantasy Flight? I thought they only did adventure games!

It must have been a successful venture, though, as their line of $19.95 small-box games now showcases several works of Knizia as well as other great designers like Tom Jolly and Bruno Faidutti. With notable games in just about every category of hobby gaming, Fantasy Flight games provide an excellent gateway for the RPG and CCG crowd to discover the wonderful world of eurogames. I've seen their games span the gap many times at the high school game club or the local game shop. What better way to get the Magic player to try a Knizia game than to tack on some dragons or add a few goblins to Auf Heller und Pfenning? How about Scarab Lords, which offers some deck construction without the expenses of collectible cards? And do I even have to mention what the Lord of the Rings Boardgame has accomplished?

If it's not immediately obvious, I have a lot of respect for Fantasy Flight Games' ability to bring us quality games from so many genres. I was very pleased, then, when the man behind Fantasy Fight Games, Christian T. Petersen, agreed to an interview for Fair Play. Here's what he shared with us.


Mike Petty: What exactly is your role at FFG?

Christian Petersen: I founded the company way back in 1995, and I remain CEO today. That means that I have both the best and the worst job at FFG. I manage the workflow, staff issues, overall strategy, and overall product concepts. I am also involved in a more detailed way in several things. I still design a few games--with the most recent: A Game of Thrones Board Game coming up in August and I am also very involved in the day to day management of our Game of Thrones CCG.

Overall, however, I get to make the difficult decisions and take the credit for all the hard work my employees do ;-)

MP: I regularly stop by your website to read the employee rants. Is working there as fun as it sounds?

CP: You bet! If anyone is interested, I 'rant' every other Tuesday about the history of the company. A compilation of this epic tragedy can be found here: http://www.fantasyflightgames.com/history.html

MP: Fantasy Flight produces everything from RPGs to CCGs to european board and card games. Is there a unifying theme to it all?

CP: Well, I grew up playing games, everything from Avalon Hill/MB board games, to role-playing and miniature games. Later, during my college years, I was captured by Magic The Gathering, and I learned to appreciate the meta-game experience of collectible games. Since I played Settlers with Darwin Bromley at Gen Con in 1996, I have also been fascinated by the new breed of European board game designs as well. In general I love the 'Hobby Game' store and all the riches and categories that it provides. Fantasy Flight Games' vision is to provide good games for the hobby game store. Thus we never felt, or feel, contrained to any one particular genre.

MP: So, the wide range of games you publish reflects your own tastes?

CP: Absolutely. As I mentioned, I have have a very wide background in all genres. The games we publish very much follow what I believe to be innovative, exciting, and in sync with our overall vision--providing cool and good games to the hobby game market. I have some really great people on staff, and I would be lying if I said that they don't have a huge influence. Though my 'taste' or 'hunch' is the often the final call for investing time and money in a project, the opinions and ideas of my staff are integral in getting to that final decision.

MP: What's your favorite Fantasy Flight game?

CP: Good question, and this varies widely by time. Since I have been so involved in many of our projects for so long, it is hard to identify just a few. Right now, however, it is probably Reiner Knizia's brilliant Lord of The Rings: The Confrontation two-player game, and the Game of Thrones collectible card game.

MP: This raises another question. Do you get much time for gaming that isn't directly related to your work?

CP: I wish I had more. At this stage in my life both work and home life is fairly demanding, but I try to play non-Fantasy Flight games at least a few times every month.

MP: Your line of board and card games has really expanded over the last two years. I'm assuming this is due to successful sales. How are the board games and card games doing compared to the other types of games you publish?

CP: Since we started our games publication with Twilight Imperium back in 1997, our roots have really been in board games. We have recently been succesful with our line of games retailing for $19.95. We also call this line our 'Silver Line'. Games such as Drakon, Citadels, and Kingdoms, have been extremely well received. Board games are usually not our most profitable line of products, but it performs well overall, and sometimes we have a breakout winner--like Citadels.

MP: Speaking of Citadels, gamers were looking forward to an English version of this game as soon as it was released. From what I gathered, it was hard to get the rights from the original publisher. How did it come about that Fantasy Flight got the privilege?

CP: Persistence. I really cannot go into details here, but this was certainly a tough nut to crack. In the end, we placed a good sum of money down, betting that this would be the hit that it would turn out to be. Citadels is one of those 'perfect storms' where gameplay, graphics, and theme all click with the gamers.

MP: Do you find the RPG crowd crossing over and buying the board and card games or are you finding you're reaching a whole different type of gamer?

CP: Over the short term, we feel that these two genres only have about a 10% cross-over. Over the long term, however, this number increases dramatically perhaps to 75%. One of the wonderful things about the adventire gaming hobby is the ebb and flow of the gamer life and tastes. Many gamers flow in and out of one obsession to another. Board and card games--the non CCG sort--tend to be the soft landing in the middle. This has changed a little with the advent of the German craze in board games. This has created a gamer sub-type, typically male and over 25, which could be called the 'Germanophile' or something like that. It really is very exciting, since we are seeing a wonderful development of gaming on the more mature end of the spectrum, just as games like Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh have widened the audience in the younger side of the spectrum.

MP: You've published several titles from Knizia. How did your relationship with him begin?

CP: Reiner and I met back at GAMA in 1999 and had a wonderful time. Reiner is a very generous, intelligent, and freindly guy. Since this time, I have gotten to know him much better and I consider him a good friend. Reiner, one of the archetypical 'German' game designers, is actually very facinated with the generous layer of theme and story that the Hobby Game industry offers. A Fantasy Flight Games vision is to grow with German excellence in mechanics, but retain the flavor of story in the Hobby Games industry. I think that both Reiner and I very much subscribe to this vision.

MP: I run a high school game club where I teach and I can see how Fantasy Flight provides a nice middle road between themes teens are interested in and sophisticated gameplay that I personally look for in games.

This vision you mention explains why several of Reiner's games that you've published have been re-themed. Does he work closely with you on the changes?

CP: Fantasy Flight usually develops them, and we discuss them in detail with Reiner.

MP: What projects will we see from Fantasy Flight Games by the end of this year?

CP: At this time, Fantasy Flight basically has three seperate departments. Board/Card, RPG, and CCG. Each department works very hard to provide great games to their respective audiences. The CCG department will continue to support and provide cool content for the A Game of Thrones CCG. The RPG department will continue supporting Dragonstar, Midnight, and our Legends & Lairs line -- but will also release the Dawnforge d20 RPG campaign setting in the fall. This setting was the Fantasy Flight Games staff entry in the WOTC RPG setting search and made it to the final 11 out of 10,000+ submissions.

In terms of board games, we have quite a few exciting releases on the horizon. In August, premiering at GEN CON, we will release the A Game of Thrones Board Game by yours truly. In the fall we will release four new games in our $19.95 'Silver Line'--a deduction game, a pirate game, a chariot racing game, and a 'car warriors' game. We will also release the huge Warcraft board game, in October, that is being developed right now.

MP: Before Terry and I devoted most of our free time to running Fair Play, we played a lot of Warcraft together. I was very interested when I saw the board game coming out based on the same setting and storyline. Are there any details you could give about how the computer game will translate to a board game?

CP: We are really excited about this game. The design lead is Kevin Wilson--a very smart and skilled craftsman. In Warcraft I believe that we will finally merge the German elegance design philosophy with the U.S theme and skull-smashing pathos. I cannot say too much, except that we are looking at a geo-morphic board and designing a very open system that lends itself to both a core game and a wealth of scenarios that will be created by both Fantasy Flight Games and the fans of the game.

MP: Are there any expansions in the works for previous games, like Drakon, Scarab Lords or even the Lord of the Rings game?

CP: Yes. (Smiling knowingly and secretly.)

MP: I'm assuming your plate is pretty full, but do you still accept submissions from freelance designers?

CP: Absolutely. Just go to our website and look at our submissions requirements. If you have a game that fits in the Silver Line, you have a better chance, since we plan to release 5-6 of these a year.

MP: Well, You've given us a few things to look forward to! It's been great to have this chance to do this interview with you. It's wonderful to have a company so prominent in the hobby game industry bringing the eurogames to a larger audience. I hope you have much success in the years ahead. Thanks for your time.

CP: Thanks for the kind words! Maybe we can do it again some time.

 



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