INTERVIEW: Zoltán Győri
Zoltán Győri (Győri Zoltán Gábor), born in Budapest in 1986, is a Hungarian board game designer and performer. He has been designing and reviewing board games since 2012. In 2017, he started a Youtube vlog on board games called ’Mit Játsszunk?’ (What to play?). In 2018, his first officially published game was Igen? (Yes?) – a huge party game success in his home country. Now HeidelBÄR Games publishes his next game Spicy, a clever card game of bluff.
We asked Zoltán to answer a few questions:
- Hungary is a country known for its vast history, but not much for board game history. Can you tell us a bit about the board game culture in Hungary?
Indeed, in Hungary some board gaming communities were already formed in the 1990s which are still active, and in 2001 the first classic board game publisher in Hungary, Gémklub Kft., was founded. The really big boom in the board game hobby dates back to 2010 and continues to grow exponentially to this day. Although, in my experience, the general public only knows the classic titles, Millennials and Generation Z are increasingly demanding of games, and there is a huge interest in them for children, young adults, and families alike. There are many people who are working on and for the Hungarian board game culture: There are great game designers who are getting more well-known, publishers who bring games from around the world to our tables, board game cafés, and more blogs and professional forums are being founded.
- In the world of board games you started out as a vlogger. Can you tell us a bit about your vlog, first?
I only started playing board games intensively as an adult in 2011. My wife Reka and I found ourselves playing every day, and the more games we played, the more we were curious about others. This love continues to this day; the cultural mission of our vlog to get the message of how fun board games are for more people in Hungary.
When we launched the ‘What to play?’ channel in January 2017, there wasn’t really an example before us. We started with fun, humorous content, yet our goal was, and still is, to promote board games. As more videos have been made, more Hungarian publishers have reached out to us asking to present their games. We create a wide variety of content, from introducing the games, thematic lists, talks about game psychology or tips, unboxing videos, through walkthroughs… What to play? will turn 3 years old this year and is now an integral part of my life with my wife: a real love project.
- So, how did you made the step from game journalism to game development?
Board game development was much earlier in my life than video making. I’ve been developing games for six years. It just came to me naturally; I couldn’t help but think. As a creative person, my increasing experience in playing was simply due to bear fruit. I think if experience and creativity come together, there will be an idea.
In comparison, launching the vlog was rather mentally difficult, and I had a hard time making the first video because I was very critical of it. Looking back on myself then, of course, I am laughing on it, but I am very happy that, with the encouragement of many of my professional colleagues and close friends, we had finally launched it and are still developing and improving its quality.
- Do you have role models in board games/game designers?
My favorite board game authors are Bruno Cathala and Reiner Knizia. They are true grandmasters, but I could list many more examples. My Ars poetry is that ‘less is more’, as an author I like clarity and less, but more mature, rules. I am motivated by the family-party line themes and games. My goal is to make games for a wide audience, because board games are a hobby for everyone.
- What´s your bread and butter job? Do you think you can live off of your work in the board game industry one day? And do you even want to?
In fact, I am extremely fortunate to be able to say that all my work revolves around games and playfulness. I have several jobs: I am a freelancer actor (mainly in a freelancer improvisational theatre, but I also work in films and stand-up shows), a Youtube vlogger, a business and life coach, and also a professional board game designer. I have a very colorful entrepreneur life, and I love it so much.
- Your first game Igen? is one of the top party games in Hungary (even if it isn´t know worldwide, yet). How do you react when you come to a gaming night and people are playing your game?
When I first saw my own game on the table at an event, I was emotional and indescribably proud and grateful to have strangers playing with it–chatting, laughing, and feeling that it was giving them a joyful experience. These are the moments when I feel that the invested work and intended fun behind the game is worth it.
- Does developing games influence the way you talk about board games as a journalist?
Of course, these two roles are hand-in-hand learning and developing, moved by mutually reinforcing energies. Obviously, as an author, I’m looking for something different in a game than the classic user, and I get a lot of feedback that my design experience and many years of playing with the game are reflected in the game introductions.
- Do you promote your own games via social media? Do you find it easier or more difficult to talk about your own games?
We talked a lot about this with the publisher and my wife when the games came out. In fact, it would feel like a missed opportunity if I didn’t talk about them. I think the two sides complement each other, but there is a delicate border and, of course, mixed feelings when talking about my own games. On one hand, it is very easy because I have a deep knowledge of them. On the other hand, it is difficult because they are very important to me; there is rough and hard work behind them. There are many aspects of vlogger and game designer work that outsiders don’t see. Often, despite their lightness, these games are made with years of persistent work, so it’s hard to talk about them in an unbiased, yet professional way.
- So, let`s talk about Spicy: What was the idea behind this game, and how did the final version develop from that?
With Spicy, my goal was to make a very simple, lightweight, party card game that still has a tricky twist on the classic bluffing mechanism. I wanted to mix it up with a well-known mechanism that easily attracts newcomers to the game, yet gives depth to a tactics-loving group. Compared to the concept, the actual gameplay is a much improved, clearer version, but the essence of the game is retained.
- How did your game become published by the German publisher HeidelBÄR Games?
Kind mediation. Years ago, I showed Gémklub Kft., a big developer studio in Hungary, several of my game plans, including Igen? and a prototype called Bad Kitty. Igen? became a domestic edition, but Bad Kitty was presented to German colleagues at a meeting at SPIEL 2017 in Essen by the head of Gémklub, Zoltán Aczél, who saw potential in it. A long development and testing job began, which eventually led to the game Spicy.
- The artwork of the game is very special. Did you expect the publisher to go with something out of the box like this? Do you like it?
I was very surprised when I first saw the plans, because the visual design was alien to my eyes that are used to used to classic artwork. I felt like it would receive mixed feelings, and, at the same time, I liked it. Maybe I was a little worried about it, but then I suddenly fell in love with it, and I didn’t want to imagine otherwise. Wild, extravagant, and it stands out from the crowd, which I think is vital these days. I’m very grateful for HeidelBÄR’s brave, cool decision to risk such an unusual appearance for this game. The fantastic graphics by illustrator Jimin Kim takes this gaming experience to a new level.
Spicy just made the longlist of Spiel des Jahres 2020. How did you celebrate? And did this important award change anything for you already?
It was an unbelievable joy to hear about this occasion. One of my friends told me to watch the Spiel Live on the Facebook NOW, because the Spicy is on the table for the long list. I was very excited, happy and still proud. It’s clearly a great honor and it makes me satisfied to know the professional jury loved this game.I’d celebrate with many many game parties. 🙂 After this I’ve given a few interviews about this success, but now I am really motivated to work more and make wonderful games in the future.
- Now that your games are published internationally, do you plan on making videos in English as well?
This topic has been present in our lives for a long time, but for the time being we remain a Hungarian language channel. As a vlogger, our primary goal is to promote board games in Hungary, so there is no plan to produce English or German content, but who knows what fate brings? Never say never.