Board games are amongst the most popular playthings that offer entertainment for a wide range of people. Some board games appeal to really young children whilst others are designed to amuse adults. Yet it is somewhat rare to find games that appeal to both adults and children, “Ubongo” by Grzegorz Rejchtman is an exception to the rule. A game that requires players to fill in a box with specific shapes, Ubongo appeals to a wide age range.
Grzegorz Rejchtman was born in Poland but moved to Sweden at the age of two. Grzegorz went on to study Computer Science & Economics at University. In 2009 he left Sweden and moved to Monaco. In his spare time he enjoys playing tennis and walking and, during his walks, he mulls over new ideas for games and prefers to play games that are fast to learn, communicative, and fun. Recently, Grzegorz Rejchtman spoke with the Examiner about his experiences working in the game industry:
Meagan Meehan (M.M.): What inspired you to become a game designer?
Grzegorz Rejchtman (G.R.): One day when I was 15 or 16 years old I was thinking that I could design better games than the games you could find in the mall. This was probably subjective. I thought it was fun to invent my first game and then I continued. Most of my games have never been published.
M.M.: How did you get your first game produced and sold?
G.R.: My first produced game was “Go Wild!” which was produced by Wizards of the Coast. I was at the Toy Fair in Nürnberg, Germany, when I met a person from Wizards of the Coast. In my bag I had four card games. I showed these games to this person and he liked them very much. Some months later I received a contract. They wanted to license all four games. Unfortunately only one was published. These four games were supposed to compete with UNO, but during that year Wizards of the Coast changed their plans.
M.M.: To date, how many games have you designed? Do you have a favorite?
G.R.: I have invented more than 100 games but only about 30 have been published. My favorite game is Ubongo. This is my favorite because girls, boys, women and men like the game very much. This is the perfect family game, since both genders and all ages like this game.
M.M.: How did you come up with the idea for Ubongo?
G.R.: One day I was at my aunt´s house and they had a large jigsaw puzzle they were assembling. I was thinking that this will take a very long time to finish. This is probably fun if you have the patience to do this, but I don’t have it. It would be much more fun to solve puzzles very fast. And the first raw idea for Ubongo was born. I made a prototype, went to the Essen Game Fair or Nürnberg Toy Fair (I don’t remember which one), showed the game to some companies and got a good response. About 10 companies asked me to send a prototype to them, and I sent one prototype to each of them. After 3 to 6 months all of them sent back the prototypes and said that the puzzles were too difficult and there was too much material in the game. I was really angry because I had spent so much time and money to make the game and the prototypes and it also cost me a lot of money to send all these prototypes. Even if I knew that this could happen, I somehow could not accept this. After a couple of months I accepted that the companies were right. I started to work on version two. I made all puzzles simpler and reduced the number of tiles. And once again, the same thing happened as with version one. Now I got furious, since even more companies were interested and I got no contract. At this point I was so furious that I said to myself: “I will not invent any more games. I give up.” Many months later I returned to this project. I had calmed down. I was thinking that if I have had this big interest twice the game idea must be great, but the game must probably be polished. I changed the whole game again. I made the puzzles even easier, reduced the number of tiles, and changed the scoring board. Now the game was perfect. The first company to publish the game was Egmont Kärnan in Sweden. The title under which the game was published was “Pyramidens Portar” which means “The Gates of The Pyramid.” It took about five years from the idea to the published game.
M.M.: If you could create any kind of game, without financial constraints, what kind of game would you create and why?
G.R.: This was a tricky question. My answer is I don’t know.
M.M.: Overall what is your favorite game of all time?
M.M.: To date, what has been the most rewarding part of being a game designer and/or working in the toy industry?
G.R.: It is very rewarding when you, for the first time, see and hold a new copy of your latest game idea in your hands. What is even more rewarding is that you know (actually hope) that a lot of people will play and enjoy your game.
M.M.: Do you have any upcoming projects that you would like to mention?
G.R.: I have at the moment only one but I am not sure if it qualify to be mentioned here. I have to figure out what is the best way to promote the Ubongo app without a cost or very little cost. I know this is not my job but I want to try and learn something new next year.
M.M.: What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to become a game designer?
G.R.: No one, even if you are very good at inventing new games, should choose to do this as a career. If you really want to do this you should consider it a hobby. As with all hobbies, you do it because you love to invent games. If you think that you will make a lot of money, you could not be more wrong–unless you are very lucky. In my opinion, other career choices are much better if you want to have a safe and steady income on which you can live a decent life. If you accept the downside of the financial part it is always very rewarding to see your game idea published. Be prepared that most of your games will never be published, not because they are not good enough, but because the industry is very subjective and the game must fit into a company’s portfolio a certain year. In my opinion, to maximize your chances to get published, present 3 to 5 totally different games at the meeting with a publisher. Don’t present games that do not at all fit a publisher’s portfolio of games; for example, if a company only publishes easy children games, don’t show them complex war games. Present the same games to many companies during the same time. Even if a lot of companies have showed interest in a game, the chance to get published is still very small.
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To learn more about Grzegorz Rejchtman, see here.