Wolfram Janich is a game designer and the president of Marflow Games. Which is the largest publisher of 18xx games in Europe. He released games like: 18Ruhr, 18Rhl: Rhineland, 1842, 1847, 1893 and many others. I had the pleasure to talk to him at the Spiel 2017 in Essen. I asked him about his beginnings with 18xx, about plans for a near and distant future. And how 18DO will be released….
How did it happen that you started playing 18xx games?
It was in 1982, I was working in England then and I visited London, there was a very nice gaming shop. We did not have such stores in Germany. And there was 1830 in it, I bought it, it was my first 18xx. A few years later, I learned that there was also 1829. Of course, I acquire it, but I played it once and sold it quickly. This title was quite different from 1830. Too many randomnesses for me.
The next game was 1835, which takes place in Germany, but the problem was that these games lasted too long.
Yes, right. How long does the 1830 game take you?
Then 4 hours, today it is shorter because we play with the help of a computer. It is a quite old software, but it is available for free and can support many different 18xx games.
So when we play without time limits on the player’s move, the game takes us up to 2 hours. When we play with a time limit, we play about 1 hour. This is possible only with very experienced players.
How often do you play 18xx games?
I am currently playing once a month because I focus now on developing new games and their production. In addition, my group is no longer interested in testing games. So I have one test group in Canada, one in Austria and a third in the Rhineland area. They are testing a new project, which is called “18DO-Dortmund”.
How did it happen that you started to create your own games?
We use to have a group of people playing every week in a pub, but the 18xx games were too long for them. Therefore they were not really interested in them. So I came up with the idea to create a shorter 18xx game and after reading one book about the history of the railway in the Pfalz area, I created a game with 4 companies based on the rules of 1835. I played this game with friends and they liked it. I made a few corrections. I added one more company and produced a very cheap version. Soon I got letters from the USA and England. They wanted this game, haha. Then I started thinking how to prepare more copies. Soon another title was created. It included the area in which I live the Rhineland area. Next was Saxony. This game had a lot of new features such as single and double track, only curved track outside cities and tiles with bridges. And that’s how it started 🙂
How do you find the game to be released?
Either it’s my own idea or someone’s else. One of the authors came to me and said: “I have an 18xx game developed called 1893 which is placed around Cologne.” He showed me the game, and ask me for help with the game components. He then issued 20 copies for employees of his company on the occasion of the company’s 50th anniversary. He also granted me a copy of the game for the support. I played the game with friends and they ask me to publish it, providing some improvements. Some changes were made with permission of the author and the game soon after was released by my publishing house.
In the case of a game 1881, it has been me who addressed the author. “Das Berliner Strassenbahnspiel” did not work properly. The reason was that the game was designed by a player who did not have much experience in the subject of 18xx games. But this title was played by a group of people from Berlin, they played on their own terms and after some additional changes which I introduced to mechanics, the game was released. In this game, instead of trains, we have trams that run on the map of Berlin.
Another game is Trinidad – 1876. This game has a very small map and allows you to play with the rules of 1830 or 1835. The game had been published by a tiny publisher during the 1990s. I saw this game on the Internet and it was offered for crazy money: $ 280. I contacted the author by BGG and after the negotiations, I got permission to publish it.
If it is my own project, I start with the decision which area will be on the map. Then I start to dig into information about the railway history of that area. Some of my ideas still require a lot of work and I only have sketches for the game.
An interesting project is Baltic Sea. The subject of the game come from the author of 1893 who wanted to develop a game for his relatives in Norway. This is a difficult project because a large part of the map is the sea and a small land around it. So it took me a long time to make it in the right proportions of land to the sea. As the land cannot be too big or too small. There were 15 versions of this.
People sometimes complain about the high prices of my games. My calculation includes the material costs and the production time at 10 Euros per hour. The time for developing and testing the game and the creation of the files for the game component is not included as I regard this merely as a hobby.
What are the plans for 18DO?
18DO is a game not only about the railway industry, steel, and mines. This game also tells the history of the brewing industry in Dortmund. I would like to publish this game via Kickstarter, but it will be in 2019. We need to test this game yet. Sometimes tests last longer than we planned. Because there are additional aspects that need to be taken into account, mistakes are made with certain assumptions and so on …
Currently, I have five projects under development 🙂
What are the plans for the year 2018?
Next year will be published in Essen 1876 Trinidad which is now ready. It will contain two maps. And I would like to prepare a third map for it, which will be based on the principles of 18SA (South America). There will be two types of trains: passenger and freight. There will be separate stations for them and generally has very interesting mechanics.
Earlier, in the spring of 2018, we plan to publish 1885 Namibia, which covers ex Germany south-west Africa. This game was originally designed for 3 people and will expand it to 4-5 players. Additional companies will come, the game is still being tested.
Also, every title that I design, such as Baltic Sea, which covers the area of Denmark and Sweden, Finland, Poland, and Russia, requires learning about the history of railway development in these countries. There are books and materials on the internet that I need to learn about before creating a game.
Knowing the exact history creates incredible complexity and lots of details, which you have to give up in the game. Too many details do not add anything to the game and complicate the rules unnecessarily. Like there will also be different gauges in Baltic Sea, but I have given up the borders between the countries.
Do you plan to publish one of your games through a larger company?
What I’m trying to do is create a large set of good games that I produce. This year I will be 69 years old and I think that I will not be producing them forever. So I am thinking about the possibility of selling them to another manufacturer. This applies especially to my games, titles that I invented myself. As for the other authors’ titles, the decision belongs to them. That is the plan for the future because my son is not interested in 18xx games.
At the moment I’m doing it mainly for hobbyistic reasons. I see that there is interest in such games, so I create them and produce them. If it was only about the financial issue, I would earn a lot more as a consultant, but it is not about earnings, it’s about the pleasure of what I do.
Thank you very much for the interview.
Essen, November 30, 2017