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Great Western Trail: Alexander Pfister Interview

A few weeks back I had the pleasure of talking to and interviewing the guy behind Great Western Trail, Alexander Pfister. Great Western Trail is one of my favourite games to date so I was especially excited for this.

Hello can you tell our readers a bit about yourself and how you got involved in this industry?

I'm 45-years-old, married and have one daughter. I live in Vienna and work there in the financial business. I have been playing and designing games forever. As a kid we played Acquire a lot. I changed some rules.

I did this with many games, but I also already designed new games at this time, for example a game in Africa, where trading companies fought against each other. This game became Mombasa in 2015.

I am a huge fan of Great Western Trail and would go as far to say it’s one of my favourite games of 2016, how did you come up with the idea and its mechanics?

Thank you! I studied economics and I was always interested in this period of time in the US. When I design games, I start with a good core mechanic. The core mechanic in Great Western Trail are buildings, which all players build on the same route.

The game's mechanics really fit the theme was this something done on purpose. Which came first Mechanics or Theme?

The mechanics! The cattle theme was not there at the beginning. First it was also about oil and gold mining but running cattle really made the most sense. And now I could not think of better theme, where you travel along the same path several times.

 I have seen a few people complain about the play time for Great Western Trail, while I always feel like it could last one more turn. Have you seen this and what’s your opinion on this?

The game has many micro turns. You make short actions and then it's the next players turn. This keeps downtime low. But it makes a big difference if a player takes one minute or 10 seconds for a micro turn. So playing time heavily depends on the group.

Playing time at a normal speed is about two-and-a-half hours for four players. I think this is ok. Another factor is, if people rush (many steps) or take their time when moving with their cowboy along the Great Western Trail. I'm happy with number of rounds and playing time.

Will there be an expansion or a sequel to Great Western Trail?

Probably an expansion. The publisher wants one so I'm happy to deliver one.

A game I see mentioned a lot when discussing you is Broom Service, I have not played it myself but plan to. Please can you tell me a bit about this game and its development?

I designed Broom Service together with Andreas Pelikan and it is fantastic - at least some people say this. Others don't like it that much. And that's ok for me as not every game is for everybody. It has high interaction and with two players it's very strategic - with no luck involved.

It is one of the most emotional strategy games I know. Basically, you have to figure out what roles other players will take. This game is very special, so I think even in five years this game will have its fans.

When developing a game how long do you roughly spend getting the basics down before consulting others like play-testers etc?

I haven't thought about this. We have a good play-testing group of other designers. So they don't mind if a game has no ending yet - just to see if the core mechanic works. But I also like to solo test games (simulating other players).

What is next up for you game wise?

This year is my expansion year! Oh my Goods: season two will be finished soon. Season one was called Longsdale in Revolt and was a surprise hit of last year's Essen. It was sold out, produced again, sold out, produced etc. It's now sold out again and many are asking for the English version of it. Mayfair has already printed them and they are shipping right now. Longsdale in Revolt also gets a sequel. It uses my new game mechanism: Dynamic event deck. An event deck, which changes from chapter to chapter and introduces new buildings, persons etc. I use this new mechanism for my 2nd Port Royal expansion as well.

Then we have the new expansion for Isle of Skye. It should be out in a few weeks. In Essen there will be a new card game called: Tibbar - The Builder. It plays in the Longsdale universe as Tibbar is our father. We get to know how he lived in Longsdale. Citizens are arriving and we have to decide how to deploy them - it's a card drafting game. They have a profession, so we can use them as a captain, soldier, farmer etc. Or as a worker to build new buildings.

There are buildings in the supply and whoever builds, can choose the best one. But then you have to discard the chosen citizen and as you know from drafting games: The earlier cards are the better ones. So you have this dilemma: "Such a powerful citizen, will I keep him/her or discard to build this fantastic building."

Lastly which game have you played the most in the last three months?

I think Orleans. I like this game a lot.

We would like to thank Alexander for taking the time to speak with Zatu Games!