Interviews by an Optimist # 44 - Xavier Garriga
- Interviews by an Optimist #44 - Xavier Garriga
Xavier Garriga (36) "Probably my relationship with games is due to
something genetic, because my father also worked with toys (although
in a very different way). I was a teenage fan of Avalon Hill and SPI
games until I discovered Dungeons & Dragons in 1982 and probably that
changed my life. I have been involved in the Spanish gaming industry
since I was very young (writing in magazines and so on) until finally
I founded with more people my own Gaming Company. We published RPGs
and also we did studio work for other bigger companies. Finally I was
hired to work as Publishing manager for Devir Spain. Devir is a
international company based in Brazil, Portugal, Spain and USA, and we
deal with games in a broad way (not doing exactly the same in every
country but nearly). We distribute trading card games (Magic, Pokemon,
Duelmasters, etc.), Miniature games (Mage Knight, Mechwarrior,
Dungeons & Dragons) and also we publish the local versions of board
games and role playing games (Catan, Carcassonne, war of the ring,
Lord of the Rings, Dungeons and Dragons, Star Wars, etc.)"
Tom: Can you tell us about the board game scene in Spain?
Xavier: OK, the scenario in Spain is a little one. It's said here that
the '80s were the years for RPGs and the '90s for CCGs, so the years
for the board games are beginning now. I hope that will be true. In
the past, we have had access to SPI, Avalon Hill, Victory Games and so
on from some importers and distributors that used to add homemade and
often terrible translations to the games. The only effort to publish
something really in Spanish was made twelve years ago when
Civilization, Diplomacy and Junta were translated.
Now there are still some importers that deal with GMT, Ravensburger,
Mayfair or RioGrande games in English, and on the other side there are
two main companies that publish the most important and popular board
games. Devir does the Spanish editions of Catan, Carcassonne, War of
the Ring, Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings (Knizia) and Edge
Entertainment does some of the Eagle games, Fantasy Flight and Steve
Jackson (Civilization, Age of Mithology, Citadels, Wings of War or
The print runs in Spain are short; they vary between 1,000 and 3,000,
only going to 5,000 in very special cases (the Lord of the Rings in
the movies period, or Catan, for Instance). Now, the most popular
games are Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne, although Citadels is
performing very well in the last months.
Tom: What kind of people are playing these games? Are they ordinary
folk, or die-hard gamers?
Xavier: Well, the selling points use to make the distinction. The mass
markets (department stores, toy stores and so on) only work some "big
titles" like Carcassonne, Settlers or the Knizia's Lord of the Rings.
The rest of the games are only sold in hobby or comic stores, so they
are only for core players, the same kind of people that buy trading
card games or role playing books. Our main job in terms of marketing
consists in convincing the mass market points of sale to try these
kind of games. We think that with a quantity of good games like these
we may rebuild a market, and we will be able to add more games in the
portfolio every year.
One interesting point is that for a lot of years people involved in
the industry have said that Spain is a people of non-gamers because we
have excellent weather, and people prefer to do open air activities.
That made sense, but it can't be the only explanation, because in
terms of video games, we are one of the strongest consumers of Europe.
Tom: But what about the board game phenomenon in Germany? Hasn't
that spread across Europe at all?
Xavier: Not really. At this moment we lack of a few key points in the
market. For instance, we don't have board game cafes that I think
could do a good work of support to the hobby. We used to have a lot of
gaming clubs based on the local city halls or in the universities, but
they were mostly dedicated to role-playing games, and also they have
almost disappeared in the last few years. The third place to see and
play games are obviously the shops, but the owners prefer to use their
tables to the most productive activities, like Trading card games or
Games Workshop products. So now one of the most important problems we
face is that we may not show and demo the games to the people. There
are also no publications in Spanish to advertise these products, so we
have had to advertise them in history magazines, for instance. In the
actual situation it is easier to sell 1,000 copies of ten different
games than 10,000 of one single game.
Obviously, the German phenomenon has arrived in Spain, and we receive
a lot of feedback regarding it. A lot of people ask us and another
companies to produce this or that game, that they have been told is a
great one, but is not anything organized. A lot of Spanish people
visit boardgamegeek.com everyday, and most of them do groundwork for
it, like translations or play aids, but this is only important for
real players. The goal is to
cross the border between players and ordinary people, and I still hope
that the great bunch of games of the last few years may help us to do
Tom: What about Spanish game designers? Are there many (any)?
Xavier: There are no full time game designers in Spain, of course. The
most similar to that is Chema Pamundi. He is the designer of all the
Fanhunter RPG series, and also he created the boardgames for that game
world. One of them, Batallitas, was very successful, and it also had
an expansion, Suburbia. It was an urban combat game with a funny
twist. The other game in the series, Fanhunter Freak Trivia was a very
smart proposal. It was a trivia game with questions regarding geek
categories (games, comics, TV, Cinema and Sci-fi and fantasy
literature). I think he is the most talented designer in the country,
no doubt at all regarding this, but unfortunately he is not very
prolific, although probably that is because he has to work also as
translator and freelance designer.
There is another one, Antonio Catalán, that did the Captain Alatriste
boardgame. I think he did a good job, but especially because he is a
great student of the XVII century history, he managed to involve the
game with that atmosphere.
We have also some good RPG writers here, like Ricard Ibáñez, Juan
Cuadra or Jordi Zamarreño, but I understand this is not the point of
Tom: Can you tell us about any board games that have been designed in Spain?
Xavier: Yes, in addition to the former, there are some interesting
projects. There is for instance a small editorial called
Ludopress-Alea that publishes a magazine called Alea specialized in
wargaming. They include their own designed Wargames in the very style
of Strategy and Tactics. Most of them are dedicated to conflicts where
Spain was involved (Spanish Civil War, Napoleonic Wars, Latin America
Independence Wars, etc.). They have a good design team. Two of them,
Juan Carlos and Francisco Javier Cebrián, did also the Spanish Civil
War expansion for Advanced Squad Leader for Critical Hit.
In the more German Style games, Oriol Comas and Jep Ferret did two
years ago one game called Gaudi inspired by the famous architect
works. It was a tile placement game with a very good design.
But the most interesting game can be probably the Bruno Faidutti's
game, Terra. This was designed especially for Barcelona's Forum of
2004, and it was published by Days of Wonder. Now you may find it
everywhere. It's a card game where you have to control the world
crisis (military, ecological and economic) and also try to win the
game. If all the players are greedy, the game will end with a complete
loss for all the players, so you have to be very smart. It's a very
interesting game (well, it's a Faidutti game, so that's a good
Tom: Terra is a type of cooperative game. What kind of games are
most popular in Spain - wargames, cooperative, trading, etc.?
Xavier: In the past wargames used to be the most popular. In the '80s
we even had a Spanish wargame company called NAC that had a huge
portfolio of games, but they closed more than ten years ago. Now the
more popular games (apart from Role Playing Games and Magic, of
course) are Catan, Carcassonne, Citadels and Lord of the Rings. From
that we could say that the favorite games in Spain are those with a
mix of trade and cooperation, with a twist for bluffing and treason.
You have to think that the most popular traditional card game in Spain
is "Mus", a game similar to poker, but ten times better, where you bid
on four aspects of the game with the same four cards. So Spanish
gamers are people used to bluff (I'm not sure of the year, but I think
that two or three years ago, the Catan world Champion was Spanish).
Tom: Are there any game conventions in Spain?
Xavier: We have a Spanish Gen Con (licensed from the original one),
but it doesn't
have an annual basis. It's done every two or even three years, always
in Barcelona, and there you can find the usual in these kind of
conventions: Tournaments, demos, conferences, presentations, etc. The
last one was done last year, and it was a huge one. This is organized
always by the holder of Wizards of the Coast rights, and this has
changed three times in the last fifteen years.
Also, we have a very nice convention, celebrated two times every year,
called CLN (Gaming National Meetings). This is organized by players.
There is a commitee that receives projects from different groups all
over Spain and decides which one is better. The decision is taken in
terms of budget, help obtained from the town halls, facilities for
gaming and hosting the players, etc. In the last five years we have
had these conventions in ten cities around all Spain: Algemesí, Gijón,
Errentería, Armilla, Ferrol, Ponferrada, Vitoria, Avilés, Sestao and
Torrelavega. Normally they are no big cities, but beautiful ones where
it is easier to find support from the local government and facilities
for the convention.
We have also the Games Workshop Games Days, where GW fans may find
offers and big games of their favourite games and also a big circuit
of Magic: The Gathering tournaments.
Tom: Can you tell us more about your job with Devir Spain?
Xavier: My business card says that I'm the publishing manager for
Spain. That's very nice, but let's see what it means.
I'm in charge of all the publications in Spain. We are the Spanish
licensors of Dungeons & Dragons and Star Wars Role Playing Games,
between others. So I decide what titles are going to be translated and
overview the team of translators, correctors and designers, that is
becoming a huge one, because we also publish the Dragon magazine, the
Hackmaster RPG and some fiction books and comics (more than 60 titles
In terms of board games I'm responsible for managing the projects
since we decide we are on them until they are released, dealing again
with translators and designers and caring about production budgets
with the printing and transport companies.
In addition to producing the existing lines of products, a good part
of my time is dedicated to deciding what new projects we will join for
next year. This is great, because it is a good excuse to go to Essen,
to Gen Con or to Nuremberg. There we see new products from people of
Kosmos, Hans im Gluck, Nexus, Fantasy Flight or Sophisticated Games
between others; and if I'm lucky enough, I may playtest some games
with them. The final decision on going or not in a project is not only
mine, because I have a managing director here, my good friend Joaquim
Dorca, and also we prefer the games that we may do in conjunction with
our companies in Brazil and Portugal, but I have a good share in the
final green or red light.
Tom: Are you currently working on procuring the licenses of any
Xavier: I prefer not to talk about this, because there is nothing
signed yet. We have been offered some interesting licenses for this
and next year, but we are still studying them and for now I may only
talk of what I have signed. I'm just arranging the final details for
Genial (sophisticated games), Doom (Fantasy Flight), Carcassonne: Inns
and Cathedrals (Hans im Gluck) and the new Dungeons & Dragons basic
box (Wizards of the Coast).
One interesting aspect here is that usually we are interested in much
more than we can really do. Every one of our "usual partners" produces
every year two or three games interesting for us. If we add three or
four more good games for that year from other companies and three or
four games of past years that we haven't been able yet to produce,
every year we would like to do 25 games. Unfortunately, due to the
size of the Spanish market, we are only able to send to the market
between five or eight games every year, so we have to be very cautious
in our annual portfolio. Also, we have to keep supporting the games
that have expansions, like Catan or Carcassonne, so the whole matter
is more complicated every year.
Tom: In this business, do you have any competition, such as from
companies outside of Spain?
Xavier: The only other company that does something related to this is
Edge Entertainment, a company from Sevilla that has done the Spanish
versions of Civilization, Age of Mythology, Citadels, Wings of War and
Munchkin, and it seems that they have more projects in the pipeline.
Of course, there is Hasbro, that produces the more standard games like
Monopoly, Clue or Risk, but I don't think they are exactly in the same
target group as us.
Also, there are importations of games from international companies,
but they are minor quantities. In the case of games not yet published
in Spanish they even help us, because the core players may test them
and begin to spread the news of the good ones.
Tom: How are most of the games in Spain sold? Through the internet
or via local hobby stores?
Xavier: The major part of games are sold in toy stores and hobby
stores. Some of them are sold in department stores, but they are only
big hits. In Spain very few people buy through the internet right now,
only very hard core players that can not wait until the game is in the
stores. I know some of them that join the GMT project 500, but that's
in terms of support, because they know that if they do not help the
company, maybe the project will not be released at the end.
I think that people prefer to go to shops because there they can see a
lot of different games, and the shop owners are much more informed
with the hottest news and the best games.
Tom: How popular are war games?
Xavier: There are some war games clubs in the big cities, and in them
people play a good variety of games, the old Avalon Hill, Victory
Games or SPI games, Serie Europa or the modern GMT and The Gamers
games. In these places they play also miniature war games (ancient and
Napoleonic are the most played). Outside these club circuits war
games are getting more and more old fashioned in Spain. Most of the
people that used to play them now are playing role playing games, euro
style games or pseudo war games like Axis and Allies or War of the
Ring. Occasionally a good war game is very accepted and played, like
Paths of Glory from GMT, but anyway they are not big quantities, only
for core players, because they are not translated.
Tom: What have you found to be the best way to advertise your games?
Xavier: The best way, of course, is by word of mouth; that has been
very powerful in the case of Carcassonne. We have done advertising in
history magazines, specialized magazines (like the Spanish version of
Dragon Magazine) and even in TV (we did a Catan spot and aired it on
cable TV), but nothing has been so effective like the public opinion.
To be in touch with our costumers, we do a lot of organized play and
demo programs (we have a good structure due to the Magic the Gathering
circuits we have) and we also use our web site as a good showroom. For
Christmas we use also the toy store
catalogues, that are good ways to notice our games, especially for the
more "juvenile" games.
Tom: What about you? What are your favorite games?
Xavier: My first experiences in gaming were the Avalon Hill wargames.
One of my favourite games is the old Air Force. I still have it and
manage to play it sometimes. Also in wargames I love Paths of Glory,
Russian Campaign, Squad Leader and Fire in the East between a lot of
I have been a roleplayer for more than twenty years, so I have a
special twist for Dungeons & Dragons in all its editions and settings
(especially Forgotten Realms and Birthright).
In terms of theme games I have a plenty of favourite games. Of the old
ones I like Circus Maximus, Junta, Gunslinger, Magic Realm, Talisman,
Kremlin or Pax Britanica, between them. I love the old Games Workshop
games. I proudly have a copy of Fury of Dracula, and I still play
Space Hulk one or two times every year (we used to do big games at
Christmas time with twelve gamers involved and four of five copies of
the game, every year going bigger and harder for the marines).
Regarding more modern games, I like Magic: The Gathering, and I play
Mystery of the Abbey, War of the Ring (I think that the Nexus guys did
an incredible work with it) or Catan sometimes.
As I'm growing older and I have more familiar responsibilites and less
time to play, I'm starting to like easier games, for instance Lost
Cities, Balloon Cup, Kahuna, Cartagena or even Axis & Allies.
Tom: Do you think the recent surge of collectible card and miniature
games has negatively affected the board game market?
Xavier: Not really. I think that the collectible card games affected
the role playing games market more, although after some years they
expanded the market and in fact they built the ground for the
miniature games phenomena and for the euro games expansion. Also, I
think that a lot of companies that won money with collectible card
games are investing the profits in board games. I think that
electronic games have been really a major problem for the board games.
In fact, the war games industry has been nearly wiped out by the
Tom: Xavier, thanks for all this information. Do you have anything
else you'd like to say?
Xavier: Well, I don't think so. You have been very comprehensive in
your questions, so I don't know what more I can say. Honestly, I would
like to thank you for your kind questions and proclaim that it has
been a pleasure to be here.
"Real men play board games."