Interview: BFF Games And Their Boardgames!

Park Cooper here, of Wicker Man Studios, interviewing Andreas Müller of BFF Games. I first became aware of BFF Games because I jumped into the Kickstarter for their game Hidden Leaders, a fun game that brightened up months of the ongoing pandemic for my wife Barb (my co-partner Wicker Man Studios) and I. Hidden Leaders is a fantasy-themed boardgame where you draw and play cards to influence the realm of the kingdom to one of four outcomes, playing as one of six leaders (such as Lemron, Pavyr, Cyra, and Enned, just to name four that we’re about to mention during the course of this interview). Each of the six leaders (whose identities are hidden to the other players until the end of the game) want the kingdom’s war to come out in either of two possible ways—so there’s a certain amount of guessing (especially early on) about what your opponent even wants to happen… BFF Games also did a successful Kickstarter expansion, and are about to start a Kickstarter for a prequel game, titled Yield.

Park Cooper: So let’s see. I watched a video about how y’all came to make Hidden Leaders– But I have questions.

So– the world was the world that y’all role-played games in? Is that right?

Andreas Müller: Sort of, yeah. So the game was invented based on the world we all did Larp in (live action role play) but once we got our artist on board (Satoshi Matsuura from Japan) we made changes to the world to take his art into account. You could say, we merged our world with his art.

PC: Ah ha! Was that a particular game, the one you LARPed in, or just something entirely home-brewed?

AM: The larger larp world is called “Mythodea” from the Larp event “Conquest of Mythodea”. It is a big event with thousands of people in Germany where we go to every year. However, we developed our own background story (and world) to go there with a little island state called “Kaerlon” that could be transferred to any other world (because it is a small island) that was our concept for Larping. And Oshra (our world from Hidden Leaders) is also an island state. You might see the connection  😉

PC: So did you just get back from Seoul? And before that, the big game fair. Sounds like you travel a lot nowadays?

AM: Right now, I’m travelling a lot yes. We were in Essen (Germany) for the fair; usually we are based in Austria but I just arrived (!) in Seoul to travel Asia for 10 weeks. But that’s not normal for us 😄

PC: Oh! You’re in Seoul now? No wonder it’s 9 a.m. there.

AM: Yeah, that’s also why I was a little confused. Here it is Saturday 😄

PC: Can you tell me just a little about your background?

AM:  Like my professional background or us as a team? Your main focus is world building right?

PC: Either you OR your team! And… I’m interested in any/all of it! My wife and I write prose novels, and also comic books and graphic novels. We’ve also sometimes edited and/or adapted manga and manhwa. So I understand about collaborating with artists, is part of what I’m saying.
And with making a project fit an art style…

AM: I’m 31, and usually live in Vienna  😊  So in general, we are a team of three (best friends > BFF). My role in our team is usually the writer for everything (world building, social media, art instructions etc.). Once a long time ago I studied history (BA and then MA) and wanted to become a writer. I wrote three novels but never published any. I started a PhD in history but cancelled it and became a freelancer instead. Now I do data analysis and methods consultation (MuellerMixedMethods) for a living and work on board games as part of a hobby / indie publisher (we publish about 1 game a year for fun. We make a nice extra income but no one lives off it.

PC: Maybe tell me just a little about your other two team members? I don’t want them to feel left out.

AM: Sure! The other two are Markus, 33, who is the founder of a tech startup (Flinn) and has two adorable little kids. And Raphael 32, works full time for an architect firm and also has two kids (not so adorable as Markus’ one but also cute). Markus is my brother and Raphael we both know since kindergarden. Markus is our CEO and takes care of all finances (he studied economics) and Raphael does a lot of preparing things for printing, outreach to influencers and in the wider board game community. I’m the only one without kids so I currently have the most time for interviews, travelling and new game ideas 😄

So over time we accumulated freelancers who work with us…
–Satoshi Matsuura from Japan, who is our character artist
–Luigi Samperini from Mexico who does scenes and maps
–Nacho Laroderra from Spain who does visual design
–Roland from Roland’s Revenge Games from the Netherlands who does art consultancy
and Alex Papaloukas from Berlin who helps us in customer service

All of them are paid on a project basis and/or with KS share.

For the new game, Luigi and Nacho are really key. We just saw what skills we lacked and always kept our eyes open for people who can help us with what we are missing.

PC:  Yeah, I was just thinking about how to segue into the new game. I’m a bit excited about it (already).

AM: Haha, that’s great to hear. We can move into the new game already or do you want more about the artist, Satoshi?

PC: Sure! Either! (Bit more about the artist makes more logical sense, though.)

AM: Ok, so Satoshi Matsuura is from Japan, we basically fell in love with his art via ArtStation when we were looking for art for our first game. We are working with him since early 2020 and in a few weeks I’m going to meet him for the first time 😊 His art had a major impact on our game. We developed a world with his characters (there was none before, he never had any) and decided to stick with this world and art for all our future games.

By and large we only work via (translated) written instructions with him, so he is a bit of a mystery even to us. But he is a great and very talented person we enjoy working with.

So from a world building stand point, we are developing the fantasy world of Oshra via the games. There is a basic setting and logic too it. But the world keeps growing in space, time and detail with every new game we make. Hidden Leaders was the starting point and since we have developed the games via the expansion (Forgotten Legends), our game Almost Innocent, and now Yield.

PC:  How did we decide we even wanted to do a sequel? Let alone a prequel?

AM: So the expansion we had planned from even before the Hidden Leaders Kickstarter. We had almost fully developed it but decided to go with a smaller campaign because it was our first time. Once the Hidden Leaders campaign finished we had everything we needed for the expansion. We just expended the setting basically via a “the 5th faction arrives” (the Guardians awake). So it was very natural from a world building and game development perspective…

With Yield we struggled for a while what setting to choose for our next new game. We knew that we wanted to stick with Oshra and Satoshi’s art. We also did not want to make it set after Hidden Leaders because we want to leave it to the players how that story should play out. So there was an option to move it in space (another island in the same world) or time (before Hidden Leaders). The idea to see many of our characters as younger versions and thus give more depth to the world strongly appealed to us. So we decided to go with a prequel.

PC: That makes sense. I’m excited to play around with the expansion too…

AM: For a board game, story telling must not be overly complex (at least for our type of games). Hidden Leaders had the simple formular “The Emperor is dead… the land is in chaos”) so we were looking for a simple basic narrative to hold together this game. We ended up with “The rebellion has started…” Lemron rebels against her father and we developed it from there. We took the oldest characters from our cast (Emperor > 100 and Lemron >80) and made them much younger to give an interesting background story to the world.

PC: Means we lose Enned (the youngest), though…

AM: Yes, and several other leaders too, but we also get new ones, that were not in stage light before

PC: Enned is so freaky in gameplay. It’s harder to use her to beat people– except she often seems to do better against Pavyr (Remember, my wife and I have only been able to play it 2-player)

AM: Yeah Enned and Pavyr are both pretty crazy from a game mechanic point of view. But I think they are really fun!

The obvious thing would have been to take the most popular character (Cyra) and build the game around her, but we decided we want a new face and developed other characters further

PC: IS she the most popular? I had no idea.

AM: We do a lot of surveys (my data analysis background) and Cyra (the red haired one) is by far the most popular of the 6 leaders.

PC: I’m fond of Lemron. I mean I do like Cyra, but… But then again we sort of like Enned. We joke that she and the Dead Emperor are close because of her Dark Arts…

AM: Haha, yes they certainly have a connection there…

PC: I’m always mad when I check social media and find that I’ve missed voting in one of y’all’s polls or whatever…

AM:  We did a lot of time during the campaign via google forms, but I also do many on Twitter (I still refuse to use “X”) and Insta…

PC: (We think it’s funny that Enned is into the Dark Side at all at her young age)

AM: Well, she can get VERY frustrated when her siblings don’t behave. I can see even in my little niece how she could join the dark side out of anger 😄 “I don’t get what I want, I’ll burn the entire city down!” kind of rage 😄

PC: Can you tell me more about how Hidden Leaders has been received?

AM: Overall, it totally blew all our expectations. We hoped to get our money back and make 0€ and that’s fine. Instead it blew through the roof. The game is now available in 19 languages and more than 40.000 copies have been printed. I’m especially proud that people love the art and the world that comes with it. We got such positive response on the game world that we just decided to roll with it. My personal dream is still to build this into a fantasy franchise (like LOTR or GOT) that may one day go beyond board games and someone says “here, it started”. Our community also played a big role with their feedback, polls and ideas that shaped the game and the world…

PC: Wow. Okay, now tell me just a little more about the expansion?

AM: Ok, so Forgotten Legends is the expansion to Hidden Leaders. As said, we had planned it from day 1 but we did not execute it with the first campaign because we did not dare to do so. The expansion introduces the “guardians” a fifth faction that want to push the humans from the island and protect the land. In the expansion there are 3 new modules, 4 new leaders, a new faction and roughly 20 new cards. It was on Kickstarter last year (2022) and did well, but it was limited on its impact because (of course) it mainly attracted existing fans and was thus limited in scope.

PC: Now, on to Yield! Let’s get other people as excited about it as I am! And maybe make me even more excited about it! Let’s sell it– what is going to be the FUNNEST part about playing Yield?

AM: Making your friends Yield, of course! It’s really the battle mechanic. You always play cards with the feeling “come on give up, give up!!!” and at some point the other person says “screw it, I’m out, that’s getting to costly” and then you feel like you just conquered the world!!! And then later you notice… maybe you over invested a BIT on that battle 😄

And also Ambush attacks are great fun. Where already when the battle starts the other player is like “Oh gosh… I’m in BIG trouble”

PC: Okay, last question about Yield– What makes it different from other games out there?

AM: That’s a hard one 😄 I would say, Yield doesn’t have any unnecessary mechanics. We always focus on a good core mechanic to make a lean game that does not take forever but that’s fun every time again. It’s swift, fun, intense but it does not take up your entire day.

And of course, that you “Yield” –you always lose a battle not because of luck but because you surrender and notice it is no longer worth the investment. We also thought about a catch phrase: “surrender to win” 😄 I’d say that is unusual too!

PC: Agree! Okay, any last thing to say before we stop?

AM: It was a joy chatting with you.

PC: You bet! Thanks for spending your time!

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