This brief interview was requested by the former editor of Yaah! Magazine. However for a variety of reasons it is not being published. So, without further ado I present to you, my interview with Emanuele of VentoNuovo fame. At the time Moscow ’41 was gearing up to ship. He and I spoke via Skype for the interview.
BigBoard: BB I’m a fan of Vento Nuovo games and know the owner via Skype, face to face meetings and sleep overs at his home in Milan. This conversation did not involve alcohol (although it could have, and likely should have!…or maybe it did..). Emanuele Santandrea (ES) is the owner of Vento Nuovo games and a lifelong gamer.
VN Games was founded four years ago in the basement of Emanuele’s home in Milan Italy.. I mean it! Here he is down in the basement where the first blocks were shaped by hand:
BB: So what was the first game you ever played?
ES….oh that type of interview.
BB: Umm.. ok hell with that, lets skip the bull shit parts shall we? What is the appeal of block games for you, as a designer?
ES Well you mean attractive versus appeal? They are sexy. With a counter based game generally if I can see everything and I have a crt I can make calculations… “I want good odds.” And there is a risk that this will be the only thing on which I will be focus on.
I prefer to focus on alternative possibilities and strategies so I can develop what if situations and surprise my opponent with a mighty blow exactly were he/she does not expect it, not reflecting on the history, what happened and why it might be different. With block games both players are reacting to the reality of the unknown. This is exciting and puts you more squarely in the General’s chair with imperfect knowledge.
BB: Are there examples of this that comes to mind?
ES: Yes! The Battle of Kursk – Hitler felt sure, he knew what to do. He did not listen to his generals. So the outcome was much more different than he expected.
Another example would be Allies moved to Belgium to counter the Germans in 1940. They ‘knew or expected one thing” They got another! And I can go on: Normandy, Bagration, and El Alamein. Blocks are an elegant way to present the unknown.
BB: As a player what makes you like block games more?
ES: Physical touch, is better and, sacrilege…. no ‘tweezers’ [ BB: here I had to help E with the English word tweezers, he rolled his eyes at our beloved tweezers! How dare he!).
When you play with blocks, they last a long time! You can clean them even. Especially mine. As the stickers are PVC coated! So eat your snacks and enjoy the game with a beer – so you can drink a beer and play you can’t hurt my games!
You can clean the laminated map board too!
BB: He smiles at me, and we talk about the picture above when I tested his claim a few years ago!
ES: Can you clean the counters? Blocks last longer too. – All little plus’s that most people don’t see. – All for just 5-10 Euros extra.
BB: Are there any scales/topics/eras that you think of that your kind of block game is well-suited for?
ES: No. I am not in a position to say where it works best. Read history and think then prototype and explore if it works. The game prototyping will show you if it works.
BB: So you do many prototypes then?
ES Oh yes!
BB: Conversely, are there any scales/topics/eras that probably aren’t
a great fit?
ES: I said above Kursk was an example of hidden information. But that battle and its outcome was problematic. For a block game it was going to be stuck on rails, just like the battle was unless you change the Generals ability to make choices. The battle shows you that there was no need to attack in different places.
BB: You do your own art, which is unusual for game designers. Do you have
an art background?
ES: Yes we do it all. In the very beginning there was just me. Now David who has degree in design from National Academy of Arts in Milan, does much of the work. Prior to that – Prior to him – I was self taught.
[He is is not impressed with himself, but proud you can tell that he got it done!].
ES We all are Italians, we love arts and design, so not a surprise we do beautiful things. J
BB: How do you react to the comment that BitE [Blocks In The East] maps are ugly or garish…..?
Someone may agree. Probably today we would have done something better, or perhaps different is kinder ..no.?”) . Those first three games were the starting point of a new vision. Not at a level I want now. Everything must get better!
The worth of these games though is in the mechanics not the art.
The art in Blocks in the East is information rich, colors mean things, icons on the map mean things. And may be confusing for some novices Waterloo 200 on the other hand is a progression. Massive leaps forward in clarity, beauty and usability. I strive (is that the word?) to provide conveyance of utility to the player.
BB What other hobbies/interests do you have, and how (if at all) do they
feed into or influence your work as a designer?
ES: Besides Russian women and vodka?
BB:…..Right. I noticed one Russian lady provided her mostly naked rear profile for a marketing poster for you! Are you secretly the James Bond of Milan?
ES: Sheepish grin.
BB Right….ok. You’re also the publisher of your games. What made you decide to take that leap?
ES The Pope…June 2nd 4 years ago, He was inspirational to me during his visit to Milan for three days. Not very Catholic but I met him….
BB:…Wait a second. I have seen the poster, I’ve drunk the Vodka. Are you trying to tell me that your games are now Divinely inspired?
ES: Why…? Well it is more likely a co-incidence and I’m lucky. I had it in mind, but I needed a boost to get a start. Not an easy choice to quit nagging around and open a wargame company. The Pope did just that…somehow he inspired me, to go to the basement and start with the wood.
BB What are some of the challenges involved in publishing for yourself?
You do everything yourself. From prototype to finished product.
In Italy, it is hard to find people who wanted to work, as fast or as hard as Americans. I would ask a simple thing. Weeks would go by. So I taught myself everything. I found English speaking friends to help and I just did it.
One thing I could not do without was play testing partners This aspect was hard. It is easier to find people to drink beer with you. So. I take 5-6 guys with me to a beach house and feed them and provide beer, but they must play all morning and all night. The day they can go to the beach!
That is why I hired two younger people who were not corrupted by the cultural malaise that faces most youth: do you remember “The Untouchables”,
I trust people with better ideas, who are energetic bright young Italians! Who are now helping, who share my passion for excellence. We now have a team of three! Running a company is a bitch in Italy, a lot of taxes. You know we have 64% taxes on revenues while UK has 32% and Ireland 20%.
BB: How do you find time to live?
ES: Well, first I need to find the time to work. So no Facebook, no Whatsapp no chat. Those are the best companions to get distracted
BB: On the business front still are more of your customers located in the States, in Europe, or
ES: USA/APAC: 51% Italy 5%, the rest is Europe and the UK.
BB: Why so low in IL???
ES: As you can see my English is not good , most players are worse. We have a great history, but not a great historical culture. It’s amazing that a Country with such a short history as yours put much more effort to cultural and historical projects! Don’t get me wrong: I love my Country but when I see the entrepreneurship in the USA and the passion of wargamers there it makes me wonder why it is not the same here?!
BB: Does that pose any challenges (e.g., shipping costs, rules translations) and if so, how do you cope with/meet them?
ES: Shipping is a not a problem as we now have volume. Handling is a big issue. Getting extra people to help and pay them is hard. For shipping my cost is now 15-19 Euros per game. Free over a 100 Euro order..ahem shameless plug!
With rules translations, I write in English. I think in English for rules. Then have a proof reader. Even my history books I read in English.
BB: What draws you to a given era or battle?
ES: Reading, then gestation. Try to understand what happened and why and what could have been. Re reading again and again.
BB: What are you working on currently?
ES Moscow 41 should be out the door on or before July 15th instead of September. So 2 months early that’s unusual for a KS yes? So as you read this you might have it already!
[Post Interview Edit] BB: Yes I do !
BB: What projects are down the road?
ES: Leningrad ’41 It will possibly connect to Moscow ’41. Many games in my mind. Without any order. Pacific War, WWII, Cannae, but have not decide any of those yet. Ardennes, Normandy, a hypothetical successful Sea Lion…. Stalingrad, EL Almien. Zama… [He smiles again.. ] Many things Kevin. Many things!
BB: What do you want to do more of?
ES: Everything. We must go faster and do better and do more in customer service. – it’s a small world. So we have to be faster and better. Or be dead. We want everyone to play our games.
BB: What about more Waterloo 200 series?
ES: We have an expansion ready for W200. But it generates too little revenue, for the effort to produce and publish, it might work well for Quarte Bras as a stand alone? But no specific battles have baked in my head yet.
The IDEA chooses when the game is ready. So I must let the muse do its magic!
BB: Any last words?
ES: We have sold out: All Limited Editon’s. Just 30 left of 2nd edition BitE [Editor: that is 1970 copies sold!]. Just 200 of each left of Waterloo 200 and Battle for Germany. Amazing run, when I look back on it, in a few years we have sold a lot of product! For this we are mostly thankful to our customers who deal with my less than perfect English, my ‘different ideas’. I hope to always exceed your expectations and to be the best block wargame company in your minds! Thanks to for all the tireless support of playtesters and rules proofing people!