ESPECIAL Klemens FranZ

ART&abuleiro à conversa com o ilustrador Klemens Franz


"...I think educational games have to fail, when they want to educate too obviousely. I believe the real potential of games lies in their power to create interest for a specific topic. People are sitting around a table and create worlds, images and stories in their mind - all while having a good time. That's an incredible powerful process!..."


Agricola of PortugaL


Gil - Tell us a little bit about yourself. When did you start to work with illustrations and how this path led you to board games?

Klemens - Well, I'm 33 years old, married and our 4th child should come in July. I worked as a new media assiastant at an university for about 6 years. Before that I went to an art school in Graz (Austria). Illustration and graphic design was more or less a hobby beside my regural job. I never intended to become a board game illustrator ... it somehow happend when Hanno Girke from Lookout games announced an illustration competition for "Die Drachenbändiger von Zavandor". I won and at the games fair in Essen 2006 Hanno asked me to illustrate Agricola. The impact Agricola opened some doors for me and I more or less took this once-in-a-lifetime chance.


Gil - How many games have you done the artwork for, and in which projects are you working right now?

Klemens - I've worked on over 60 games - but the ones where I only did the graphic design are included, too. If I only count the games I illustrated without expansions: about 40.
Right now I've finished working on the 2-player version of Agricola (Lookout Games) and Milestones for eggertspiele. My next projects are boardgames for Lookout Games, eggertspiele and Amigo. I can't go into detail because they still are in an early phase but I'm really happy that 2 of these games are (co)created by my friend Alex Pfister with whom I worked together before.



Gil - Your style varies from the more “serious” or to the more cartoonish, how do you coordinate the line of work for the different styles of board games?

Klemens - Style is a difficult question. I have the Lookout style that somehow became typical for the big Uwe Rosenberg games - although I tried something different for Merkator. Yes, it's cartoonish and I would say even a little bit naiv but it takes a lot of weight out of this heavy games. At least that's what I get as feedback from gamers. I'm always happy if publishers ask me to do something different like Amigo did with The CITY. In most cases the coordination of differnt styles isn't a problem, because a) I try to focus on one project for a longer time, which never really works and therefore b) I think that the switching is a good training for my brain ;-)


Gil - Besides board games, do you do illustrations for any other media?
Klemens - I did illustrate for a child magazine that focused on topics regarding protection of the environment, but as I mentioned before I more or less stumbled into this job. And now I try to concentrate on boardgames.

Gil - where do you get your inspiration and how do you do the research for your drawings?
Klemens - Books. Getting a new assinment is always a great excuse for ordering tons of books. You can never have enough books. The internet is a source too, but not as omnipotent as one might think. Of course it is great to look through the awesome work presented on e.g. deviantart, but when it come to specific topics (Ora et Labora - medieval cloister just one example) the internet is surprisingly fruitless. And of course I have my own boardgames collection to look at how things were done in other games – not in the way they look but rather how they work usability-wise.


Gil - How do you credit the success of a game to its illustrations? How important they are to the success of a game?
Klemens - That's another difficult one. I think good illustrations are extremely important for the wider sucesss of a game. A game with poor optics might be bought by the hardcore gamers, but every publisher that's aiming for a wider audience has to deliver a certain level. But on the other hand I don't believe that the illustrator itself is that important. A really good game will sell, no matter if the illustrations are created by Mr. X or Mrs.Y or Team Z as long as they are well done. Of course, if a publisher wants a specific style for it's game that's another thing. I don't want to say that we are all exchangable, but I believe that the mix is important: A good boardgame consist of a good production, a good marketing, an excellent game and high quality illustrations (I defenitlely missed something). But I believe that various persions could fill this formula - not just one in particular. I hope that came across right!

Gil - Which are your favorite games and your favorite games designers?

Klemens - My favourite games change a lot. I started with Settlers of Catan, I loved Carcassonne, I played Agricola a lot! Right now I favor games with a deep story and atmosphere. I cought myself becoming an Ameritrasher ;-) . One of my favorite games is Defenders of the Realm because it delivers so much. It's easy to play, deeply immersive and cooperative. Other games I played a lot: Cartagena, Drakon, Diamant, Talisman, Dice Run, Tsuro, Lost Cities, Tom Tube, Fearsom Floors, Return of the Heroes, Trans America, Goldland ...                             

Gil - Do you think that board games can be use for an education purpose?

Klemens - Yes and no. I think educational games have to fail, when they want to educate too obviousely. I believe the real potential of games lies in their power to create interest for a specific topic. People are sitting around a table and create worlds, images and stories in their mind - all while having a good time. That's an incredible powerful process! On the other hand games can be used to try out different things in a limited and save environment. We all have to follow the rules to make this system work (I really like the sytemic approach to look at things). So yes, we learn a lot, of course. But to make my first point a little bit clearer: Games ar no good for learning facts by heart. They can support a learning process on so many levels but not in a "classic" way of direct-knowledge transfer.

Gil - What you know about Portugal? Have you ever visited Portugal? 
Klemens - No, I never visited Portugal. But if you ask me for the first things that come in mind, when hearing "Portugal": Lissabon (obviously), Carnation Revolution (I had to google this translation and I honestly only know the name and not the entire history behind that revolution), this great University (wikipedia helped me: I mean Coimbra), food and wine (I love to cook and have a Portuguese cooking book in my shelf) and of course - even if I don't like that sport at all - soccer/football. If I have to sum that up: Rich culture for a small country.

Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, and we hope to see many more of your artwork in the future.