Interview with Silvano Sorrentino, creator of Deckscape and Decktective

1) Can you give us some background on yourself first please? What attracted you to board game design, have you always played board games?

Hi, I’m Silvano Sorrentino, I’m from 1974 and I am born and still live in Bari, in the South of Italy.
From the very early years of school, when I was a child, I remember that I really enjoyed playing board games, mostly thanks to my sister, who is five years older, patiently teaching me the first games. At the same time, I recall that even when I was 10 years old, I enjoyed inventing new games. I still have hand-drawn prototypes at home. I usually tried to recreate my own versions of games I played at friends’ houses or attempted to invent rules based on images of games available at the time, which I saw in comic book advertisements. I couldn’t convince my parents to gift me ALL of these games so I had to invent my own!

Recently, I found a game in my drawers I hand-drew in 1987 (do the math!) where one had to observe crime scene photos and other clues to solve a museum theft case. The solution to the case is brilliant, and I am still trying to figure out if I had copied it from somewhere or if it was my own creation. In the latter case, you might find it in one of the upcoming Decktective games.

Deckscape creator Silvano
Silvano Sorrentino

2) In follow up to question 1 what lead you specifically to developing Deckscape and Decktective given that you’ve published multiple other games before and since?

For over twenty years, I’ve also been working as a game and puzzle author for various magazines, creating literally hundreds of puzzles similar to those found in the early escape rooms—a phenomenon that only exploded in Italy a few years ago.

Two games convinced me that creating a boxed escape room could be a good idea: Nintendo’s Professor Layton video game series and the first Escape the Room by Thinkfun that I managed to get and play in English. It simulated a physical escape room quite well using various materials in a rather expensive box, for a one-shot game.

So, the idea was to focus on a cheaper, card-only escape room. I should add that it was quite innovative at the time since future competitors like Exit and Unlock hadn’t been announced yet. I guess several authors around the world had the same insight at the same time.

I proposed the idea to DV Games in 2015, and they liked it immediately. Their winning move was to team me up with a young and talented co-author, Martino Chiacchiera. Martino excels in creating game interfaces and has particularly imaginative ideas, while I am inclined towards creating very logical and stringent puzzles. The combination of these two very different personalities led to the rapid creation of the first Deckscape with a lot of different kinds of puzzles.

“led to the rapid creation of the first Deckscape”

The creation of Decktective, on the other hand, stems from the consideration that after escape rooms, many players might also appreciate murder mysteries. Conceptually similar, they involve solving many small puzzles embedded in a story. In this case as well, we were among the first to create card-only murder mysteries, although many have entered the market since then.

3) How do you approach the design of a new game? Does an idea suddenly come upon you and you start designing the rest of the game around it or do you first come up with a theme which you want to put a puzzle to? In follow up to this story is clearly important to your games – how do you make sure that’s conveyed to your players?

Speaking about the Deckscape series, there isn’t a single answer. Often, we start with a setting agreed upon with the publisher that could appeal to a broad audience, but the process has always been a bit different. Generally, we try to tell the story through the puzzles, thanks to the absolute freedom provided by the game system. It doesn’t constrain us, for example, to always have a number or code as the answer, as in some other games.

In some cases, we wrote the entire story first, sketching out placeholder puzzles, as in the case of “Deckscape: Dracula’s Castle”. For example: “Here, we need three puzzles where we face three monsters in the castle separately.”

In other instances, we first thought of two or three “core” puzzles (like the maze encountered in “Deckscape: In Wonderland”) and tried to write a story to smoothly connect the puzzles. However, in any case, things usually progress together, much like writing the music and lyrics of a song.

4) How, in your eyes, have the two series evolved since you first designed them? Are there any future developments we can look out for?

Deckscape has always undergone significant changes from one adventure to another. Every time, we try to create new “constraints” that both offer something fresh to players and force us to invent entirely different puzzles. Here are some particularly striking examples:

  • In “Deckscape: The Mystery of Eldorado,” we decided to leverage an Indiana Jones-like setting to force ourselves not to use any puzzles based on codes, numbers, or the like.
  • In “Deckscape: Heist in Venice,” we gave each player a card with information known only to their character, part of a band of thieves.
  • In the recent “Deckscape: Tokyo Blackout,” we made the most of a poster that opens and closes to reveal the city scene you interact with in various ways.

As for the next adventure – about which we can’t talk yet – we’ve set even tighter limits on ourselves, again to force us to come up with entirely new and, hopefully, surprising ideas for the players. Honestly, we would have gotten bored creating 11 identical games, and fans of the series would have noticed.

5) Do you have any advice for the aspiring board game designer out there?

Read, study, and learn many other things besides game design. Since it’s a highly creative job, everything you can do will be useful at some point. In addition to obvious skills like drawing or using software, personally, I think it has been beneficial for me over the years to know various things: from the language of comics to origami, from probability theory to building with Lego, from books on graphic interfaces to those on advertising… Everything you know will come in handy sooner or later. Also, read some good game design books and the rules of all the games you come across!

6) Can you speak more to where you get your inspiration from when in the design process?

The thing that gives me the greatest push is encountering games that haven’t convinced me in some aspects and thinking about how I would have done them. Then, I write that game, which is usually very different from the game that inspired it. This is generally the first piece of advice I give to anyone wanting to create a puzzle-based game, like an escape room or a deductive one: try reading a puzzle or a detective novel and stop before reading the solution. Formulate your solution and note it down. If it’s wrong and different from the one intended by the author… you’ve just created the draft of a new puzzle that you can modify and refine, turning it into your own creation! For all my other games, I usually like to first think about a particular group of friends I’d like to play with, and then I write the game based on their preferences.

7) Finally can you give us any teasers of what’s next for Deckscape and Decktective?

I can’t reveal too much, but rest assured that there will be more adventures for both games. Currently, we are playtesting the next Deckscape, which will certainly please those who love fantasy worlds. And as usual, there will be significant innovations for fans of both series.

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