Oriol Comas i Coma conducted this interview with me in August, 2005.
He translated it to French and used it in an article he wrote for the
February, 2006 issue of the French magazine Jeux sur un Plateau.

Interview with Robert Abbott
Oriol Comas i Coma

You are one of the best game inventors of the XXth century. The whole world games community agrees with that. But French gamers in general don’t know anything about you or your games. Could you introduce yourself to them?

Well, I myself think I’m one of the best game inventors, but I don’t know how many others would agree with that. A lot of people have told me I’m a “cult figure.” What that means is: only a few people know about me and I have trouble getting anything published. If you’re interested in the games I’ve created (and there aren’t really that many), a list is on my web site at www.logicmazes.com/games/.

The game inventor Alex Randolph thought I was great, but he often told me that I had no idea what appealed to people and I didn’t know how to get anything published. Alex tried to modify some of my games and turn them into forms that would be more accessible. His best effort here was Code 777.

According to Sid Sackson, the New York Game Associates (NYGA) was a very informal group with a very formal name. Great games designers like Sackson, Claude Soucie or yourself were NYGA members. Could you tell me about this group, its meetings, and its procedures?

Sid came up with the name NYGA just to make us sound important; otherwise we were like any five guys getting together to play games. Our other two members, Arthur and Wald Amberstone, were interesting. They created games that no one else seemed to be able to play. Of course, nothing of theirs was ever published, though Sid adapted one of their games for his book A Gamut of Games.

The best game group I was ever part of was our New York Mensa games group. I tested many of my games there, and Sid Sackson later became a part of the group and tested his games. Another member was Robin King, who could beat just about anybody at any game. She, along with her husband John McCallion, now write reviews for GAMES magazine.

When I left New York for Florida, I tried to form a games group in Palm Beach Mensa. I had no luck, and that’s unfortunate. The most important thing a game inventor can have is good players to test his ideas.

Your Eleusis is one of the most prestigious games of all times. It has been praised by reviewers, scholars, and writers. Your name appears in the best books about games. Your games are in the last editions of Hoyle’s. My experience is when I have showed an Abbott game to any group, gamers or not gamers, they are surprised first and astonished after. But, definitely you aren’t a successful author, in economic terms. What do you think about the games industry, in view of your experience?

Game companies in America were pretty creative up through the 1970s. The Milton Bradley company, especially, published clever abstract games. Then it was discovered that licensed properties (games based on TV shows or movies) could outsell anything else, so that was the end of creativity in games. Recently there has been a resurgence of serious games in Germany and that has caused a reaction in America. I haven’t played many of these games, but as far as I can tell they are mostly based on stories or themes. In my opinion, themes aren’t much better than licensed properties.

Video games have, of course, depressed the sales of board games, and today video games are very bad. They are mostly “first-person shooters,” where you just shoot at whatever appears on the screen. What is especially sad about this is video games in the 1970s were great, with clever puzzles and mazes. What caused the decline in these great games was simply advances in technology, something that can sometimes bring about a decline in creativity. With advanced technology, the games could have more realism, and instead of a top-down or side view, they could show a first-person. With increased realism and a first-person view, all you can do is shoot at things.

In the 1960s you had your best creative period in games. After that, you left games for logic mazes. In fact, now you are an authority on mazes. What’s the reason for that change?

I was getting nowhere with games and, at the same time, mazes sort of snuck up on me. In the October 1962 Scientific American there was a puzzle of mine that had maze-like elements. I created more puzzles like this and then I realized: these aren’t just puzzles, they are also mazes, and there is a special magic in mazes. In 1990, Mad Mazes, my first collection of these puzzles was published, and this field has been a big success for me. There are a lot of cornfield mazes that appear every summer in America, and at many of them there are one or more of my walk-through logic mazes. I should explain that these are small mazes, each with a special rule, like: “Don’t turn left.”

Your final game, Confusion, is according to you, your best game. Like other games of your creation, Confusion is different from the rest of the games (its special feature is that at the start of a game you don’t know how you can move your playing pieces). Some years ago, Franjos published it in Germany. But this edition is unavailable. Will it be republished again soon?

Confusion is an incredible game. If it were republished it could cause an upheaval in the world of strategy games. But I’m sure this will never happen. The Franjos edition, by the way, was pretty poor, so no chance of an upheaval there.

I tried to find a publisher in the 1980s. At the time Alex Randolph told me that no publisher is interested in a two-player strategy game, and he was right. Recently, people wrote me that there are new, more intelligent game publishers today, and I should try again. I revised my equipment for Confusion, wrote to several publishers, and again had no luck.

I’m not sure what to do now. I could try to publish it myself, but I’m afraid that would be too much work. I also think Confusion could work as a computer game (something with two screens), but this is beyond my technical knowledge.

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