How Obelix Turned into a Squirrel
I am a huge Asterix fan, so you can imagine that 10 years ago, I was very proud when Ravensburger Verlag published one of my games under the title "Asterix und die Römer" (Asterix and the Romans). And of course, the objective of the game was to beat up as many Roman soldiers as possible - did you expect anything else? Well, Asterix comics offer much more material for a game than simply beating up Roman soldiers.
I was, and still am, very taken with the story of the comic “Obelix GMBH & CO. KG” (Obelix and Co), where Obelix, experiencing a moment of pre-capitalist delusion, falls for the Romans' tricks. To be more precise, the Romans offered gold for his menhirs, and Obelix became the most important man of the village. Pretty soon, almost every Gaul produced menhirs, because everyone in the village strived to be the richest and most important man.
The Romans almost succeeded with their plan. Instead of chasing boars and Roman soldiers, all Gauls were busy with producing menhirs. But the Romans did not factor in the impact of Asterix and Miraculix ...
I came up with a racing game for this particular story that also required the capacity to remember: each player had a game piece representing a Gaul that he could maneuver along a circuit by means of die rolls. The fields of the circuit corresponded to cards that depicted different shapes of menhirs as well as interfering characters such as Asterix and Miraculix. A player who found a menhir could pick it up and move towards the Roman base, where he received gold. Two or three different menhirs increased the revenue even more.
However, a player who drew an interfering character card such as Asterix would tacitly put it down again, eagerly waiting for another player to draw the same card - and as soon as this occurred, gleefully shout "Asterix," thus scaring the other player to the point that he would lose one of his valuable menhirs.
With much love for detail and only equipped with carbon paper (scanners did not exist in those days), I created the design for the game board and the cards.
Full of expectation, I sent the game to Ravensburger Verlag, but a few weeks later I received a rejection. I was informed that another Asterix game was out of the question, given that my first Asterix game had not sold too well.
What a pity! But I refused to give up on the game, because I was convinced of its sound design. I decided that a new theme was needed. The menhirs turned into treasures, the Gauls morphed into brave knights, and instead of interfering characters, dragons took over the job of scaring players.
The dragons must have been a tad too scary, because Ravensburger Verlag didn't like this draft either.
Well, perhaps the new theme was not that innovative after all. With an aching heart, I finally decided to drop the game and bury it in a closet in the basement, next to various other abandoned prototypes.
Five years later, the German game publisher Goldsieber needed a game for its line "Maxis in der Minibox." Since I was involved in the editorial work for this line of games, I remembered one of the games buried my closet - the Asterix game. Although the game was received well, the theme still did not seem to be the right one. Finally, Fritz Gruber, a member of the editorial team, came up with the idea that saved the game. Why not dress up squirrels in armor? Of course, instead of hunting treasures squirrels would be collecting hazelnuts for the winter supply! It was not difficult to find interfering characters either. What squirrel wouldn't drop its hazelnuts and start running when a weasel, fox, or lynx approaches?
Well, this is how Obelix became a knight of the hazelnut.
And I was very happy when the game received the German Award for Children's Games in 1997.