Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last, you create what you will. -George Bernard Shaw
Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world yet we never hear about gaming. The market for social gaming in Brazil in 2014 is estimated to have reached $200 million and yet, little if anything, reached the common gaming forums. Well that has been our loss as we have missed some opportunities with our emphasis on European and North American designs. World markets may have gone global but that does not seem to include games.
We can pinpoint the inception of modern gaming in Brazil as something that happened in the 1970’s (in Brazil); something that has gone unnoticed in the remainder of the gaming world - that ‘something’ was Mario Seabra. In general game designers are not well known celebrities. There are a few that claim some fame for a short period but only a handful ever attain any real status. George Parker is probably the best known in the United States. (Sid Sackson and Charles Roberts would round out the trio.) In Brazil there was Mario Seabra. Born in Lisbon Portugal in 1931, Seabra would eventually become Brazil’s first professional game designer. His father had been a champion Chess player and introduced his son to games. For political reasons Mario Seabra moved to Brazil and began a very successful career in advertising. Then for one client he created a promotional game and that led him deeper down the path to full time design.
In 1974 he opened Grow with the publication of two games. War (Risk in Brazil) then joined the stable. Over his design period he would publish more than three dozen games including A Guerra do Yom Kippur (1981) which covered the Battle of Deversoir (Chinese Farm) during the 1973 Yom Kippur war. This was a hex and counter wargame and was packaged with two SPI games (Wurzburg and Strike Force 1) . It is the only war game designed and sold in Brazil at the time. (The Chinese Farm was based on a misidentification by Israeli troops. There was equipement on the farm that had Japanese lettering which the troops mistook for Chinese, thus the strange name.)
Like George Parker, Mario Seabra had designed or aided in the design of more than 1300 games. He enjoyed everything about games from rules to players. In the late 70’s Mr. Seabra began an index of classic board and card games. He rented a 16 room mansion in Sao Paulo and started a game club for all gamers known as Elo de Amadores de Jogos (Amatuer Gamers). Seabra arranged for a chef to cook during the game nights and groups as large as 150 would attend. At the club, games were played and prototypes explored. This is roughly the equivalent to a small game convention held every week!
Seabra had strong opinions about gaming. He suggested that people never stop gaming even after they have achieved adulthood. The nature of the game changes but people continue to play. He believed that the components themselves are part of the pleasure of playing a game and insisted on quality components in Grow games. (Grow games components are the equivalent to what one would find if the box had a Fantasy Flight logo on the side; the components are superior.) When asked about the future of board games, in particular in view of the exponential growth of video games, he replied that video games have two flaws. The first is that they are simply too repetitious; it is the same set of actions performed repeatedly with no strategic and little intellectual challenge. He suggested that Board games have been played for centuries and will continue to be played. The advantage that board games have over video games is the social component; board games are a catalyst for socialization.
His philosophy of game design was that games should emphasize thought, strategy, tactics and a dose of luck for spice. To demonstrate how advanced his designs were consider his only game in the Risk family. Risk in Brazil is named “War”. In 1981, Grow published Seabra’s design War II. (Consider that this is prior to the publication of Castle Risk.) Years later, the concepts he introduced in War II would resurface in European and American designs and be hailed as revolutionary. He introduced multiple use cards that would affect the game, something that is common in games today. This provided the player with multiple choices, the desire to do it all and yet be forced to select a single action. He introduced the concept of Dominance versus Control. This mechanism would reappear in History of the World (1991) and El Grande (1995) and be touted as a revolutionary concept. Remember this was a version of Risk. He introduced Strategic centers that would resurface as bases in 2210, Halo Wars, temples in Godstorm and capitals in Black Ops. With a single stroke he permanently eliminated the Australian problem by including a second connection - to India. He introduced battle wheels rather than dice and aircraft for strategic warfare. All of this was just in his variant for Risk.
Mario Seabra was a visionary designer and his influence on the Brazilian market cannot be overstated. His son, Carlos followed in his father’s path. Today there are at least two very interesting Brazilian designers who have only recently begun to appear in international markets. Andre Zatz and Sergio Haliban have done some excellent work to date. They seem experts at map design creating the greatest conflict with minimal intrusion of rules. Two of their older designs are Risk variants: Imperio Romano and Batalhas Mitologicas (what Godstorm should have been). They have enjoyed more than 20 published games to date. They teamed with Bruno Faidutti to develop Formula E and last year released Sheriff of Nottingham. In 2011 they won the Ludo Special Prize. It is apparent that this new generation of designers cut their teeth on Seabra’s designs.
Mario Seabra, the father of modern board gaming in Brazil and the first professional Brazilian game designer was as creative and inspiring as George Parker. He passed away in 2012. Sabra was the spark now it is the responsibility of others to fan those flames.