This article originally appeared on VICE Sweden
Last year, Swedish game designer Alexander Kandiloros and his colleagues, Joakim Bergkvist and André Forsblom, decided to create a card game inspired by the notoriously strict door policy at Berghain in Berlin.
Berghain is arguably the world's most famous nightclub – not only for its cavernous rooms and fetish club in the basement, but also for how difficult it can be to get in. Every weekend, hundreds of fairly well-dressed techno lovers queue for hours, only to be seemingly arbitrarily turned away by the club's bouncers. For many clubbers, just getting in is an event of its own – you'll find countless how-to guides online and there's even an app telling hopeful visitors what to do and wear to increase their chances of being granted access to this mythical techno temple of doom.
Kandiloros, who is based in Gothenburg, Sweden, has been developing and distributing board games since 2011. In early 2017, he and his partners launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the initial funds needed to start distributing Berghain ze game – a card game where you take turns being a Berghain bouncer, tasked with letting the right people into your club.
But days before the end of the funding period, Kandiloros started to receive calls from lawyers representing Berghain, demanding any plans for production of the game be shut down. Kandiloros decided to rename the game "Bergnein", hoping this would appease the club's famously intimidating staff. It did not.
I spoke with Kandiloros to find out what it's like to piss off the most legendary club in the world, and why he doesn't just give up on his game.
VICE: Hi Alexander. How do you play Bergnein?
Alexander Kandiloros: Players take turns being the bouncer. You get cards with different types of clubbers on them, and it's your job to allow or refuse entry to those clubbers. The higher the status of a potential guest, the more points you get at the end of the game for allowing them in. Clubbers range from hipsters and bloggers to tourists and snobs. With the help of action cards, players can manipulate the queue to their advantage or to the detriment of the other players. The game ends when the queue is gone, and the player who allowed the most highly valued guests in, wins the game.
Where did you get the idea from?
One day, Joakim, Andre and I were joking around about creating an illustrated poster full of different subgroups of partygoers. The idea sort of grew from there, and combined with our love of techno music, eventually turned into the game it is now.
Tell me about the first time you heard from Berghain's lawyers.
They called me to find out why we hadn't asked them for permission to make the game. I replied that it was partly because it was our understanding that we didn't need their permission, and also because they scared us a little. The guy I spoke to laughed, and said that while they might have a reputation for being tough and intimidating, at the end of the day, they're just normal office workers, too.
The lawyer told me that the name 'Berghain' is trademarked in Germany. When I clarified that we had the trademark to use the name for a card game in Sweden, he was sort of stumped. He said that he'd get back to me within a week if he had anything more to add. Ten days later, we still hadn't heard from him, so we launched our Kickstarter campaign to raise kr 80,000 (£7,000). The game isn't exactly family friendly, so we knew it would be difficult to pitch it directly to the shops that normally sell our games. We wanted to get commitments directly from consumers before we'd launch.
Watch: How to talk your way into a club
What happened after you launched the Kickstarter campaign?
We actually managed to raise kr 70,000. However, with just a few days of fundraising left, our campaign was suddenly paused because Berghain's lawyers had complained with Kickstarter. That complaint worked – the campaign was cancelled, we lost all the money we'd raised and production ended up being delayed for seven months.
What was their complaint exactly?
Well, their reasoning was just absurd to me. For example, they said it was illegal for us to draw their guests without permission, and that their building – which we've drawn on the box – is trademarked and can't be depicted in any way. Trying to accommodate them, we changed the name from Berghain ze game – which, to be honest, was a little lazy to begin with – to Bergnein. But that wasn't enough.
Their famous head bouncer contacted us through a Swedish law firm, demanding that we pay them. The club had our Facebook page shut down and initiated legal proceedings against us in Germany, to ensure that we don't sell or market the game online. There's something flattering about them being so upset about our silly card game. But more than anything else, this whole thing is just exhausting, mentally and financially.
But apparently you're still not giving up?
Definitely not. After Kickstarter took down our campaign, we started accepting pre-orders directly from consumers, instead. In early October, we sent out the game to people in over 30 countries.
Since the legal process is still ongoing, it's hard to know how this will end. It would be nice if, at the very least, we don't lose any money. Considering all the legal costs, just breaking even would be amazing.
How are you so certain you're on the right side of the law, here?
Not only do I have a law degree, but I have a Master's in intellectual property law. So I know a little bit about intellectual property law. And while I realise that we're dangerously close to stepping into a grey area, I'm very confident we're on the right side of the law.
If you say it's just a silly game, why are you so intent on launching it?
It's just the sort of person I am. I need to finish whatever I'm working on in order to be able to move on to the next thing. When I put my heart into something, it takes priority over everything else – and if something's left half done, I can't have any peace of mind.
We contacted Berghain for their side of the story, but they so far haven't responded to repeated requests for comment.