My acquaintance with Cole Wehrle began when I asked him for a favor. I was editing a wargames magazine and the publisher had asked me to run a review of Mark Simonitch's The US Civil War. I didn't have the game and didn't know anyone who did, so I went on BGG and started looking at the ratings and comments, hoping to find someone who thought highly of the game and might be interested in writing an article about it. I came across Cole's name, and had always enjoyed his writing, which included a very nice piece he wrote about my Northern Pacific. So the two of us were at least aware of one another, even if we were, in a very real sense, complete strangers.
So I asked this complete stranger if he could write something, and he said yes, and then he did, and it was probably one of the best pieces that ever ran in that mag: thoughtful, probing, stylish, nuanced, unafraid to embody contradictions rather than avoid them.
And almost as soon as he finished doing that favor for me, Mary and I immediately asked him for another. We were at that time scrambling to get Hollandspiele off the ground, and Cole had just had his first game, the original edition of Pax Pamir, published the previous year. We had heard of the game though we hadn't played it yet. But its reputation was strong enough that Mary suggested we ask him if he could do a game for us. He said yes, and the result was An Infamous Traffic.
I can't overstate the impact that Traffic had on our fledgling company and our lives. It handily outsold everything else we had done, getting us into the black only three months after we had started. Three months after that, we were doing well enough that I quit my day job, making Hollandspiele a full-time endeavor for both of us. It was supposed to be a way to make some side money, with "full time" being some pie-in-the-sky maybe-someday stuff, and almost immediately after we had started, here we were!
Not only was the game a success, but its success bled into our other games: suddenly a lot more eyes were paying attention to us, and we've been able to build on that over time. More eyes on Hollandspiele also meant more eyes on my own output as a designer. I had always figured that no one would really pay attention to my stuff - after all, no one really had before. But as a result of that larger audience, there are a fair number of people who are interested in my stuff, and particularly my weirder stuff, and that's deeply gratifying if occasionally nerve-wracking. More than that, Traffic itself proved hugely influential on my own work - I never would have dared grapple with This Guilty Land if not for the existence of An Infamous Traffic.
These last three years have probably been the happiest and most fulfilling of my life. I wake up every day astonished by the fact that I get to spend all day hanging out with my best friend and pushing counters around, and that's something, in a very real way, that I owe at least in part to Cole. And the thing is, he absolutely didn't have to take a chance on a weird little just-starting company with his second game. It was a kindness that still overwhelms and surprises me.
After Traffic, Cole continued to move from strength-to-strength, creating games that were both critical and commercial successes: John Company, Root, and Pax Pamir 2e. With the success of that last one, in particular, published through Cole's own company Wehrlegig via a quarter-million dollar kickstarter campaign, Mary and I knew going into 2019 that it likely wouldn't be in Cole's interest to renew the license for Traffic with us when it expired. We exchanged emails about it over this summer. Cole acknowledged that he would derive much greater benefit not renewing the license, but said, essentially, "I don't want to do anything that's going to hurt your company. If it will help you, let's renew."That was a lot of money to leave on the table like that. It was another act of kindness, and one I found deeply moving. But Mary and I didn't want him to do that, and so are letting the license expire after this year's Hollandays Sale. It's the first game we've had to say goodbye to, and I have a feeling it's going to be the hardest one to let go of. I might derive more pure pleasure from the Wehrle designs that followed, but I think An Infamous Traffic will always be one of my favorite games, and the one we're the most pleased to have published.