In which I complete the story of my trip to Venice to attend the Premio Archimede 2008 prize-giving, where the winner is revealed, dinner is eaten, and I meet Leo Colovini at the offices of studiogiochi.
In part 1 I travelled to Venice to discover how my game Amongst Thieves would fare in the final round of the Premio Archimede game design competition. There were plenty of classy looking prototypes in the running, including Euphrates by Edward Volkert, an American designer. He and I shared lunch, a game of Euphrates, and the wait until the main event later in the afternoon…
The moment of truth
Soon everything was in place and the Big Reveal seemed ready, at last, to be revealed! Although most of the presentation was in Italian (of course), both Leo Colovini and Niek Neuwahl (the jury president) were mindful of the few English speakers in the audience and provided translation at key moments.
After an introduction, and a dedication of this year’s prize to Alex Randolph, a leading light of game design who was president of the Premio Archimede competition for many years before his death in 2004, Niek announced the top 15 games that would go through to the live voting. At each announcement he introduced the game and then its designer, asking him to stand (if he was present in the audience) and receive polite applause.
And when I heard Niek, in English, announce Amongst Thieves as one of the top 15 I was a little dumb-founded! I duly stood up and was acknowledged by the audience; but after I sat down Niek said something in Italian that elicited a second round of applause. I looked around slightly bemused and embarrassed; but Niek explained (in English this time) that I was being congratulated as being the only overseas designer in the top 15 who had made the trip to Italy!
As each game was announced, the name was stuck onto the large red scoreboard, and the voting procedure for choosing the winner started to become clear. Once the 15 games had been named, the jurors each placed seven ballots into the boxes. Each juror was awarded points to their top seven, awarding 7 points to their top pick, 6 points to their second favourite, etc. Once this was done the votes were counted, in a procedure reminiscent of the Eurovision song contest!
First all the 1-point votes were counted, each one represented by a small cube placed into columns on the towering scoreboard. Then all the 2-point votes, and so on, meaning that it wasn’t until the final rounds that the likely winners began to emerge.
Amongst Thieves received several votes in the early rounds, and my heart was in my mouth whenever my game was named. I think the experience of waiting for the votes to be announced was one of the the most alarmingly exciting things to happen to me in a very long time! My game started well, but in the later rounds I fell rapidly behind the leaders. As you can see in the photo, in the end the winner received so many points that its score was, quite literally, off the chart!
The two games vying for the top spot were Lorenzo il Magnifico by Paolo Mori, and Strada Romana by Walter Obert; only when the final few votes were announced was Paolo’s entry revealed as the jury’s favourite.
My final position was what I consider to be a very creditable 9th place. There was a special award for the best card game, and in these terms I did even better — Amongst Thieves was considered the second best card game in the competition, missing out to Portobello Road by Simone Luciani, which was placed 7th overall.
There was much congratulatory handshaking and awarding of trophies; I went away with my pick of a board game and puzzle provided by two of the event’s sponsors (an Italian edition of Knizia’s Beowulf: The Movie Game and a jigsaw of, randomly, Prague). These prizes presented their own logisitical challenges however, since I had travelled light and had no room for them in my luggage! (This meant a trip to the post office on Monday where an exceptionally helpful and forgiving post-mistress parcelled my two boxes up for me. Thank you nice lady!)
Dinner is served
In the evening there was a celebratory dinner arranged at a Venetian eatery and both Edward and I had signed up. I met him in his hotel for a pre-dinner whiskey (how very colonial) and then convened once again at the IAUV before being led through the dark backstreets of Venice to the restaurant.
There were several members of the international jury in attendance, including Phillip Sprick of Ravensburger. He chatted with us about his work discovering new games and developing them for publication (I think he constantly tours Europe and the world on the lookout for good ideas!), and he was very complementary about Amongst Thieves (he must, I believe, have given it the largest single number of points it received since he said he had rated it in 4th place).
The dinner was a pretty hectic affair, with the small restaurant rather swamped by the turnout, but everyone was very friendly, even if most conversation relied rather more heavily on other people’s English than it did on my Italian (or German)!
And halfway through dinner Leo Colovini invited me to come meet him again the next day at the studiogiochi offices in Venice to discuss Amongst Thieves. Part of studiogiochi’s business is to develop and market not only ideas originated by Leo and his colleagues, but also those from other designers. Leo wanted studiogiochi to be an agent for Amongst Thieves!
Edward and I said our goodbyes after the dinner; he was leaving Venice the next day and flying home to San Francisco soon after. It had been good meet him and share the day’s adventures. Bon voyage, Edward!
The business of games
On Sunday morning I made my way through Venice’s labyrinthine streets to the studiogiochi offices. (Fortunately Leo had drawn a map; I had their address, of course, but Leo had said it would be ‘useless’ given Venice’s arcane geography.)
Leo explained a bit of studiogiochi’s history: it had started out as the publisher Venice Connection (publishing several of Leo’s designs) but the logistical demands of manufacture and publication meant that not enough of their collective efforts were being dedicated to bit of the business they most enjoyed: game design and development. So they sold the Venice Connection brand and set-up studiogiochi to continue their work, now without the worry of the actual making and selling of their games; instead they could focus on being an ‘ideas factory’.
Leo also gave me the exciting news that Phillip Sprick (the jury member who had been so complmentary the night before) had already taken my Amongst Thieves prototype away with him so that he could review and playtest it in more depth back at Ravensburger HQ. Plus, Leo wanted four more copies of the prototypes to take with him to the forthcoming games fair in Essen, the single biggest annual industry event of the gaming world, which was taking place in just a few weeks’ time.
I wished Leo and everyone at studiogiochi well in their endeavours (particularly those on my behalf!) and bid them farewell. My Premio Archimede adventure had come to an end, although I still had two days left in Venice before I flew home. Onward!
A little bit of homework
When I got home, then, there was some work to be done. Since I had to make four copies I couldn’t rely on repurposing the odd cardboard game box picked up in a charity shop, since I didn’t have four matching ones. However, I found a wonderful commercially produced alternative: it seems the Really Useful Box company does indeed live up to its name! Each deck requires 78 cards, so that’s 312 that needed printing in total. All of them double-sided. That’s quite a lot of work — and stationery supplies! and printer ink! — but once I’d gotten into the swing of it things went along very smoothly.
The cards were a millimetre-perfect fit when oriented vertically within the boxes, but the rules needed a little bit of reformatting and general jiggery-pokery to make it simple to print A4 sheets that could be cut down and then folded neatly to slot in beside them. The box inserts are made from strips of cardboard that I printed, cut, folded and glued. All-in-all a job well done, I think!
The four prototypes were parcelled up and sent off to Italy, and I know they were then taken to Essen, where Leo and friends introduced the game (and dispensed the prototypes) to four European games publishers. As of the date of this post there are no major developments to report, but I know the game is still being actively considered. Fingers are, needless to say, very much crossed!
They say patience is a virtue; but why does it have to involve so much waiting?