BrettSpiel is a blog about board game design, written by game designer Brett J. Gilbert.

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Report: Premio Archimede 2008

In which I belatedly tell of my expedition to Venice to attend the prize-giving for the Premio Archimede 2008 game design competition, where I meet a horde of friendly game designers and assorted gaming professionals.

This is part 1 of my report. Part 2 will follow shortly!

The Premio Archimede game design competition is run every two years by studiogiochi, a Venice-based game design studio co-owned by the well-known Italian designer Leo Colovini. The competition, though based in Italy and well-supported by the country’s home-grown game design community, invites design submissions from across the globe. In 2008 I submitted a card game prototype called Amongst Thieves, which was selected as one of the 64 finalists (from a field of 125 submissions).

In October an international jury of gaming experts gathered in Venice to playtest the top 15 finalists (selected by the competition organizers) and to vote on the winner. The top 15 are not publicly announced before the prize-giving event, and the winner is in doubt until the final rounds of the live voting by the jury. Undeterred by this uncertainty I decided to make the trip to Venice to see for myself how the voting and prize-giving would unfold, and how successful (or otherwise!) my game might be.

To travel hopefully

The event was held on Saturday 4th Octber at the Tolentini convent, part of the campus of Venice’s IUAV University. Guided by the curious economics of European air travel, I decided to travel to Venice on the Friday and stayed for three nights. This meant I had plenty of time to get my bearings and explore the city. The Premio Archimede event coincided with the world-famous Venice Biennale (which in 2008 was in architecture mode) and the city was, even in early October, still full of visitors. Fortunately the weather was marvellous (and the tide low!) for the entire time I was there.

Image: The late afternoon sun meant Venice was looking its best on my arrival. The short walk from the bus station at Piazzale Roma to my hotel allowed me to scout out my route to the Tolentini convent (straight down the canal across the water in this photo), where the voting and prize-giving would take place the following day.

Image: On my first evening I took a trip along the Grand Canal (of course!) on one of the ubiquitous vaporetti, all the way to Piazza San Marco, the epicentre of tourist Venice.

Image: As the sun began to set I walked back to the hotel, crossing the famous Rialto bridge, from which, it seems, almost any photo taken will enevitably look like a Canaletto.

A meeting of minds

On the Saturday morning I made my way back to the IUAV building I’d checked out the day before to discover a small coterie of game designers already there and waiting for the doors to open. I recognised Leo Colovini who was marshalling the growing crowd and introduced myself, realising at the same time that I was (a) slightly overdressed and (b) likely to be the only native English speaker there. However, that second assumption didn’t last long, since I was immediately approached by Edward Volkert who, it transpired, had come all the way from California (beating my travel distance by approximately 7000 miles!). He worked out who I was having seen my Anglo-Saxon-sounding name on the list of finalists and having heard my English accent when speaking to Leo.

Both realising we were very much strangers in a strange land we became fast friends and were able to share our enjoyment of the day’s festivities together (and, more importantly, in English).

Games, games, games (and then some more)

Once inside Edward and I found all the finalist prototypes laid out in meeting hall — a remarkably varied and impressive exhibition! There was an amazing variety of games on display, some with lovingly crafted and extremely professional looking prototypes. Although all of them came with rules, most of these were in Italian, so it was frustratingly difficult to get any real idea of the gameplay in most cases.

Image: What, I wonder, is the collective noun for game designers? A ‘knizia’ perhaps, or maybe a ‘mechanism’? Now I come to think about it I guess the answer is obvious: a ‘board’.

Image:This last photo shows Edward’s fantastic looking entry Euphrates.

Image: And here is my entry Amongst Thieves! Eagle-eyed gamers might notice that my prototype shamelessly borrows graphics from the Days of Wonder release Queen’s Necklace (the character illustration on the central card, for example, and the illusration of the blue gem on the right).

Image:The main space used for the event had been laid out ready for the presentation, voting and prize-giving in the afternoon. Huddled in the distance in this photo are members of the international jury, still hard at work playtesting and deliberating on the games in the top 15.

We spent a while taking in the all the prototypes and musing on what laid in store for us in the afternoon. We knew the main event wasn’t scheduled to start for another few hours, at which time the top 15 designs would finally be announced and, after some preamble, the jury would vote live in front of the assembled audience. The excitement and tension were mounting! It seemed, therefore, an excellent time to have lunch.

Edward told me a little about how his interest in games and game design, and what had brought him to Venice. He’d only managed to enter the competition at the last minute earlier in the year, and had belatedly decided to tag on the Venice visit at the end of a European tour. He had certainly come a lot further than I on the hope of game design glory!

What’s a crushing defeat between friends?

After we returned to the hall, Edward introduced me to his game Euphrates. It had all the hallmarks of a classic eurogame: semi-cooperative city-building, resource management and a clever role selection mechanism. It was a great prototype!

We played a full game, which ended a little prematurely, it seemed, with me a runaway leader. Edward was candid about his ambitions for the design and the way in which he had changed some of the game’s maths in the hope of bringing the playing time down from over 2 hours to the ideal of 60–90 minutes suggested by the competition organizers.

Image: Edward takes me through the ins and outs of his game. He was, it must be said, terribly good-natured about my runaway win. Mind you, I was at every turn being given instruction on the sorts of decisions I might best make, so it was a hardly a victory laced with genuine success!

Edward’s last-minute changes had clearly made a bigger difference to the arc of the game’s narrative than he had intended, and meant that the really interesting strategic choices that he wanted to develop in the mid-game had been lost. But there was lots to like, especially the cunning role selection which seemed genuinely novel and had lots of potential. I don’t know whether Edward has since developed the game further or not, but I hope so!

There are plenty more photos in studiogiochi’s own gallery. This includes some informal shots of me and Edward looking like foreigners and playing Euphrates!

Part 2 coming soon… In which we discover the winner, Edward and I enjoy dinner with the gaming glitterati, and there is a thrilling twist in the tale!

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