In which I finally catch up with myself, and report on my recent trips to the Fira Jugar X Jugar in Granollers, Spain, and the UK Games Expo 2012 in Birmingham. What japes!
Last year, as regular readers will know since I have hardly failed to mention it, my game Oracle Pathway won the game design contest in Granollers, Spain, putting it on a path to publication by Asmodee as Divinare. The game is now available in Europe and the UK, and is currently being launched in the US at Origins.
I couldn’t visit Spain last year to receive my prize and see Oracle Pathway enjoy its celebrity (the dates clashed with the UK Games Expo), so I was very excited and honoured to be able to visit this year — invited by Oriol Comas i Coma, Director of the Fira Jugar X Jugar, and Haritz Solana of Asmodee — to see Divinare given a really fantastic and generous reception by everyone in Granollers.
But stepping off the train at Granollers Centre station I didn’t really know quite what to expect. Would the locals be friendly to the English interloper? Would the people collecting me even be able to spot me? (I needn’t have worried about that: I was the idiot who took three attempts to correctly put his train ticket into the barrier.) I was warmly greeted by Jordi and Stephane, who kindly ferried me to the hotel and then on to the fair on the other side of town.
The Fira Jugar X Jugar is just one part of the much larger Fira L’Ascensiò, so in addition to boardgames there were fantastic food stalls and markets, local and regional businesses, Catalan TV (more of them later), cars, a funfair and even some goats, cows and pigs — which, to all the gamers present, appeared to be some sort of live-action Agricola.
I arrived on the Thursday evening, the first day of the fair and just after opening, and was warmly greeted by Oriol, a game designer himself and a force of nature in the Spanish gaming community. One of the first people I was introduced to was Bascu, an illustrator whose credits include the artwork for the Fira Jugar X Jugar itself — a last-minute addition to which was his brilliant mini-portrait of me for the fair’s flyer! Bascu was also their volunteering along with many other enthusiastic gamers for the charity Ayudar Jugando whose goal is to improve the lives of disadvantaged children through games and other forms of play.
I also had the great pleasure of meeting and being entertained by the utterly irrepressible Magic Andreu who, for the sake of an expedient shorthand for UK readers, one might describe as Spain’s answer to Paul Daniels, but with better jokes. His daughter Joana, also a professional magician, was there too, entertaining the visitors and supporting their charity Sonrisas Sin Fronteras (Smiles Without Borders) which goes into hospitals to help children affected by cancer and their families.
So you see, within an hour of arriving in Granollers I had already met some amazing people! All of them welcoming and open and full of the joy and potential of games and playfulness.
A little later an entourage of local dignitaries moved through the marquee — shepherded by Enric Brufau the Director of the Fira de l’Ascensio (another force of nature!) — stopping to be amazed by Andreu and Joana, and then admiring the Spanish edition of the new 2-player Agricola published and demonstrated by Pol Cors of Homoludicus. I was introduced to them also, and shook everyone’s hands, although I could not tell you now who was who!
In another corner Toni Serradesanferm, the designer of 4 Monkeys, had pulled from his exceptionally large bag of prototypes a colourful, compact and inventive abstract called Skyline and had plenty of people ready and willing to play. There were lots of other Spanish game designers (both published and unpublished) at the fair, and the game design community seemed very strong, friendly and collegiate. Over the two days I was there, I got to play prototypes from Toni (Skyline and Sapiens), Diego Ibañez (Bajooli Xeel) and Pau More (Herbolaria) amongst others — apologies to those designers I have forgotten!
Haritz Solana had made the trip from Madrid by road (a 6-hour run, albeit one driven by his remarkably accommodating girlfriend Ainhoa!) and arrived a little later in the evening armed with boxes of games and a large quantity of Divinare posters. I was introduced more formally to the cheerful crew of 5 Minutos Por Juego — Stephane, Ribo and Israel — who were getting ready for a busy recording schedule of reviews and interviews over the coming days, including one with with me and Haritz.
So the scene was set for Friday, a local public holiday, when a much bigger crowd was expected (bigger still on Saturday). Haritz, Ainhoa and I enjoyed a late snack (well, late for an Englishman; Spaniards would think differently) from one of the amazing food stalls — I couldn’t tell you what I ate, but it was delicious and very Spanish. And while we were eating Enric bounded over and insisted on bringing us all a glass of the local bubbly, which was also delicious, and exceptionally Catalonian! Thank you Enric!
On the Friday there was lots to do, but the main event for me and for Divinare was a formal presentation in the smaller marquee. This was a rather grander affair than I was expecting, and a lot of fun. I lined up with Oriol, the Mayor of Granollers and Haritz to introduce the game and say a few words to the expectant audience (photo below is from Games & Co.). I am not now sure exactly what I did say, but I hope I adequately expressed both my excitement and my gratitude to everyone there. There is video of this event, but I don’t think it’s online just yet. Watch this space!
What is online however, is a segment broadcast on Catalan TV and recorded after the presentation. They interviewed me (with Haritz doing a great job as translator) and Oriol, and also filmed us playing a quick game — which, history should record, Oriol won easily! In the clip, I do look inexplicably glum while playing, which profoundly misrepresents my mood. The whole thing was fantastic, if slightly bewildering, and the reception to the game was universally enthusiastic. All day (and this continued on Saturday) people were coming up to me and asking me to sign their box of Divinare — and this experience taught me a very important lesson. I am afraid that several of the boxes I signed were done so in apparently effective but actually impermanent ink, a mistake we only realised the next day. Speak softly, designer, and carry a good pen!
Haritz and I had a great time being interviewed by, and introducing Divinare to, Stephane and Ribo of 5MPJ — the next edition of their webcast Mag 5 isn’t cooked yet, but watch out for it! — and Ribo sprang some interesting questions on me at the end. The final one was “What is your favourite game theme?” which caught me a little off guard. Stumbling around for an answer I eventually came up with “Landscape”, which on reflection I am rather pleased with. Good question, Ribo!
I had a great time playing a 6-player game of Toni Serradesanferm’s Sapiens, which, to use a crude analogy, was a sort of multiplayer Top Trumps. Given that the topics included the Spanish football league, I think I pulled off something of a coup to win, especially to win by such a large margin!
The fun and games continued, and in the evening I had a great time at the large dinner hosted by 5MPJ in the Hotel Granollers. It was fun chatting with Ribo and Israel about, amongst other things, J.K. Rowling, LOST and European politics, although not necessarily in that order. One thing: I’m not sure who actually paid for my dinner, but thank you to my unnamed benefactor!
We’d arrived back at the hotel to discover the lobby suddenly full of not only new guests but police officers. We later discovered the King (or possibly the Prince?) of Morocco, and clearly quite a few of his closest friends, had all arrived for a night or two. This put a crimp in our late-night gaming plans, since the conference room was unexpectedly full, but some of us did find space in the lobby. I broke out my prototype of Runaway Rabbits (more about that in Part 2!) which everyone seemed to enjoy, and we also played several different prototypes brought by Josep M. Allué — who I have so far forgotten to mention!
Josep is a very creative designer from Barcelona, and was another guest of the fair. His brand new game is Jinx, published in Spain by Homoludicus (and curiously marketed everywhere else as Dixit Jinx). He came armed with lots of great prototypes, including a neat card-based storytelling game, and also a fantastically silly card game about making facial expressions (a simple game whose rules I nevertheless found surprisingly hard to grasp at 1 o’clock in the morning!).
Saturday was my last day in Granollers, but my flight left Barcelona in the late afternoon so I had plenty of time to enjoy more of the fair and play more games, including a play of Pau More’s Herbolaria with Haritz and a profoundly unlucky Josep, seen below rolling a ‘1’. Again.
Oriol was keen to give Josep and I a personal tour of the old centre of Granollers, including its famous medieval covered market, the Porxada. This was a tour we undertook in some style, ferried there and back in a lemon-ochre, tank-like military bus: What else!?
But soon enough my Spanish adventure was coming to an end. It was a fantastic experience for me to see Divinare being played and enjoyed by so many people, and my heartfelt thanks goes out, once more, to everyone in Granollers who made me feel so welcome, with special thanks reserved for Haritz, Oriol and Enric for looking after me so generously!
You can look forward (if you want to) to news of my exploits at the UK Games Expo in Birmingham, in Part 2: Half a Pint of Cider.