Last weekend saw the culmination of this year’s Europa Ludi game design contest in Granollers, Spain. My game The Gnomes of Hawthorn Hall was one of the 10 games selected for the final round, and so I excitedly packed my bags on Friday evening, and set the alarm, as cheerfully as possible, for 4:30am the next morning. I was making the trip with fellow Cambridge-based game designer Matt Dunstan, an Australian PhD student, whose game Wandering Monk was also a finalist.
The Gnomes of Hawthorn Hall: The dutiful gnomes do a little spot of gardening around one of the eponymous hawthorn trees. Those roses won’t plant themselves, after all!
The organizers had invited the authors of all 10 selected games to come to Granollers, and 9 out of 10 made the trip — including designers from as far away as Brazil and Canada! The weekend was a great opportunity for us all to meet the other designers and to play our games with each other and the public; and for me was a chance to meet again all my new friends that I had made when I visited the Fira Jugar X Jugar in Granollers in May.
To begin at the end, neither I nor Matt won a prize, but I certainly have no hesitation at all in offering my hearty congratulations to the four designers who did! Thanks and congratulations are also due to organisers Oriol Comas i Coma and Matthieu Nicolas, who successfully brought the Granollers and Boulogne-Billancourt contests together under one roof.
Things got underway on Saturday afternoon in the spartan interior of the Roca Umbert centre, a converted textile factory in the centre of Granollers. Below are photos of 8 of the finalist gamed designs, with apologies to designer Didier Masson whose abstract game Le Jeu des Colonnes Dégressives I failed to snap!
Etienne Espreman (second right) takes Pol Cors of Homoludicus (second left) and friends through the intricacies of his prize-winning game Bruxelles 1893. I was able to try the game later and really liked the action grid on the left, which packed a lot of game into a tight set of interrelated choices.
Jose Antonio Abascal Acebo (second right) holds court while explaining his neat little abstract game Damas Cantabras. I liked the way the game played like a sort of ‘parallel’ checkers, with one player on the white squares and the other on the black. The game was fast and offered lots of twisty and interesting positions
The Gnomes of Hawthorn Hall got lots of attention and plays over the weekend, and it was really interesting to see how different groups approached it; some polite and collegiate, some rather more cutthroat! Here, game designer Fran (second left) and illustrator Bascu (second right) — of whom, more later — joined friends to try out some gardening, gnome-style!
Fabien Chevillon (second left) oversees a play of his prize-winning game Les Diamantaires, a very clever, very lean design that I liked a lot. Fabien impressed everyone with the quality of his plastic chips(!) and the incredible simplicity and cunning of his bluffing and bidding game. Fabien is a financial trader, and said that the idea of the game was born of the banking crisis and the issue of ‘toxic assets’. Not just a game then, but a socio-political commentary, too!
I never got a chance to try out Prohis by Marc Brunnenkant (first right), which is a shame because I really liked the look of it. The game appeared to be a nice mix of bluff and luck, that played quickly and had some neat twists.
Fabiano Onça (first right) had travelled all the way from Brazil with his father (first left) to present his game The Raj. Fabiano was the first designer that I was introduced to, but I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to play his game, which was, like Les Diamantaires and Prohis, another bluffing game — definitely the most popular mechanism on show amongst the final 10!
Val d’Or by David Gauthier (second right) was another of the prize-winning games, and got lots of ‘good press’ from other players over the weekend. Mixing worker placement, tile-laying and even some memory, the game looks like a solid family strategy game with a neat physical element: the two crossing lanes of sliding mine wagons. Bravo David!
Haritz (Asmodee Spain), Perepau (designer of Sidibaba), and Stephane (from 5mpj) are joined by Stephane’s expert-gamer son in a game of Matt Dunstan’s Wandering Monk. I have been playtesting this game regularly with Matt since he began designed it, so know it well, I can also recognise most of the prototype’s components, donated from my abundant supply!
After a full afternoon and evening’s play on the Saturday, we all retired to the Hotel Granollers for a delicious and convivial dinner and some late-night gaming, this time mercifully uninterrupted by Moroccan dignitaries. I got a chance to introduce Gnomes to designer Josep M. Allué, who had brought along a copy of his newly published (and cheerfully silly) Baobab.
After a leisurely breakfast on Sunday, we all assembled for lots more games and gaming. A highlight was the alfresco ‘round table’ discussion about the designer-publisher relationship organised by Ludo and adjudicated by designer Toni Serradesanferm.
The long, rectangular, ‘round’ table. Left to right: Haritz Solana (Asmodee), Josep M. Allué (designer), Pol Cors (Homoludicus), Chechu Nieto (illustrator), Xavi Garriga (Devir), Perepau Llistosella (designer). Photo: Fran F G.
A very special mention and exceptional gratitude must also go out to Toni Giménez who volunteered on behalf of the organizers to help Matt and I by providing an impressive live translation from Spanish to English, both during the round table and the ceremony later on Sunday. He was also excellent company at Sunday’s excellent lunch at Roca Umbert, where we also had the great pleasure of meeting Vanessa and Miguel, two members of Barcelona’s Club Kritik who helped playtest some of the 40 prototypes submitted in the second round of the contest.
And, this being Spain, we didn’t have too long to wait after lunch for the awards ceremony at 5:00pm…
Tension mounts as designers, friends, local gamers, local dignitaries and local media await the big announcement (which I think was beamed live to a similar audience in Boulogne-Billancourt)!
The jury, sequestered all weekend, are finally revealed and take to the stage while Oriol wrestles with the microphone. Left to right: Martin Vidberg, Fina Manich, Tom Werneck, Matthieu Nicolas, Nadine Bogner, Samuel Schöpfer & Natacha Deshayes.
Etienne, Fabien and David receive their awards and pose for photos with Josep Mayoral, the Mayor of Granollers. Congratulations to you all!
Attentive readers will note that I previously mentioned four winners. The final, unseen awardee is Graeme Jahns of Canada, whose game Iron Horse Bandits got rave reviews. Graeme couldn’t be with us all in Granollers and I was told that the spare copy of his game had been held (for bizarre reasons, mostly to do with a paper cut-out gun) by Spanish customs. This meant that none of the designers had a chance to see or play the game, since the only copy in Granollers was with the jury for the whole weekend. Jury member Samuel Schöpfer explained the game to me at breakfast on Monday and I really, really liked the sound of it! Congratulations to you, Graeme!
Bascu surprised me after the ceremony with a gift: a copy of Café Race, designed by Fran F G (left) and illustrated by none other than Bascu himself (right). The double-signed copy now takes pride of place on (one of) my game shelves!
Many of the jury members and designers had planes to catch on Sunday evening, but I enjoyed drinks and tapas with jurors Samuel and Martin, designer Etienne, organizer Matthieu and volunteer Ribo from 5mpj who had been doing a fantastic job all weekend looking after the finalists, and also doing plenty of French-Spanish-English translation, too.
Later, back at the hotel, I was able to introduce them to one of my newer prototypes, Fly Away, Cormorant!. In it, the players are cormorants fighting over the best fish on a row of fishing boats (how quaint!), and must regularly interject in each other’s plans by shooing the other bird away with a cheerful cry of “Fly away, cormorant!” However, it is worth noting that everyone was far more at home using the game’s original and — how shall I put this? — rather less family-friendly phraseology.
I was in no rush get home on Monday, so spent a leisurely day in Granollers and Barcelona with Samuel who was not flying back to Switzerland until the evening. I thoroughly enjoyed my return trip to Granollers, and very much hope to be able to visit again. Many thanks to everyone involved in Europa Ludi, both in Spain and France, and to all the designers and gamers who made the weekend such a fantastic and enjoyable success. To end, I would like to share the words of a fellow finalist who admirably summed up my own sentiment in an email to all the designers this week:
Joining the contest looked like a solo race: sending the rules, crossing the fingers to be selected, sending the prototypes. Finally, it turned into a real event and it was a pleasure to talk with the organizers, share experiences with the other authors, and watch ‘everyday gamers’ playing the games.
I had the feeling of meeting friends from my childhood that I had not seen for a couple of decades.
The whole contest was a game, and I enjoyed playing it!