The Italian Design Scene, Part One: The Analysis

In the last few years we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of Italian games being produced and being made available in America. A lot of this is due to the hard work of Mayfair Games, Z-Man Games, Fantasy Flight Games, and to a lesser extent Rio Grande Games in getting Italian games to the American market, but I think we’re also seeing a new flood of Italian creativity, a renaissance if you would.

Over this week and next, I’m going to look at this Italian creativity, offering up my best outsider’s view of the Italian game design scene. First up I’m going to discuss some of the more analytical stuff, featuring a look at the character of Italian game design and the network of Italian game designers.

Thanks to Andrea Ligabue, who’s contributions to BoardGameNews gave me some insights for this article, and who was also kind enough to read early copies of these articles and to offer comments, clarifications, and additions.

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Bruno Faidutti: Professor of Chaos

Knucklebones CoverThis is a reprint of an article written in May, 2006 for first publication in the November, 2006 issue of the now-defunct Knucklebones magazine. Because of its origins, this article is more introductory and (hopefully) more polished than many of my online writings. Despite the original source of this article, this blog is in no way associated with Jones Publishing or Knucklebones Magazine.

Eurogames have been rocking the U.S. game market for almost a decade now. Most of them have traditionally come from German designers like Reiner Knizia and Klaus Teuber. However an increasing number of Eurogames are being designed by one of Germany’s closest neighbors: France.

Bruno Cathala (Shadows over Camelot), Serge Laget (Mare Nostrum), and Christophe Boelinger (Dungeon Twister) are just a few of the notable French designers whose games are now being published in the United States, thanks primarily to Days of Wonder and Asmodee Editions. However, the vanguard of French game design is Bruno Faidutti, with some 30 gaming titles to his name.

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The Golden Age of Board Games

“The Golden Age of Science Fiction is twelve.”

It’s a well-known quote popularized by David Hartwell in his essay of the same name. But, Hartwell never meant to say that we experience an age of wonder in our adolescence that cannot be replicated in adulthood. Instead, he claimed that the greatest wonder in science fiction comes when an individual is first introduced to it. The 1940s was not the true golden age of science-fiction, nor the 1960s, nor the 1980s; instead it was when each fan became a member of that culture.

When a reader is first introduced to science fiction, he enters a world of legends. He hears stories of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, rumors of a Rendezvous with Rama, perhaps even whisperings of Gene Wolfe’s multilayered Book of the New Sun. They become larger than life, and so they take on mythic proportions. When a reader finally consumes Asimov, Clarke, or Wolfe he is not just consuming the actual tales — those words that they wrote — but he also is consuming every thing he has ever been told about them, and every image he has ever conjured up in his mind to tell those tales that he had not yet read.

So it is with board games as well.
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Anatomy of a Game: Carcassonne, Part Four: Complexity & The Rivers

This is the fourth article in my series about Carcassonne. See part one for a discussion of the base game, part two for a discussion of tile distribution and balance in the expansions and part three for a discussion of cooperation, competition, and theming in the expansions.

There are many ways to expand a successful game system. Ticket to Ride continues to put out new editions of the game, featuring new maps and some new rules, an approach also seen in Empire Builder and other games.

Alhambra continues to publish small, distinct supplements which are easy to put into a game or take out, because they form very different game elements.

The Settlers of Catan has tried both approaches, with standalone games like The Settlers of the Stone Age and also distinct add-ons like The Seafarers of Catan and The Cities & Knights of Catan. It’s also offered semi-new games such as the Historical Scenarios, which are very similar to the standalone variants offered by other systems but reuse game components

Carcassonne, on the other hand, has centered its expansion policy on a different and somewhat dubious method. Hans im Glück just keeps on adding new tiles to the game, which once mixed in are somewhat difficult to pull out, unless you have tile distribution sheets showing you exactly what belongs and what doesn’t. In certain ways, Carcassonne shows how not to expand a game. Because tiles can’t be removed without work, the game keeps getting longer and longer and more and more complex.

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Last Season’s Hot Games: A Top Ten from Essen 2005, Part Two

Last October I wrote up a list of my top ten games from Essen ’05. In the six months since I’ve dutifully waited for those games to make their sometimes long, arduous trip from Europe, and have finally gotten to play all of them — or at least the nine that were actually released.

This is the second part of my review of those games, talking about what I liked and what I didn’t. In my first article in this series I covered the top five, a set of games that I thought were entirely worth playing. Here I’m going to cover a few more above average games, but also a few that I was in the end disappointed by.
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