Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Italian Design Scene, Part Two: The Reference

Eurogames have gotten a lot more Italian in the last few years, and that's formed the basis of a spotlight on Italian game design this week and last.

Last week I started things off with an analysis, talking about style of design and the connectivity of the designers. This week I've put together a reference, listing Italian game awards and Italian game companies ... plus a fun geographical listing of Italian-themed games, whether they're Italian-designed or not.

Again, thanks to Andrea Ligabue for comments. He gave me the most help in this part of the article, in the section on Italian game companies. Also, thanks to everyone who offered comments on the first article, especially Andrea Angiolino, Frank Branham, Bruno Faidutti, Paolo Mori, and Angelo Porazzi. You all helped to make this second part better researched and more comprehensive.

Six More Degrees

Before I get into the meat of today's article, however, I want to include an update to my Six Degrees of Italy chart that I published in last week's article. Andrea Angiolino was kind enough to explain some additional connections that came about through GiocAreA, a gaming magazine published by Nexus. As a result the chart has been rearranged a bit to show both this magazine and the fact that Domenico di Giorgio also published with Quality Games. I also added Bang! due it its importance to the Italian game design scene, even though Emiliano Sciarro's only connectivity is through the company daVinci.

Just click on the thumbnail at right to view the complete chart. For comparison purpose, you can also view the original chart.

Italian Game Awards

One way to get familiar with the best Italian games is to look at Italian award winners. Currently there are three notable Italian awards: the Lucca Best of Show, the Lucca Best Unpublished Game and the Archimede Premio.

Lucca Comics & Games
is a convention held in Lucca, Italy.

Each year Lucca awards a "Best of Show" award for the best (Italian) game of the year. Most of the winners have been board games, though there's one RPG winner too:
  • 2000: Warangel by Angelo Porazzi
  • 2001: Le Saghe di Conquest by Paolo Vallerga & Valerio Porporato
  • 2002: Bang! by Emiliano Sciarra
  • 2003: Sine Requie (RPG) by Rose and Poison
  • 2004: War of the Ring by Marco Maggi, Francesco Nepitello, and Roberto di Meglio
  • 2005: Siena by Mario Papini
Lucca also gives an award to "Best Unpublished Game" in association with daVinci Games. Contestants are given a theme that they then design a game around, and the winner is guaranteed publication. Winners thus far are:
  • 2004: Lucca Citta by Alessandro Zucchini
  • 2005: F.A.T.A. (forthcoming) by Martina Mealli
Premio Archimede is another notable Italian award, and is also awarded for undesigned games. It's sponsored by Studiogiochi. The award is currently held every two years. The past winners are:
  • 1994: Algoritmo by Giacomo Dotta
  • 1995: Svicolando (unpublished) by Claudio Serravalli
  • 1996: Krakatoa (unpublished) by Walter Obert
  • 1998: Giano (unpublished) by Furio Ferri
  • 2000: Bisanzio (unpublished) by Alessandro Saragosa and Gnomoni by Duilio Carpitella
  • 2002: Magma (unpublished) by Carlo A. Rossi
  • 2004: Terra Nova by Rosanna Leocata and Gaetano Evola
Though the winners of the Premio Archimede don't necessarily have the greatest publication record, in most years 1-4 games from the top several were published. The 2004 awards are particularly notable, with the top four finishers all being published

Italian Game Companies

In closing up this overview of Italian game design, I've written a a quick overview of the game companies currently influencing the market. They show an interesting amount of variation. Some are American style design-and-publication houses, where designers create a company to publish their games; others are purely German-style development houses taking in game designs from external designers; a few are indie design houses who may or may not publish depending on whether they have to; and one even seems to be a Rio Grande style republication house. A fairly unique element in Italy seems to be the "studio", which is a group of designers working together, but who may not necessarily publish their own games.

Surely, game design is booming in Italy.

First here's the Italian game companies that are making an impact as far away as the United States:

Acchittocca. Solely a design studio with no publication plans, Acchittocca is a collection of four German designers. Thus far they've sold Leonardo da Vinci and Deadtective to Da Vinci Games as well as a deduction game to What's Your Game.

Angelo Porazzi Games. An indie design & publication company led by designer & artist Angelo Porazzi. Angelo's WarAngel game won Best Game not just at Lucca, but also at conventions in Acqui, Bolgona, and Milano. It's now being produced in a 10th anniversary edition. The Warangel Card Game, meanwhile, was one of the first indie games pick up by Hasbro Italy. Angelo's website also has some nice photo-reports of conventions in Italy and elsewhere.

Clementoni. A toy and puzzle manufacturer that's also put out a few interesting games.

Cogito Studio: A game design studio run by Carlo Rossi and Alessandro Zucchini which has since been absorbed into the Venice Connection and Studiogiochi. Zucchini of course won the first Lucca unpublished game design contest with Lucca Citta.

Da Vinci Games. A collection of over a half-dozen designers, Da Vinci is pretty much the definition of a designer-oriented publishing company. They burst onto the scene with the very American Bang! which won the 2002 Lucca Best of Show and was a huge success in Italy. It then won two awards at 2003 Origins, which speaks to its appeal in the States. Since then Da Vinci has knocked out a huge number of games and thanks to a distribution deal with Mayfair Games, most of those games have made it into the U.S. They games seem to generally be pretty light and family oriented, but with more recent releases like Fredericus, Oriente, and Palatinus, da Vinci seems to be pushing more toward Germanic fare, though of filler length. Leonardo da Vinci may be a considerable expansion into serious Eurogames. Together with Lucca Comics & Games, daVinci sponsors the unpublished game design contest at Lucca ... and publishes the winners.

Ghenos Games. Publishers of the car-racing game, Bolide, which got some attention last year, but nothing else to date.

Kidultgame. An Italian design & publication house led by Spartaco Albertarelli that is making games for the German market. Some of their games, including Diceland, Dice Run, and Polterdice are being sold in the U.S. by Mayfair. Although not well known in the United States, games like Coyote have nonetheless had an impact in Europe. They've also produced Leo Colovini designs, like Druids.

Mind the Move. Emanuele Ornella's development house which seems to do some publication too, with markedly higher production values beginning with Il Principe. He also did Fantasy Pub and Oltremare

Nexus Games. Founded way back in 1993, Nexus has been a contender in the Italian game market for a long time. As with most of the companies at that time, they started out publishing RPGs. (I actually had some of my RPG reviews published way back in their Nov/Dec 1993 issue of their Kaos magazine, #1.4.) By 1998 Nexus was publishing GiocAreA, a monthly gaming magazine founded by Domenico Di Giorgio, Roberta Barletta, and Andrea Angiolino. Under CEO Roberto di Meglio, Nexus really took off with the release of War of the Ring in 2004 (and its 2004 Lucca Best of Show win). Nexus nowadays seems to generally be producing serious games in the later American style, which explains their close relationship with Fantasy Flight Games. Where FFG publishes Nexus' War of the Ring, Marvel Heroes, and Wings of War, Nexus publishes FFG's Arkham Horror, Game of Thrones, and Runebound.

Venice Connection. One of the oldest surviving Italian design & publishing houses. Founded in 1995 by Leo Colovini, Dario de Toffoli, and Alex Randolph, it's primarily published games by Colovini and Randolph, with a few collaborations with one-shot designers. Venice Connection is a sister company to de Toffoli's Studiogiochi, which organizes the Premio Archimede. This year Studiogiochi-Venice Connection also acquired Studio Cogito.

What's Your Game. A small Italian publishing house that thus far has done new editions of foreign games, including: Big Manitou, Fairy Tale, and Reef Encounter. The latter two were reprinted for the U.S. market by Z-Man Games, while the former was published with Rio Grande, so as far as I can tell they don't have any regular U.S. distribution deal. They also seem to be putting out Italian editions of Caylus and Puerto Rico, so perhaps they'll turn out to be an Italian Rio Grande, except doing a few new games of their own too.

Zugames. According to their web site, Zugames is "a group of Italian authors that self-produce their ideas". To date Zugames appears to be an indie development and publication for one author: Mario Papini. He put out Feudo in 2004 and Siena in late 2005; the latter was also picked up by Z-Man Games.

And here's the companies that are making inroads into Europe, and have attended at least one Essen, but haven't made it to the United States yet:

Adesso ci Penso. Small producer of party games.

EG Games. Editrice Giochi. At one time a gamer's game company. They published Spartaco Albertarelli's Fair Play and Kaleidos as well as a few Alex Randolph designs (and even some Kramer & Knizia reprints). Now they seem more directed toward the mass market, with Italian versions of Monopoly and Risk and family games leading their catalog.

Hasbro Italy. The Italian branch of megacorp Hasbro. Besides Italian-language Hasbro properties, they also distribute the Warangel Card Game.

Postscriptum. A tiny indie design & publication house with just one game under their belt.

Red Omega Studio. A game design studio led by Piero Cioni, and publisher of games such as Crazy Rally and Tortuga.

Scribabs. Paolo Vallegra's indie design & publishing house. His La Saghe di Conquest is a Talisman-like game that won a Best of Show at Lucca 2001. The Scribabs games are being pretty actively sold in France and Germany.

Tenkigames. A brand-new company that's thus far been publishing the works of Piero Cioni and Red Omega Studio. Their works are multilingual and are being distributed all across Europe, so they may well be the next company that jumps the pond.

Finally, here's some defunct Italian companies. Most of them were part of the wargaming/roleplaying movement, spinning out of the successful movement in the United States:

International Team. 1979-1988. A publisher of wargames, and later the roleplaying game VII Legio, led by Renzo Angelosanto. By the mid-1980s they were occupying a similar niche in the Italian market as that held by Avalon Hill and SPI in the United States at their height. However, unlike more traditional wargaming companies, IT's simulations were often faster and simpler--some of the same paths that the German Game movement would later take. After International Team's bankruptcy in 1988 French/Italian Duccio Vitale picked up some of the games as the basis of Eurogames. (Years later, after Eurogames passed through Jeux Descartes, was briefly distributed by Cafe Games, and finally utterly absorbed by Asmodee, none of these games are still available.)

Quality Games. 1994-1998 An older Italian publishing house that was more roleplaying oriented, with fewer board games among their titles, and those mostly pretty small press. They're best known for their "giochi del 2000", a set of 23 games, including roleplaying games, game books, war games, and card games. Each cost just 2000 lira (or about a buck and a quarter USD at the time). A few of their authors have since done work for da Vinci.

Italian Game Reviews: Abracadabra (C), Bang! (B), Beetlez (D+), The Bridges of Shangrila (B), Cartagena (B-), Clans (A-), Dancing Dice (B+), Fredericus (C), Go West! (C+), Il Principe (B), King Me! (C), Lucca Citta (C), Lupus in Tabula (B), Mister Bill (C+), Moby Pick (B), Oltre Mare (B+), Oriente (C+), Ostrakon (C-), Palatinus (B-), Siena (C-), Tuchulcha (B).

Other Italian Resources

Besides awards and gaming companies, there also a few other elements of note to people interested in Italian game design.

Convivio in Bercatora. A designer's gaming convention. This link is to a session report by Piero Cioni.

Cosa Bolle in Pentola? Liga's regular column at BoardGameNews highlighting Italian designers.

IDeA G. A yearly meeting for Italian game designs founded by Walter Obert. This link is to a report from the 2006 second edition.

Inventori di Giochi. Apparently the biggest Italian web site about game design, but it's all in Italian so not of much use unless you speak the language.

The Games of Italy

One of the interesting things about so many new games coming out of Italy is that we're also seeing many more games with Italian themes. Sure, we had our Princes of Florence and Traders of Genoa before, but just in the past several months I've played Lucca Citta, Il Principe, and Siena, all Italian designs about Italy. Il Principe was particularly cool because you can can look at the map and see other games there. Siena, Venice, Florence, and Lucca all appear.

So, in closing up this article I've decided to deviate slightly from Italian designs to look at all the games about Italy.

Venice is the most popular location for games, with San Marco probably being the best well known, but Canal Grande, Venezia, Inkognito, The Venice Connection, and Doge all take place there as well. I'm sure there's smaller games that do too. The Patrons of Venice was one that I'd never heard of before, and there are doubtless others.

In surveying games, I managed to find eight other Italian cities for which mass-market games had been published: Florence, Genoa, Lucca, Ostia, Pisa, Pompeii, Rome, and Siena. Beyond that there are any number of games with maps of northern Italy (The Princes of the Renaissance, Il Principe) or all of Italy (Vino), and that doesn't even cover Italian-themed games without a solid geographical basis (La Citta, Palazzo).

I've put many of these games together into a single graphic:


There's a lot going on in Italian game design, and more and more of it seems to be making it to American shores. I'm looking forward to seeing what else this new Italian Renaissance has to bring.


Joe Gola said...

Great article.

Paul Kidd said...

What about Magna Grecia - set in Italy before it was Italy.

Shannon Appelcline said...

Coldfoot's the alaskan. I hail from sunny California.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Excellent, excellent.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for going on with the analysis of our games...
I'd liker to point out a couple of things. The first one is that the Best of Show prize has quite a longer tradition than just from 2000: it dates back to 1993, as the show itself. Since 1994 there are two sections, best Italian game and best translated game, plus sometimes runner-ups. Here you have the list of past prizes:
Besides, since 2004 there is a "Lifetime Achievement" prize. They have been so kind to award it to me in 2004, while in 2005 it has been awarded to the RPG author and game scholar Luca Giuliano (who is a professor and studies and teaches games at University level).
Among publishers I would quote Rose and Poison, who published a boardgame and several card games, and Dal Negro, who published a few boardgames (by Randolph and Ennio Peres) in early '90s, and many card games expecially by Maggi, Nepitello, Colovini up to recend days. They also licensed X-Bugs (Maggiu & Nepitello) by Nexus and Prendi e porta a casa (Sidoti) by Rose & Poison.



Anonymous said...

A couple notes more...

I would not call Qualitygame RPG oriented. They did large (Kupido, Algoritmo, Automarket) and small (Reggi un attimo, afterward licensed to Pressmann and then Amigo) boardgames. The little booklets were more a promotional item, then became a successful little product: RPGs were just there.

The "Palestra di Arkimede" unpublished games prize at Lucca Games (not to be confused with Premio Archimede - and the name has been later changed to avoid confusion) is also older: the oldest contest of that kind in Italy still held. It started in march 1994. Some more details about such contests here:

Editrice Giochi has been founded to publish Monopoli in 1936 and it has been a mass market priducer ever since (with Risk, for some time Cluedo and Dungeons & Dragons, and with Scarabeo that's a pretty close equivalent of Scrabble among the others). There have been some author games expecially with the EG Spiele trademark for the foreign market, but sadly with foreign names of authors on them (even more sadly, some with no name at all - often designed by Spartaco Albertarelli).

On the map I would add "San Gimignano" by Duilio Carpitella, published by Piatnik.

There are actually many games sets in Venice, but as every Italian guy I am so proud of my home town that I could even say that maybe there are a few more set there:
Of course I avoid to count exactly, so I can ignore if it's not true... ;)

A little typo: Emiliano Sciarra, not Sciarro.

Happy gaming!


Anonymous said...

I've read with strong interest your article and I'm writing this message just to specify that KidultGame is led by Andrea Verona and not by me.

I'm just the designer of some games published by Kidultgame.


Spartaco Albertarelli

Shannon Appelcline said...

Thanks for comments all. I'll be sure to include all your updates when and if I eventually revise this piece!

Anonymous said...

By the way, I'd like to quote the Cooperativa Un Sacco Alternativa - C.UnS.A. among the studios. NOt only because I worked a lot with them, but because they are maybe the most all-range studio in game designing in Italy. They (we) made boardgames, magazine games, TV games, radio games, computer games, Teletext games, Internet games, games for training and advertising and teaching, games for shows and festivals and exhibits... Quite hard to write down a full list. They started in 1978 designing Corteo, the first Italian hex-grid simulation (first editioon "I libri del No", second edition by Mondadori Giochi). They (we) designed games for other publishers, among them Dinoland for Clementoni and Quorum for Unicopli, several boardgames sold in newspaperkiosks by Arnaldo Curcio Editore and Sarpe (Barcellona, Spain) and attached to very popular magazines as L'Espresso. They self-produced Sessantotto. Among the little pool of designers, several of them (us) made boardgames, role-playing games, books on games on our own. Main contributors: Marco Bardella, Massimo Casa, Fabrizio Casa, Luca Giuliano, Stefano Giusti.

Anonymous said...

Another interesting fact: a few international designers moved to Italy. And they influenced us quite a lot: expecially Alex Randolph, among whose merits there is a rich Venetian school of designers (Colovini, De Toffoli, Maggi, Nepitello).
Here we are:

Anonymous said...

Spartaco Albertarelli wrote:
>I'm just the designer of some games published by Kidultgame.

And of many bestsellers by Editrice Giochi.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Shannon
If you want, you can found here all past editions of GiocArea, an online games magazine write in english by daVinci publisher: a good way to know news and older games in and out of Italy>
Kind regards, Walter Obert

Anonymous said...

My two cents about Italian games and their style (if they have any):

Shannon Appelcline said...

Thanks again for comments. I've definitely going to revise these articles into a v2.0 at some point, so let me know of anything else you think I missed or got wrong.