Board Games Studies Colloquium

pieces Last week I gave a talk on race game mechanics at the 17th Colloquium of the Board Game Studies Association, a conference mostly about the history of traditional games, although there are always some talks about modern games. This year the theme was “from cardboard to keyboard and back again” and several talks (including mine) of the eclectic programme touched upon video games or computational aspects of board games.

The conference was featured in the local ITV news. The clip shows the display of old games and books in the conference room, and includes statements by conference organiser Eddie Duggan, by Dr Irving Finkel from the British Museum (you may have seen him in Games Brittannia), and by one of the student volunteers.

Speaking of students, they have a boardgame design module as part of their video game course and a session was set aside to play their creations. The students had to invent the game, write the rules down properly, playtest it (some wrote their own computer simulations!) and produce the prototype. I was quite impressed with the quality of the games and the good production values. You can read here a telegraphic summary of the games I played. Stupidly I forgot to take pictures, but the morris-like game appears in the TV clip.

I played one other unpublished prototype, by Niek Neuwahl, the designer of a unique race game, Das Gurkensolo. The protoype was a 2-player game where you try to fit 3D tetrominos into a cubic shape. He studied architecture, and therefore the visual and tactile aspects of a game are important to him, as for example in Aztec. I also watched David Parlett (Hare & Tortoisedesigner) play his newest creation, a race game where each player has to capture opponent pieces to reach the destination, but the fewer pieces a player has, the easier for them to win. An interesting dilemma.

I found all talks I attended – I had to skip the final two days of the conference – interesting. The range of participants (historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, collectors, designers, museum curators, mathematicians, etc.) provided for a wide variety of topics, including:

  • visual analysis of how interaction and choices vary (or not) during a game of Catan, Carcassonne, or Ticket to Ride
  • stone game boards, including a 4000 year old double sided board
  • gambling legislation in England during Tudor times and before, showing that economic interests may top moral ones
  • a unique Sumerian race game that uses two different dice, one modifying the roll of the other
  • use of 3D scanning, modeling and printing techniques to reconstruct old chess pieces (photo shows two damaged original ivory pieces laying on the table, and the larger scale 3D printed replicas with the completed base)
  • computers are improving the quality of new abstract games and are raising issues for human tournaments.

In the evenings there were film screenings. One of them was Going Cardboard, which features interviews with game designers, reviewers, publishers, shop keepers and collectors to give a multi-faceted view of the boardgame renaissance to the newcomers. The documentary is poorly filmed, recorded (with an annoying background beat while people talk), and edited, without any proper narrative flow. I think the quick succession of games and interviewees is more bewildering than enlightning for the un-initiated. Although there are some good bits, to boardgame geeks it’s very repetitive and doesn’t offer much new. Many attendees, including myself, left the room well before the 76 minutes were over.

It was the first time I attended this conference. It was well organised (many thanks to Eddie and his team) and I quite enjoyed it at various levels:

  • The talks provided a wider perspective on board games than one can get at modern games conventions.
  • I got some thought-provoking questions and comments on my talk, and useful pointers to further games or resources I’ll have to look at.
  • I had interesting conversations during breaks, for example with Niek about game design and publishing, and with Tom Werneck about the origins of Spiel des Jahres and Essen, and about the ethics of game juries.
  • I met Jorge Nuno Silva, who introduced me to the community and keeps mentioning a Portuguese conspiracy I know nothing of.

Next year, the conference takes place 15–18 April in the Swiss Museum of Games, on the shore of Lac Leman, near Montreux. Looking forward to it.


  1. by Jorge Nuno Silva, on June 1 2014 @ 3:31 pm
    You, and the rest of the world, will find out about the Portuguese Conspiracy soon enough!…

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