This last week I’ve been away in Italy at Play Modena, Italy’s biggest gaming convention. I was invited by Narrattiva, who did the awesome Italian Ghostlight Edition of Lovecraftesque, and was at the convention as a guest. It was a pretty interesting experience and I’m going to give you the highlights.
First things first: how do you say “Modena”? This seems to be quite a difficult thing for English people. We get tempted to say “Moderna”, which is wrong. I’ve been studying Italian over the last year and it didn’t help at all. So: the word is pronounced “Moh – duh – nuh“, with a rhythm and emphasis similar to how you say “modelling”.
At the time of the convention Italy was suffering major rainfall and some of the worst flooding its ever had, right near to Modena, something I only started to become aware of as I travelled over. Modena itself seemed unscathed (and indeed fairly dry by British standards) but my hosts were coming from Forli, in the region most affected by the floods. This made life very difficult for them as their daily 1-hour commute became over 4 hours. The convention organisers very kindly put me up in a local hotel and I’m very glad they did because some of the Narrattiva team were surviving on 4 hours sleep a night. But although a gaming con is hardly the most important thing during a disaster like this (several people died), it did affect footfall and some events had to be cancelled. The Narrattiva team stoically (and rather impressively) got on with it and, on a wing and a prayer, managed to keep the show on the road.
My first day was setting up the stall before the convention. A different experience from what I’m used to – the Narrattiva team had a sort of Ikea-style build-it-yourself booth which initially seemed like madness but looked very good once built. Even if the chaos around the floods meant they needed to do things unconventionally – see the video below for what I mean!
My first takeaway from the convention, on day 2, was that Italian gaming publishers are very showy. We had holographic displays on our booth, showing off the products Narrattiva produce. Next door was a massive table carved to look like a game board. Down the way, an area made up to look like a prison cell you could play Heroquest in. Massive battlemaps big enough to walk on, a room-sized Rubiks cube, and much more. They made UK conventions look a little boring. I’m honestly not sure how much of this is important and effective marketing, and how much is just an arms race of showing off. It does look very cool though.
At the convention my main activities were signing books and running games. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever signed so many books. I came in thinking Italy was the place in the world where our games are most popular and the convention confirmed it, with more copies of Lovecraftesque sold than we’d normally do at home. I was frequently approached by very enthusiastic fans who wanted to tell me how much they loved the game, and by designers whose games we have influenced. It was a bit like being a minor celebrity for the week, and that was rather lovely.
As for running games, the flooding meant that the printouts and other materials I had hoped to have never materialised. But luckily I came to the convention armed with a prototype set of cards for Lovecraftesque second edition. These proved invaluable and worked even better than they have during online playtesting. The cards made everything smoother and easier to explain, and the prompts helped to grease everyone’s creative wheels. This was so effective that we managed to play a speed run in 90 minutes, which I think is a record for me. (I think the ideal run time for Lovecraftesque is more like 3 hours, but it’s very easy to cut this down if you need to.)
Narrattiva had set up a 24-person “massive game” of Lovecraftesque (would have been 50 person but for the floods), which was a first for me. 7 or 8 individual games of Lovecraftesque were linked together. The premise was that the main character on each gaming table was the beneficiary of the same will: each character inherited a different house and also an item (which was provided as a physical prop in a box we had to open). There was also a “telegram” system where we could send messages to other tables if we wanted to. In the event, my table did a fairly ordinary (i.e. good, fun) game of Lovecraftesque, without making much use of the props or the telegrams, but I liked the idea of it and there was a certain buzz about playing the game in a room full of other people doing it at the same time.
Indeed my second big takeaway from the convention was the focus on play. Every booth in the convention had its own play area, and many “booths” were nothing more than a set of play tables. Organised play was a standard part of having a booth, and booking a session to play with me personally was part of Narrattiva’s sales pitch for the event. Offering massive/mega-games was an important part of the show. In the UK trade halls are essentially nothing but giant retail areas; they might be next door to a big play area, and the companies involved might offer games, but it all feels a bit separate. Given that we’re all interesting in gaming, presumably, to play games, this now feels a little odd. On a related note I heard from the organisers that they do something called “Play on tour” where they set up gaming tables at other (non-gaming) events around the country, including for example local festivals and scientific conferences. I would love it if we did that here in the UK.
Of course, there was also delicious food. I ate the local gnocco fritto, a kind of fried dough served with cheese and cured meat. Naturally there was also wonderful pasta. I had local wine (fizzy red wine served cold – unusual but very nice) and delightful limoncello brought to the convention by a fan of Lovecraftesque. I made myself into a typical Englishman by constantly asking for “un piccolo po di latte freddo” with my tea.
With the convention being in a peripheral part of town I only saw the centre of Modena on the morning before my return flight, but the convention organisers very kindly drove me in to have a little stroll around before rushing off to the airport.
I want to thank everyone at Narrattiva, particularly Michele, Pietro and Filippo (who acted as my translator on various occasions), and Matteo and Marco from the convention team, for being such wonderful hosts and managing to make my stay friction-free despite all the problems. I had a fantastic time and I hope to return one day.