PLAY 2018 – Modena, Italy

In a world where board and tabletop games are becoming an increasingly popular hobby, conventions are the right – and often the only – place to explore what’s new or will be new on the market, what occasional players like and what habitual gamers look for. If Germans have Essen Spiel and Americans have GenCon, Italians have PLAY, and we are very proud of it!

PLAY takes place every year at the beginning of April at the trade fair center of Modena, in the north of Italy. Last weekend a peaceful army of 40.000 visitors reached the city known for its sports car factories and good food with a total different aim: playing, playing and, again, playing.

I was honored to have the opportunity to attend the 10th edition of this awesome trade show as a MeepleGamer!

For its 10th anniversary, PLAY introduced big news: Play KIDS and Play TRADE.

A whole new pavilion dedicated to children and family games was packed with kids of all ages for three days of plain fun.

Play TRADE, on the other hand, was conceived as a unique chance for game publishers, authors, distributors, shops and bloggers to meet up and talk about the latest products, forthcoming projects and possible collaborations. It’s been a great experience for me and I am glad I could see well in advance some of the games which we will all play in the next years.

My three days at PLAY were fun and packed with games, thrilling encounters and interesting talks. It would take me forever to describe everything I saw, so I decided to share here what I tried and liked best or what I perceived gamers appreciated the most.

Ghenos Games brought to Italy Azul (2017), the famous abstract game where players draft colored tiles (the “azulejos”) and place them on their board following a specific pattern.

By the same publisher, we re-tried the classic worker placement Viticulture Essential Edition (2015) with the expansion Tuscany (2014): taking care of vineyards and growing different grape varieties has never been so satisfying.

Placentia Games presented officially the all-Italian Wendake (2017) following a very successful Kickstarter campaign. At PLAY it was possible to meet the author Danilo Sabia and play with him. His knowledge of the Wyandot People who lived in the Great Lakes region makes this an extremely solid title which mixes effectively different mechanics, from area control to set collection, from worker placement to variable player powers. I’m very proud of my Wendake box with the author’s autograph on it!

Placentia Games also brought to PLAY a prototype of what looks like a super cool board game set in the Ancient Feudal Japan. We will surely hear about it next year.

One of the most colorful booths was undoubtedly that of dV Giochi, which localized Near and Far (2017), the spiritual successor of Above and Below. Players recruit adventurers, hunt for treasures and collect equipment exploring different maps through a storytelling mechanism.

dV Giochi brought also some fast family and party games (Minute Realms, The Mind, Speed Colors…) to meet the tastes of different gamers of various ages.

Uplay presented the new edition of the classic game Princes of Florence (2017). It’s a super deluxe and revisited numbered edition which will tempt all collectors out there.

Worker placement and area control Creepy Falls (2017) was Uplay’s main title at the convention. Colored, messy and full of nice monster-shaped meeples. Players are vampires who battle for leadership and try to grow their influence displaying their forces on the board. A very fun game for a group of four or five noisy friends!

Mancalamaro’s most important game at PLAY was the Italian version of Bunny Kingdom (2017) originally published by Iello. I already talked abundantly about this great title in my full review on this site (you can find it in the MeepleGamers review section). This young but promising publisher also presented the localization of a really cute and fun family game: Doggy Bag (2017). In this game, players are street dogs which act like a sort of Robin Hood: during the day they steal bones for the terrible Fagin, while during the night they try to take the bones back, without waking up the dreadful boss. A press your luck and betting game which kids will absolutely love.

Mancalamaro is taking care of the Italian version of another game by Iello: Raids (2018). Raiding the Viking worlds, players will follow a common path claiming tiles, sacking villages and collecting runes. I loved the artistic part of this game and I can’t wait to know more about its mechanics.

One of my favorite titles at PLAY 2018 was undoubtedly Santa Maria (2017), whose Italian localization was taken care of by Dal Tenda. It’s a dice rolling and tile placement Euro game with a colonial theme. Players need to expand their colony constructing buildings and activating them with dice through a row/column system. Moreover, they have to recruit monks and explore commercial routes sending out conquistadores in order to develop the colony and raise the happiness level of their inhabitants. I love the “dice management” mechanic and I believe the row/column system to use them is quite innovative. I hope to play this game again soon.

Cranio Creations was one of the most prolific publishers at this year’s PLAY. It took care of the localization of Hannibal & Halmilcar (2018), Noria (2017), Pulsar 2849 (2017), Sagrada (2017) and Santorini (2016) and of the new edition of Council of Four (2018). Moreover, it presented two all-Italian games: Fuorisalone (2018) – a set collection and movement game about the design week in Milan – and Tex: Fino all’Ultima Pallottola (2018), a western-themed game set in the world of the famous Italian comic book “Tex”. Players will act as one of the six main characters of the comic and duel through dice rolling and card dropping. Follow MeepleGamers web site for a full review of this game coming up in the next days.

Pulsar 2849 was an interesting surprise for us. We all thought it was going to be a tough and heavy Euro game with a space theme, but we found it a lot smoother and easier to play. Players explore the universe and discover new planets, develop technologies and gain points through a very original dice rolling and management mechanic. Usually I’m not attracted by science fiction games, but I loved this one. The graphics is awesome and very clear even for non-habitual gamers. I think this game just succeeded in earning a place on my top shelf.

After the great success of Xi’An (2017) – which was possible to try at PLAY with the author Francesco Testini – Pendragon Game Studio presented Way of the Panda (2018), a game which struck me positively especially for its artistic and graphic characteristics. A quick look at the game open on the tables made me want to try it immediately, even if it wasn’t in its final version (the game is coming out both in Italian and English at the end of May).

In this worker placement game, players control a monk, a merchant and a warrior panda. The aim is getting the most points connecting the streets of this fantasy Chinese world by fighting dangerous ninjas, erecting prestigious buildings and training the pandas. The action selection mechanism is quite insidious and it takes a while to be mastered. Anyway, Way of the Panda is just too beautiful to look at for not giving it another try in its final version.

Doppio Gioco Press, a rather new publisher, presented three all-Italian titles that I bet will be exported very soon: The Frog Kiss (2017), a game for kids retracing the steps of the famous fairy tale where players are frogs which need to catch insects to get points and be able to kiss the Princess in order to become humans again; Symphony (2018), a strategy game where players will have to choose and play the right instruments as to perform the best piece of music and gain points through card drafting and set collection mechanics; and Campus Café (2017), my favorite.

Campus Café is a fun and easygoing game where players are waiters and waitresses ready to serve cappuccinos and milkshakes to college students implementing a nice dice rolling and placement mechanic. I love the materials of the game: the resources are colored and big and the overall feeling given by the graphics is exactly what you would perceive in a campus café. I really can’t wait to add this piece to my collection!

Last but not least, GateOnGames brought to PLAY the Italian versions of three very famous and successful games. The first one is Spirits of the Forest (2018), originally published by ThunderGryph Games. An abstract strategy game which sees the players nourishing the forces of Nature acquiring the most spirit symbols through card drafting and set collections mechanics.

Second one is Tao Long: The Way of the Dragon (2017), another abstract strategy game for two players who control a dragon and try to reach supremacy on the board manipulating tokens, attacking and blocking the opponent.

The last game of my tour de force at PLAY 2018 was Dead Man’s Doubloons (2018). This was undoubtedly one of our most amusing moments at the convention. This game is just so much fun with the right group of friends. You can feel that “pirate crew atmosphere” which we always see in buccaneers’ movies. DMD is a racing and fighting game which develops through card hand management, movement programming and area control. Players take on the role of a legendary pirate and his/her ship… Well, two ships, actually. Because the coolest part of this game is the possibility to continue playing even if your opponent sank your vessel: you will be coming back with a ghost ship to seek revenge for your crew. Colored, messy, loud, and a lot of fun. We were glad to have tried this as our last game.

That’s all, folks! It’s been a crazy weekend and I enjoyed every single bit of it. New games and detailed reviews await you in the months to follow. Stay tuned!

PLAY is longed-for. PLAY arrives. PLAY swirls like a tornado. PLAY is over. And we will all wait for its return for another year.

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