14 January 2024

A continuum of discontinuities

Time flows at its own steady pace. Oblivious of joys and hardships. Just like the movement of this sphere of land and water, ice and fire. Revolving across the pitch-black space. Circling that middle-aged yellow star, we named Sun. 

Time jolts, stops, and restarts. Advancing in steps. Twenty-four follows twenty-three. January follows December. One follows thirty-one. The calendar page is turned. Time is reset while moving forward. 

In the land of games, another time frame overlaps these two. Here, time is often marked by projects starting and by projects ending. One after another. One alongside others. Since I returned to this land, wearing a different habit, each year has brought more and more such marks. 

The transition between years that happened a couple of weeks ago was no different. Continuing some projects, starting new ones, and ending others. 

Reading and commenting on the near-final version of an upcoming book on the design of historical board games, focusing on conflict and war games. A domain I really enjoy, and a lot of reflection and learning throughout the process. A second experience of the kind, after Wargaming Experiences II - Discussions, by Natalia Wojtowicz.

Writing a new rulebook from scratch for a game to be soon launched on a crowdfunding platform at the reach of your fingers. From a blank file and a game teaching session to the complete rules. Organising and streamlining. Tweaking sentences and words. Crafting images and examples. Aiming to provide a good learning experience for first-timers and a valuable reference for those returning to the game. Seeking to let the creation shine on its own. Always a welcomed challenge that comes with great freedom of choice.

Working on the final stages of two others: Unconscious Mind by Fantasia Games, and Apex Legends: The Board Game by Glass Cannon Unplugged.

Consulting and editing for another rulebook. This one is for a game that has already been funded on Kickstarter through a very well-managed and successful campaign. A beautiful game with intriguing gameplay, full of challenging decision spaces. At the core of the work is a forth-and-back discussion on how to better convey all the intricacies and nuances to smooth the learning curve and provide the best possible experience.

Editing yet another rulebook. For a write-and-roll game with some traits of role-playing and within a Lovecraftian setting. With considerable leeway granted, this may be the first of a stream of collaborations covering different game genres. More to come!

And a new rulebook translation into Portuguese, faithful to the entry point of this journey. Always happy to help bring more games in Portuguese to the tables and to see publishers investing in the growing Portuguese market. The collaboration with the Belgium translation studio The Geeky Pen is now one of the most long-standing, and the portfolio of translated games grows from year to year.

More fragments to come. Discontinuities within a continuum.

5 November 2023

One year full of rulebooks

It has been a good year! Over forty rulebook-related projects, comprehending writing, editing, proofreading, translating, and commenting. Regular collaborations and a fresh batch of new, promising ones. In addition, I did some editing and provided feedback for a book about the uses of wargames, plus a couple of playtests. It also marked my first international convention – Festival International des Jeux, at Cannes, with game demoing included! And, of course, the Portuguese ones at Leiria, Estarreja, and Viana do Castelo, with a workshop on rule book development at the latter. 

My portfolio is expanding fast. The dots are connecting. The lines are traced by so many people, sometimes in unexpected ways. From Apex Legends: The Board Game to Unconscious Minds, courtesy of Thanos Argyris. A significant boost regarding new collaborations thanks to Paul Grogan, who generously keeps recommending my work to different publishers :) And to Paulo Soledade, who did just the same one year or so ago. Truly appreciated. Thank you so much!

The momentum is building. And that is why I decided, by late May, to roll the dice again, this time choosing a different action space to place the pieces, taking this journey one step further: the full-time day job became part-time. One more full day for working on games. Let’s see how it plays out!

It all started not longer than five years ago, when I decided to dive a little more into the hobby by creating this blog, In Black and White. Writing. In Portuguese and English, to reach different audiences. Photographing. Collecting. Playing. 

At that time, I did not know the board game scene, let alone the industry behind it. I was wandering in the land of games. BoardGameGeek, Kickstarter, gaming groups and conventions, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Virtual and physical interactions. Soon after, the first rulebook translation. Then, a couple more. Playtests. New contacts. Connections. 

A sense of direction was shaping in the form of rulebook work. Growing from one year to another. Gaining recognition. Gradually mutating from the hobby perspective to working in this lifelong passion. From 2022, and especially during 2023, the number of collaborations exploded, from full-fledged work to more limited contributions to game development.

The range of collaborations is diverse, and so is the range of geographies. Cultures. People. Creators. Gamers. Across the world.

Portugal and Spain as the natural starting points. Across the Pyrenees into the East and the North. Across the Channel to the British Isles. To the far east, reaching Taiwan and Japan. To Oceania. Across the Pacific Ocean to South America and the USA. And back. Juggling time zones.

With English as the primary common language. Communicating also in Portuguese, Spanish, and French. Learning German (and already making sense of sentences in rulebooks and more 😉). Juggling languages.

The prospects for the sixth year in this new era in the land games are promising. The ongoing collaborations are further developing. New exciting projects are already lining up. And there is a world of new contacts to explore.  

The stars seem to be aligning! 

Find more fragments of this journey at:

In Black and White (2018)

"Not all those who wander are lost" (2019)

Two years of encounters (2020)

In the eyes of others (2021)

Far beyond the horizon (2022)

9 August 2023

Flashbacks of Cannes: Traveler's notes

A small walk into the fresh and quiet night. The darkness softened by the airport lights. No more than a couple of people outside, pulling cabin bags. Suddenly, the bright hallway. The sounds getting louder. People in transit. Waiting. In that space and time discontinuity that we call airports. The flight was scheduled to 7.00 am. Still time for a coffee. Next, flying without feeling the wind, as those wings are not ours. Some rule book reading. Some rest.

Landing at Nice, shortly after 10 am. Another place, another time. The tram in line 2, to Grand Arénas. Another short walk, to Nice-St. Augustin train station. Waiting, again. People in transit. Same destination, different destinations. The next train heading towards Cannes. Learning a new geography, made of train stops. Cagnes-sur-Mer. Villeneuve-Loubet. Antibes. Juan-les-Pins. Prochain arrêt: Cannes.

The early arrival meaning there is time to explore those streets that would soon become familiar. Rue 24 d’Aout, Rue de Antibes, Rue des Belges. Boulevard de la Croisette. Construction works going on, hidden behind hoardings with movie star faces, staring at me, in black and white.

A right turn to Palais des Festivals, where last-minute details are still being sorted out. Check-in already open, but for exhibitors only. Next to the Palais, the Old Port full of yachts, exhibiting flags from Malta, Madeira, the UK, among others. Flags from the world. Wooden bridges leading to quite different worlds.

A pizza for lunch, at bistrot Casanova. Quick notes scribbled down on the notepad. Letting the French surface, among the conversations on the neighbouring tables, and the TV quiz, French-style, with no luck mitigation. Questions por un champion, maybe. Then, the check-ins: at the venue, with the pass, the bracelet, the welcoming gifts; at the hotel, leaving the backpack behind.

The afternoon was dedicated to sightseeing. The sun was shining. An upward walk to the Suquet, with a view over the sea, the Old Port, and Cannes. Then, back down again, slowly walking in the opposite direction, along the Boulevard, by the beach and the sea. The Hotel Carlton façade, the Crosisette jewel, with origins dating back to 1913. Lots of people for a mid-week afternoon, I thought. From all ages. Taking a stroll, nibbling ice creams, sitting with a view, chatting over a drink, playing on the beach, playing chess (couldn’t resist to watch the game for a while). An atmosphere of holidays. 

Loose notes. Tomorrow will be Day 1.

(à suivre)

5 August 2023

Flashbacks of Cannes: Some months before

Time has passed. Those moments from late February are still around, lingering among other memories from the recent past, vivid but not that sharp anymore. I know they will soon start to slowly drift away towards that place for distant memories, becoming increasingly mixed, and diluted mixed. But even then, trails will remain. Trails to the present of today, and to the present of the future. Fueled by the experiences lived, the images recorded, the readings about the event, and writings such as this one. Memories sustained. Memories under construction.

It all started well before that date, as I had been wishing to attend one of the large boardgame festivals for some time. And things converged into an opportunity window for 2023. Essen, in Germany, or Cannes, in France, would be the most obvious choices in mainland Europe. The huge one, or the big one. Deutsche Spielepreis, or l’As d’Or. More international, or more French-driven. I was already leaning towards Cannes for this first go, and a quick exchange of messages with Orlando Sá helped me making the final decision. Cannes would be.

I would be taking some days off from my regular work to attend all the days of the Festival International des Jeux, except for the very last one, reserved to the return trip. Maximizing the journey was the goal! First task: Filling the forms to obtain the professional accreditation badge (something way beyond the horizon, just a couple of years ago), granting access to the full program, extended schedule, and l’As d’Or. Check. Accreditation confirmed. Check. Plane tickets. Check. Hotel booking. Not far from the train station, and, more important, within walking distance of Palais des Festivals et des Congrès. Check. 

One last important item to cross on my list: To find a game publisher in need for some part-time demoing collaboration during the event. That would crank the experience one notch up, living it from the inside! It would also mean a return to that period when French was my main language for gaming, thanks to Jeux&Stratégie , back in the 1980’s. Some online searching in the usual sites, some emails exchanged, and it all came together, a couple of weeks before the event: I would be running demo sessions for the Taiwanese publisher Wonderful World Boardgames! 

All set, then, and the countdown to the FIJ 2023 had begun.

(à suivre)

28 May 2023

At RiaCon 2023

May was the month for another edition of RiaCon, held from the 19 to the 21 at the usual place, the Tulip Inn Estarreja Hotel & SPA, Estarreja, Portugal. Organized by the same team as always, but now under the seal of the brand new board game association RiaJoga – Associação Lúdica da Região de Aveiro. Time to get another stamp in the Passport of Board Game Conventions!

Saturday’s afternoon was filled with Donnerschlag: Escape from Stalingrad. The return to war games had long been promised to Augusto Cruz, and finally we made it! It is a return, as war games were, no doubt, the first complex games I played, back in the late 1970's, early 1980's, in this unique combination of strategy, tactics, and historical context, most often choosing World War II for the setting. I am certain there will be more sessions to come in the near future, because there is plenty of material to explore in both our collections. 

Donnerschlag recreates an operation planned by the German forces to liberate their 6th Army, besieged at Stalingrad. Hexagons and counters. Asymmetrical forces and positioning. The use of terrain features, in particular rivers and bridges. Advances and delays. Increased mobility against reinforcements. Initiative and the time that is running out. Activation and combat cards. Combat resolution tables and dice. A hidden objective: the meeting point with the 6th Army.

The session lasted for the whole afternoon, not because the game play itself was slow, but because there were lots of ongoing conversations. Between the two of us, with those who stopped by out of curiosity for an unfamiliar game genre, with those more used to the cardboard battlefields, and with so many now familiar faces, present convention after convention. All these moments of sharing are one of the best features of such events! As for the game, the suspense on the outcome persisted until the final moment of the last turn: the German forces arrived at the planned meeting location but did not resist the Soviet's last breath.

Donnerschlag, a war game by Patrick Gebhardt and Pepito Shazzeguti, published by VUCA Simulations. As a side note, I made some comments to an earlier version of the rules, and so my name is featured in the acknowledgement's section!

The ambiance was excellent, as always! Lots of people, plenty of games to choose from, a nice set of prizes to raffle, thanks to the sponsors who supported the convention, a room full of light, and an exemplary and welcoming organization 😊

there was nothing planned in advanced for Sunday’s afternoon. But then came the opportunity to playtest a prototype from the game desingers João Quintela Martins and Vital Lacerda: the Santa Justa Elevator. It was a three-way session, together with João Quintela, the author, and João Pimentel, in goos spirits and with a good discussion about the current stage of the game, design questions, suggestions, and potential for future developments. How I enjoy seeing, and being able to participate, in such projects under construction!

Cool things about these interconnected communities: a video shared by João Quintela Martins, a reaction from Julián Pombo, the Uruguayan game designer of Pampero (among others), who I met at this year's LeiriaCon while testing one of his latest prototypes, and an unexpected intercontinental exchange of greetings!

The sun is setting, and RiaCon will return next year, for sure. Until then, the Portuguese convention route continues. The next participation will most likely be at VianaCon. In the meantime, in these pages, there will also be flashbacks from the Cannes International Gaming Festival and LeiriaCon. I need only to find time enough to write them down.

3 February 2023

Working in the land of games

Design by Leonor Conceição

Life in the land of games has been intense and diversified! Not exactly playing games, but rather making a contribution towards games that already are, and games yet to be. Increasing their accessibility through clear rules, precise wording, and, whenever possible, making them available in Portuguese.

If you want to know some more on what I've been doing, with whom I have been collaborating, on which games, across which geographies even if without leaving this place, as well as some opinions on my work, check my portfolio, here

   Development, editing, and proofreading rule books. 

   Translation                                                               Narrative writing

   Playtests                                                                   Juri and coach in game design contests

   Exhibitions                                                               Presentations
   Interviews and conversations

30 December 2022

Of Kings & Queens, trolls, goblins, and more


The final session had come to an end, and the workday was done. The lift brings me back to the ground floor. The doorway leads me into the city rush. The night has already settled in. No rain, cold air, but not too much, good enough for a walk. Much better than to dive into the underground tunnels, to reappear in another place, as if jumping between two unconnected points. It is late November, 6 pm.

From Rondpoint Robert Schuman and heading towards the city centre. A stroll all the way down Rue de La Loi. The streets are flooded with light, from the sidewalk lamps above, from slowly moving cars, drawing lines of white and trails of red, from electric scooters and bicycles, moving fast. 

I am now crossing Rue Royale to enter the pentagon-shaped inner city. Further ahead, on the right, the Saint Michel and Saint Gudule Cathedral. A couple of streets more, la Place du Marché aux Herbes. Familiar names and familiar sights, maybe because I have been here in three or four occasions before, always work-related. The first probably dating to the 1990’s, and the last to early 2018, for a job interview at the European Parliament. Yes, this is Brussels.

Then, La Grande Place, with its adorned Christmas tree, chimes resounding in the background. Shopping malls, street shops, cafes and restaurants. Lights and sounds. People moving hastily, bags in hand. Others in loud conversations. Still others just contemplating and taking pictures, freezing time, for the now or for the later. Shoppers, tourists, and residents. Locals, nationals, and foreigners like myself. 

It is now 7 pm. Just about time to head to the next destination, following one of the game-related locations Orlando Sá suggested. One which is still open and where I may have something to eat. 

A short five-minute walk to a street bearing an appropriate name for this quest, la Rue du Fossé aux Loups, Wolvengracht. Well, it seems that the street name may be linked to a man named Wolf, and not to the creatures themselves, but anyhow. Pretty easy to identify, with the large sign above the door: Kings & Queens. Yes, that’s the place. A Board Game Café. That reminds me that I still have an overdue visit to pay to A Jogar é que a Gente se Entende, back in Portugal. A promise for 2023!

The place is almost deserted, if not by two pairs engaged in some sort of game with miniatures, close to the door, and a couple by the counter, sipping their cocktails and engaged in a conversation with the barman. I chose one of the many empty tables, well sized for gaming, drop the coat on the back of one of the chairs and the notebook on the table. Linkin Park is playing low in the background, followed by The Queen. It feels cozy in there.

The concept of the Game Bar is simple. For five euros per person, you can play all the games you want from the on-site game library. You may even get some assistance regarding game rules. Playing games will not be on my menu for today, but a tasty pizza and a Cuvée des Trolls, a Belgian beer with history - what else? -, will do the job. 

First, the mandatory glance at the game library. More than 300 games on the shelves, from party games to medium euros, to some of the classic heavy weights. Familiar covers on display: Takenoko, Wingspan, Anachrony, and many, many more.

Back to the table. There still is not a great deal of movement. A group of three in search of some game, sitting down and getting ready to play. A couple more entering and leaving. Is it because of the nearby holiday season, for being a late afternoon in the middle of the week, or a side effect of yet another rail-strike? 

I decided to join Thomas, the barman, at the counter, and learn more about the place. As the conversation started to flow, my French surfaced, even if somewhat rusty. 

The café-bar is in operation for just over four years, meaning that the pandemic restrictions were in place during a substantial part of its existence. It survived the hardships, and a rent to pay in the city center, without much of a support. Converted into a temporary take-away, as many other similar businesses, losses were somewhat attenuated. It survived, but not unscathed, with projects put on hold, and only gradually getting back to full action.

The business seems now well on the rise. From regular clients to occasional visitors, from a corporate day-out to team building exercises. Apparently I have chosen what is proving to be the quietest day of the last three to four weeks. 

As for Thomas, he has been there for about a year. A passionate by the art of cocktail-making, and serving, something that always fascinated me, he learned the tricks of the trade as hotel barman. The knowledge, the experimentation, the creativity, connecting people, providing new experiences, suggesting, guiding. 

From drinks to games, with so many points in common. The importance of knowing the trade and understanding the people sitting on the stool or around the tables. Presenting them with new flavours, new games, new experiences. Creating a welcoming space, for them to return. Overall, contributing for people to spend good moments together, over a drink or two, over a boardgame table, over both. The barman and the boardgame expert alike. The game connoisseur here is the founder and owner, Athanasios, but he is not there today.

The conversation drifts. The meaning of being a Belgian. Traveling the world and choosing to work in Brussels. People’s roots, spread all over the continent, Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg, Portugal. And all over the world. Nationalism and internationalism. Openness and segregation. Togetherness and divisions. Harmony, struggles, and dangers.

Well, time flies, and I say goodbye to Kings & Queens. Thank you, Thomas! A walk back to the hotel, a night of sleep, and an early morning trip to the airport. Hope to be back and, next time, I will be playing some games!