Trend Watch: Poland Goes Crazy For Board Games
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Over the past few years playing board games has become something of a tradition in Poland. The country has emerged as one of the top game designers, and an increasingly large number of venues have a game shelf ‒ stacked with Polish and foreign classics ‒ so that patrons can play while they eat and drink.
Outranking London and Moscow
A while back, Monopoly fans were allowed to vote for which cities would be remade as special edition Monopoly boards. There were 80 options to choose from and Warsaw came in sixth, outranking megalopolises like London or Moscow. Warsaw ranked high thanks to a large campaign in Polish board game circles; the Polish capital received over 100,000 votes. The immense popularity of board games is also easily appreciable looking at the Polish blogosphere, where hundreds of sites offer game reviews and tips.
The board game craze is noteworthy because there was virtually no pre-existing tradition in Poland under the communist regime. Western board games gradually became available during the transition to capitalism, and as a result, they have a fresher image than their somewhat dusty standing in many other countries. For example, playing Scrabble is often considered the epitome of hipsterism rather than an old-school pastime. Many people of all ages attend weekly board game gatherings. Like with the recent adult colouring hype, people are attracted to the offline aspect of the activity. For the young, the social element is perceived as salutary. For children, they provide a stress-free way to assimilate new verbal or mathematical skills; for seniors, they provide a daily dose of socialising as well as a mental workout.
Animal farming during WWII
There are over 70 Polish companies producing board games on the market, and with some titles selling over 100, 000 copies, it’s safe to say the number will increase. The most venerable, Granna, was founded in 1991 by a married couple by the name of Falkowski. It is well-known for publishing Superfarmer ‒ a game designed by the mathematician Karol Borsuk during WWII. A Warsaw University professor, Borsuk became jobless when the university closed down because of the German occupation. To make some money he decided to create a board game about animal farming. Sadly, its rules and nearly all of the original copies were lost in the Warsaw Uprising. After the war however, thanks to a family testimonial, it was possible to re-create the mechanics of the game. It was re-issued by Granna in 1997. The game aged well: it received the Game of the Year 2013 title in Finland.
The most popular producer, Rebel.pl released hit games like Dobble, a card game where players needto match symbols, and Splendor, a Renaissance affair where players strive to acquire riches. According to market research, Poles prefer simple family games short enough to be played many times in one evening. Games which include elements of Polish reality or history are also much sought-after. For instance the 2011 release Kolejka (Queue) by Karol Madaj, in which players try to navigate shortages in a communist-era setting, remains extraordinarily popular.
Clashing gods and imperial settlers
While Granna and Rebel.pl are undoubtedly the big fish of the Polish board game industry, smaller firms still manage to get their share of the limelight. Historical Games Factory, a company based in Lublin, recently became known all over Europe for its recent release Theomachy. Revolving around a clash between gods from various mythologies, the game was a hit in Germany, and it subsequently secured an English-language release in collaboration with noted games creator Sandy Petersen. Other outstanding Polish games include Imperial Settlers by Ignacy Trzewiczek and K2 by Adam Kałuża. The former won the 2014 Golden Geek Award for Best Solo Board Game, while the latter was nominated for the prestigious German Spiel des Jahres award in 2012.
Several much-awaited Polish games could still be released this year. The board version of the smashhit 2014 Polish video game This War of Mine just raised over £600,000 in less than a month through a Kickstarter campaign. Scythe, a board game prepared by the Saint-Louis based company Stonemaier Games but which revolves around a world created by the talented Polish illustrator Jakub Różalski, is expected to hit the stores this year as well.
Author: Marek Kępa, June 2016
lifestyle & opinion