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Spielwarenmesse VIII: A Mini-Tour of the Deutsches Spielarchiv in Nürnberg

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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From gallery of W Eric Martin
In 2019 after attending the Spielwarenmesse trade fair for four days, Lincoln Damerst and I took a tour of the Deutsches Spielarchiv, a.k.a. Haus des Spiels, in downtown Nürnberg.

The archive is not normally open to the public — or open on Mondays generally — but in honor of the trade fair, it was hosting a special tour. The tour was in German, as you might expect, so Lincoln and I didn't follow much of what was being said, but we were blown away by the holdings of the archive, so ahead of Spielwarenmesse 2020, I contacted the archive to see whether we could film a tour in English in 2020. They agreed, so we spent a few hours filming on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020 after leaving the trade fair early. Designer Brian Yu helped out by manning a 360º camera, while Lincoln filmed staff members talking about the origins of the archive as well as specific exhibits.

I'm not sure how the footage will come out given that the archive has archive-friendly lighting (i.e., not super bright) and we were kind of all over the place in our recording, but that's a challenge for Lincoln and Derek Porter to figure out. As for me, I took a few photos along the way, so I thought I'd give you a look at the archive in still images. Should you care to visit the Deutsches Spielarchiv, note that the game room in the Pellerhaus is open to visitors for game afternoons (details here), whereas access to the archive itself requires an appointment, with you needing to state your reasons for visiting, typically for research purposes.

Let's start with exhibits from the archive that you might have already seen:

From gallery of W Eric Martin

From gallery of W Eric Martin

If you've attended SPIEL, you might have run across display cases like these two, although these were actually next to the SAZ café at Spielwarenmesse 2020. These cases include a few games on a particular theme from the Deutsches Spielarchiv, along with museum-style note cards that explain what you're looking at. Cases like these give you only the tiniest taste of what's held in the archive.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

From gallery of W Eric Martin

The entry level floor at Haus des Spiels — which is open to the public — has a larger display of game cases on a particular theme, with 2020's theme being "Stadt" (which is German for "city"). The cases featured games based on German cities. The note in the lower image gives a short history of Spear-Spiel, which was founded in the late 1800s. In 1932, the Spear family, which was Jewish, opened a factory in Great Britain and moved most production there, with the Nazis taking over the German production facilities in the late 1930s to start turning out propaganda games such as Im Fluge durch Grossdeutschland and Bomben auf England.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Look at all those Edition Perlhuhn titles! So many tubes!

From gallery of W Eric Martin
History in my hands

From gallery of W Eric Martin

From gallery of W Eric Martin

The Deutsches Spielarchiv has approximately three floors of metal shelves holding games, with those shelves not nearly being as full as my shelves at home. Lots of room to grow here!

The archive has added multiple collections to its holdings over the years, and those collections typically each have their own identification system that has only sort of been integrated with the other ones. In 2019, the archive started a new more comprehensive shelving ID system for new titles being admitted, and over time everything will be reshelved according to this new system.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

In some cases, the games are shelved by series, as with the Heyne Taschenspiele and 3M Gamette titles in the image above this one, and in others they're shelved by subject matter and in still others they're shelved by some other means. In the image above, for example, you're seeing a collection of games that were created on behalf of companies for use as marketing materials, and in this image:

From gallery of W Eric Martin

You see more than fifty boxes filled with other marketing-based games that were acquired as a collection that's yet to be unboxed and catalogued. So many things to explore!

Board Game: Enchanted Forest

The highlight of the archive, at least for me, was its collection of Alex Randolph prototypes, such as this pair of prototypes for the Spiel des Jahres-winning game Sagaland.

Funny thing: The top prototype has been in the archive's collection for a while, having been added at the same time as many other Randolph creations, whereas the prototype on the bottom was discovered only recently in yet another collection acquired by the archive.

Board Game: Drachenfels

Drachenfels, a Randolph and Leo Colovini co-design released by Schmidt Spiele in 1986, featured its iconic rainbows in the prototype, too. (Sorry about the glare, but I couldn't find an angle in which it wasn't present.)

Board Game: Jagd der Vampire

This prototype, called "Ketchup" with an explanation as to why in the lower-left corner, was published as Jagd der Vampire in 1991

Board Game: Choo-choo

Choo-Choo is a basic Randolph design, with each player having an identical set-up of colored bits in their individual track layout. You flip over colored tokens until the third token of a color appears, after which each player races to rearrange the colored bits in the right order by using the dead-ends to switch things around.

The most amazing thing about this image isn't the hand-crafted prototype of Choo-Choo, but that it's lying on top of at least ten other such prototypes in the archive's collection. I didn't want to leave that room, which also has closets full of individual game components from Randolph's collection and shelves of his dozens of published games, but alas, I had to leave. We always have to leave, whatever we want to keep doing.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

At the end of the evening, the Deutsches Spielarchiv hosted the annual awarding of the Duali award for best two-player game by the Ali Baba Spieleclub, which has more than eight hundred members in ten cities across Germany. Members of SAZ, a group for game designers that originated in Germany but which has members worldwide, also attended the event.

Lookout Games' Mandala won the award, with Nagaraja and Robin of Locksley taking second and third place.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Images from the Haus des Spiels' Facebook page
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