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Game Preview: Aquileia – Winner of the 2010 Archimede Prize Coming to Spiel 2011

Andrea Ligabue
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Some days ago, I was lucky enough to be contacted by "Cielo d'Oro", an Italian design group, asking me to playtest the new game they are going to propose to publishers at Spiel 2011. I was so impressed by this new game that I asked whether they had already designed something and discovered that they are the design team behind Aquileia, the winner of the 2010 Premio Archimede, that being Italy's greatest award for unpublished games and new designers. Here's the summary of that game from the Studiogiochi website:

If you think that modern life is complicated, try to find your way between the market, the arena, the stadium, the theatre and the forum of ancient Aquileia.
I was also surprised to find almost nothing about this game online – despite it being a Spiel 2011 release from Zoch Verlag – so I decided to send a few questions to Cielo d'Oro's Giorgio Villa and write this preview. Let's start with a slightly longer summary of game play and the game's setting:

Each player, representing a wealthy Aquileian patrician, owns a certain number of henchmen (pawns) whom he uses for the main activities: playing, gaining culture, trading, and building. Each activity can bring expenses, earnings and sometimes victory points. The game lasts six rounds, and the player with the most victory points wins.

Aquileia, the second most important city of the Roman Empire, had been originally founded as an outpost against the Barbarian invaders. From its military origin comes the peculiar quadrilateral structure divided by the main streets.

Later, the city developed to become an important political and cultural center and a prosperous trading city, especially for precious goods, thanks to its convenient and efficient river port. Important monuments such as the Gladiator Arena, the horse-racing Stadium, and the famous theater were built, as well as craftsmen's workshops and patrician villas, which completed the architectural network of the city.
Andrea Ligabue: Aquileia, your first design, was the winner of the last edition of Premio Archimede. Can you tell us the story of Aquileia?

Giorgio Villa: Aquileia is not our first design. We have been inventing games since ten years ago, and sometimes we had already come close to publication. We had visited the Nürnberg fair and the Essen fair a few times, bringing our ideas, learning from our contacts with the publishers (we got to know most of them) and playing the most acclaimed games.

We had already participated twice in the Premio Archimede, always qualifying as finalist. In 2008 we got tenth place with Expo; in 2006 we got fourth and 14th with Tiago and Calderone.

Other games were tested and unfortunately not accepted by the biggest German publishers.

Aquileia is somehow the "summa" of all our experiences. The setting was chosen after a visit to the archeological site of Aquileia, that inspired the creative minds in our group.

Aquileia prototype

Liga: "Cielo d'Oro" is a collective name. Who are the designers behind this name?

Giorgio: We are all friends since fifty years ago when we were classmates in the elementary school of our town, Saronno.

• Pier Volonté: the promoter and designer. He is the "Yin". He has the idea.
• Giorgio Villa: the public relations man. He has the words.
• Chicco & Gigi Tramezzani: "the sponsors". Providing commitment and support, but no cash!
• Stefano Fontana: the artist and designer. He is the "Yang". He gives a shape to "the idea".
• Mario Biscella: the old, wise guy. He cools down the "Yin" and the "Yang".
• Ercole Telazzi: the workshop apprentice.
• Renato Borgatti: the professional tester

The story begins ten years ago with a little child who did not sleep and her dad (Pier) who designed his first game to keep her awake. The experiment worked, so Pier created another game and then another, and another, and another! He needed some friends to test his creations and there we were.

The story continues with hundreds of nights spent playing and arguing (as only friends can afford to do) and with the shared commitment of publishing games, sooner or later!

By the way: "Cielo d'Oro" was the name of a weird stage character played by Pier thirty years ago. What does it mean? Who knows? The crazy comedy was entirely written, produced, acted and directed by all of us – but that is another story.

Liga: Can you tell something about the game? Is it a gamer's game or a family game?

Giorgio: It's a gamers game, but in our opinion it's also a game that can be easily enjoyed by "non-gamers". There is a lot of interaction, fun and strategy at the same time.

We think that one of the main features of this game is that it's made of many games in the same game. The "strategic" gamer can build his strategy balancing his strength and his participation in the different areas of the game, while the "amateur" player can enjoy the fun of the competition. The presence of dice in certain areas allows the non-gamers to compete with the most "professional" players with a chance to win.

Actually one of the nicest sides of the game is that you have the chance to win until the end; you are never cut out of the competition to win.

Liga: Which games have inspired you in the design of Aquileia?

Giorgio: As we said before, Aquileia is somehow the "summa" of all our experiences. There are ideas inspired from many games, and it would be hard to name any of them. In the end, we prefer to think that this game is an original, very original compilation of the best ideas and mechanisms in the game market.

Liga: Is there something special in Aquileia that you want to tell us about?

Giorgio: I think that what makes Aquileia special is already written in the above paragraph. While being an outsider in the game market, we honestly think we have created a very playable and amusing game which hopefully will open more doors for us in the game inventor environment!

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