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Publisher Diary: ¡Adios Calavera!, or Days of the Dead Are Different in Mexico

Channing Jones
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Gauck (r)
Joachim Gauck, who served as President of Germany from March 2012 to March 2017, has a strong connection to Martin Luther. After all, long before he became President, Gauck served as a Lutheran pastor in Rostock on the Baltic Sea.

Even though his time as a pastor is far behind him, Joachim Gauck still has a connection to Martin Luther, so much so that when Luther: Das Spiel was published by KOSMOS in 2016, he was so pleased by the game that he invited the two authors, Erika and Martin Schlegel to Berlin to visit the Bellevue Palace. It was a great honor and a first as never before had a game author met with the Federal President.

From left: Erika Schlegel, Martin Schlegel, Joachim Gauck

Games let us explore history and different cultures in all sorts of ways, with the games also taking a multitude of forms to match their subject matter. Martin Schlegel's newest game, for example, couldn't be more different than Luther: Das Spiel. ¡Adios Calavera!, to be released by German publisher Mücke Spiele at SPIEL '17, is a two-player-only game with few rules. This is Schlegel's third game with Mücke, following Atacama and Takamatsu.

From "Zócalo" to "¡Adios Calavera!"

The game was originally called "Zócalo" because it took place on the huge square in the center of Mexico City, which is called Zócalo. Girls would form one team, boys the other, with each headed by a player and with each trying to make it across the square first, encountering those of the opposite sex in both friendly and less-than-friendly ways as they moved.

While the game itself was well received, the theme was not convincing, so we looked for another one with Mexico as the place of action. The gameplay would also stay the same because it was fully developed and gave both players thirty exciting minutes of fun.

The experienced graphic artist Christian Opperer suggested placing the game's action during "Dia de los Muertos", an annual celebration in Mexico. The first reaction to the idea of incorporating a memorial day for the dead into a game was horror and shock. A gloomy theme with dead skulls? This is not suitable for a game. However, as usual, whenever you learn more about a subject, it changes your opinion. The day of the dead in Mexico is not a mourning event, but a colorful folk festival in honor of the dead.

According to the old folk belief, the souls of the deceased return to their families in early November. Everywhere the memory of them is in the foreground. The streets are decorated with flowers, which are symbols of death and transience. Pastry shops produce the Calaveras de Dulce, which are skulls of sugar, chocolate, or marzipan. The Pan de Muerto, the dead bread, is another popular treat during these days, and during parades, calaveras — oversized skulls and full skeletons made of papier-mâché — are carried through the streets.

After the souls of the deceased have been received in the homes on the night of November 2, a farewell to them takes place in the cemeteries, where there is eating, drinking, music and dancing. At midnight, the time has come to say good-bye, and the festival is over until the dead return next year.

It's at this point in the story when ¡Adios Calavera! takes place: The living and the deceased must take leave of one another, going their separate ways until next year. You want to quickly reach the other side of the celebration area, while preventing others from leaving the farewell meeting first.

Powers to the People

In the game, one player takes the role of the dead, the other the living. Each player has eight pieces and places them on the indicated positions of a roughly 9x9 board next to the starting edge of the opposing player. Players are thus not directly opposite each other, but at a right angle.

The first player to get their eight pieces off the side of the board opposite their starting position wins. On a turn, you move a piece a number of spaces equal to the number of pieces (both yours and the opponents) in the row perpendicular to the direction that it will move. Thus, if you move a piece in your front row forward, it will move three spaces (unless it hits an obstacle).

This is the simplest way to play, but each of the eight pieces also has a special power on its reverse side, with each team having the same eight powers. Before starting the game, each player secretly chooses which four of these eight powers they want to use, then flip these tokens to the "power" side while leaving the other ones as is. Each player then secretly arranges their pieces on the starting positions of their choice before starting play. Powers include the ability to move through obstacles, switch with other pieces, push other pieces, attract other pieces, not allow other pieces to move adjacent, move diagonally, and more.

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