Forum : An American in Italy

David G.D. Hecht

What I did on my Spring Break

At the invitation of Federico Vellani, 18xx player and designer extraordinaire, I attended the Italian 18xx game convention in Gatteo, held from 1-4 May 1997.

The hospitality and generosity of the FIGF players was simply extraordinary, and made for an excellent experience, which I shall hope to repeat in future years. The Italian Rail Gamers Federation (FIGF) is a well-organized and competent group from whose attention to detail it was a pleasure to benefit. In particular I must thank Federico Vellani himself for his many works of supererogation, and Mauro Lazzara for kindly meeting me at Malpensa Airport and being my sherpa as far as Milan's Central Station. In addition, all the players whom I met at Gatteo deserve thanks for all the kindness they showed me.

The journey itself was fairly benign-there is a direct flight from Washington-Dulles to Milan-Malpensa, while the trains in Italy, as is well known, always run on time, and, in my case, directly to Modena, where I was met by Federico himself. Even had I not broken my trip in Modena, I could have taken the same train directly to Rimini, only a few minutes away from my ultimate destination, Gatteo.

As to the tournament and the play, I cannot say that I represented the U.S. well, as I lost all four events in which I participated (I did not play in the 1849 event). I came in a fairly close second in the 1870 game I played, losing to the top Italian player, Marco Signoretto. I attribute this in part to the fact that 1870, as the most recently published 18xx game played in the tournament, was least familiar to the players, but perhaps more importantly, to the format of the 1870 event, which had four-player boards. As most of my 18xx gaming has been with smaller numbers of people (3-4 vice the 5-6 favoured in Italy), I had a slight advantage in familiarity with the format. In the other three games I played, 1856 and two 1830 matches, I came in no better than third at my board. These matches were played with larger numbers of players per board, five in the case of 1856 and five or six in the case of 1830.

The FIGF plays with open personal and corporate money, and freely allows the use of pencil and paper or calculating devices by players. This tends to change the game as the availability of complete information leads to more precise calculation of possibilities, an area in which I have never excelled. I feared this might add much time to the games, but this proved not to be the case. Perhaps these rules should be introduced in the U.S. as well.

Another area that was well thought out was the scoring system. In essence, the winner gets 2000 points plus the percentage difference between himself and the second-place player expressed as a whole number, while the other players get points representing their score as a percentage of the winner's score, again expressed as a whole number. For example, if four players ended a game with raw scores of $10,000, $9,550, $9,380 and $8,515, the winner would receive 2045 points, while the other three would receive 955, 938 and 852 points respectively. Thus, winning is given a large bonus, but coming in close behind is still germane to one's overall victory level.

Notwithstanding my lamentable competitive performance, I can make a statement that is not always possible when one is getting one's brains beaten in: I had a great time! There was a huge contrast between the atmosphere at the table in these events and others I have played at Origins, Atlanticon and Railcon. At competitive events in the U.S., the players tend to be belligerent to the point of truculence. This is in part, I daresay, because they do not in general know each other as well as the Italian players know each other. Nevertheless, the contrast was quite extraordinary, and a main reason I will certainly plan to return to Italy to compete in the future.

There are some noticeable differences in play style, as well, between Italian and U.S. players. There is less direct player interaction ("diplomacy") than I am used to seeing in the U.S. As a consequence, players rarely cooperate even in a tactical sense where it would be to both their advantages to do so. While some U.S. players regard this as the preferred play style, I find it detracts from the game, as it eliminates many possibilities that might otherwise exist. The only significant instance of player cooperation that I witnessed was in an 1830 game, where one player sold a 5 train to another, who would otherwise have gone bankrupt, thus allowing the selling player a better chance of winning (he ultimately did).

Another area of difference is that players are much more cognizant of the train situation and tend to be more cautious in acquiring new trains and in bringing out new classes of trains. In particular, there is far more manoeuvring to avoid buying the last non-permanent train available than I am used to seeing in the U.S.

Overall, I have to say I had a great time, and did not spend much more than I would have to go to a weekend convention in the U.S. The flight was $650, while the accommodations and fees were about $250. This compares favourably to participation in a U.S. event where the flight might be somewhat cheaper, but the accommodations more expensive. I highly recommend the experience to others.

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Last Updated 27th September 1997