Greetings, everyone! For Hispanic Heritage Month, we invited a guest poster to give us his unique perspective on gaming. Jason does a fantastic job of introducing himself, so I won’t take up too much more time! Be sure to keep a lookout for his second blog post later this week. Take it away, Jason!
Hola, mi gente! My name is Jason Perez, and I am from the Shelf Stories YouTube channel. In addition, you can also find my game coverage on The Dice Tower and The One Stop Co-op Shop YouTube channels. I am proud of my Puerto Rican heritage and have a love for all of the different expressions of Hispanic culture throughout the Americas and around the world. In this blog, I share a small cross-section of games currently available in North America that celebrate an aspect of Hispanic culture. After that, I would like to explore possibilities for games in the future.
1) Oaxaca: Crafts of a Culture – designed by Sarah and Will Reed, currently published by Thing 12 Games. 1-4 players, 20-40 min playtime.
Oaxaca (pronounced wah-HA-kah) is a region in southern Mexico noted for its generations of families of Indigenous descent — Zapotec, Mixtec, and many others. Many families sustain themselves by making and selling unique, traditional, beautiful handicrafts out of tin, wood, clay, and other materials. In Oaxaca, Crafts of a Culture, you play as one of these craftspeople, gathering raw materials in order to craft items and sell them to tourists. Mechanically, this is a dice game where each die is a custom face. Once rolled, they can be used to either draft items or build those items into craft cards that give powers and are worth points at the end of the game. Although a dice game at heart, this one has a fair amount of dice manipulation abilities to mitigate some of the luck.
Sarah and Will Reed put a lot of work into representing Oaxacan culture in a sensitive, accurate way. They worked with contacts that were close to the culture to ensure the artistic depictions of the different crafts were respectful. Also, to support the local economy, they purchased and imported real figures from Oaxaca for sale with the game’s deluxe edition during their Kickstarter project.
2) Mariposas – designed by Elizabeth Hargrave, published by AEG. 2-5 players, 45-75 minute playtime.
During the winter months, hundreds of millions of mariposas — the Spanish word for butterfly — take refuge from the northern winter in a forest sanctuary in Michoacán, Mexico. They travel throughout North America during the other seasons but always return for winter. No one butterfly ever completes the round trip. In Mariposas, you play cards that direct the movement of your butterflies away from and back to Michoacán. Along the way, you land in key spots and collect sets of flowers and other tokens. These allow you to grow your kaleidoscope of butterflies, birth new generations and meet scoring conditions that happen in each of three seasons.
Mariposas was made in consultation with scientists familiar with the path of butterflies to and from Michoacán. In addition, all of the mariposas in the game were drawn by a Mexican woman artist, Indy Maverick. You can find her work here.
3) Cuba Libre – designed by Jeff Grossman and Volko Ruhnke, published by GMT Games. 1-4 players, 180 minute playtime.
We move from light Euro games to much heavier war games with this offering from GMT’s Counter-Insurgency series, or COIN for short. Cuba Libre depicts events in Cuba from 1957-58, during which time Fidel and Raul Castro led a movement which eventually caused the overthrow of the island’s dictator at the time, Fulgencio Batista. The COIN system is noted for asymmetric gameplay between different factions — the Batista government, Castro’s 26 of July Movement, the student-led Directorio, and the American-backed mafia Syndicate. Each of these factions vies for territory control in order to meet their differing goals.
Another game within the COIN series is Andean Abyss, which depicts the struggle for control within Columbia in the 1990s. I chose to feature Cuba Libre due to its lower relative complexity and ease of play (though by no means is it easy or light!). As with any COIN game, you are steeped in the history of the time period and introduced to a variety of characters and events via an event deck. The Communist Party that consolidated power in 1959 still rules Cuba today. Cuba Libre, therefore, has a lot to offer to help us understand the historical context of its current situation.
Noteworthy Mention: Skull (also, Skull & Roses), designed by Hervé Marly, published by Asmodee. 3-6 players, 15-30 minute playtime.
I include Skull in this list not because it represents Hispanic culture in any profound way. Its rulebook makes the briefest allusion to a game discovered in 1920s San Francisco, where revealing skulls disrupts the spirits of the dead. These elements together, along with the skulls (Calaveras) depicted on the game’s tiles, clearly point to the Day of the Dead, a religious and cultural ceremony practiced by many of Mexican descent which some believe stems from the Aztecs.
Instead, I feature Skull because the gameplay itself is excellent, perfect for multicultural families of gamers and non-gamers alike due to its simplicity and language independence. In Skull, players have four tiles representing three roses and a skull. Over a series of rounds, players bluff and try to read one another as they vie to be the only one left with tiles in their hand. Skull can easily be reimagined to incorporate authentic, diverse artistic expressions of calaveras from across Mexico, as well as in areas of America with heavy Mexican presence.
Of course, each country has its own gaming culture, developing and printing games locally. Many of these games do not make it to American or European markets, though they are worth exploring if you want to know more. BGG user Hilko Drude maintains a very useful GeekList of games from Latin America.
Thanks so much to Jason for providing us with great games to better see and understand Hispanic people and their culture. He’s got another post ready and waiting for later in the month all about different themes that game developers can utilize to bring awareness and celebration of Hispanic culture. We look forward to sharing that post with you all soon!