Transcript of the podcast published on July 16th, 2010.
After looking at some of the most important game companies of the US let’s move over the big pond to small and crowded Europe, and to a country that was nearly lost to gamers at that particular time in the past: Italy. That is until International Team came along.
In the year 1979 Renzo Angelosanto and Marco Donadoni decided to bring the joys of wargaming to the land of wine, good food and opera. They founded the company “International Team” which for nearly 10 years was an important presence in the European market.
At that time Wargaming was an extremely obscure hobby in Italy, even more obscure than in other European countries because of a huge language problem – as every American Tourist can attest Italy is not exactly a country with many English speakers, so it was no surprise that only a select few in Italy could actually understand English-language games.
Instead of translating titles from the US International Team decided to create their own line of mostly conflict orientated games, and from this decision resulted a line of the most beautiful, interesting and also frustratingly irritating games ever made in the history of mankind.
International Team’s games were always extremely pretty – they were published in huge and flat oblong boxes, difficult to store and easy to open while emptying all their contents on the floor. But pretty. Also the graphic design was always ahead of it’s time, featuring stylish illustrations which especially came to life in the many Science Fiction and Fantasy games that they published, like the game “Zargo’s Lords” which must count as the most successful game of their line. Boards were gigantic and always mounted – so from a sheer production viewpoint their games were superior to all other games published at the time.
But there was one big problem: The Rules.
Early on International Team decided to address an international market, hence their name, so rules sets usually came in Italian, English, French and German. So far so good, but sadly there never was any person in the whole company who actually ever checked the translations. This resulted in the most bizarre rulebooks ever published – the Italian rules were usually decent albeit imperfect, but all other languages sounded worse than even the worst on the spot babelfish translation you can get from the internet.
International Team’s most ambitious effort, the actually fabulous Science-Fiction-Roleplaying/Boardgame Hybrid “Legio VII”, was so lost in translation, that whole parts of the game became absolutely unplayable to anybody not speaking Italian. I would like to convey you the bizarreness of some German sentences in this rulebook, but I fear you would lose too much sanity if I tried.
But that was not the only problem – many games that International Team published were only vaguely tested, so sometimes they would simply break down once you tried to play them. Important rules concepts were not thought through, the rules would contradict themselves even in Italian, etc. This has been an ongoing problem with wargaming rules and certainly something that plagues games by SPI and Avalon Hill, but International Team brought the negligence in rules design to a never before achieved height.
The frustrating thing was that International Team’s games were actually no duds at all – they very often were full of beautiful ideas and interesting concepts, but trying to decipher what the game designers actually meant sometimes was a huge task.
Still, International Team enjoyed some success to the extent that their games are still sought after by collectors and they were very influential on the budding European games market and prepared the soil for later great designers to come from the country of Italy, like Nexus. But it was a venture that couldn’t last forever because of these problems, so in 1988 they declared bankruptcy and both founders moved on to other projects, still being influential in gaming circles. The most important lesson was perhaps learned by companies like Fantasy Flight – if you make your games beautiful people will most certainly look, but try to make them worthwhile as well.