A booming market missing a trick
Analysts expect the global tabletop games market to be worth more than $12 billion by 2023. The growing popularity of war and strategy games that draw on history in their storytelling is a key area of this growing market, and has inspired hundreds of new game clubs to open across the UK.
While this flourishing market has the potential to shape the public’s understanding of historical events through play, the perception of an inevitable trade-off between accuracy and playability, and a lack of familiarity with available research among game developers have been barriers to progress.
Dr Gianluca Raccagni, Lecturer in Medieval History in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology, saw this as a missed opportunity and so he took on the challenge by collaborating with game designers to produce wargames inspired by his own academic research.
Industry collaborations: well played
Keen to find a way to combine his academic expertise and a lifelong interest in tabletop games, Dr Raccagni visited local gaming clubs where he could play with other enthusiasts and meet with game designers to share ideas. Speaking with Michael Scot from Supreme Littleness Designs (SLD) at a gaming event, the pair agreed there was an opportunity to develop more historically accurate terrain and building models that form a vital part of the gaming experience.
SLD and Dr Raccagni collaborated on the prototype of a terrain kit modelled on the Castle of Byblos. The kit – the first historically accurate one to represent any part of the Mediterranean region – was showcased in a participative game at Claymore, Scotland’s leading wargames convention, in 2018. This successful showcase led to world-leading wargame terrain kit producer 4ground agreeing to license SLD’s models, including Byblos Castle, for international distribution later in 2021.
The Claymore showcase also led game designer Dan Mersey – winner of UK Games Expo Award 2019 – to ask for Dr Raccagni’s help in developing a new expansion for Lion Rampant, one of the most popular sets of gaming rules in this sector of the games industry. Dr Raccagni collaborated with Mersey to create a game book comprising an introductory chapter providing general historical context, additional rules and 12 game scenarios drawing from medieval sources and Dr Raccagni’s own research. The end result, Lion Rampant: Crusader States (LRCS), has been a commercial and critical success, reprinting three times in its first three months post-publication and receiving glowing industry reviews.
While at first Dr Raccagni brought his academic knowledge to bear on the tabletop games he loves to play, his passion has in turn come to have a significant influence on his academic interests and teaching. He has created a new pathway for MSc in History students, which explores the emerging field of Historical Games Studies, and a forthcoming postgraduate course on historical games design will be taught in collaboration with the Edinburgh Futures Institute.
Inspired by his successful collaborations with game design professionals, in 2020 Dr Raccagni established the History & Games Lab (H&GL), a one-of-a-kind research group and game design studio within the School of History, Classics and Archaeology that explores games as a medium for historical research, teaching, and public understanding of history.
With the support of Edinburgh Innovations, Dr Raccagni was able to self-publish LRCS through the H&GL, which in turn helps the research group fund its other activities, which include seminars, podcasts and workshops. EI’s support equipped Dr Raccagni with a new set of entrepreneurial skills and knowledge about IP, contractual relationships and licensing that he can now put into practice as the H&GL expands its commercial output. Plans are already afoot, with its next game scheduled to launch in autumn 2021.
During my PhD and post-doc, no-one talked about impact or engagement. I’m pleased to see the support and opportunities for early-stage academics to work with industry have grown significantly. It’s a hugely rewarding experience which can give young scholars new outlets to be creative and grow professionally.
Dr Gianluca Raccagni
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