Game on! ISAW's Inaugural Game Night

By Gabriel McKee

Last Thursday members of the ISAW community gathered in the Oak Room for the inaugural ISAW Game Night. This was the first of what we hope will become a semi-regular event, in which we'll gather in the Oak Library to play board and card games based on the ancient world, archaeology, and academia.

But wait, you say, do such games really exist? They do!

For our first game night, we played Thebes (Jenseits von Theben), a 2007 (unintentionally?) ironic simulation of the colonial enterprise of 19th- & early 20th-century archaeology. Players spend a few rounds studying or picking up gossip about Greek, Cretan, Egyptian, Palestinian, and Mesopotamian antiquities in neoclassical European capitals, and then travel to exotic "oriental" excavation sites to "dig" for artifacts (which is accomplished by pulling tokens out of cloth bags--some tokens representing specific historical artifacts, and other, blank tokens representing dirt). Bonus points are awarded for holding exhibitions and attending conferences--back in Europe. It's a lighthearted representation of an morally fraught period in the history of archaeology, as pointed out in Patrick Rael's excellent essay on the tricky ethical territory occupied by games that simulate colonialist history. Purely from the 21st-century coffee table perspective, however, it's also a lot of fun, as the attendees of Game Night quickly discovered.

ISAW's inaugural Game Night.

In Thursday's game, competition for artifacts was fierce. First-year ISAW student Georgios Tsolakis, playing solo as the Blue Team, had a few fantastically successful seasons in Palestine and Mesopotamia early in the game, while the Green Team, consisting of doctoral candidate Irene Soto and NYU Department of Classics graduate student Amanda Hawley, cornered the market on Egyptian antiquities. The Red Team (Head Librarian David Ratzan, his daughter Margaret, and first-year doctoral student Christine Roughan--the brains in that outfit) focused on Greece and Crete while chasing extremely elusive exhibition cards. In the end, however, the Yellow Team--consisting of Library Assistant Research Scholar/Game Master Gabriel Mckee and IT Support Administrator Kristen Soule--carried the day, edging out a lead with extra points gained by attending the most conferences.

Given the fierce competition, we feel sure that this was but the first of many a game night at ISAW. We're scheduling rematches for later this term, where interested parties will be able to try their hands at Thebes again as well as the award-winning city-building game 7 Wonders. In the meantime, the library's copy of Thebes is available for in-house circulation; so, if you missed out on playing last week, or want to practice your archaeo-academic strategy before our next event, come by the library circulation desk and check it out, literally!