by Hilko Drude
I had the pleasure and honor to be invited as a speaker at Congreso Conjugar 2023, a conference organized by LudiChile (The Association of Chilean Game Publishers) and held in Valdivia, Chile on December 1-2, 2023.
It was a fascinating experience well worth the very long trip. About 120 participants gathered for the conference, mostly Chileans, but also speakers and visitors from the U.S., Mexico, Peru, Brazil, and Spain — plus me from Germany, the only non-native-Spanish speaker present as far as I could tell. Aside from the members of LudiChile, participants included non-member publishers, designers, illustrators, store owners, researchers, content creators, and other game enthusiasts. The event received generous financial support from local authorities to strengthen and diversify the economy of the region.
The venue in downtown Valdivia
Aside from about three days of tourism, my fifteen-day trip was focused on getting in touch with the gaming community. Between 2015 and 2022, I had written a blog with a focus on games from countries outside the spotlight of the gaming world, mostly games from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. While doing this, I had been in contact with a large number of Chileans but had met only a few of them in person in Essen. Being able to connect with the others face to face and getting to know many more was a great experience. They really made me feel at home, for which I am most grateful.
Through the first part of 2023, my knowledge of the Spanish language was mostly limited to reading Spanish game rules. When I got the invitation, I knew I had to work on that in order to be able to meaningfully participate in the congress, so I tried to spend 1-2 hours a day learning Spanish every day until the congress. While speaking was not that much of a problem because I could do it at my own pace using the vocabulary and grammar with which I was comfortable, listening was an entirely different story, so I could not follow all the details of the congress. I hope I am not misrepresenting anything here.
Chile is one of the many countries in which a modern games industry has developed in the last two decades. Compared to Germany or the U.S., the market and the gamer community are of modest size, but in comparison with almost all other Latin American countries — with the exception of Brazil and Mexico, which have eleven and seven times the population of Chile, respectively — it is quite advanced and growing at an impressive speed. A few Chilean games have been translated and published in Europe, such as the Mazescape series and Tough Calls: Dystopia). Perhaps more importantly, some games by European designers have been originally published in Chile and might be licensed from there in the future, such as Sea Dragons or Expedition to 5X.
A display of games by the publishers that were present
One of the problems of the Latin American board game markets is that until Covid-19, there was very little cross-border contact between the many Spanish-speaking countries. Aside from some countries’ stiff import taxation, distances are immense — from north to south, Chile is as long as all of Europe is wide — which makes shipping slow and expensive.
In recent years, there are closer contacts as I am happy to notice. Chile is hosting two of the largest game events in Latin America (Juegos en el Parque, organized by Devir, and LudiFest, organized by Asmodee), and Chileans have been participating in events in Argentina and Peru as well. RAGE (Roll A Game Expo) in Guadalajara, one of the largest events in Mexico, included a Chilean pavilion in 2023, with 22 Chileans, mostly publishers, making the long trip to present their games to an international audience. This is an encouraging sign that the immense Spanish-speaking market can move closer together in the future. If that happens, Chile will doubtlessly play an important role in the process.
The congress itself consisted of presentations by international guests, as well as several panel discussions, each focusing on a given topic with three participants plus a host. In addition, there was a designer/publisher speed-dating event towards the end, with enough space for spontaneous meetings for whatever other purpose, too.
I should also mention the lunch and coffee breaks, which gave more opportunities to exchange ideas and experiences. In the evenings, we gathered in bars or restaurants in larger crowds. Strangely, I did not get to play all that much at the event, but I had plenty of opportunities to play games during the rest of my trip.
Topics of the congress included:
• Games as cultural items/expression
• Games as consumer items
• The value chain of games
The longer presentations were focused on experiences from abroad, talking about the markets in Mexico and Germany, the Associación Ludo in Spain (an association of game designers), and research about games as cultural expression with a scientific focus.
One of the panels
While the congress was originally planned as a one-time event, the spirit of optimism was palpable, and it felt like a huge step towards a further professionalization of the Chilean games industry. I would be surprised if this were the last event of this kind.
Some more observations from my trip: Countless smaller game stores and games cafés can be found in Santiago de Chile. The selection is typically focused on games that have been published in Chile (lots and lots of Devir games), and in many of these places I found games not present in other locations, so it was good to do some store-hopping. There doesn’t seem to be the one store that has everything, so to really go exploring, I needed a fair amount of time, but it was time well spent.
Aside from seeing the games, store-hopping gave me the opportunity to talk to store owners and customers in many cases — and even when talking to (younger) Chileans outside the inner circles of the industry who asked me why I was there, I noticed that many of them were playing games at least occasionally.
In summary, the speed in which the Chilean games industry is professionalizing its structures is impressive. I have no doubt that in the next few years, we will see several more Chilean games finding their way to the European and North American markets, and that is something to look forward to.
P.S.: Something that might have been done before, but this was the first time I encountered it: game cards and rules in Braille. So there is innovation here, too.
P.P.S.: Those who think that practically all games published worldwide have a presence on BGG can be in for a surprise when visiting an emerging games market. In the two weeks that I traveled in Chile, I found more than forty games that are not yet listed here, including both currently available games and out-of-print games that I found in games cafés. I will try to add as many of these as I can in the coming weeks. I wish I could do this for many more countries, but my possibilities are limited, so please don’t forget to keep your eyes open when traveling and add what you can find. There is still a lot to discover.
Here’s a gallery of some of the games not yet on BGG: