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Archaeologist helps develop board game on European prehistory

In the new board game Epoch – Early Inventors you explore the prehistoric landscape. You gather food and raw material to develop tools and skills, and you try to appease the gods. Dr Maikel Kuijpers was involved in its development from the start and he is very happy with the result. “There is a lot of archaeology in this game.”

Early inventions

It all started when colleagues of Maikel were contacted by the game maker Martyn F with an idea for a game, back in 2015. The theme Martyn had in mind overlapped nicely with the research interests of Maikel Kuijpers, so the two were brought into contact. “He had questions about European prehistory, wanting to make a game about early inventions. The timing was perfect, for just then I was developing a course on this topic.”

Ötzi

Maikel continued to give him as much input as possible. “He needed the content for the game, and then we tried to find a good balance between having real archaeological information in there, without going too far. It is a game, it needs to be fun.” Maikel enthusiastically points at the box. “This man here is Ötzi (ed: prehistoric man found well-preserved in the Alps).”

Ötzi is also in the game, marking the starting player.

Back and forth

“Much, but not all the information has been used. It was back and forth between me and the game maker, to get to a result that is true to the archaeology but still playable.” Maikel thought it to be a very interesting process. “For instance, one of the things that happened was that an initial in-game drawing of the canoe was inspired on Native American artifacts. That is where I needed to be strict in telling them that this design did not fit the theme of European prehistory.”

The canoe after Maikel's input.

A new material called bronze

The game is focused on late prehistory. “There are several thousands of years in the game. Pottery is one of the things you can invent, but also the casting of bronze.” Browsing through the rule booklet, Maikel reads aloud. “Europe 2305 BC. You are the leader of your clan and your people need food.” He grins. “That’s how it starts.” And continuing, “A few weeks ago you have been told about a new material called bronze.”

Putting the booklet away, Maikel reflects on the game’s accuracy. “Of course, it doesn’t stay exactly true to prehistory in a chronological way. It basically puts together the most important inventions, largely from the late prehistory.”

Some technologies that can be invented: horse breeding, pottery making, basket weaving, etc.

Depositing neckrings

So Maikel’s interests are clearly represented in the game, its core being about disruptive innovations. The other line of input, however, is the research project of David Fontijn, Economies of Destruction. “That is how you win the game actually. The goal is to collect valuable neckrings and deposit them at ceremonial sites to gain status.” These sites are important archaeological places around Europe like Carnac in France or Varna in Bulgaria. Insiders will know these sites don’t match up with the practice of depositing bronzes, but “that is how you squeeze 10.000 years of archaeology into a board game. You have to make some compromises.”

When asked if Maikel would do such a project again, he nods emphatically. “Yes, absolutely! I am discussing with Martyn to make another, simpler game. Again informed by the Economies of Destruction project, built completely around the idea of depositing valuables.”

More information

Read more about the game on the website of Martyn F.

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