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Off the Grid: Le Festival des Jeux


Every other week Scott Jon Siegel contributes Off the Grid, a column about card games, board games, and everything else non-digital.

Every May, the French Mediterranean city of Cannes hosts the world-famous Cannes Film Festival, centered around the beautiful ocean-side Palais des Festivals building. In February however, the Palais is home to another type of event: Le Festival international des Jeux, or the International Games Festival. As in non-digital games.

I had the good fortune to be living in France during this year's event, and took a day to walk the floors, snap some photos, and take in the atmosphere of a major event dedicated almost entirely to gaming off the grid.

Gallery: Le Festival des Jeux | 19 Photos

The Festival des Jeux has in recent years shared part of its space with the Fan Festival, a smaller satellite event dedicated to anime, manga and video games. Despite the digital-gaming presence, however, it's clear that this festival is still all about the non-electronic entertainment. The massive show floor features hundreds of games, both playable and purchasable. Visitors can walk up to any booth, ask to be shown a game, and be set up and playing within minutes.

Games on display range from the well-established (Monopoly, Risk), to the credible (Ticket to Ride, Eye of Judgment), to the entirely independent; un-published designers set up tables with prototypes of their games, attracting the interest of future consumers, and hopefully the eyes of publishers as well. The festival is, above all else, about play, and there are plenty of opportunities to do just that.

In addition to the show floor, tutorials are scheduled on every day of the festival, inviting players to learn how to play the classics, like Mancala, Chess, and Go. For competitive players, the event also plays host to a wide range of tournaments.

The crown jewel of the event is the As D'Or -- or Ace of Gold -- an honor awarded to the best new game of the event. Past recipients included Magic: The Gathering, Blokus, and Alhambra. This year, the honor went to Marrakech, a unique take on the Moroccan city's sizable outdoor market.

For those seeking out video games, the Fan Festival can certainly satisfy, but only to a minor degree. A few playable kiosks can not compare to the sheer amount of space dedicated to the festival's non-digital games.

Indeed, perhaps most impressive about this event is its near-total emphasis on non-digital gaming. This year, over 130,000 people attended the Festival, most to purchase games and gaming accessories, participate in large-scale tournaments, or simply try out new titles. If anything, the Festival International des Jeux proves that non-digital gaming is still a major activity. At least in France, anyway.

Scott Jon Siegel is a fledgling game designer, a professional blogger, and a mediocre cook. His words and games can be found at numberless, and he's anxiously awaiting either a copy of Power Grid or Marrakech to review.

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