A Visit to the German Games Archive in Nuremberg
By Richard Denning
A couple of weeks ago my wife Jane and I spent a few days in Bavaria and one day visited the Nuremberg German Games Archive. I was originally invited to do a tour by Stefanie Kuschill one of Research Specialists there as long ago as 2020 but the trip was delayed 3 times due to the pandemic. Finally, we got to go around early in July 2022.
What we discovered was an extraordinary collection and resource that is almost unknown amongst publishers and designers but deserves to be better recognised.
Das Deutsche Spielearchiv Nürnberg, to use its German title, is a research and documentation institution, preserving a unique collection of more than 30,000 board games and card games. Originally these dated back to circa 1945 but we saw some new arrivals awaiting archiving dating back to the late 19th century.
The team that run the archive is quite small – about 4 staff with additional students on gap years helping digitalise rule sets.
The Beginnings of the Collection
The archive was opened in 1985 by Dr. Bernward Thole a games reviewer as well as language and media scholar – opened the German Games Archive in Marburg based on his personal collection of some 5,000 games. The archive moved to Nurmeberg (Nürnberg) in 2009. The city is home to the Spielwarenmesse – the Nuremberg Toy Fair which has run since 1950 and is the largest International Toy and games fair. After missing 2021 and 2022, 2023 sees the return of the event. The long association with toys and games makes the city a logical home for the archive.
One significant part of the collection is that of Alexander Randolph (1922–2004) who not well known today but should be seen as on the of founding fathers of the games world, with more than a hundred games published during his lifetime. Yet the creator remains largely unknown to the general public. The legacy of so many of his games and game mechanics live on in games that are around today.
I was fascinated to see some of his early prototypes and recognise many elements still used today. What was fun was seeing these prototypes and then seeing the final games and recognising the elements that has made it into the published versions.
Another large part of the collection is the Spears Collection. Founded in 1879 in Furth near Nuremberg the company moved to the UK in 1932 and made such well known games as Scrabble. The company had its own archive of 2000 games and in 2017 these were moved to the German Games Archive where work is ongoing archiving it all.
One new addition is that of collector Dieter Mensenkamp, from Detmold and actually comprised of some quite old games, game rules and packs of cards that the team have only just started collating and an incredibly meticulous index of games by type and genre.
Blast from the past
The collection expands and many titles from recent years are in it but what I loved looking was some of those games I recall playing in teen years and my twenties back in the 1980s and 1990.’s Games like Talisman, Kingmaker and Cosmic Encounter.
Including some games I don’t recall playing including a Donald Trump Game!
Also a rare WW2 era German wargame. Most of the game in this period I have played are UK or US published.
Research Community and Outreach work
Apart from archiving the collection the Museum is also a place of research. Recently a local university did a lot of work on game mechanics and elements and are developing a tool called Project Empamos that could help designers analyse games and what works and what does not work in a game. I am hoping that work gets published in an accessible and useful form one day.
The team often organise gaming days and evenings for visitors and for local schools and have a selected part of the collection available for play at any given time – helping to expand the hobby into new generations.
Visiting for yourself
German Games Archive in Nuremberg
Egidienplatz 23/ 2nd floor
You can find out more on the museum’s website
The Archive encourages publishers and desires and others with interest in the history of games to visit. It is advised to make contact in advance if you are looking for a tour.
At Expo 2023
We plan to hold a panel and session at UKGE 2023 including Steffanie about the archive so make a note in your diary to check that out.